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Crisis 1999
Opinions Archive 1999
Anti-Milosevic or Pro-Opposition?

More than 100,000 Serbs gathered in Belgrade on August 19 to participate in a demonstration against Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic. Previous anti-Milosevic demonstrations have not been successful. It was questionable how successful this one would be, with the Milosevic regime floating the possibility of early elections and some high level opposition leaders opting out of the rally. In spite of this, the demonstration proved to be highly successful for forces opposed to Milosevic. In fact, it was so successful, Vuk Draskovic even showed up to take some of the credit.

Signs of popular dissent against the Milosevic regime had for weeks looked sketchy, and expectations about today's rally were no exception. Turnout for demonstrations had regularly been below expectations or wishes and a protest by 25,000 in Nis on August 18 set a new attendance record. Soon after the rally was announced, opposition leaders openly said that without support from the military they could not hope to topple Milosevic. A widening rift between opposition leaders Vuk Draskovic and Zoran Djindjic had further paralyzed any unified front when last week Draskovic declined to join the rally. Only days before the rally, former Yugoslav Army chief of staff Momcilo Perisic announced he would not attend as did the Alliance of Democratic Parties. Irrespective of the infighting, however, the rally was hugely successful - at least in turnout.

The size of the rally illustrates the fact that opposition to Milosevic has indeed grown dramatically. The regime must address opposition sentiment. The real question for Milosevic's supporters in the Socialist Party, the government, and the military, is whether this anti-Milosevic sentiment is necessarily pro- opposition. Milosevic is no dictator, and relies on support within the regime. The regime, in turn, can deal with opposition to a single man before it evolves into a mass movement against the government as a whole. They can punt Milosevic. However, support for the opposition is substantially more threatening.

Were the 100,000 demonstrators demanding the installation of a Western-friendly regime, the current regime would have some heavy work cut out for itself. In this case, Milosevic would lead the purge of his opposition rather than being the victim of a purge. The police apparatus is already in place to carry out assaults against members of opposition groups. Just this morning, the Civic Resistance of Valjevo leader Bogoljub Arsenijevic was beaten and arrested in front of Momcilo Perisic's Movement for Democratic Serbia headquarters.

While opposition leaders called for the removal of the current government, the sentiments of the crowd are what mattered. If they matched the sentiments expressed by 52,000 fans attending the Croatia-Serbia football match on August 18, the regime as a whole does not yet need to worry. Crowds at the game chanted, "Slobo go," and, "you sold out Kosovo," the latter being far from a pro- opposition, and by extension pro-West, slogan. As the opposition masses continue to grow, they must be addressed. But as long as the opposition masses remain anti-Milosevic, the next move is up to the regime's power brokers. Milosevic may have to go, but not for the sake of Djindjic.

Source: Stratfor Kosovo Crisis Center

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