New Serbian Dawn

Up until the last moment, no one knew whether the old despot would slip his noose again. But then the incredible happened.

New Serbian Dawn

Up until the last moment, no one knew whether the old despot would slip his noose again. But then the incredible happened.

Tuesday, 6 September, 2005

Exactly when I was about to say that we may not have a happy end after all, and that Milosevic might have several trump cards up his sleeve, that which I have been dreaming about for years has happened in Serbia: everything, literally, everything is possible in Serbia! We have won!

And, how did it start? The night before the victory the Constitutional Court annulled the presidential elections. In other words, new elections were to take place, and that's all. Full stop. Presumably, that is what the master of our lives - Milosevic - had decided.

New elections would take place when the conditions conducive for them had been created - in a year, two, three. The shocking implications of this decision transformed the entire Serbian drama into a powder keg.

The news kept arriving from early morning - that the police had erected blocks on all roads leading to the city to prevent the citizens from arriving to the Federal Parliament, where the Final Decisive Rally was scheduled to start at 3 p.m.

Then came news about the thousands of policemen who were trying to push back the miners in the Kolubara complex, the miners appeal to the citizens of Lazarevac to come and help them, and, not to go to Belgrade.

A colleague called me on the mobile from the Ibar highway saying that several demonstrators had already been arrested, and that people had given up counting those who had been beaten up. It was uncertain whether a convoy of some fifty buses and one hundred cars from Cacak would manage to get through.

All those reports, contradictory and alarming, got the adrenaline going and turned the panic into fury.

I set out to buy cigarettes; all the shops were closed, blinds pulled down, nowhere a moving car in sight. Garbage containers, full of trash, in the middle of the street; several cars parked askew, a couple of people behind a car, all of us watch some 50 policemen in full combat gear run past down Slavija Square.

Whistling can be heard - it is reported that the students are on Terazije Square and are moving towards Dedinje, the part of the city where Milosevic lives. The report is denied by a witness who runs shouting that the students are at the Square and tells us to run away because the police are coming.

Fuck the cigarettes: I begin to run. The commission claims that there are some fifty thousand people on Republic Square.

Whatever might happen - and I feel anything can happen, because that's how it had to be - the chroniclers will analyse later how everything actually began.

The authorities were in a complete state of shock for the first six to seven days after the elections - unconscious and unable to recover. The rallies, demonstrations, support from abroad, a growing number of strikes and protests - pushed the regime, unused to defending itself, onto the defensive.

Finally, things began to change on Sunday. The attacks on the opposition became more intense, support coming from abroad - the Ukraine, Belorussia, Cambodia and Iraq - was cited.

The line was that the repulsive West had manipulated the election and intimidated the citizens of Serbia who voted as they did under the burden of the information war.

In his speech on radio and television at 5 p.m. on Monday, Slobodan Milosevic sends out the message that Serbia will disappear if the treacherous opposition wins, that the Serbs' fate will be worse than those of the Kurds, that neighbouring countries will strip Serbia's territories, that the evil foreign soldiers will occupy us, that we will lose our identity, that we will be more familiar with foreign literature than with our own, that new generations will not be able to devote themselves to their studies, that awful crime will reign, that we will have permanent wars.

But, if we vote for Milosevic, we will not know what to do with so much pleasure and so much peace, we will preserve the country, the identity, and it will be just wonderful.

With the mixture of threats and pleas, trying to look - since he could not really be - sincere, we were almost touched by his admission that he did not care about power, no not at all.

But, no one has any patience any longer for planetary conspiracies from Milosevic and his wife.

Tens of thousands of citizens are rolling down the streets; they are being cheered from the balconies by opposition flags, the trumpeters who arrived from Uzice and Cacak have broken through the blockade, and are at the head of the crowd. Is this a revolution?

I don't know, but there has not been so much joy in the capital for a long time.

The Boulevard of the Revolution is deserted, empty of vehicles. The lines of cars are heading towards the Federal Parliament; there are police in buses in nearby Tasmajdan park; furious whistles are directed at police securing the building of the hated Television.

The anger against state journalists, those war criminals who were killing us with commentaries and threats for years, is growing. They would like to switch sides now. But, where were they until September 24, what were they doing? What were they poisoning us with?

We shall all be veterans of the revolution - today we are all against Milosevic, great, wonderful.

Women with raised fists, pupils chanting "He's finished", students, several confused pensioners watching the Beginning of the End.

Indeed, I think to myself: if Milosevic survives this, if he manages to beat us again - he deserves to remain the President of everything and everyone until the end of our lives!

Even though the rally was just about to start, Radio Belgrade broadcasts - cold-bloodedly as if nothing is happening - a comedy programme interrupted by cheerful folk songs.

This morning - I will never forget it - I watched a twenty minute programme on the TV with instructions on how to recognise real from false honey at the market. It seemed that no one had told the presenter that the markets were not open, that Milosevic's honey had turned into Kolubara coal.

Headline news of Milosevic's Radio Belgrade is that the Federal Government is today considering the trade agreement with Russia.

Everything is so unreal, as if Radio Belgrade was broadcasting from some far-away planet: thousands of demonstrators are passing by under their windows, but the Radio does not see them. The demonstrations - the order says - officially do not exist! A song can be heard the in the streets: "Slobodan, kill yourself, and save Serbia." I hear a thumping sound. I think of the worst - the tanks.

But, the whistles, screams and loud cheering - "He's finished" - tell us that new demonstrators are arriving. It is crowded near the Law Faculty: the mass of people ten deep, taking up the width of the street, is moving towards the Federal Parliament; children, mothers, fathers, students, pensioners, many have already prepared themselves for the tear gas, with scarves over their faces, just in case.

