DECEMBER 2, 1996
Serbians have taken to Belgrade's streets for the last two weeks to protest President Slobodan Milosevic decision to annul recent elections. The elections would have given power to opponent of Milosevic's Socialist Party. After this report on the protests from Serbia by ITN's Gaby Rado, a panel of experts on this troubled part of Europe join Jim Lehrer in a discussion of the protests and Serbia's future.
JIM LEHRER: We begin tonight with the move to oust the leader of Serbia. President Milosevic was a key figure in last year's Dayton peace accords for Bosnia, but now he's under strong attack back home. We start with a report on today's developments in the Serbian capital of Belgrade by Gaby Rado of Independent Television News.
A RealAudio version of this NewsHour segment is available.
December 2, 1996:
Jim Lehrer leads a discussion of the protests in Serbia and the future of President Milosevic.
November 15, 1996:
Two members of Congress react to President Clinton's decision to break own deadline and extent the presense of U.S. troops in Bosnia past December.
Browse past segments of Online NewsHour coverage of the former Yugoslavia.
GABY RADO, ITN: Today was a test not just of the heartiness of the opposition protesters in blizzard conditions but of their courage. The threat hung in the air of a police crackdown. Riot squads were glimpsed in the city center. But the protesters took the initiative, their flowers defusing tension outside the U.S. Embassy. The demonstrators want the West to change its view of Serbia's President Milosevic as a peacemaker in Bosnia and see him as the man who provoked the war.
VUK DRASOVIC, Serbian Renewal Party: The same way Milosevic provoked and started the war in former Yugoslavia to keep, to protect his Communist dictatorship in the country. He is now ready, unfortunately, to provoke even civil war and tragedy and violence in Serbia to protect his Communist rule.
GABY RADO: Vuk Drasovic, a popular writer, has been a charismatic political figure since the early ‘90s, but in the past, the Serbian opposition has been fragmented and weak. It was only this year that three of the best supported parties formed the coalition. Their success in local elections last month and the government's refusal to accept the results started the wave of protests.
PROTESTING MAN: Our president is the biggest thief around the world. He rob us.
PROTESTING WOMAN: We want them to give us a chance. That's really why I'm demonstrating. I want my future to be decided by me, not by anyone else.
PROTESTING MAN: We are not some violent persons who wants terrorism in Serbia. We want democracy, and we want to be a part of the Western Europe, of the European Union, and we want to be a member of all the European institutions. We just want our human rights.
GABY RADO: The fact that the Yugoslav civil wars are now over and international sanctions have been largely lifted means the government can no longer blame the hardships of the Serbian people on outside forces.
MIODRAG PERLSIC, Democratic Party: The real substance of the protest is a social one. If you, for example, make sort of an interview on the street, live interview, you will see grandparents and grandchildren protesting, grandparents because they are deprived of their pensions, and grandchildren because they are deprived of a future of the Socialist regime.
GABY RADO: Last night, state-controlled Serbian television, the target of much of the demonstrators' anger, stuck a new sinister note. In the first official comment from the ruling Serbian Socialist Party, the speaker of parliament called the demonstrators fascists, and the first pictures it's broadcast of the street protest in two weeks were only of the occasional stone-throwing incident, claiming the largely peaceful protests were destructive. It appeared to be paving the way for police repression.
But undeterred, the opposition is now promising to escalate the action by shutting down large, state-controlled factories. Today, the 2,000-strong work force of this machine and tractor plant held a meeting to consider a strike. Following a legally-required notice period, a walkout in support of the opposition may start at the beginning of next week.
NEBOJSA LAZAREVIC, Independent Trade Union Leader: (speaking through interpreter) The most important thing is that the workers are very much aware of the situation our country is in. They know who the worst enemy is. They support what's been happening in the streets of Belgrade for the past 15 days and may even be ready to go out into streets, themselves.
GABY RADO: President Milosevic, who hasn't appeared in public since the escalation of the crisis, sent tanks and the army into the streets to crush the last big opposition show five years ago, but the protest leaders say things are now different. This evening's forest of snow-covered umbrellas in Belgrade's main square were a message to President Milosevic that the demonstrators' enthusiasm will not wane, even if he plays a waiting game. A session of parliament tomorrow in which the opposition threatened to walk out, provoking a political showdown, has been mysteriously postponed.