Documents menu

Date: Fri, 13 Dec 96 22:04:02 CST
From: rich@pencil.CC.UAKRON.EDU (Rich Winkel)
/** 293.0 **/
** Topic: (Fwd) Re: Great report from Belgrade **
** Written 11:55 PM Dec 10, 1996 by iskoric in **

Protests in Belgrade and throughout Yugoslavia—1996/1997

From the Balkan Peace Team, Belgrade, 10 December 1996 and, part II, 23 January 1997

Unexpected Election Results

Mass demonstrations in Yugoslavian towns have been going on since November 19. Crowds of up to 200.000 people in Belgrade, and 20.000 in smaller cities, march through the streets, equipped with all kinds of noisy instruments, witty slogans, and good humor. As of this writing, there is not an end to be seen yet.

The demonstrations began in the southern Serbian city of Nis after the second round of Yugoslavian local elections on November 17. It became clear that there was severe tampering with the results which initially gave most contested seats to the opposition coalition, Zajedno (Together). A revised count gave the control of the city once again to the Socialist Party of Serbia (SPS), the party of President Slobodan Milosevic. The Center for Antiwar Action in Nis reported that leaders of the SPS surrounded all the polling locations with their own paramilitary formations, officially referred to as a kickbox club, which mistreated candidates and members of the election commission who were part of Zajedno. At one polling station, ballots and voter lists were stolen and many were not found. All the returned ballots were falsified by crossing out numbers and filling in new ones which were to the advantage of the SPS. A member of the City Election Commission from Zajedno intervened but to no avail. Over 20 ballots were falsified and, according to the final report, the SPS was the victor.

The initial Zajedno win was a surprise to everyone because Nis sits in south Serbia, the heart of Milosevic's political base. This vote exposed a growing public dissatisfaction with the government's economic and social policies, opinions once thought limited to intellectuals and anti-war activists. This development is important because it is certain to endanger favorable results for Milosevic in the Republican elections next year.

But Nis was not the only city undergoing change. In Belgrade, Kragujevac, Kraljevo, Novi Sad, Valjevo, Uzice, Pirot, Cacak and in a number of other cities, Zajedno won. In some of these communities, the contest was close. But in Belgrade, the opposition won 70 seats in the City Council while the SPS got only 21.

The Elections Annulled

Yet in Belgrade as well as all the other cities, the SPS declared the elections invalid due to "irregularities" committed in the election process as well as in the counting of votes. In almost every city, they demanded annulment of most of the seats that the opposition coalition had won. They gave such reasons as Zajedno promotion posters being too close to the polls, or that a Zajedno member was having a visitor bring him dinner while he was at the polls as a member of the election commission.

It will be difficult to get a full and accurate report about these elections. Each polling station is monitored by an electoral commission made up of representatives from all the parties. Once all the votes are counted, this commission must agree to a written minute as to their validity. The minutes from the polls which were completed that day, concluded that the elections had proceded in a fair and regular manner. But independent media reported that there were various irregularities committed by SPS members after the counting of votes, such as putting in a few votes more, and getting access to the ballots by the police force. In othe places, the minutes of the electoral commissions were not to be found.

It is regretful that there were no international observers present for either the Federal elections on 3 November or the second round of local contests on 17 November. The OSCE turned down a request for monitoring by the Federal government, saying it was too short notice.

The SPS took their complaints to court and they were accepted by every level, including the Supreme Court. Complaints filed by Zajedno against the court decisions to cancel votes or seats in their majority districts were all turned down, as were their complaints against abuses at the polling places. The legal petitions from SPS were approved at remarkable speed.

It was after the election annulments were given approval by both the electoral commission and the Supreme Court that Zajedno leaders called for public protests against the disrespect of the voters' decisions. The protesters are demanding that the original election results be respected.


