Protesters Warned by Yugoslavia : President Says Unrest May Lead to Stern Measures

Times Staff Writer

The president of Yugoslavia warned Sunday that continued economic and social unrest could lead to the “imposition of extraordinary measures” by a government increasingly concerned by events “seriously disrupting the democratic process.”

In a nationally televised address, Raif Dizdarevic stopped short of threatening to declare a national state of emergency, but he appealed to Yugoslavs “to end public demonstrations that could have unforeseen consequences and to use established democratic institutions to remove those things they regard as bad.”

Mounted Major Drive

Dizdarevic was referring to massive demonstrations that last week brought the resignation of the provincial government of Vojvodina. The protesters, surrounding a government building in the province’s capital of Novi Sad, were mobilized by supporters of the Serbian Communist Party leader, Slobodan Milosevic, who has mounted a major drive for power here by rousing both the ethnic and economic concerns of the Serbian population.


Milosevic’s supporters staged a similar demonstration Friday and Saturday in Titograd, the capital of the southern republic of Montenegro. As they had in Novi Sad, the demonstrators demanded the resignation of the republic’s government and its Communist Party leaders. The authorities resisted, however, and sent in riot police Saturday to clear about 20,000 demonstrators from a public park next to the Parliament building.

The resistance of the Montenegrin officials, with the apparent backing of Yugoslavia’s federal government, temporarily checked the Milosevic drive.

Police Units Dispatched

Reports from the Montenegrin city of Niksic, 30 miles from Titograd, said that paramilitary police units had been dispatched Sunday to break up a crowd of students and striking workers, whose demands echoed those voiced earlier in Titograd.


In his speech Sunday night, Dizdarevic did not refer to Milosevic by name, but no Yugoslav could miss the scathing criticism aimed in his direction.

“We will never be reconciled to those who are playing with nationalist emotions, which should never be used to set ethnic fires,” Dizdarevic said. “He who is doing this is working against his own people and undermining the foundations of Yugoslavia.”

Milosevic, 47, is a former banker who in recent years has risen from relative obscurity in Yugoslav politics primarily on a single issue--Serbian grievances over the ethnic Albanian population in Kosovo, once a Serbian stronghold and regarded as the historic cradle of Serbian culture.

In the 1960s, two Serbian regions--Kosovo and Vojvodina--were granted the status of “autonomous provinces” in Yugoslavia’s ethnic and cultural patchwork, which includes six republics, in addition to the two autonomous provinces. The arrangement was designed by the late Yugoslav leader Josip Broz Tito, at least in part because of his mistrust of the Serbs, whose 8 million people represent nearly a third of the nation’s population.

Kosovo, in particular, has been a center of tension between the predominantly Muslim ethnic Albanians and the Orthodox Serbs, whose population in the region has been declining steadily. Ethnic Albanians now form 80% of the region’s population.

Milosevic has gained a vociferous and rapidly growing audience among Serbs with his appeals for a reassertion of Serbian control in both Kosovo and Vojvodina. His critics say that he is attempting to use the issue as a springboard to national power. In a series of large demonstrations begun three months ago, followers carry large placard portraits that depict him in a white suit, once regarded as the trademark of Tito, whose iron-fisted leadership created the modern state of Yugoslavia.

But while the demonstrations began with a focus on the ethnic issue, Milosevic’s supporters also began to capitalize on the rapidly declining economic situation in the country, arguing that the same incompetent leaders who had presided over the decline of Serbian fortunes in Kosovo and Vojvodina were equally responsible for mismanaging the economy.

The economic issue has proved as potent as the ethnic question--if not more so.


Yugoslav inflation is officially calculated at 217% annually. Wage restraints imposed by the International Monetary Fund have severely strapped workers, who complain that they cannot afford basic necessities. There were more than 1,500 strikes by Yugoslav workers last year, and more than 700 so far this year. The value of the currency is shrinking daily, and unemployment is mounting.

Meanwhile, the country’s Communist government presides over a hodgepodge mix of free enterprise and central planning. In a situation similar to many of their East Bloc neighbors, the Communist leaders here resist the next logical step, which would mean relinquishing power to a pluralistic political system and a market-oriented economy.

Milosevic and his supporters are not advocating anything so revolutionary, but instead focus on mismanagement and corruption, which abounds in the Yugoslav system. It is an approach that does not go against the Communist orthodoxy but has thrown a scare into its entrenched leaders.

On the other hand, beyond his promises to “clean up the mess,” he has not made clear to the aggrieved factory workers who turn out to support him just how he might devise a lasting remedy for their complaints.

Dizdarevic cautioned against unfounded accusations leveled at political and government leaders in his speech Sunday, saying that “democratic principles are not being followed.”

He said that institutions of Yugoslavia’s government were, in many cases, “in fact paralyzed and no longer carrying out their legal functions in places where people are demanding their resignations.”