ANALYZING SERBIAN ANGST
DECEMBER 12, 1996
For more than a week, over 100,000 Serbs have peacefully marched on their capital Belgrade, protesting President Milosevic's decision to overturn victories in recent municipal elections. Despite the turnout, the state run media has either ignored the marchers or portrayed them as violent agitators. Charles Krause discusses the situation with the vice president of Serbia's Democratic Party and leader of the anti- government opposition. His report is followed by a conversation with two writers who have covered the Balkans extensively.
CHARLES KRAUSE: Thousands of protesters first took to the streets of Belgrade four weeks ago, shortly after President Slobodan Milosevic annulled municipal elections held November 17th. The results would have given Milosevic's political opponents control over 14 of Serbia's 19 largest cities, including Belgrade.
A RealAudio version of this NewsHour segment is available.
A panel of Balkan experts discuss the protests in Serbia.
December 11, 1996:
An Online NewsHour forum looking at the protests in Serbia against the government of Slobodan Milosevic.
December 6, 1996:
An update on the spreading protests in Serbia, the resignation of its information minister and the unbanning of Radio station B92.
December 2, 1996:
A panel of Yugoslavia experts includingSerbian reporter Dragan Cicic and the former U.S. ambassador in Belgrade, Warren Zimmerman, discuss the protests in Serbia.
December 2, 1996:
An ITN report on the protests in Bosnia.
CIA fact book on Serbia and Montenegro.
U.S. State Department summary of the Dayton Peace Accord.
Complete NewsHour coverage of events in the former Yugoslavia.
The Web site for radio station B92, which was recently reopened after being shut down by the government.
The official site of the protest against the Serbian government.
Yugoslavia Online is a Serbian government sponsored site that contains officially sponsored news and history.
The opposition appealed, but this week, Yugoslavia's supreme court upheld the government's decision nullifying the elections, setting off yet more anti-government protests. Frustrated students and intellectuals, members of Serbia's increasingly impoverished middle class, and some workers have joined the daily protests, the most serious challenge to Milosevic's rule since he came to power in 1987. But the various opposition groups have been weakened by their own failure to unite.
Students protested mid-day, some for democracy and some for Serbian nationalism. Opposition political groups start their protests three hours later. Sporadic strikes have also erupted in factories, but organized labor has so far refused to throw its weight behind the mass demonstration.
CHARLES KRAUSE: Joining us now is Miodrag Perisic, vice president of Serbia's Democratic Party and the leader of the anti-government political coalition known as Together. Mr. Perisic, thank you for joining us. There have been conflicting reports from Belgrade this week about the size of the demonstrations and whether or not they're being reduced be because of fear of government reprisals. What can you tell us about the situation today?
MIODRAG PERISIC, Yugoslavia Opposition Party Leader: Today we have reports that there were more than one hundred thousand people in the streets and still I think it's a very strong determination of the people to confirm that they're ready to persist and to demand full recognition of their political will and the outcome of the elections.
CHARLES KRAUSE: Has the government, though, attempted to stop these demonstrations?
MIODRAG PERISIC: Not so far, but there were some sporadic examples of individual terrorism of the police forces, special police forces. There was one student terribly beaten and denied to go to the hospital. And there was also a young actor yesterday, he was also terribly beaten, but after two hours' detention, he was released.
CHARLES KRAUSE: Is this having any effect, do you think, on the general mood of your supporters, of people in your side?
MIODRAG PERISIC: I don't think so. It's counterproductive, and it's making completely the opposite feeling of people there now, showing that they will not give up.
CHARLES KRAUSE: How do you--are these spontaneous demonstrations, or do you organize them? How do you get the people out?
MIODRAG PERISIC: Well, you know, it was very interesting that after the announcement at coalition, Democratic Coalition won the local elections in 20 major Serbia cities, including Belgrade. There was a spontaneous gathering of the people on Central Belgrade Square, and it turned after the annulment of the victory, it turned to a protest, so it was first spontaneous, and then it was organized.
CHARLES KRAUSE: Why can't the different groups, particularly the students, come together in this protest movement?
MIODRAG PERISIC: I have to say maybe it's not widely known this protest is very broadly organized, and there are different professional groups in it. If you'll, for example, compare, there are grandparents and grandchildren there, some of them, for example, their grandchildren are concerned about their future, and grandparents, seniors, are concerned about their dignifying aging. So there are also retired officers, retired police officers. There are also peasants in the Small Serbia cities there also joining the protest. For example, I was traveling around East Pallinga--it was only the farmers' protest. So it is more like popular uprising because they were--they showed--very clearly showed their dissatisfaction with the ruler of Socialist Party and Mr. Milosevic, himself, in Serbia.
CHARLES KRAUSE: So, in other words, you're saying that we shouldn't read "too" much into the fact that there are all these separate demonstrations going on.
MIODRAG PERISIC: No. Students--what they really wanted there, they wanted to show that they were not manipulated, that it was independent movement among the students, and they wanted to show their collective strength against the regime.
CHARLES KRAUSE: Is the goal to overthrow President Milosevic?
MIODRAG PERISIC: Well, it was not our goal, if I may say. Mr. Milosevic started negotiations just a week before the elections with the European Union about the trade preference with European Union countries, and then there came elections, and when they lost the elections in major Serbian cities, it was a very clear choice between the Europe and reintegrating to Europe over Serbia and Montenegro, or to preserve socialist government in major Serbian cities. And he has chosen--I'm afraid he has chosen socialist rule, socialist government in these cities. I don't think that Mr. Milosevic really was fully aware of the fact that it was denial of Serbia to join the Europe.
CHARLES KRAUSE: But is this, in fact, now an effort to overthrow his government?
MIODRAG PERISIC: Well, it was his choice. It was his choice that he put all the nation to choose between himself and Democratic Coalition.
CHARLES KRAUSE: There have been some reports that some of the leaders of the political parties and the students are extreme nationalists who if they came to power would attempt to reunite portions of Bosnia and Croatia with Serbia, is that true?
MIODRAG PERISIC: No, it's not true. I have read this piece in the "New York Times" in which they said that there was some nationalistic students among the 40,000 students there can always be one nationalists or several nationalists.
CHARLES KRAUSE: But you're saying this is democratic movement?
MIODRAG PERISIC: What I'm saying and what is the real substance, and I think that we have now, we are very grateful for excellent media coverage that we are getting because it's the new face of Serbia. This is--the substance of this protest is economic and political and democratic.
CHARLES KRAUSE: A last question. You've just come from the State Department. What are you asking the United States to do in this situation now?
MIODRAG PERISIC: We got excellent support from both House of Representatives and American administration. We were asking not to impose sanctions against the Serbian people but maybe to impose the sanctions, personal sanctions against Mr. Milosevic and the narrow group of his supporters, and a group of directors, managing directors, who are also, as well, in the same time ministers. So what we were asking is from the United States strong international support to give us strength to show that we have internal forces to do that.
CHARLES KRAUSE: Mr. Perisic, thank you very much.
MIODRAG PERISIC: Thank you.