The opposition coalition's name, "Together," is very fitting, as it has brought together political parties and political leaders with very different styles and political goals. Vuk Draskovic, the leader of the Serbian Renewal Movement (SPO), while an outspoken opponent of the war, is a Serbian nationlist; Zoran Djindjic, leader of the Democratic Party, has made use of nationalism but has a more moderate approach; and the Civic Alliance which has the most progressive politics is led by Vesna Pesic, former Director of the Center for Antiwar Action.

The common denominator is the very specific goal of removing Milosevic and his party from their powerful position in Yugoslavian politics. Beyond that, it shares a commitment to moving the country away from the single-party way of thinking that was part of the Communist system, toward a multi-party, participatory democracy. Many intellectuals and activists voted for Zajedno because it was the only reasonable option, but most of them were not too happy about it. Djindjic has been portrayed in the international media as the key leader of Zajedno and the protests, probably because he fits a Western media image, having left Yugoslavia as a dissident student in the '70's and studying and living in Germany for many years. However, it is Vuk Draskovic and his Serb nationalist rhetoric which attracts the largest following to the coalition.

The Demonstrations

The first protest took place in Nis on 19 November, when the annulment of the electon was still an unconfirmed rumor. It attracted 20,000 people, 20% of the population. Local activists reported that there was a large police presence, including police from other parts of Yugoslavia and Republika Srpska.

The first protest in Belgrade took place on 21 November when it became clear that even the Belgrade election results were threatened. After gathering in the central square, the crowd of 50,000 marched past the City Council building to a planned rally near the Parliament. But because the police had confiscated three sound systems, the rally was delayed, and the marchers moved through the streets in a large circle, returning to the center of town where they were addressed from a working sound system at Zajedno headquarters. This then has become a daily ritual, with the numbers growing larger with each passing day. Protesters gather at 3 every afternoon in front of the Zajedno office with whistles, horns, pipes, bells, pots and pans, and even empty beer cans, filled with beans to rattle. After one or two short speeches they start walking. The routes differ slightly each day, but usually they pass by the City Council, Milosevic's presidential office, the state television and the state-owned newspapers "Politika" or "Borba". At each of these places people whistle and shout against the institution, chanting "ne damo pobedu"(we won't give in), "bando crvena" (red gang), or "lopovi, lopovi" (thieves, thieves). A lot of anger and frustration gets especially directed against the state media. There are also sites which bring out great cheers of support and love from the crowd: the offices of independent Radio B-92, and the apartment of an elderly woman who is out every day on her balcony waving a flag and cheering them on. The crowd chants "Grandma," and everyone waves.

In the first few days, lots of eggs were thrown and also some stones at the buildings, so that now the TV-building and also "Politika" have broken windows and yellowish facades. Zajedno repeated its call for nonviolence and posted people standing at these places to discourage further attacks. In recent marches, people have been planting candles outside "Politika".

The crowd is very mixed. While the first few days of marchers attracted mostly young people, the participants seem to come from all age groups and social classes. The number of young people has grown less as the university student protests have begun (See StudUnt Protest section). At the beginning of the march, there are men with large SPO flags. In later marches, a truck moves slowly at the front carrying loudspeakers, used as a platform for Vuk Draskovic to make occasional speeches en route. Around this wagon there are a great number of people carrying nationalistic symbols: Yugoslavian tricolor flags, posters and banners with the Serbian cross and the four Cyrilic S's, some even wearing different kinds of "chetnik" (Serb nationalist) hats.

But in the middle and main body of the procession, the outspoken nationalistic symbols fade out, giving way to signs like "Snoopy against the Red Baron", " Watching too much State TV makes You loose Your sight", "A "handful" of 200.000 ...?" (referring to the state tv comment portraying the demonstrators as a "handful of people, incidentally passing by"). People in the march are quite friendly, there are lots of smiles, conversations and laughter. Whistle and noisemaker duets happen spontaneously. People tend to start up their own chants rather than following anything coming from the sound truck.

