SUN, 30 NOV 1997 20:36:09 GMT
The anniversary of the beginning of the three-month long demonstrations of citizens against the current regime was observed by 20 mayors of cities in Serbia who had come to the posts thanks to persistence of the citizens. In the meantime, the quality of life of the citizens has dropped another step of two. That is how an enormous amount of energy was wasted of the citizens who had wanted to establish democracy in Serbia, walking in the snow, frost and under water cannons of the police. A year later, the position of the citizens is worse than ever, so that the electorate responded to such a situation by election abstention, manifesting in this way that it had nobody to vote for
AIM Belgrade, 20 November, 1997
On 17 November 1996, a powerful democratic rebellion against the regime started because, in order to save the power it had lost, the regime stole the votes the opposition had won. Just a year after that, this date is observed as a historical one and in memory of the "day" of democracy in Serbia. What has happened, or what are the reasons why the enormous energy of the citizens transformed into three months of everyday protests in the snow, frost, rain, in the cold, and even under "shower" of hoses of the special police, has melted and why Serbia has remained more or less what it was like before that.
It is true that the opposition was given its votes back. In Belgrade and other cities in Serbia the local authorities were changed, but when in autumn this year in the parliamentary elections for the assembly of Serbia the democratic option should have continued its ascent, the electorate turned its back on it. The consequences are that Serbia is facing danger to be ruled by one of the two totalitarian regimes: the existing, left oriented one, or the radical rightist, with chances to have fascism become official. The democratic alternative is ranking third with no chance to significantly affect the political developments in the country. The elections have ended without a winner, because the citizens have shown by election abstention that they had nobody to vote for.
Supported by the great energy of the citizens, the democratic opposition gathered in coalition Together, instead of using the inclination of the citizens for spreading democratic awareness, it dispersed as a soap bubble, and its leaders went on a war path with each other. Whether this has happened because the democratic opposition was quickly infected by the virus of love for power which it had won on the local level, so that in expectations of a victory in the republican elections it could not reach a decision about division of power, or has it become the victim of the regime which cunningly set the cat among the pigeons, is not even important any more.
The most important thing to do is to see where Serbia stands a year later, when the opposition leaders have not enough courage even to observe the day when, thanks to the assistance of the citizens they had managed to shake up the regime which has not recovered of yet, but the democratic option did not know how to use it, but itself succumbed to the challenges of power, so that it was destroyed before it had even actually got hold of it.
Therefore, a year later, Slobodan Milosevic, the unquestioned Serb leader for ten years, nowadays playing the role of the head of the federal state, is leaving for his first official statesman's visit. He has chosen China which is the only country that had agreed to organize a welcoming ceremony for him in accordance with his wish. He has gone to the country which is known for violation and denial of human rights and which gave a reception to the Yugoslav president at the same square where the Chinese democratic movement had been stifled. In view of that, the Yugoslav public had no reason to rejoice at this visit which was of more benefit for Milosevic himself than for the country he represents.
Economic linking with China which supplies Yugoslavia with precious oil, is aimed at giving Milosevic more freedom in treatment of pressures of the European Union and the biggest portion of the international community which demands that he meet certain requirements primarily on the democratic level in order to open the doors of international institutions and mutual cooperation to him. Instead of striving primarily to normalize relations with his immediate surroundings and key international organizations, Milosevic goes to the distant China from which Yugoslavia cannot expect much. The president of Yugoslavia who has not yet stabilized his position at home because he still has not faced the opposite strategy represented by the new Montenegrin president Milo Djukanovic, Milosevic has gone to China more for the benefit of obtaining personal support than for the sake of interests of his country.
He did take a whole bunch of entrepreneurs with him in order to conceal from the domestic public the true aim of the visit, and in order to show the foreign public that he had overcome isolation. The economic aspect of the visit is in fact of minor significance because representatives of an invalid economy have gone to China, of an economy which is completely inefficient and cannot produce goods for the Chinese market, not even sufficient quantities, but least of all can it meet quality requirements. This is illustrated by the fact that there is an enormous imbalance in the trade with China to the detriment of Yugoslavia which is covering just one tenth of the import from China.
