Eyewitness reports on Serbia

Xxxx Xxxxxx xxxxxxx at xxxxxx.xx
Wed Oct 11 20:20:06 MDT 2000


>From the Woods/Grant In Defence of Marxism website:

Serbia, eyewitnesses of the  events during the overthrow of Milosevic

                                         (from two correspondents in
Belgrade)

Dear Comrades,

As you probably can see on your TV screens, the situation has became
very radical. The opposition (DOS) claims that the police and some other
vital
parts of the regime have collapsed. This is true of the Belgrade city
police. DOS (the opposition) is now organising the constitution of a new
Federal
Parliament, and I think that it is going to be a decisive moment.

The army is still standing neutral, but some of its units were on the
streets of Belgrade. If the opposition persuades the top officers to
give it support, it
could be the end of Milosevic's regime. The moment in which he won't be
able to reverse the situation even if he tries to use the most brutal
methods
seems to be close.

Comradely,
D. Belgrade, 2.10.00



Dear Comrades,

Special units of the police (most loyal to Milosevic) in the state TV
did have orders to shoot, and they fired a few rounds. But immediately
after that they
disobeyed.

The state run TV, although it did switch sides, still uses the same
propaganda methods (celebrating Kostunica instead of Milosevic), and the
people
disapprove of this. The same goes for the newspapers.

The media reported that Milosevic and Kostunica met last night.
Kostunica also met with head of the army, general Pavkovic. This came
after direct and
indirect promises of Kostunica that there would be "no retaliation".

In my opinion, both DOS (the opposition) and the old regime made great
efforts to retain control over events, and to pacify the masses as soon
as
possible, fearing their spontaneity. For example, immediately after DOS
gained control over first TV station, they urged people not to take
weapons from
undefended police stations.

Comradely,
D. Belgrade, 6.10.00



Yugoslavia: the day the people took over

Dear comrades,

Revolutionary greetings from Yugoslavia. I hope this text (below) will
help shed some new light on the recent events in my country.

G.M.
Belgrade, 9.10.00

>From the early morning hours one could hear the sounds of numerous horns
coming from cars, trucks and buses pouring into downtown Belgrade from
each highway. Licence plates revealed that people had gathered from all
over the country. Besides national symbols and anti-Milosevic slogans
many of
them proudly waved their trade union flags. Word on the street was that
they came to the capital in order to finish up what they had started a
few days
earlier when most of the factories in Serbia were shut down and a
general strike was announced.

Residents were on their windows and balconies saluting the incoming
vehicles. Around this time huge groups of people started to arrive on
foot from
various suburbs and neighbourhoods. Belgrade didn't welcome them "at
it's best" because most of the janitors and trash collectors had also
been on strike
for days and most of the shops were closed too.

When I got downtown, around noon, the city streets were already
jam-packed and the atmosphere was electrified. People were passing food
and drinks
out of their trunks. They said that they were ready to camp in the
streets as long as it took and that they wouldn't go back home until
"the man" resigned.
A few came armed with bars and clubs. It was clear that Milosevic wasn't
ready to give up power that easy, at least not without a fight. Some
people ran
through with red eyes reporting that the police was "easy on the tear
gas trigger" and that a few smaller incidents had already taken place in
various
locations around the city.

The main gathering place was organised by the opposition leaders in
front of the state parliament. Mass protests on the streets of Belgrade
are not a new
sight, however the author of these lines had never witnessed before such
a huge and heterogeneous crowd. Students, teachers, different trade
unions, all of
them marched separately through the city and in the end met in front of
the parliament.

Each square was covered with people and you could see heavy trucks,
buses and even bulldozers parked all around serving as perfect
roadblocks. "It's
now or never" was the phrase often repeated among the excited mass or
"we're going all the way!". This was the general sentiment that
afternoon.

Nobody dares to give an official estimate of the number of the people
present downtown, but more than half a million were definitely there.
However, I
could have begun this saga with what had happened the day before and not
made a mistake, because the first barrier wasn't broken in Belgrade, but
miles
away in a "Kolubara" mining complex.

Protest gatherings throughout the country and Belgrade started some week
ago as soon as the shady official election results were published, but
this was
a deja-vu in many ways. Just like in 1996 (when the establishment was
forced to admit the opposition victory in local council elections)
people flowed
into the squares in all the big cities across the country, demanding
justice and calling for all-out civil disobedience.

However, this call was limited to certain social layers. Middle class
professionals and the student movement were traditionally at the core of
these events.
Local small businesses, cinemas, theatres, schools and universities
responded to the opposition calls and went on strike immediately, but
industry had
always remained untouched by these movements. Partly due to the openly
elitist and anti-worker politics of the opposition leaders and mainly
because of
the manipulation of the unions controlled by Milosevic's Socialist Party
through the union bureaucracy, big waves of strikes hadn't been seen in
the last
ten years.

