|I was almost certain something was going to happen and was relieved when nothing did...|
Big Dave checks out the police line in Belgrade, Dec. 96
I dozed, half passed out, half aware of flying in the warm sunshine blazing through my window. I hadn't seen the sun in weeks, Russia being a blaze of gray haze and clouds these days. To be sure we get occasional days where the sun hints of peeking through, but like most of eastern Europe, winter comes and the best we can hope for is some light coming through the thick gray blanket of clouds for five or six hours. So subconsciously I was rejoicing, feeling the warmth of the sun through my jeans.
I was flying to Belgrade, capital of Serbia and the rump state of Yugoslavia. Yugoslavia, which used to consist of six separate but equal nation-states, is now composed of two, Serbia and Montenegro. Serbia has been ruled for the last ten years by Slobodan Milosevic, a man who has taken Serbia out of Yugoslavia, raised nationalistic fervor, seen it through four years of war with neighbors Croatia and Bosnia and has become the symbol of hope and peace with the signing of the Dayton peace accords last fall. Personally I think Milosevic is an evil man.
As the plane settled down, through the bank of clouds that blanketed the ground, I started to wonder what Belgrade would be like. I was here in 1989 when Milosevic sent his troops to Kosevo to crush the Albanians who make up 90 percent of the population in that former autonomous region. I was here in 1991 when anti-Milosevic demonstrations were crushed by the same police in the streets of Belgrade. I came through in 1992 on my way to Bosnia, my first assignment for the Associated Press. But since that time I have only been in Bosnia and Croatia, covering the war from their perspective because it was hard to get a Serb visa and the guys in Belgrade seemed to be handling their side of the war pretty efficiently. So this was going to be a new experience for me, based on an old one. I was excited.
The Dinar has stabilized since the lifting of sanctions, at a little above five to the dollar. Inflation, though, has jacked the prices of everything up to well beyond the reach of most ordinary citizens. I asked Sava, a photographer who works for the AP in Belgrade, what the average person makes in Serbia and he said 100 Deutsch Marks a month is considered a good salary. Dinner with Sava, Vadim, a photographer from Romania, and Dragan, another AP photographer living here, ran over 100 Marks. It has to be hard living here.
So when people were given the chance last month to change their situation, through local elections, they did what most of the peoples in eastern Europe have done, they voted for the opposition. Only in Russia has the ruling party managed to retain power and that was because of an overwhelming distrust of the communists. In Romania, Bulgaria, Poland, Czech Republic, all countries which had national elections this year, the opposition candidates or parties were put in control or a position to check power. So the Serbian people did the same, rejecting Milosevic's local candidates for those of the opposition. And Milosevic did what any normal fascist dictator would do when then he's displeased, he annulled the results.
But instead of sitting down, the opposition took to the streets, the first time in years. At first a few thousand led by Vuk Draskovic, a dissident writer who was a dissident when the communists ruled Yugoslavia, a dissident during the Milosevic regime and now one of the leading opposition figures. Slowly the numbers swelled until over 100,000 people were on the streets, singing, chanting, blowing whistles and marching through the capital, stopping traffic and having a good time at this first show of a serious opposition effort since 1991.
But the students are alone besides a few pensioners. There are no workers in the marches. Although some of the unions have come out in support of the students, the unions represent a small minority of the workers who make up the vast majority of those who support the government. The students, on the whole, represent the better off, better educated middle class who have never been on the side of the Milosevic regime. Milosevic knows this and I think is hoping the demonstrators will run out of steam and go home. But instead of that happening more and more people are turning up to the demonstrations, estimates from yesterday's march indicate over 150,000 people turned up.
There are theories why Milosevic doesn't crush the demonstrators. The foreign media likes the believe that its presence deters Milosevic from doing anything stupid and rash because of the international exposure as the exceptionally evil man he is, he would receive. Others think that perhaps Milosevic is confused and doesn't know what to do. And yet others think that Milosevic is afraid, not of the students on the streets now, but the people who haven't joined the demos, those who have fought for four years for a greater Serbia and were betrayed by Milosevic at Dayton. Those people, I heard, have guns, RPGs, military training and may be ready to use it to overthrow the government. This wouldn't necessarily benefit the opposition, it could lead to the rise of an even more authoritarian government than the current one.