There is no sense of latent violence and the crowds are remarkably disciplined. There are virtually no monitors along the route, except at key buildings as mentioned above. A handful of traffic police keep the traffic lanes closed, but for a few days, police stopped doing this, creating small, frustrated traffic jams. Demonstrators spontaneously stepped in to keep the roads clear and tried to ward off those motorists angry by the delay. Both the bus drivers union and taxi drivers union are supporters of Zajedno, and thus their members have adapted willingly to the congestion.

At the end of every march, there is a rally with speeches from the Party leaders and messages of support from all over the world. After the first few days, these rallies got smaller in size while the marches grew. This is another sign that people are inspired to protest from their own personal motivations and not because of party politics.

The Students' Protest

Early in the protests, Belgrade's university students began their own protest efforts. All the faculties are on strike, there are daily student protest marches, and students have set up email communications with students around the world. They are very clear about keeping their protests independent of Zajedno and the political parties, setting their protest marches for 12 noon every day. The Student'Protest '96 committees work day and night.

The students'main demand is for the forming of a commission, which will investigate any claimed election irregularity. They also want the replacement of both the University rector and the students' pro-rector because both have made public speeches which denied the protest and incriminated the demonstrators. Beyond these demands the students are hoping for a strong social impact together with the other demonstrations and they hope that their own protest marches act as a motivation for people on an overall level to take part in the demonstrations. One of their leaflets was specifically addressed to their parents, explaining that the students would stick it out alone but they would prefer to have their parents join them.

The students are well organized and have prepared themselves for possible violence from the police. Designated monitors walk in front and along the sides and in the case of a clash with police, participants are prepared to all sit down in the road en masse. The protests have been very creative. After the state media accused them of being destructive and fascist, they built a brick wall in front of the Federal Parliament building and sprayed on it: We are not destructing but constructing.


In Nis, in the first marches, there were high tensions from a strong police presence, including some with automatic weapons and riot control equipment. But the police have been largely absent from the protests in Belgrade, and there have been no police incidents. However, according to independent newspapers, 32 persons have been arrested and are accused of damaging public property. On Sunday, 1 December, state TV broadcast a speech by the president of the Federal Parliament, who called the demonstrators fascists and warned that police would no longer tolerate these demonstrations for reasons of security to both traffic and buildings. The warning had an opposite effect: An estimated 80.000 people were on the street the next day, in spite of heavy snow. Apart from a few policemen regulating the traffic there were no police to be seen, but we were told, that about 2.000 special police sealed off the way to Milosevic's villa.

There are sympathizers among the police. The independent newspaper, Nasa Borba, printed a letter of support from 65 police to protesters in the city of Kraljevo, reassuring their fellow citizens, that they would not go against them but rather protect them from other police of a different mind, especially those from other towns.

Local Media

While there has been a great amount of international media coverage of the protests, the Belgrade media coverage has been small. This includes two indpendent daily newspapers, "Nasa Borba" and "Demokratija", and independent radio stations, Radio B92 and the student radio Index. The radio stations were jammed for several days and were finally shut down. Although their signals only reached a small geographical range, this elimination of independent radio brought out a new surge in demonstrators: the following day, there were 200.000 marchers. The government retracted from B92's cancellation the next day.

The two newspapers have been reporting widely on mass demonstrations in other towns of Yugoslavia as well as Belgrade. "Demokratija" is a new creation, published by journalists who left another independent daily "Blic", after its Austrian owner Peter Koelbl wrote a public letter stating that the demonstrators were not respecting democracy. Until that point "Blic" had been covering the demonstrations extensively, with an increase in circulation from 30.000 to 200.000, but Koelbl was apparently under pressure to protect his investments. "Demokratija" is being backed by the Democratic party and selling well.


Belgrade activists in local NGOs who Balkan Peace Team spoke with expect very little from Zajedno except for a change from the Milosevic regime. Many consider the coalition quite dubious and unreliable, and with nationalistic tendencies in each of the member party leaders, either for real or out of temporary strategic reasons.