This time things went further, much further. The turning point happened
a few months ago, long before the elections, in the place where the
class struggle
had been at the highest level for years now, Kosovo. Under the weak
excuse that it's destroying the environment some 900 KFOR "peacekeeping"

commandos with the help of tanks and helicopters seized the
lead-smelting plant in southern Kosovo. Workers refused to go back to
work and decided to
picket the plant. This event hit Serbia as big news and the
establishment couldn't afford to ignore it. They gave the workers
support (only in words of
course) and the strike had it's place in prime time on national TV.

So, this time, after the election results were published, the wave of
strikes went deeper than anyone could have imagined. By mid-week , fewer
than 100
factories were working across the state. It started with public
transport and garbage collectors and culminated in the country's most
important coal mines
in the Kolubara district. This particular strike threatened to leave
half of the country without electricity. Police squads surrounded the
plant immediately
and tremendous propaganda was used against them; the plant was
threatened with lay-offs. Despite these pressures the workers resisted,
refused to
negotiate and demanded that the opposition leaders address them
personally. On Wednesday evening a bus with one opposition spokesperson
managed
to break through the police roadblock and go inside the plant, and by
Thursday morning the miners were on their way to Belgrade to put the
final nail in
Milosevic's coffin. Kolubara miners were just the most notable example,
but this pattern was repeated by workers all over the state. As I noted
earlier
Belgrade was filled with heavy machinery and people who were confident
and determined to go "all the way".

Indeed it's really hard to explain everything that was happening that
chaotic afternoon. To a casual observer it might appear that the people
had "gone
mad" and many people will tell you that they witnessed "anarchy", but as
Trotsky pointed out a long tome ago: "Revolution appears to a
conservative as
collective madness only because it raises the normal insanity of social
contradictions to the highest possible tension".

It is exactly thanks to this "insane majority" that history keeps moving
forward. It is exactly because of these half a million "lunatics" that
we got rid of
the parasitic bureaucracy that had been on our backs for decades.
Anyway, I'll try to describe what I saw (or what could be seen through
the tear gas
clouds).

By 2 p.m. hundreds of thousands of people had already gathered in the
area around the state parliament. Opposition leaders held speeches and
decided to
give Milosevic a 60 minutes deadline by which he had to resign. The
biggest mistake, however, would be to believe that the organisers had
some kind of
absolute influence, power or control over the crowd.

Everything that happened that day grew directly out of the general
atmosphere and the initiative came from the people. Opposition leaders
got "caught off
guard" and were pretty hesitant and got left behind in the beginning.
The masses probably made them go further than they imagined in their
wildest
dreams. Around 3pm the crowd ran out of patience. Surprisingly, the
police road-block at the front of the parliament was not that massive.
This
encouraged the crowd and the first wave occupied the main staircase.
After a short fight with the cops the staircase was won.

This symbolic act released cries of support and cheering from the
masses. People climbed the stairs and started to celebrate vigorously
waving their flags
and chanting. However this turned out to be a trap. All of a sudden tear
gas bombs started to fall on the staircase and into the crowd from all
directions.
The police obviously had agent provocateurs inside the crowd and
strategically placed people on the rooftops of local buildings
"showering" the crowd
with tear gas.

At that moment all hell broke loose. So much tear gas was released that
you could see a huge cloud of smoke rising from other parts of the city.
People
were crying and coughing all over Belgrade. The crowd was chased away
from the staircase and the people were outraged. People could be heard
shouting "They are trying to suffocate us all!"

If the crowd had come angry, by this time it was already raving mad. A
second wave took charge. What had been expected the whole day finally
took
place. The crowd split into a dozen smaller groups and dispersed all
around the parliament and across the area. The police also scattered and
abandoned
their positions and vehicles.

Nothing could stop the sea of people. Police cars were put on fire and
now nothing stood between the protesters and the parliament. You could
see
individuals climbing and entering the building through smashed windows.
While one part of the protesters was entering the building others
organised in a
split second. Arming themselves with police equipment that they had
taken from the police, and also with clubs and shields made from the
parliament
furniture, many chanted "RTS, RTS!" (Radio Television of Serbia, the
much hated national television building controlled by Milosevic)
signalling that this
was the next target located nearby. All along a rain of smoke bombs was
falling all around.

>From this point on people organised spontaneously and took over crucial
buildings. Most "private" TV stations and newspaper s that were also
controlled
by the regime were freed without much trouble. Local apparatchiks and
"program directors" started to "abandon ship" like rats before the
flood. Many of
them got caught in front of these buildings and were beaten. "Get out,
Get out!", demanded the crowd. They were helped by the staff inside
these
buildings that refused to take orders and joined the protesters.
National Television was guarded by the police for a short period of
time, after which they
scattered. Many of them took off their uniforms and joined the masses,
others desperately tried to stop the crowd with tear gas and rubber
bullets (real
shoot-outs were also reported).