But the theories aside, to walk in the streets through Belgrade with 100,000 people chanting and singing is magical. There is an energy to the demonstration, an electricity running through the air which excites and emboldens everyone from the very young to the very old. Fathers hold their children up to see the passing marchers and pensioners mount cement plant boxes on the sidewalks and shake their fists in support. In turn the demonstrators smile, shout, flash the traditional Serb three-fingered salute and wave their signs reading things like, "They Stole our Votes," and "Serbia is the World."
Everyone in the marches is exceedingly polite. There is no pushing, no shoving, people say excuse me when they bump into each other. They are well organized, careful not to damage stores, cars or buildings (except for the first week of the marches where the protesters hurled eggs and paint at particularly scorned institutions of the government, like the Politika newspaper building). Confetti streams down from supporters in offices who can't join the marchers on the streets but cheers and wave from their windows.
And every day the leaders of the movement come out to mingle with the crowd, touch a few hands, kiss a few supporters and make a few statements, calling on Milosevic to annul his annulment. But it's stopped there. There was hope, during the first week that the workers would join the movement and the opposition would gain enough strength to not only reverse the annulment, but to perhaps replace the Milosevic government. But the workers haven't come out in force and although the number of people on the streets is growing, the situation seems to be stalemated.
Last night the Supreme court upheld Milosevic's annulment, dashing the hopes of the opposition leaders that Milosevic would concede the election and in turn they would call off the demonstrations in favor of the ballot, the all democratic institution. Do more people join the demos? Do the workers now? There are also rumors about that the workers may, perhaps, join the strikes in the upcoming week. With the supreme court coming down on the side of the government, the ante has been upped again, with both sides seemingly unwilling to back down. I think interesting times are about to visit us here in Belgrade.
The whistling and shouting, screaming and hooting is so loud, so intense, that after an hour of standing with the demonstrators, it's impossible to hear anything. The students, it seems are of two minds about being photographed. One student, who was carrying an effigy of President Milosevic, was arrested and beaten up and is still in jail, and I think this has made the other students more wary of having their photos taken. Some of them turn away, others cover their faces with newspapers, making it difficult to work but I understand.
We still don't have a solution to the crisis in sight. Milosevic hasn't done a thing and the opposition, without a rallying point, is starting to come unglued. And we, the media are getting bored, same demos day after day, same pictures, same story, how long can this capture the world's attention? After all, the students have been marching for 21 days consecutively. On the other hand, 150,000 or 100,000 people, marching in the streets has to represent some kind of threat to the government. I think it's the promise of something radical happening to Serbia that's keeping me here, the AP with a beefed up staff and most of the world's news organizations in town.
Friday the 13th. I guess it depends on if your superstitious or not. Yesterday a phalanx of police impeded, for the first time since I've been here, the path of the demonstrators. It wasn't just a line of cops or perhaps 50 cops on horses which you may see in New York. This was a three deep line of police, riot shields locked together in the front row, helmets with plastic face masks pulled down and billy clubs at the ready. The second row was likewise armored and the third row was at the ready with tear gas launchers in case the crowd of 40 thousand became unruly. Behind these three lines were perhaps another two hundred police, kitted out in riot gear and god knows how many buses full of yet more police. All of these guys were there to make sure the demonstrators, under no circumstances, were going to get to President Milosevic's house.
When the demonstrators pulled up to the cops, tension heightened perceptibly. Student leaders quickly threw up a rope across the road, blocking the path of the demonstration and then ran down the road to try and negotiate safe passage through the police. But the cops weren't budging. Serbs are very good at following orders and the orders were no demonstrations were going to proceed past the point designated by the police. There was no arguing, no negotiating, that was the way it was going to be. Meanwhile, the students, straining for a view of the events 100 meters up the streets, were trying to gain high points, like on top of garbage cans or plant boxes on the sides of the road. Word quickly filtered back of the scene up the road and the students raised the level of their whistling, hooting, jeering and hurling obscenities.
Finally the demonstrators decided to turn down a side road and the march picked back up. As the students rounded the first block, they realized they could go left and try to gain Milosevic's house via an alternate route but as the crowd started to peel off, against the wishes of the organizers, more cops came flooding onto the road, again blocking the road, this time a mere 20 meters from the students. Electricity crackled through the air as confrontation appeared imminent. Organizers started to push and shove their colleagues away from the police, shouting at them to stay clear and go right. Eventually they formed a human fence and prevented the protest from going down the road to the cops. And yet. The noise picked up, reaching unbearable levels as students blew on plastic whistles non-stop, screamed at the top of their lungs and tried to provoke the police into action.