Activists have a variety of assessments regarding the protests. Members from Women in Black clearly say that they are not supporting Zajedno, but they take part in the demonstration each and every day, because they see them as a hopeful sign that people have lost their fright of speaking out, particularly after the large demonstrations in 1991 and 1992 which were crushed by government tanks and ended in violence and death. They hope for a change. The Women in Black are worried about a lack of concept and strategy in the Zajedno's handling of the demonstrations. Women in Black have been creating and distributing leaflets at every march with suggestions what to do in a case of violence and how to apply nonviolent resistance. Each leaflet contains 5 suggestions derived from Gene Sharpe's list of 200+ forms of nonviolent action. WiB members have also offered their ideas to the striking students and Jelena Santic from Group 484 has been speaking at daily student forums.

Other activists have taken a more cynical perspective, choosing to stay away from something they see as a "walking Zajedno-rally" or attending only on those occasions when it seemed important to stand up to the police threats. Feminist activists have added to the critique, pointing out how strongly the demonstrations are characterized by nationalist male chauvinists.

The Story Continues

As this report is being prepared, developments are under constant change. Cracks are begining to show in the government's position. Five Supreme Court judges wrote a public letter distancing themselves from the Supreme Court decision annulling the local elections, and 90 more justices expressed their solidarity with this stand. The SPS leader in Nis has resigned, presumably under pressure from Milosevic, as has the Minister of Information and Communication. Predictions have it that some kind of negotiated solution needs to be found that allows the original election results to stand and allows Milosevic to save face. Opposition leaders say that the local elections are their only immediate goal, that their efforts to unseat Milosevic will continue in the Federal elections next year.

But whatever the practical results, democracy and civil society have made giant steps in Yugoslavia in the past three weeks. It is hoped and assumed by many who live here that the country will never be the same.

Date: Thu, 13 Feb 97 12:26:42 CST
From: rich%pencil@VM.MARIST.EDU (Rich Winkel)
Subject: Protests in Belgrade and the Rest of Former Yugoslavia

January 23, 1996

This report covers the protests and other political developments in Yugoslavia since December 9, 1996. It picks up where our first report left off, after the annulment of local election results in Serbia and the subsequent public protests. The first report is available from the Balkan Peace Team International Office in Minden, Germany, Email: <>.

The Story Continues

There has been no resolution to the conflict in Yugoslavia over the annulment of last November's local election results in the 14 cities where the opposition coalition won. In the face of international pressure and public protests, President Milosevic and the ruling Socialist Party of Serbia (SPS) have made indications that they might finally recognize the Zajedno coalition's victories, but all the while they have taken other steps to legally deny the results and to put an end to all demonstrations. Both Zajedno and the striking university students have continued their protests in Belgrade and 40 other cities, as well as their efforts through legal and international channels to democratize the country.

The Struggle for the Votes

When the 17 November election results were annulled, control of 14 city assemblies was retained by SPS. Zajedno challenged the annulments before local and federal election commissions, and in the courts. The first challenges met with failure, but this has been followed by appeal court decisions and election commission reconsideration in their favor. The first big break came in the town of Nis, on 17 December when a local court ordered the Nis election commission to review its original annulment. By January 9, even the national Ministry of Justice publicly acknowledged that Zajedno had won in Nis. In other cities, including Belgrade, however, the legal battles have been like a tennis match, with the courts and then the election commissions canceling out each others'previous decisions. On January 14, OMRI reported that the local election commissions agreed to the Zajedno victories in 14 cities. International media predicted that Milosevic might use this occasion to "back down". But the next day, SPS appealed the decisions, including the victory in Nis, and the cases will work their way to the Supreme Court.

The legal maneuvers by courts and commissions are confusing because the real decisions are being made at the political level. State bodies like the courts and the election commissions are largely made up of SPS members; it is their political wishes which will dominate. One local legal observer told BPT-B that "in every committee, you will find just enough SPS members to maintain control of its decisions. So it LOOKS like democracy but this is really a one party state." When international media reported in late December and early January, that Milosevic was offering to recognize Zajedno wins in a few cities, what this means is that the appropriate courts and commissions would officially make such decisions. In response to these rumors of compromise, Zajedno publicly rejected all partial offers and repeated its demand for all the annulled election results to be returned.

