Opposition Leader Seeks Moderation, Not Revenge
The once-fiery opposition leader Vuk Draskovic, in his first political rally in more than two years, called Saturday on Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic and his political machine in Belgrade to resign and make way for a transition government of “independent Serbian experts” to rebuild this war-torn country.
But Draskovic, in sharp contrast to his historical role as Yugoslavia’s “czar of the streets,” appealed for moderation and cautioned one of the largest crowds yet to gather at the recent organized opposition protests throughout Serbia that now is not the time for revenge.
Surprising many of the tens of thousands who gathered here, many of them unemployed couples, families, elderly and youth whose lives were shattered by 10 years of wars and especially by NATO’s recent bombardment, Draskovic pledged to personally guarantee that Milosevic--an indicted international war crimes suspect--will not go to prison if he steps down peacefully.
“I will not have a change that would put Milosevic in prison,” Draskovic told a crowd that carried signs labeling the president and his wife murderers and suggesting that Milosevic meet the same fate as Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceausescu, who was executed with his wife in 1989, only days after being overthrown.
After hushing his own loyalists as they chanted Draskovic’s anti-regime slogan, “Red Bandits,” the bearded opposition leader declared: “Serbia needs silence. We need to listen to each other.”
Draskovic’s speech in this devastated industrial city of 186,000 in Serbia’s heartland, where his sometime opposition Serbian Renewal Movement controls City Hall, also appeared to deepen the divisions among Yugoslavia’s pro-democracy opposition, whose infighting has been a key factor in keeping Milosevic and his Socialist Party of Serbia in power.
He derided as “a charade” the now almost daily protests sponsored by the multi-party Alliance for Change, along with opposition petition campaigns and city council resolutions throughout the Serbian countryside calling for Milosevic’s resignation.
Only by guaranteeing Milosevic’s personal safety and the job security of his tens of thousands of Socialist Party patronage workers, Draskovic told the crowd, can postwar Serbia avoid civil war.
The speech resonated to only polite, reflexive applause among many in Kragujevac, Serbia’s dying Motor City, which was harder hit than most of Yugoslavia during the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s 11-week air campaign to stop atrocities by Serbian forces against ethnic Albanians in the southern province of Kosovo.
The bombing demolished the city’s sprawling factories that had produced the Yugo, the country’s flagship car, along with trucks, farm equipment, other heavy machinery and, in a separate section, small arms. That has added 36,000 newly unemployed to the 20,000 who already were jobless here before the war.
What is more, Kragujevac has had to absorb more than 15,000 jobless refugees who are among the 130,000 who have fled ethnic Albanian revenge attacks in Kosovo since NATO replaced Serbian forces there a month ago.
“This is a dying city,” said Ratko Jovanovic, the city’s refugee commissioner. “What is happening here is not a humanitarian disaster. It’s a humanitarian cataclysm.”
Zoran and Vesna Spasic agreed. As Zoran cradled their 5-year-old daughter on his hip behind Draskovic’s stage Saturday night, the couple shrugged and laughed when asked how they survive.
“We don’t know,” said Vesna, a lawyer who hasn’t had a job in 10 years. “The savings are melting down now. Our parents are helping. But it’s harder and harder every day.”
Zoran, who is among the lucky few who kept his low-paying sales job at Yugo selling off a dwindling stock of spare parts, added that he doubts anything will come of the protests, but that the family comes because “still we have this hope that somehow Milosevic will go.”
When asked whether they would favor violence if that were the only means to remove Milosevic, Zoran said, “Can’t we have change without violence?” And Vesna added: “We all want change, but no one wants war.”
And that was the audience Draskovic addressed when he pitched reconciliation over revenge. Recent calls at the other opposition parties’ protests for Milosevic to be sent to the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia in The Hague for trial, he said, are increasing the risk of civil war between regime stalwarts and their opponents.
“Serbia doesn’t need party programs, ideological programs. Serbia needs a program for national salvation,” Draskovic said before outlining his program: New elections at all levels of government, measures to protect Kosovo’s Serbs, and the transitional government of internationally respected “Serbian experts” who would free Serbia from economic sanctions and global isolation.
Despite his impassioned plea for Milosevic’s resignation, that alone, Draskovic stressed, would not be enough to rebuild postwar Serbia.
“If people support this transition government, then all the sanctions will be removed, and the world will help Serbia,” he declared At the Cross--a point at the entrance to a pedestrian mall named for the 6-foot Serbian Orthodox Church cross that stands behind it.
But among the crowd that included priests from the national church, which also is calling on Milosevic to resign, there was the forlorn face of Olga Milivojevic, who explained that no programs will bring back the nephew who cared for her as if he were her own child.
Urosevic Dusan, 21, was a soldier killed during the war in Kosovo, she explained, her head hung low beneath a sign she carried calling Milosevic, his wife and his army chief murderers.
“All I want is that this nation turn against one man,” Milivojevic said mournfully, “rather than this one man who has turned against his nation.”