Eventually, though, the students seeking confrontation backed away and the protest moved on. Many of the students curious to get a glimpse of the cops, climbed fences, trees, light poles and traffic lights. Others took out their happy snaps and tried to get a picture of the forces blocking their way to freedom. Tension eased out of the air like a slow leak in a bicycle tire.
It was the only time I've been here that I've turned on my third camera body. I was almost certain something was going to happen and was relieved when nothing did. But I don't think it can stay that way. The opposition gains by violent confrontation and Milosevic thinks he'll be able to crush the demonstrations by forces. Many people here see only the Romaian scenario as the end to the events in Belgrade.
Milosevic who recently received a letter from Secretary of State Warren Christopher expressing his concerns about the situation in Serbia replied that what Christopher had heard in the international media was untrue, the demonstrations are being run by radicals and the police are only doing their duty protecting the citizens of Serbia from the unruly types. Essentially Milosevic said, this is my country, butt out. Not good statesmanship, but it's a game he's managed to play successfully for the past ten years.
Today is another day. Yikes.
Serbian TV blares broadcasts of demonstrations in towns throughout Yugoslavia. People wave big Serbian flags and chant slogans. It appears the entire country is outraged; not against Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic, but against the opposition demonstrators in Belgrade who are "agents of foreign powers," and are disrupting the economy of Yugoslavia. It's truly propaganda at it's best, the likes of which I haven't seen anywhere. The funniest part is it's so badly done, so crudely orchestrated, it's scarcely believable. The overall pictures shown are not from today's rallies. Some of the people blasting the opposition are shown on rain-swept platforms even though the day was brilliantly sunny throughout the country. And the newscast goes on and on and on. For 15 minutes the demonstrations supporting the president are the main item in the news, the reports going from town to town, reporter to reporter. But the faces in the crowds all look the same, the posters all lettered in the same hand, the placards of Milosevic strikingly similar. Nary a word is mentioned about the 200,000 people who again marched through Belgrade's streets demanding the reinstatement of the Nov. 17 election results. My question, of course, is how could people possibly believe this? It's such blatant manipulation of TV, the most powerful of communication mediums, that it's laughable.
It's effective. Milosevic did the same thing in the late 1980s except then the cause wasn't the defeat of the hundreds of thousands of people defying the government in the streets of the capital. Then it was the calling to arms of the greater Serbian nation; to crush the Muslim separatists in the autonomous province Kosovo, to rescue Serbs from the terrors of the Ustashi Croats in eastern Croatia and Krajina, to make sure that the autonomy of Serbs was preserved in Bosnia. This policy, of course, ultimately led to four years of war, sanctions and the destruction of the integrity and nation of Yugoslavia. But it succeeded in securing Milosevic power, power which he has maintained with an iron fist for almost ten years.
And Milosevic is among the best in the world at using his television stations, his radio stations, his newspapers, at getting his message across. He even goaded the west into believing he was a responsible leader by "managing" to stop the war in Bosnia. The Serbs were getting whipped by the government army from Bihac when the Bosnian Serbs begged the international community to broker a cease-fire which ultimately led to the Dayton peace agreement. And Milosevic was blamed by nationalist Serbs of selling out, the visions of greater Serbia; trampled by America at Dayton. So with the rise of the opposition, hundreds of thousands of people in the streets, Milosevic has had to think carefully in order not to be trampled by the nationalist machine he created.
So now the "people" who have heard of the opposition demonstrations (although not on TV or radio because throughout the month of protests scarcely a word has been mentioned) are out in force, voicing their support for their "elected" president, his party, his government, his policies. Undoubtedly they'll want to march in Belgrade, the capital and here the trouble lies. Two diametrically opposed groups of protesters, one 200,000 people strong, one perhaps 5000 people strong but backed by perhaps 5000 police, could, one supposes, come into confrontation. In order to restore "law and order" one demonstration is brutally suppressed , the back of the opposition movement on the streets broken. And at what cost? Milosevic, on his TV stations, his radio stations, in his newspapers, is seen as a man of peace who took action to control demonstrators who were bound to turn violent. After all, how can 200,000 people converge in the streets day after day after day and NOT be violent? Convoluted thinking is the Serbian fascist way of thinking.