With the help of a bulldozer the Television studios building entrance
was pushed through and soon enough the whole building was in flames. The

parliament was also set on fire and people kept coming out with
"souvenirs". People seated themselves in the "ministers' sofas" which
they placed in the
streets and enjoyed reading classified documentation and papers with
parliamentary seals.

"Rioting" and" looting" was reported all around, however the targets
were obviously not chosen according to the level of material gain. Only
certain shops
were looted. Foreign observers may not understand this , but each object
that was torn down had some kind of symbolic significance. For example
an
exclusive perfume shop in the centre of the city was looted because it
is believed that it belongs to Milosevic's son. The parliament
represented political
oppression, the National TV building represented media propaganda and
lies upon which this system had laid it's foundations. They were both
burned to
the ground. Of course, the local police station was not spared either.
Unknown quantities of weapons were taken from this station before it was
set on
fire.

By the evening most of the battles had already been won. "Belgrade is
ours!" could be heard from thousands of throats. Anger slowly
transformed into
happiness and rioting into celebration. People gathered once again from
all sides in front of the "liberated parliament" and two trucks carrying
huge
speakers made it's way through the crowd that was singing and dancing to
the music. The, by now, legendary bulldozer was exhibited to the people
and
fire extinguishing vehicles were let through to hose the burning
parliament.

People already started to debate and organise among themselves
spontaneously. Some of them took things out of the parliament and TV
building and
continued to destroy what was left of it; others claimed that things
should be collected in one place and saved because they are all "our
things" and we're
going to need them in the future.

However, not a single person could completely relax. People did not
throw away their "arms" immediately, since a counter-attack and the army
was
expected. A rumour started to circulate that the army tanks were already
on their way to Belgrade.

Opposition organisers and politicians finally re-appeared and started to
make speeches to "calm down the mass". Vojislav Kostunica (the
opposition
presidential candidate) was announced as the "new president of the
country" and people greeted him with cheers. During his speech a
spontaneous chant
started to come from the crowd: "Let's go to Dedinje!" ("Dedinje" is a
residential area where most of the high profile bureaucrats and army
generals live,
including Milosevic). The people felt that it was time to seize the
moment and "go all the way" while the enemy was still breathless.
Kostunica assured the
crowd that it was all over; that there was no need for further fighting
and that the police wouldn't intervene. In the meanwhile news broke out
that the tanks
had stopped and that the army wouldn't go "against it's own people". The
party had started.

At the moment that I am writing this the celebration is not over yet.
People are still in the streets beeping their horns and taking pictures
of the burned out
parliament. TV channels have started broadcasting once again, but this
time publishing uncensored news and playing formerly blacklisted
artists. Tons of
foreign media journalists are also mingling around. This morning a
French reporter asked me to give a statement. She asked me: "what can
the European
Union do for you now?" I answered: "Leave us alone and let us continue
what we started yesterday". The confused journalist thought that I had
misunderstood her and said that she was referring to credits and
investment. I began to explain how all of this did not bring any good to
the people of
Eastern Europe or Russia, but she told the cameraman to cut and went
along looking for a suitable comment and a victim.

A ceremony was held today honouring the newly formed government and the
president. However, Vojislav Kostunica is not an anonymous political
figure in Serbia. He formed, and is a leader of, the Democratic Party of
Serbia, one of many opposition petty bourgeois currents. The western
media label
him as a "moderate nationalist", however I remember him as a right wing
reactionary par excellence, a person who never said a single word
against
Milosevic's war crusades and at the same time makes a fetish of market
economy and private property. He does not hesitate to point that he is
speaking
for, and addressing, the Serbs in the country (since, in his words, they
are a majority and hence hold the biggest responsibility for the fate of
the country)
and that he will help us to finally step out of the "communist stone
age" and jump on the train with the rest of the "civilised world".

Not surprisingly, the imperialist powers give Kostunica full support.
They have already stated that the sanctions against Yugoslavia will be
lifted, but I
doubt it will be done completely, at least not without a long list of
uncompromising demands delivered straight to Kostunica's office.

The opposition alliance organised a concert for the people and held
speeches today. The "Kolubara" miners were mentioned and the crowd gave
a big
applause, but instead of passing the microphone to the miners it was
passed to a local church figure who said a collective prayer!

However, the Kolubara union issued a proclamation today that will reach
the people in spite of the opposition's effort to silence them now that
they are
"not needed anymore". The strike is not over yet . They demand that the
new government dismiss the still active Minister for Energy and Mining
from his
position otherwise electricity will be cut off from Belgrade once again.
This clearly indicates that very valuable lessons were learnt during the
last few
days. The working class got it's confidence back and became aware of
it's power and the people lost the illusions (if there ever were any)
that things can
be changed by papers being thrown in a wooden box.







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