This is a first-hand account of the events leading to the overthrow of Slobodan Milosevic as President of Yugoslavia. Vladimir Sukalovic, a research assistant completing a PhD in computer modelling, broke net publishing ground last year when he wrote two despatches
for On Line Opinion from Belgrade, at the same time that it was being bombed by the NATO forces.
Now he returns with a street-level perspective of the change of government. Part 1 can be found here and future postings will bring the rest of Vladimir's story in his own words.
From September 24 people protested almost every day. On a few occasions there were more than 100,000 people, and once 150,000 people came to the city square to protest against the election theft and the court decision not to count voting papers again. The same kind of protest was held all over the country. The message from all the towns in
Yugoslavia was clear: Milosevic is history, Kostunica won, and we want Milosevic to step down and hand the presidency to Kostunica.
But Milosevic had other plans and he was buying time. In the first days after the elections he managed to steal 500,000 votes and thus make his defeat into a draw. If allowed to go to a runoff he would probably win!
DOS, knowing that Kostunica clearly won, announced that the victory of the democratic parties would be defended at all cost. We would try to remain peaceful but, if necessary, force would be used.
Workers went on strike, stores were closed, roads blocked. One of the first to go on strike were miners from the "Kolubara" coal mine, which supplies coal to power plants. Milosevic reacted swiftly and ordered power restrictions.
He also ordered the police to intervene to restore peace and order all over the country. TV and radio stations called DOS and Kostunica "Traitors", "NATO mercenaries" and "Enemies of the state". Even Milosevic himself went on air (for the third or fourth time in his 10 years as president) and pleaded for people
to stop this "madness" and "chaos" and go back to work. His pathetic speech showed an old and frightened man, a shadow of the once bold and proud president. HE WAS FINISHED! But he decided to fight to the end.
DOS called a central protest meeting for October 5, which was to be held in front of the National Assembly in Belgrade and would last until the will of the people was officially accepted, with Vojislav Kostunica recognised as our new president.
On October 4, DOS published their plans. There would be three major routes to Belgrade: one from city of Nis, along the highway, another from the city of Cacak via the Ibar motorway, and a third from the province of Vojvodina across the Pancevo bridge. Police warned protesters that roads would be blocked but the people were so determined to
reach Belgrade that nothing could stop them. The Mayor of Nis addressed the police and Milosevic, saying "We will come to Belgrade tomorrow, and if you want to stop us, you will have to shoot us one by one, but no road block and no police force will stop us". The Mayor of Cacak went even further, and decided to travel with a bulldozer
all the way to Belgrade.
The people of Yugoslavia awoke at sunrise on Thursday, October 5 and headed to Belgrade. Smaller groups from villages joined along the way with bigger groups from towns, and soon it looked like three gigantic sand worms were crawling towards the capital city.
The column from Cacak, looked like this: a Jeep in front to warn the others of police roadblocks or other danger, the bulldozer carrier truck, then a truck loaded with rocks and stones for throwing at the police. After them came a truck full of beer and cola drinks, and the rest of the trucks, buses, and other vehicles transporting people.
Some people said the columns measured more than 30km in length and had more than 40,000 people each. The people from Cacak ran into a police squad that was determined to stop them from reaching their goal. After a brief conversation the yellow bulldozer was put to action. In few minutes the roadblock was cleared, police trucks and cars
demolished and the policemen scattered across the countryside, running for their lives under a rain of rocks and empty bottles. Later, I learned that some of them received an order to shoot at will but they chose to retreat rather become murderers.