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Protests in Serbia Archive

Translation of Belgrade, an article by Bart Rijs, published in De Volkskrant (Dutch daily) on wednesday Dec. 11 '96.
Translated by Jeroen Bakker.

I have to say it gives a beautiful feeling to walk in the daily demonstrations against the Serbian president Milosevic. On what that feeling is based? The conviction to be on the good side.
The demonstrations burst with creativity, Rock 'n Roll, the most beautiful girls, sincere indignation, enthusiasm and humour.
The government, you can see it every evening on the news, is full with opportunism, wooden functionaries language, fat men with awful brown suits and bad wearing ties, country dancing and above all hypocrisy. Each evening the TV displays citizens from Nowherehouse and a farmer from Nobodiesland, who are declaring it's a disgrace, those demonstrations and that those boys and girls should go back to their work.

The demonstrators are calling for democracy, freedom of media and a free market economy, the government holds spasmodic to the privileges. In a case like this a choice, of course, isn't difficult. The bombardment of a TV building with eggs seems to me as a more than fitting gesture and I sympathized with colleagues who couldn't restrain themselves and threw a few themselves.
Something of the beautiful feeling must have jumped over to the rest of the world through the TV images, because declarations of solidarity from politicians, intellectuals and artists are flowing in. On the opinion pages of newspapers with international prestige appear radiant argumentation scaling the West to support the demonstrations. Five American senators and a French former minister of culture even came to Belgrade and waved to the demonstrators, I suppose in the hope that some of their democratic elan would shine back to them.

The population against a lonely dictator: The parallel with the revolts against Ceaucescu in 1989 was quickly drawn. But who looks better sees that the comparison is not correct. In Serbia there exist no good guys and bad guys, at best better and worse. If there have to be drawn parallels yet, then with Rumania a year later, in 1990. When students protested for weeks on end against the neo-communist regime of Iliescu. Just like his Serbian colleague an apparatsjik whose power was based on state television, the police and the corrupt machinery of government. That demonstrations finally bled to their dead because they didn't get support from the labourers and the province. It would take six more years before he had to give up presidency.
If I had to bet 100 Guilders on it, I would say that Milosevic survives these demonstrations. For a man who thinks it's worth a bloody civil-war to secure his dominion, a few weeks of street protest are nothing.

Yet the falsification of the elections means for Milosevic the beginning of the end, and whatever happens, this will sooner be six months than six years. It is clear now for everyone that elections in Serbia are nothing more than a democratic facade. The only way in which Milosevic can postpone his downfall, is by inventing new tricks and fastening the thumbscrews he has put on Serbia a little more. But the social and economical prospects are disastrous, so that more repression can only lead to a new and supposedly much more violent wave of protests.
But as long as Milosevic has the power, the US and EU can't afford to support his opponents openly. Milosevic has already showed what he's capable of when he's cornered. It's not a pleasant truth, but the man is still needed to save the fragile peace in the Balkans. It's as a matter of fact good to know that the demonstrators are going out on the streets less out of love for democracy than out of hate for Milosevic. How enormous this hate is, you realise if you count the number of days the demonstrators are already going continuing now, sun or rain, and that the number of people going out is still the same as the first day. The demonstrators, wrote a Serbian columnist, hold Milosevic personally responsible for their ruined lives, hope in vain and complete humiliation. If Milosevic falls down, a single ticket to The Hague is the best what can happen to him.

Walking in the demonstrations I wonder who these people will vote for after Milosevic has disappeared from stage. There are many demonstrators who don't really blame him for starting the war, but for losing it. From the speaker car in front of the procession once a warlike song was sounded and after a few moments I realised we were marching on an old Cetnik-song.
If the opposition takes over dominion, and this moment is not very far away, we can expect a series of week coalition- governments, continuously changing combinations of ever quarrelling royalist, pro-west democrats, nationalist and god knows who else. But the chance exists that on the long term this will give a more democratic, more prosperous and more stable Serbia. The US and the EU can help with this by supporting the scarce free media, keep good contacts with promising opposition- politicians and above all by not giving economical and financial support to the current regime. For the opposition in Serbia has many disadvantages, but they it can never be as much as those of Milosevic.

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