November 4 , 1999
RAY SUAREZ: Tens of thousands of Serbians have taken to the streets this fall to demand the ouster of Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic. (Chanting) The protesters have chanted "Red Bandits" and "Slobo Go Away" as they marched through Belgrade and other cities. The rallies have been noisy, but for the most part peaceful, although 60 people were injured when 30,000 demonstrators tried to march on the presidential residence. Meanwhile, Milosevic has made few public appearances in recent months. In late September, he toured a reconstructed oil refinery in Pancevo. It was one of many targets of allied air strikes. The United States and other western countries have said they will not provide aid for reconstruction as long as Milosevic remains in power. Getting rid of Milosevic, now indicted as a war criminal, has become an American and western goal since the Kosovo war. But that's complicated the opposition's campaign, seen by nationalist Serbs as making common cause with the same countries that spent more than two months destroying Serbia's infrastructure through daily high-altitude bombing. The air strikes left Serbia with an estimated $60 billion in damage. The war has made life even tougher for ordinary Serbs and their neighbors in Montenegro, the only other republic remaining from the old Yugoslavia. They've been suffering for years with cold winters and shrinking government services. This winter, the quality of life figures to be worse still. The Clinton administration has come out in favor of a European home heating oil program, but says the aid spigot won't really open until free elections, elections the U.S. assumes would oust the Milosevic government. (Marching band playing) The protesters blame Milosevic for the loss of the province of Kosovo after two and a half months of NATO's bombing campaign. And they hold their president-- who has involved the country in four wars in eight years-- responsible for the country's economic woes.
ZORAN DJINDJIC, Serbian Opposition: (speaking through interpreter) A long marathon race awaits us. We have to come here every day and pluck that weed, grass by grass, to clean Serbia. He is poisonous, and we will drain his poison, drop by drop, until he topples down like an inflated balloon.
RAY SUAREZ: Nearly two million Serbs, more than half the work force, are unemployed. Social Security and child welfare payments haven't been made in a year. The living standard in Serbia has dropped to its level of more than 30 years ago. Household essentials and fuel are rationed. Among the scenes on Belgrade's streets: Vendors selling smuggled gasoline in plastic bottles at high prices, and well-dressed Serbs rummaging through garbage cans for food.
RAY SUAREZ: For more on the opposition in Serbia, we get three perspectives:
Goran Svilanovic, president of the Civic Alliance of Serbia; Zoran Djindjic,
president of the Democratic Party in Serbia, which he founded in 1989--
he was elected to the Serbian parliament in 1990, and we saw him speaking
in our report-- and Milan Protic, a member of the Alliance for Change
leadership. He's also a fellow at the Institute for Balkan Studies in
Belgrade. Welcome, gentlemen.
ZORAN DJINDJIC: I believe it's more important to tell about the people in Serbia and the people on the streets, and people want to get rid of Milosevic, and it is enough. The opposition was divided in the last ten years, and we don't have time to unite all the opposition. We as Alliance for Change, we are -- thirty parties, we are on the streets with the people. We are united, and we hope we are strong enough to achieve this goal to remove Mr. Milosevic, and after that, to start with democratic reforms in Serbia.
RAY SUAREZ: Goran Svilanovic, your alliance has called for the early elections and for the resignation of the Milosevic government, but with these deep divisions, the question becomes what kind of government would Serbia have after such a resignation?
GORAN SVILANOVIC: Well, that's easy to answer. And as far as we are concerned, I can tell you that as far as the elections as the goal that we want to achieve is concerned, pretty much civil opposition is unified. Our strategy is based on unity, and we are very much unified about these goals. But the others who are not with us in the alliance for change are also seeking for new elections. And we intend to broaden the support among those who are not in the alliance but are democratically-oriented, and I think that they will all join us, as far as the elections are concerned. And I think that you should expect for the new government of Serbia to be a winning government. All of us are very much confident we can win this election, and afterward that we can lead our nation to a new future, a new century, which means that we want to stabilize our economy, create democratic institutions, and to really work together with our neighboring countries and all allies in the world towards a new prospective Serbia. People see we need this desperately, and they want to choose us, not Milosevic.
RAY SUAREZ: This must be a very complex situation, Milan Protic. Just recently the EU demanded that the opposition work toward the arrest and trial of Milosevic, and they demanded that you back that call. So on that very same day, Milosevic gets to call you traitors, and the EU gets to make a demand that puts you in a very difficult situation.
MILAN ST. PROTIC: Oh, I don't think it's much of a problem, Ray, for us. We are very much aware of the fact that the Hague Tribunal is a legitimate international organization, that we want any type of cooperation and assistance from the Hague Tribunal. But it's not going to be possible to send the war indicted prisoners before a democratic change happens in Serbia, so we kind of felt that the call for that was a little bit premature.
RAY SUAREZ: And how do you respond to those sorts of outside pressures, because you've got your own problems inside the country as well?