A delegation from the Office of Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) arrived in Belgrade in late December to review the election results at the invitation of the Serbian government. The delegation was headed by Felipe Gonzales, former President of Spain. Members met with all parties to the conflict, reviewed the reports from local election commission reports, and concluded that Zajedno won in the 14 contested cities. They called on the Milosevic regime to acknowledge the 17 November results but the OSCE has no power of enforcement.

Counter Demonstrations

In mid-December, SPS began holding public support demonstrations in small central Serbian towns. Nasa Borba and other independent media referred to them as "counter demonstrations." Then SPS announced plans for a large counter demonstration on 24 December in Belgrade, predicting up to one million participants. On the given day, the number was closer to 40,000, mostly peasants and workers from rural areas who had been provided with free transportation and instructed to carry SPS banners and signs. How voluntary their participation was is unclear; there were reports on Radio B-92 that workers got off the night shift at their factories and were put on buses headed for Belgrade. They arrived in Belgrade with no idea that there were daily protest marches against Milosevic taking place.

The counter demonstration was scheduled for 3 pm, the same time as the opposition's daily protest march, and it was set to take place on the same street where the marchers regularly gather. Later, international leaders and local clergy accused Milosevic of purposely manipulating the day's events in this way to produce physical conflict among the two sets of protesters. Besides the two sets of demonstrators, 20,000 police militia were present, creating a cordon between the smaller Milosevic contingent and 300,000 opposition protesters. For all the chaos, the day's violence amounted to a few fist fights between protesters, two people hurt by gunshots, clubbings of some protesters by the police, and one death. The greatest tragedy took place in the evening when a teacher, Pedrag Starcevic, returned from the protests and was beaten to death by a group of SPS supporters.

The Police

Before 24 December, the police on the streets during the protest marches were traffic police. But after the counter demonstration, the government banned street protests in Belgrade completely and placed police militia in full riot gear on the streets. At times, there have been as many as 2500 present, mostly from other cities in Serbia, Kosov@ and Vojvodina. The police are Milosevic's primary ally when it comes to maintaining control of the country. The Yugoslavian National Army leadership has been in conflict with him for many years and some units were reported to have sent a letter of support to the striking students. In a meeting with the students army commander General Perisic stated, that unlike 1991 the army would keep out of domestic political affairs. While the police have beaten protesters with their batons, police attacks have largely been individual incidents, often happening when police feel they are being taunted. In response to the demonstrators' friendly treatment, the police have, for the most part, been approachable, willing to speak to protesters and have their pictures taken. BPT-B heard one demonstrator ask a policeman if he and his comrades would use violence against the nonviolent protesters if they ordered to. He replied," I wouldn't be too sure about that".

BPT-B observed undercover police using clubs on demonstrators. This was caught on camera as well and their pictures published in the independent press, along with their names.

The Media

On 3 December, the government ordered the closing of Radio B-92 for not having a proper broadcasting license. This small independent Belgrade station, with only 1 kilometer of broadcasting range and 56,000 listeners, became a symbol in Yugoslavia and around the world for those who value an independent media. The protests and pressures on Milosevic to take back the order were strong and two days later, the government allowed the station to broadcast. Radio Television Serbia (RTS) reported to the Serbian public that the problem was a technical one, a wire at the transformer that had gotten wet. A few days later, Radio B-92 signed a license contract with the government.

The public's anger at the dishonest reporting on state-controlled RTS made the television station a central focus for the protest marches. A new form of protest began in January. )From 7:30 until 8 in the evening, when the news is broadcast, people go to their windows and make as much noise as possible with pots and pans, bells, whistles. This action to "drown out the lies", now takes place simultaneously in cities throughout FRY.


There have been over 60 days of protests, including 30 days when marches in Belgrade have been banned and the streets are cordoned off by police. During this time, protesters have useda wide variety of nonviolent tactics.These have not been based in any one specific, clearly defined nonviolent strategy. They arise, rather, from an atmosphere among the protesters of determined joy. People have channeled their anger at the state into humor and celebration, creating a culture of resistance that the police and the government have not been able to break.

