It's 3 p.m. on October 5. Hundreds of thousands of people pack
the streets in front of the Yugoslav Parliament on Bulevar Revolucije.
Riot police stand nervously smoking cigarettes or tapping their
batons against plastic shields.
The deadline set by the Democratic Opposition of Serbia for Slobodan
Milosevic to recognize their candidate, Vojislav Kostunica, as the
country's new president is at hand. In the center of the street,
opposition politicians speak from a flatbed truck. But there is
no mention of the deadline, and no announcement of the "drastic"
action they had promised.
On the frontlines of the demonstration are thousands of people
Serbia--farmers, coal miners, auto mechanics, even veterans of the
Kosovo war. They stare down the police, shouting, "Gotov Je" ("He
is finished"). They are restless. Many of them drove 10 hours to
get to Belgrade, some even walked. They didn't come to hear any
more speeches from politicians.
At 3:30, there's still no call for action. But a contingent of
about a hundred sturdy men
from Cacak, a town in central Serbia, decide to wait no more. They
break past the police line and storm the Parliament. Police launch
dozens of tear gas canisters, and batons swing wildly into the mob.
But the crowd quickly overwhelms the police.
Within moments the forces are fleeing and the Parliament is burning.
Seventy-two hours later, Kostunica is sworn in as the new president
of Yugoslavia. The revolt in the streets turns into a boisterous
celebration. "Serbia is being born again today," says 28-year-old
"Look around," her husband Dusan, 31, adds. "Young people, old
people, all of us are here to celebrate the defense of our elections
and our lives." Meanwhile, Western leaders pose before cameras hailing
"Serbia's new democracy." The calls have poured into Kostunica's
office, as country after country congratulates him. Many of the
calls have come from leaders of the NATO countries that bombed Yugoslavia
for 78 days last year. But Kostunica is no NATO ally. He has called
their action "criminal" and "sins against our country and our people,"
and has stated repeatedly that he will not turn Milosevic or other
indicted war criminals over to The Hague, calling it "a private
court for the U.S. government."
The new president says there will be no independence for Kosovo;
Montenegro breaking from the Yugoslav Federation is not on the table.
In an interview with In These Times, Kostunica pledged to "protect
Western political values in Yugoslavia from Western policy."