Shortest day of the year. Last year at this time I was hightailing it out of Tuzla where the American troops were starting to arrive in masses. It was snowing, I was cold, I was tired. This year I'm speeding, with Srdjan Ilic an AP photographer who lives in Belgrade, Justin Leighton, a British freelancer working for Network and AP reporter, Misha Savic, down the highway from Belgrade to Kragujevac, an industrial city some 120 kms. south of Belgrade. We are toasty warm in the office jeep and are all looking forward to witnessing two demonstrations.
Kragujevac was one of 19 cities that voted for the opposition in the Nov. 17 local elections. Kragujevac had its results annulled along with 14 others. And now Kragujevac was playing host to an opposition demonstration and to a pro-Milosevic demonstration, only one hour apart. It seemed to me that if things were going to get violent, this would be a logical place to start.
We pulled up to the center of town where the government supporters were blaring old communist music (or maybe it was new fascist music), the "demonstrators" were trickling into the open space. We walked around town to scout where the opposition demonstration would take place. Then we had a coffee. That's a time honored Balkan tradition, have a coffee before, during or after times of stress.
As we emerged from the cafe, a group of pro-Milosevic demonstrators came walking down the main street, led by a little Zastava with a portrait of Milosevic strapped to the hood. The marchers were mostly elderly but carried themselves in the proud tradition of die-hard commies. I see these folks most of the time at pro-Communist rallies in Moscow when a couple of hundred gather to celebrate one communist holiday or another. Intermingled with the older demonstrators were some young, short haired lads. They looked like the toughs, the enforcers, the guys who would take care of trouble if it started. We snapped a few pictures of the marchers but I felt uneasy, so I fell in behind the marchers and followed them. As we walked, opposition supporters were heckling the marchers, calling them scum and red bandits among other, far worse names. Replies were shouted back, traitors, chiefly.
The meeting was being held in the middle of town on a large field in front of a government building. The organizers had plastered up a big red banner and had old men with red arm bands organizing the "protesters" into groups. Cleverly, the organizers had all the placards, all the banners, all the portraits of Milosevic placed at the front of the demo so when the TV cameras panned the crowds, it would give the illusion of thousand being present. Actually, there were barely a thousand pro-Milosevic demonstrators. But with their sound system blaring, the chanting and singing, on TV it probably could be construed as at least 10,000.
Across the street, though, were some three or four thousand opposition supporters, whistling, jeering, cheering, hooting and crying out insults and shouting questions. Of course it was hard for the people at the rally to hear the opposition over the sound system, but I heard the whistles and decided it would be more interesting to see what would happen over there rather than at the front of the commies.
There were a few cops, maybe 30, in front of the demonstrators, urging them not to get mixed up with the commies. As far as I could tell, the demonstrators were content to shout, whistle, hoot and insult their opponents. But as the shouting grew louder, the insults more aggressive, the cops moved more cops in until they stood shoulder to shoulder in front of the opposition supporters. Then they started to push them backwards, out of the street onto the pavement. Surprisingly no one took offense although some of the bolder demonstrators hurled eggs and firecrackers at the commies. Others leaned through the linked arms of the police to shout the most degrading insults they could think of.
Eventually one young man broke through the cordon of police, or rather, he walked around the end of it, carrying a sign which was inflammatory and anti-Milosevic. As he gained the rear of the communist crowd, four or five old men came out and started to spit and scream at him. The sign-bearer stood there, not reacting to the insults and spittle. The commies tried to get at him, but from the fringes of the crowd a number of plain-clothes cops had materialized and separated the belligerents. As the sign carrier was pushed backwards by the cops, the aggressive commies came after him. One managed to get through the cops to grasp the sign carrier by the throat and throw a punch at him. It missed, but I think I witnessed the first act of violence, physical confrontation that will engulf Serbia in the near future.
After that it was more eggs, more fireworks until the rally broke up and the demonstrators started to disperse. At one point I thought there could be real trouble when both groups of demonstrators got away from the riot police and would have a chance to have a go at each other, but, as it turned out, the rivals were content to spew insults at each other from the street to the sidewalks and everything proceeded peacefully.
In contrast to the commie demo, the Zajedno (together) demonstrators, held a massive rally 200 meters from the commie demo and it was well supported. Even the traffic cops smiled as it went past. I saw one cop recognize a colleague of his marching with the opposition protesters and registered the surprise and pleasure on his face. If there is a movement to eject Milosevic from power, this has got to be it.
