The meeting of the United Democratic Opposition (UDO) that took place on 15 May was attended by only a few thousand citizens, which is a small turnout when compared to the meeting that was attended by tens of thousands in April. Regardless of turnout, however, serious questions and issues concerning the ruling government were addressed this time, just as they were in April.
For the first time, the UDO threatened that unless early elections take place and unless the government does not stop with its terror campaign, "there will no longer be any meetings and speeches." The gathered masses cheered on this statement by shouting "Uprising!" Another theme brought up at the meeting alluded to the Yugoslav army and police, singling them out as the ones who are able to solve this problem in the quickest possible way. In other words, they were suggesting a putsch.
Time for civil disobedience
The dominant message was that Serbia has been weakened both from the recent wars and ineffective politics. The only thing left to expect from the ruling government is civil war, which, according to the opposition leaders, is certainly something that the ruling government is prepared for.
Serbian Renewal Party leader Vuk Drašković called on those gathered and all citizens of Serbia in general to act in full civil disobedience. Also, several days before the meeting, Drašković told another crowd, amid the celebratory firing of rifles in commemoration of the Draža Mihajlović uprising that took place Ravna Gora during the Second World War, to "save amunition, because you will need it soon."
The regime of Slobodan Milošević has forced the opposition in Serbia to abandon the idea of a democratic exchange of power. The anti-democratic policies of the ruling government are causing so much unrest that the government is very close to imposing a state of emergency and a full out dictatorship. The independent media has been silenced, transmission from opposition-run Studio B has been disrupted, opposition parties are being banned from rallies and political opponents are being arrested daily, while the state-controlled media and aparatchiks are calling for the lynching of all Milošević's critics.
In another attempt to threaten the opposition, the regime has accused the UDO of the assassination of a high official in the Serbian Socialist Party that occured several days ago in Novi Sad.
The ruling government in Serbia is creating tension and is putting political, physical and mental pressure on all of its citizens. But it is irrelevant whether this is being done, because the ruling government is losing ground and terror has always been an integral part of Milošević's politics. Equally significant and ominous, the chance for a peaceful solution to the crisis is growing smaller with each day. Fear and uncertainty, products of the ruling government, can be felt in the air, on the streets and between friends.
One of the most important questions, that needs to be answered precisely is: How can the foundations of a democratic union be established, if the transition from the ruling government turns out to be violent?
Given the nature of the Yugoslav political landscape, many Serbs have a hard time understanding events and problems themselves. Consciously or unconsciously, the government is heading towards chaos, and it is taking the opposition and a good portion of the general population with it. Whether it is a hazardous and crazy electoral campaign, which would result in actual elections, remains to be seen. Or maybe it is done on purpose, in order to drain the opposition, which would not be prepared for early elections.
Time to be realistic
However, early elections are part of an optimistic vision that, for now, seem unrealistic. The second, and more realistic, vision is that the government is forcing the opposition in Serbia to be a more radical, militant, political unit to whom open conflict is an option. By intensifying the repression, the government, thus, forces the opposition to accept completely different methods of fighting and forces it to become an antipode of the ruling government, rather than its alternative, that is. Knowing this, one can expect that, with each new day, there will be some new trivial matter that will burst into the flames of a new confrontation in Serbia. Milošević has created an atmosphere in which his administrative rag dolls will be able to legalize lynchings, arrests, pogroms and executions, with their administrative repression.
Bearing in mind the unconventional tools and shrewd politics that Milošević uses, the Serbian Socialist Party (SPS) officials who were assassinated could very well have been mere pawns that he was willing to sacrifice, in order to have cause to react. All of the murdered officials have one common thread: All of them were "businessmen," who did not have important state functions nor any authority; they were not able to carry out their own decisions, in other words. Recently, some of these businessmen have become less than satisfied with top officials.
Will the government use its political/mafia assassins in order to drain the opposition? It is hard to predict, however, it is even harder in Serbia to sit and wait for that hour to come. All free thinking men, those with a critical attitude towards the ruling government in Serbia, feel, understandably, as if they are potential targets of the police and the state para-police. The situation in Serbia is very critical these days. The fuse that will ignite violence seems to be already lit, and no one knows how long they have before the explosion.
The polarization of the Serbian political scene has reached a critical and extreme point. The opposition would have no qualms about returning to a lower level of rebellion - meaning elections - but this is something the current government is avoiding, and will continue to avoid, at all costs.
Signal from Moscow
On 17 May, shortly after midnight, the government banned all independent electronic media in Belgrade as well as the daily newspaper Blic, which has a daily circulation of about 130,000. Citizens started to gather in downtown Belgrade in front of the Studio B building. Leaders of the opposition and Belgrade Parliament held a rally in front the city Parliament, while busloads of special police looked on from adjacent streets. All special police forces were on red alert, and across Serbia opposition members were arrested. Due to this, one can conclude that a state of emergency has started, however, it has yet to be officially announced. In Belgrade, there will be an attempt to organize rallies, in which citizens will be able to voice their protests, but this could lead to a real state of emergency.
It is indicative that this situation began after a high level state visit to Moscow. In Belgrade, it is widely believed that Milošević gained Moscow's tacit support for his oppressive tactics. The opposition parties suggested that a continuation of the current oppressive actions would bring about a complete blockade and the general collapse of all Serbian cities. However, it is not certain whether the opposition has the resources needed for such an action.
It is indisputable that Serbs are highly concerned about their future. The nature of the Milošević regime gives plenty of cause to worry, although some opposition leaders think that the government is playing one more trick and that neither a state of a emergency nor a civil war will actually take place. But there is no certainty, especially if one remembers that Milošević has used the army and police every time he has been guilty of something in the past.
Slavko Živanov, 19 May 2000
Translated by Vana Suša