Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change
The Cacak Plot
The opening blows of the Yugoslav Revolution were highly coordinated operations backed by a core of armed and committed soldiers, war veterans and police officers, claims one of the organisers of the uprising.
The mayor of Cacak, Velimir Ilic, a key figure in the overthrow of Slobodan Milosevic, told the Belgrade daily Glas Javnosti that the seizure of the federal parliament and state broadcaster, RTS, had been "carefully prepared" over a long period of time.
"For months we were laying down our plans," he said." Each demonstrator was allocated a specific task. We knew which group was in charge for each part of the city and what they had to do."
Ilic said utmost secrecy surrounded the preparations. He had recruited army personnel, retired and serving special police officers, as well as veterans from the Bosnian war. Leaders from the Democratic Opposition of Serbia, DOS, the coalition behind Yugoslavia's new president, Vojislav Kostunica, were left in the dark about the plans, the mayor said.
"Not even the policemen and special forces who took part in this action knew of each others existence until the very end," Ilic said.
"It's either victory or death!" Ilic told around 10,000 people who gathered in Cacak, before setting out in a 20-mile long convoy of buses and vehicles for the showdown in the capital on October 5.
People from Uzice, Nis, Gornji Milanovac, Smederevo joined the column as it approached Belgrade. As they converged on the city centre, their number was swollen by hundreds of thousands of local protesters.
The throngs of demonstrators waged a psychological war against the police trying to protect key buildings. One young man walked up to an officer outside the parliament building and opened his jacket to reveal an automatic rifle. "I have nothing to lose," he yelled. "You have to decide for yourself." The policeman was speechless.
Among the thousands of demonstrators who descended on the federal parliament and RTS building were groups armed with guns and petrol bombs and gangs of youths. Prominent among the latter were Red Star Belgrade football fans keen to take revenge for police beatings.
Ilic claims he had at his disposal ten officers from the elite 63rd Parachute Brigade, several former state security secret agents and about half a dozen members of elite police units. Team leaders were provided with walkie-talkies - some were unfortunately attacked by demonstrators who mistook them for plainclothes policemen.
The parliament building was finally breached when the protesters succeeded in tricking police outside into posing for souvenir photographs, allowing another group to slip by the cordon and storm the entrance.
Next to fall to the protesters was the RTS building. Petrol bombs set it ablaze forcing police inside to surrender. In the final push, a bulldozer was driven through the front door.
Vladan Dugonjic, a mechanical engineer from Sabac, was one of the first to get inside the RTS studios. Sabac, who took part in the March 1991 clashes with police, said he had waited ten years to realise his dream - the end of communism in Serbia. Despite the clouds of tear gas, he said, he managed to get into the building and snatch a microphone away from Spomenka Jovic, a pro-regime journalist.
"I fell down many times, I rushed through the flames," he said. "My sleeve caught fire, but I was determined to get into RTS, even if that meant losing my sight. That building generated so much evil."
Rumours around Belgrade say another veteran of the wars in former Yugoslavia, Dragan Vasiljevic, alias Captain Dragan, took part in the capture of the hated state broadcaster.
Vasiljevic led a unit of Serbian volunteers during the Krajina conflict. People under his command, it is said, captured vital RTS transmitters, enabling the opposition to begin broadcasting over the network.
Some claim many of the protesters were paid for a 'good day's work'. One of Ilic's security men, Ivan Stragarevic, vehemently denies this: "We joined with all our heart, we didn't do it for money."
Many of the Cacak protesters had left their hometown as if going to war, saying final farewells to their families. "We dared not return home without completing the job, because the police would have beaten us and put us into jail on the way back," said one protester.
Milenko Vasovic is a regular IWPR contributor.
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