The list below summarizes the kinds of actions used throughout former Yugoslavia. The methods used in Belgrade are covered more extensively since this is where BPT-B regularly monitors the events, but a number of these tactics began in other cities and were later picked up by the Belgrade protesters.

Nonviolent Action Used in the Protests in Yugoslavia

  • Marches

    Marches often follow a regular route, passing by key buildings which symbolize the power of the regime. March routes will also pass through different neighborhoods so that the protest message can reach new people.

  • Marches to Belgrade.

    Student protesters from other cities have conducted long walks to Belgrade to link the protests and build awareness in the towns they pass through. One group made the journey by bicycle. Protesters from Belgrade suburbs have marched into the city together to attend the demonstrations.

  • Student Strikes.

    Students at several universities in Yugoslavia have gone on strike. They have been joined by a growing number of their professors. There have also been strikes at gymnasiums in Belgrade and secondary and primary schools in Vojvodina.

  • Theater Performance Cancellations.

    Performances at cultural events have been canceled. Statements are read out loud to the audience from the striking cast members.

  • Noisemaking

    People use everything: whistles, horns, bells, sirens, pots and pans. When the marchers stop traffic, many motorists honk their horns, not out of frustration over the traffic jam, but in support of the demonstrators.

  • Whistles.

    These are the most common noisemakers in the protests, often used in a call-and-response cadence. They are also used by individuals to make a quick "statement" while walking down the street. A whistle hanging around the neck is a sign of identification, much like a protest button.

  • Chanting

    During the marches, the most common chants are "Bando Crveno" (Red Band); "Lopovi" (Thieves); "Let's attack all together".

  • Blinking Lights

    When the marches pass by their homes and offices, people blink their houselights or flashlights. This sign of support originated in Nis and spread to other cities. People living at street level put candles in their windows.

  • Confetti

    Supporters drop confetti on the marchers as they pass. Radio B-92 regularly showers the protesters with leaflets. On one occasion, hundreds of old Serbian dinar notes from the days of hyperinflation rained down on the protesters.

  • Flags

    People carry all kinds of flags: Serbian national flags, political party flags, car racing flags, flags from other countries, the gay pride rainbow flag, American Civil War flags, skull and crossbones flags, and scarves tied to sticks. Supporters wave flags from the windows as the marchers pass by. While Serbian national flags are the most common, the main idea seems to be to have any kind of flag. One local activist BPT-B, "People just bring whatever they had hanging on their walls."

  • Posters

    Posters are mostly home made, often with humorous messages, such as " Snoopy Against the Red Baron" and "Our Leaders Are Deaf, Our Leaders Are Blind, But We Care".

  • Puppets

    Two large satirical puppets were created to march in the Belgrade protests. One depicting Milosevic's wife, Mira Markovic, in feudal armor, was designed by Belgrade University art students. The other, also created and carried by an art student, is of Milosevic in prison clothes. It attracted wide popular attention and its creator was picked up by the police one night and badly beaten. He remains under medical care.

  • Badges and Paraphernalia

    Entrepreneurs walk the streets where protesters gather, selling badges; whistles and horns; postcards photos of the mass demonstrations with the slogan "Greetings from Belgrade"; and cardboard eyeglasses made to look like eggs--an weapon used against the state buildings.

  • Decontamination Actions

    Students in Belgrade staged a cleaning action of the location where the Milosevic regime organized its counter demonstration. They washed the building where a state committee met and turned down their demand to oust the University Rector and instead, reconfirmed his appointment.

  • The Brick Wall

    Students built a brick wall in front of the Parliament Building after they were accused of being destructive. They wanted to show symbolically that they were trying to be constructive.

  • Statements from Professional Organizations.

    Five Supreme Court judges signed a letter of protest when the Yugoslavian Supreme Court decided in favor of annulling the elections. They were then followed by colleagues throughout the country. The prestigious Serbian Writers Union wrote a letter to Milosevic, asking that he honor the 17 November elections.