Something odd hangs in the air; I have the impression for the first time that this is the end for Milosevic and that there is no retreat. The more we approach the Parliament, the more dramatic the atmosphere becomes; buses are parked in lines along the streets, hundreds of people stand on their roofs, several trucks from Cacak and Uzice, people with raised fists on them, miners from Kostolac are arriving.

A friend from the town of Ivanjica tells me that the mayor of Cacak, Velimir Ilic, headed the crowd, in front of which was a bulldozer. They broke through the police blockades and threw the police vehicles into nearby ditches.

I hear from him that many policemen are taking off their uniforms and hugging the demonstrators. In the crowd in front of the Parliament, we ask people on the buses to tell us what is going on. "Trouble in front of the Parliament...Fuck! Ours are getting in! Smoke, people, the Parliament is on fire," they shout from the trucks.

"They are throwing tear gas," our scouts tell us. "We can see white plumes of smoke."

I withdraw some ten meters, just to be close to an entrance if the chaos begins. The teargas chokes: I cough, I incautiously rub my eyes with my hands. I feel worse, I feel sick. With my jacket over my face, I run down the Boulevard. More tear gas near the Tasmajdan Park.

We all run, but we know we will be back, even angrier. We can see black, thick smoke coming from behind the Parliament. We hear that several police cars are on fire; several eye-witnesses claim that the Parliament

is on fire.

We can see flames spreading down the windows on the first floor. An unprecedented mass of people, lines of people bump into each other. "We have won," a student shouts. "The police are joining the demonstrators, they are with us."

Finally I see - the Radio Television building is on fire; three more floors are burning, the demonstrators have already broken into it, they are carrying out the monitors, chairs and computers.

The beat up several editors and presenter Staka Novkovic; they pull her hair and drag her on the floor. I am sorry, I say, for not having been there to give my constructive contribution to the freedom of the media.

It has been confirmed that notorious TV editors Spomenka Jovic and Milorad Komrakov had fled with bodyguards. Many are on the run - we shall find them.

Some of the policemen, we see, have already taken off their uniforms, their helmets and plastic shields.

Excited demonstrators are dancing on the squares like Indians carrying police paraphernalia as trophies. People are taking out anything they can from the Federal Parliament. Every now and then we see someone carrying something off - a chair, a clothes rack, a huge drawer.

Another has an exclusive trophy: a chair with the Serbian-Yugoslav federal eagles.

Two Chinese men are filming the demonstration from the roof of a bus. Some 30 people are pull the cameraman by his legs, shouting "Fuck his Chinese mother." Over the past year Milosevic has brought a large number of Chinese to the city, considering them Serbia's only friends. So the animosity towards the Chinese turns into aggression.

The Chinese are falling off the bus, someone throws down their camera, I watch them being kicked. Is this, I wonder, the end of the sweetest Serbian-Chinese love, cherished by Slobodan Milosevic.

I watch the demonstrators run out of Tasmajdan park. They tell us that RTS has stopped broadcasting news programmes and is only playing music.

A presenter appears on Studio B, the independent TV that was placed under the control of Milosevic's government. He says Studio B is free again.

TV Pink, owned by Zeljko Mitrovic, a member of the Yugoslav Left (JUL), stops broadcasting. So does TV Kosava, owned by Marija Milosevic, Slobodan's daughter.

All my favourite programmes, on which I have lived all these years, are disappearing. How can I buy Politika tomorrow and not read that Milosevic is the first hero of the heroic Serbian people, the saviour of the Serbian statehood and the Yugoslav state, the symbol of the survival of the Serbian national being, the freedom of Yugoslav citizens, the synonym of courage, honour, honesty and dignity.

All these pillars of the regime are now empty shells. All suddenly crumbled. Tanjug, the state news agency, says it is now with the people. The same Tanjug that in its Auschwitz-commentaries strangled each one of us with its lethal patriotic statements.

The entire Milosevic system, carefully cherished by buying people up and by fear of dismissal, has ceased to exist.

I gloat, having always known that Milosevic will leave in this way, in the street, faced with a million people, driven away like a dog, infinitely hated and ruined.

FRY President Vojislav Kostunica speaks on the First Channel of RTS that is - incredibly - taken over by Studio B.

He is not exactly my favourite politician, not someone for whom I would slash my wrists, not at all a person I am in love with, no, on the contrary.

Now, that Mr VK is the president - I feel nothing special, neither joy nor sadness, the only thing that matters is that Slobodan is no longer.

The streets of Belgrade are brimming with people, sitting, drinking, kissing each other, uncontrolled.

The necessary wine, mineral water and cigarettes are brought.

I am happy. I believed that I would turn into dust and ash before Milosevic disappeared.

To live without Milosevic is a feeling that spreads slowly, that enters the veins slowly, very slowly.

I want to be triumphal, uselessly drunk, and to believe that Slobodan Fucking Milosevic never existed...

Milosevic will never come back.. but, when you get used to your enemy sleeping with you in your own head for so many years, nothing, literally, nothing is easy.

Not even the instant news that they'll lift sanctions, return us to Europe, love us as if we are one of their own...all that is little consolation when you realise everything you missed over these 13 years.

Only now do I confront the lost time. Tired - I salute the Revolution and devote myself to a bottle of 1997 Chardonnay. I officially close the chapter of my life of these 13 years and try to begin to be normal.

Petar Lukovic is a senior journalist and columnist in Belgrade and a long-time contributor to the Institute for War & Peace Reporting.

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