Police in the Montenegrin capital of Titograd broke up a crowd of about 20,000 demonstrators Saturday after they had mounted an overnight siege of the republic’s Parliament building, protesting a deteriorating economy and demanding the resignations of Communist Party and government leaders.
An estimated 20 to 30 people were injured when the police, armed with rubber truncheons and riot shields, waded into the crowd, which had refused to disperse in the face of several warnings.
An emergency joint session of Montenegro’s party and government met Saturday afternoon, with the government declaring its readiness to submit its resignation to a session of the Montenegrin Parliament later this week.
There were indications, however, that the party and government leadership is unlikely to follow the pattern set on Friday by its counterpart in the autonomous province of Vojvodina, whose ruling Politburo resigned after an angry crowd of about 30,000 surrounded a government building in Novi Sad, the provincial capital, protesting Yugoslavia’s declining living standards and high inflation, now estimated at 217% annually.
A party spokesman in Titograd said that, while resignations would be submitted to the Parliament, “replacements and sackings cannot be done in the streets.”
The mounting protests in Yugoslavia over economic issues have coincided with, and been fueled by, a series of mass demonstrations by ethnic Serbs over the issue of Albanian separatism in the autonomous region of Kosovo, a historic Serbian center whose population of 1.7 million is now 80% Albanian.
Serbs, who represent nearly a third of Yugoslavia’s ethnically polyglot population of 23 million, are angered over what they regard as Albanian domination of Kosovo, which they say has resulted in social and political discrimination and violence.
Demonstrations over the Albanian issue began in the Serbian Republic three months ago.
The dispute itself is not new. Until the mid-1960s, ethnic Albanians leveled similar charges at the Serbians--that Serbian administration discriminated against Albanians.
Under Yugoslavia’s late leader, Josip Broz Tito, however, Kosovo was made “an autonomous region,” a shift that most Serbs felt tilted the balance in favor of the ethnic Albanians. But the region has been scarred by violence--nine were killed in Kosovo rioting in 1981--and continuing tales of outrage and rape, with each side charging the other with matching atrocities.
But there is a new element in the turmoil--Slobodan Milosevic, the 47-year-old leader of the Serbian Communist Party. Milosevic’s supporters laud him as the heir to Tito and the defender of Serbian rights in Kosovo and Vojvodina, where the resignations of party chieftains Friday were a victory in his drive for control in the two autonomous provinces in the republic.
In all the confusion, Milosevic has become a key player in the Yugoslav system--a one-party, federal state, officially Communist but in fact a melange of central planning and entrepreneurial deviation, beset by a $21-billion foreign debt and labor unrest that routinely racks up about 1,500 strikes a year.
Milosevic’s opponents say he is using the Serbian-Albanian conflict in Kosovo as a springboard to wider power. Some of his opponents--as well as other Serbs who are not political activists--say his tactics are those of a demagogue who is attempting to harness the ethnic issue for personal advantage.
Since they began here about three months ago, the Serbian demonstrations--essentially anti-Albanian demonstrations--have become almost commonplace. For example, half a dozen are scheduled in various Serbian cities today. But the worsening economic situation has added to the sense of crisis surrounding both issues.
The 165-member Central Committee of the Yugoslav Communist Party on Friday criticized its own Politburo for its failure to stem the unrest over Kosovo, and hinted that a major party shake-up would “make necessary personnel changes” to deal with the unrest.
The crowd that gathered outside the Parliament building in Titograd on Friday and Saturday pressed issues that were initially voiced by about 1,000 construction workers, who walked off their jobs to protest low wages and rising costs.
The protesters shouted, “We want bread!” and “Our children are hungry!”
The standoff between police and demonstrators continued through the night, but police moved in at 7 a.m.