  • Noise To Drown Out the News

    As reported above, from 7:30-8pm every evening, during the evening news on the state television channel, people go to their windows and make all the noise they can. Pedestrians blow their whistles cars honk their horns. Awards are given to the noisiest streets.

  • Jamming the Phone Lines

    People make nonstop telephone calls to state institutions to completely clog up the telephone lines and make the government's work impossible. A list of state telephone numbers was placed in the independent daily newspaper, assigning different sets of numbers to people living in certain neighborhoods.

When the regime banned street protests in Belgrade, saying that they disrupted auto traffic, and placed large numbers of police militia on the streets to enforce the ban, many new nonviolent protest methods were designed:

  • Sitting

    In some instances when cordons of the police pushed at the crowds to move, they immediately sat down in the road. When this took place during an all-night student vigil, the students were joined by an Orthodox priest who sat down right in front of the police cordon and began to pray.

  • Funeral March

    Protesters held a silent funeral march from the cemetery in honor of a teacher killed by SPS supporters.

  • Holiday Celebrations

    During the Christmas and New Years holidays, the opposition and the students sponsored large street parties. Because of their celebratory nature and the large numbers they attracted, the police decided not to keep the streets clear that night. People used the occasion to go promenading on all the streets in the city center, as if to make a statement, "These streets belong to us."

  • Marching in Circles

    Protesters march in circles on the pedestrian malls. Or they march in small circles right in front of the police cordons.

  • The Green Man

    Protesters wait on the sidewalk until the "green man" light appears at the crosswalks. Then everyone runs into the crosswalks for a few frenzied minutes of dancing and cheering. When the light turns red again, they quickly return to the sidewalks.

  • Neighborhood Marches

    Protesters meet in their neighborhoods at 8 pm and weave through the streets nearby, making noise and chanting slogans. With the police cordons concentrated in the center of the city, they have been unable to block all these small marches. However, when some of these small marches have met up with the police, protesters have been beaten.

  • Dog Walking

    People brought their dogs to the protest one day, claiming that they were just out to walk their pets that day.

  • Traffic Jams

    People brought their cars to the center of the city, creating major traffic jams and honking their horns. This chaos allowed the marchers to walk down the streets without being accused of disrupting traffic.

  • Photo Opportunity

    Protesters pose in front of the police cordons for dramatic photos, sometimes asking police to pose with them.

  • Entertaining the Troops

    Students stage skits of fights between protesters and demonstrators and read out loud to them from Dostoevski. Protesters stop and speak with the police, bring them flowers and candy, kiss them on the cheeks, and draw hearts and flowers on their plastic shields. On one day, protesters wore their own "uniforms": medical coats, fire-fighting outfits, graduation robes to match the police's riot gear. In one city, there is a daily contest where protesters vote for the "most beautiful policeman."

The Students

There are many signs during the protests that students play a special role in Serbian society. During the student marches, people on the sidewalks would stop to applaud and residents would applaud from the windows, people who did not show any other signs of identifying with the opposition. Regular protesters rarely joined the student marches; local activists explained that there was an understanding that this event belonged to the students and their professors. When students from Nis walked for 48 hours to Belgrade, Milosevic granted a meeting with them, although he had been denying any contact with the protesters up to that point.

Student organizers explained that students are seen as the country's future leaders, and even if their ideas are not well understood, they are respected and admired. This is particularly true in the towns and rural areas.

The student protest organizers have continued to maintain independence from the Zajedno coalition. Their organization is highly structured and disciplined, but activists outside the structure have found that this spills over at times into a paranoid suspicion of all strangers. Despite this, the special mark of the student protests has been humor and spontaneous creativity, and extensive use of the internet to build up international support. Besides the protest actions, students in numerous faculties have been engaged in seminars and forums on political topics related to democracy and social change. Out of this new longer range projects have developed, such as the Organization for the Development of Democracy in the University.