MILAN ST. PROTIC: We've been able to communicate with the international community pretty well so far, both with the EU and the United States. This visit is a good proof and example of that. So we don't have that problem. The problem that we have is back home. The problem that we have is with Milosevic's government, and that's why we are doing our best, using all our potentials and forces to make Milosevic understand that he's got no other way but to call for free and democratic elections and see what the will of the people really is.
RAY SUAREZ: Zoran Djindjic, during this visit, you met with senior members of the Clinton administration. Did they give you any encouragement, any comfort?
ZORAN DJINDJIC: Yes, yes. We got clear support from all our partners in Washington and the Senate and Congress; we met with Ms. Albright today, and Sandy Berger after that. We tried to find a strategy to isolate Milosevic, but not to isolate, at the same time, Serbia and Serbian people. And it is not easy, but it is possible. And we need the discussion to clear up all these questions and we find this visit very successful, and we are happy to have these meetings.
RAY SUAREZ: Because this is a man who is still very much in charge-- soldiers and police out on the street hitting demonstrators over the head, arresting student leaders. Are we going to see a lot more of this before the end of this story?
MILAN ST. PROTIC: Yes and no, Ray. Milosevic does appear from outside that he is in charge. But essentially in the country, he is not, because the most important cities in Belgrade have been governed by the opposition since 1996, and pretty much, he is not able to control those areas. And let me remind you that 60 percent of the overall Serbian population lives in those areas. So Milosevic appears as a tiger... a paper tiger, a man who has got his Praetorian Guard around him, special police force, some of the top military generals, members of his party, people from business that's about it. The country has been mostly controlled by the opposition forces, and plus, we have been able, through the last four months, to dominate the public opinion in terms of what has to be done: One, responsibility and accountability of Milosevic and his regime for the detrimental policies of the last ten years, and calls for early, free, and fair elections.
RAY SUAREZ: Well, the world won't stand still while you, the opposition, continue to try to create new conditions inside the country. A couple of stories recently caught my eye. Several of the former Yugoslav republics have tried to get Yugoslavia's seat at the UN pulled. At the same time, Montenegro, still part of the federation with Serbia, is trying to unveil its own currency, that would be set up in opposition to the Yugoslav dinar. These are not events that you can control. Do they make your work harder?
GORAN SVILANOVIC: Well, there are events that we cannot control, but what we want to achieve now is to work very much together with Mr. Djukanovic, the president of Montenegro, to help him achieve his goals and to help him and us attain the goals that are common, and it is - we're proud that we are living in a common country, Serbia and Montenegro; to orient this country towards our life in the West. And I think what he is doing now is exactly that. He has no time to wait for the events in Serbia, and they are pushing very hard to come after him. It means that we are very much confident we can keep the country together once we oust Milosevic out of power, and we are pushing towards that. This is our primary goal at this moment. If we achieve it, we will have all of them back to work together with us and to reintegrate us into Europe and them as well.
RAY SUAREZ: But if events don't move quickly enough, in your view, we could be looking at yet another Balkan war.
GORAN SVILANOVIC: No. Actually, I don't think there will be war in Balkan anymore. Serbia's war capacities are exhausted. Milosevic cannot provoke any more wars. He is at the edge, and we are going to push him from this edge further.
RAY SUAREZ: One thing that's been said quite a lot about the opposition is that they are too close with the countries of the West, too close to the countries that only quite recently were dropping bombs on you. I would think among more nationalist elements of your people that this might be a very effective argument. Zoran Djindjic?
ZORAN DJINDJIC: Yes, of course we have damage as pro-European, pro-western politicians. But we tried to have benefits from this situation to help our real partners in the West, as the opposition, to count on this support. And what we try is not only to have damage from our position, which is close to West societies, but to have benefits from other support, economic support, and other support for the future of the country. And most people in Serbia don't want to be isolated, and to be part of... to find way to be part of anti-European coalition with Byelorussia, Ukraine-- with other countries.
RAY SUAREZ: But aren't there elements of the opposition that share with you a dislike for Slobodan Milosevic, but are also anti-West, not looking to tie your country in with the countries of Western Europe?
MILAN ST. PROTIC: Not really. I wouldn't say so. The opposition in Serbia is, for the most part, pro-western, and so is the majority of the people -- let's have no doubts about it. Yes, of course a lot of people feel disappointed and, in a lot of ways, let down by what happened during bombing. But on the other side, the majority of the people take Milosevic responsible for what happened, because the bottom line is that he was, unfortunately, our president, and that it was his job, his responsibility, his duty to do everything that was necessary to prevent those types of catastrophes that we were engaged, unfortunately, into. So I don't think that that is a controversial issue in Serbia for the majority of the people anymore.
RAY SUAREZ: Goran Svilanovic, Milan Protic, Zoran Djindjic, thanks for joining us.