Another circumstance which coincides with the anniversary of the unsuccessful democratic transformation of Serbia lies in the refusal of the regime to cooperate with the international community, since Serbia has not accepted any of its proposal. Milosevic was simply buying time until the visit to China after which he believes that he has reinforced his position in negotiations with the international community. He hopes that he will find leaks in the constructed strategy towards him, that is, that he will interest some of the influential countries for rapprochement with Yugoslavia. In this sense, persistent efforts are being made to organize his visit to one of the major European countries.
And while Milosevic is deliberately working on improvement of his international position, domestic democratic forces are fragmentized, divided and at daggers drawn more than ever before. This is especially obvious before the forthcoming elections for president of Serbia. The movement marked by everyday manifestations of several hundred thousand people all around Serbia has been brought down to a gathering of mayors of 20 Serbian cities in which the opposition had won. Their gathering which marked the anniversary of democratic protests attracted about 200 citizens of Nis who were sent word to hang onto their whistles which were a symbol of the last-year's protest.
The depressing picture from Nis is an illustration of the status of the democratic movement which was left in the lurch by the leaders of opposition parties. Students who had also given a strong support to the democratic movement in Serbia faced the same experience, because they too split into a few different students' organizations. After everything, what has happened is that a year ago the citizens persistently and voluntarily walked for three months in protest in order to remove the undemocratic regime, and now they are forced to walk because the local authorities have not passed the test of organizing life on the level of the cities in which not a single municipal service operates, so that, for instance, city transportation in Belgrade is literally falling apart.
The reason for such a situation of municipal services which are in charge of transportation, heating, water supply, city sanitation, lies in the attitude of the republican government towards the cities in which the opposition won in the local elections. Intolerance between the republican regime and the local authorities is felt by the citizens whose quality of life has declined in relation to last year's.
Slobodan Milosevic who personifies the existing regime has shown once again that it was possible to surprise him only once, but the opposition has not learnt this lesson in March 1991 when in dramatic circumstances it failed to use the opportunity to remove the shaken regime from the political scene of Serbia. Nowadays, like at the time, Milosevic has managed to stabilize his position again, and undermine his opponents' ranks by spreading mistrust among the leaders of the opposition and in this way blunted the edge of the democratic movement.
The Serb leader was groggy twice so far, but it is highly questionable whether he will permit this to happen for the third time. At this moment, there is no force on the Serbian political scene which could endanger his position. Especially because Milosevic is very skilfully trying to impose himself on the international community as the only representative of the Serb nation who they can negotiate with. Whenever his international position was strengthened, relations in Serbia were far from being democratic.
Sketch from Nis: Disappointed Walkers
Contrary to last year, when the citizens of Nis with high hopes for a better future had gone to the polls in sunny weather and circled candidates of Together coalition on the ballots, this 17 November, in cold and murky weather, they were obviously trying to forget those days and reject the feeling which seems to increasingly possess them, that they had been cheated. The former initiators of mass protests in whole of Serbia, citizens of Nis, who were the first to raise their voices in defence of their votes, this year decided not to demonstrate their wish for changes.
"You betrayed us, Zoran", "Has it all been in vain", "Why did you cheat us" were the messages addressed last Monday by the citizens on the Liberation square in Nis to their mayor Zoran Zivkovic while he was passing across the square accompanied by ten odd mayors and prime ministers of city governments of opposition municipalities in Serbia at the moment of the unsuccessful rally organized on the occasion of the anniversary of local elections. At the joyless gathering, a couple hundred citizens of Nis expressed their discontent with the split of the former coalition which had imposed itself to lead the protests.
"Disappointed walkers" and disappointed deputies of Nis assembly organized a rally in honour of the jubilee titled "Together in Front of the People". The fade copy of last year's rallies at the centre of Nis passed without a speech of leaders of parties which formed the Together coalition, although the organizer of the rally called them to "explain to the people why the coalition has split and what they have done in a year of rule on the local level". Only the leader of the Civic Alliance of Serbia (GSS) Vesna Pesic sent a telegram to the citizens of Nis saying that they should not be disappointed by the lull in Serbia in which, according to her opinion, democratic changes would soon take place.