The Church

The Patriarchy of the Serbian Orthodox Church made no public statements during the first weeks of the election crisis. Differing views on the elections and the protests pushed the Patriarch to eventually call for a two-day Synod on the 2nd and 3rd of January. At that meeting, the Church developed a united stand in support of the return of the November 17 election results. The Church's interests are not tied to the Milosevic regime. Greater democracy would give them more freedom to operate and to regain some of their property lost during the Tito era. After the Synod, the highest church leadership participated in a special Serbian Christmas march and service on 6 January. In late January, the Patriarch visited the students during a 3-day nonstop street protest.

The Economy

Troubles for the Yugoslavian economy continue despite the lifting of sanctions. This period of protest and unrest has increased the crisis. It is reported that only 20 % is employed. While others are working in black market enterprises, the majority of the labor force is on forced vacations or unemployed. In mid January, the state had to print more money to cover end-of-the-year pensions. The daily cost for the police presence in Belgrade is reported to cost 1 million DEM a day. On 13 January, the black market exchange rate began to jump from 3.8 dinar to 5 dinar per DEM. There were renewed fears of hyper-inflation, though the dinar fell back to 4.0 dinar per DEM by the end of the month. The independent publications, Nasa Borba and Vreme, however, continue to predict imminent economic crisis.

Developments in Kosova

In the course of the protests, BPT-B asked its Albanian contacts in Kosova how they viewed the events. In the first weeks, we found it was not considered important. With the exception of journalists at the independent, Koha, people were curious, but did not see the protests influencing their struggles at home. Kosov@ political interest has focused instead on new internal developments such as Adam Demaqi's plans to run against Ibrahim Rugova for the Presidency of the parallel Kosov@ Albanian Parliament.

As the protests began to threaten Milosevic's control, however, Kosova Albanians began to consider what options this produced for their independence drive. In January, 600 Albanian students at the parallel university signed a letter to President Rugova demanding that he take advantage of Milosevic's weakness and make a more direct demand for Kosova independence.

In December, hundreds of students at the Serbian university staged a protest in support of the Belgrade students. Zajedno supporters in the Kosov@ Serbian community also began to meet and hold public protest gatherings in Prishtina. Most recently, opposition gatherings have also taken place in more rural areas. Serbian opposition protesters in Kosov@ are very isolated, caught between the dominant Serbian parties, SPS and Serbian Radical Party (SRS) on one side, and the Albanian majority population on the other. Their demonstrations are photographed by state security and their leaders receive threatening telephone calls. They have no contact with Kosova Albanian political organizations.

The protests have brought an exchange of supportive statements between the Albanian leadership and Serbian opposition politicians. Adam Demaqi welcomed the movement towards democracy in Serbia. When an Albanian teacher, Feriz Blakori, was tortured and killed in Prishtina in December, Vuk Draskovic called for a moment of silence at the Belgrade protest rally.

However, the link is a weak one and political observers worry that it will break quickly if and when Milosevic plays the "Kosova card." The predictions vary, but in late January, comments from Zajedno leaders and international press raised the possibility that Milosevic might be fomenting violent confrontation in Kosov@, thus creating a crisis which cancels out the importance of the protests or the annulled elections. This would also give him the option to declare martial law and get the protesters off the streets. The car bomb attack on the Rector of the Serbian University in Prishtina heightened fears of this development; some speakers proposed that the Kosova Liberation Army which took responsibility is actually a front for JUL, the party of Milosevic's wife.

As this report is being completed, the protests in FRY are continuing. Belgrade students are in their fifth day of non-stop protest in the city center. In Kragujevac on 23 January, protesters clashed violently with police over control of the local television station and created a blockade on the highway to stop buses of local police as they returned from their duties at the protests in Belgrade. International observers comment that Milosevic seems to be biding his time in the hopes that the protests may dwindle.

Balkan Peace Team-Belgrade
Vlajkoviceva 17/I
11000 Belgrade, FRY
Tel: 381-11-323-6673 or