By the way, the opposition reports that the opposition opposition (or commies, they are opposed to the opposition) are planning to ship in some tens of thousands of people on buses on Tuesday for a rally in Belgrade. These are interesting times.
Jazz, modern pop, funk; loud, blaring. Hundreds of thousands screaming, shouting, whistling. White klieg lights illuminating the gently falling Christmas Eve snowfall, the missiles hurtling through the air. Tens of thousands more brandishing banners, flags and portraits of President Slobodan Milosevic, many armed, many aggressive, many many more bewildered. Dali himself couldn't have conjured up a more surreal scene.
It started when the factory workers bused in from the provincial cities like Pec or Prizren near Kosovo, banners and flags in hand, decided to take a walk through the Yugoslav capital five hours before the scheduled start of their "demonstration." Shouting "Slobo," they marched through the streets to Republic Square. On their way, Belgraders shouted at them, spat at them, assaulted them with obscene language and gestures. This was, I expect, the reaction they had been told to expect by their minders during their long trip here. A few skirmishes broke out, but the minders quickly reined their people back.
After reaching the square the workers broke for the symbolic statue of Prince Mikhailov, an historic figure who got the keys to Serbian cities from the Turkish occupiers. Maybe 2,000 workers, chanting nosily, aggressively, rudely, stood on or around the statue, proclaiming their right to the occupation of the square. Some young people, students perhaps, infuriated at the sight of the communists in their square, picked fights or shouted insults back. But nothing got out of hand because the minders insinuated they had guns and were willing to use them. Slowly, the crowd grew. The communists' chanting became more and more subdued. The surrounding crowd continued to grow, the noise escalating; whistles, hooters, shouting. The commies retreated to the statue, looking afraid. The minders looked defensive but confused, they certainly didn't have enough bullets to hold off this many people and there were no police in sight.
The situation grew more tense. As the crowd grew, perhaps 20 or 30,000 people had gathered to stare, shout, spit and insult the occupiers. These were Belgraders and they were offended that their city was being occupied by workers from the provinces, bused into the capital by Milosevic so Milosevic could stage a rally for Television proving to the masses that he is, in fact, still a popular leader in this troubled country. The minders, realizing they were in real trouble, (I reckon they knew the cops weren't supposed to show up until just before the scheduled Zajedno opposition rally) negotiated safe passage out of the square and back up the street to where their rally was supposed to take place. As the commies left, scared but defiant, they ran a gauntlet of insults and spittle. Everyone, from the very young to the very old, seemed to have some sort of abuse to spew at the invaders.
At the rally point, just in front of the Moscow hotel and scene of the riots by students in 1991, Yugoslav TV had erected a platform for speakers to address the rally from, complete with a huge sound system to let the surrounding neighborhoods know who was in charge of the city. Huge white- hot TV klieg lights had been set up to illuminate the stage and the first 50 rows of Milosevic supporters. Waltz music from the 1950s was blaring out of the speakers. It was here that the commies stopped, it was here the original 2,000 were met by some five or six thousand others. It was here the real trouble began.
There are a variety of passage ways and side streets that lead to the main street where the platform was set up. As Milosevic supporters trickled into the rally area, they were jumped by opposition supporters. Their Milosevic signs forcibly taken from them and torn apart, their banners and flags shredded. If resistance was offered the resister was beaten with fists, feet, sticks and anything else readily available. The rest of those small troupes then beat a hasty retreat to their buses, waiting for a police escort to come to the rally. It was here that most of the violence seen on worldwide TV took place.
Back at the main rally area in front of the Moscow Hotel, the scene was getting ugly. Hotheads from both sides had emerged at the fore of the crowds. The commies now numbered between ten and 20 thousand. The opposition supporters had between 100 and 200,000 people. The opposition supporters packed the street and sidewalk from the Moscow hotel, down the street, into the pedestrian area and back into Republic square. Insults were flying, and the occasional fist. As the opposition ranks filled, the front of the group became bolder. They would push slowly ahead, trying to reach the TV platform. They started maybe 50 meters by the platform and were advancing in ten meter chunks. Each ten meters was accompanied by a skirmish with the communist minders.
Each skirmish became more violent, more hostile as tensions escalated. At first it was fists. Then the commies took up pieces of broken signs and sharpened them into points and used them as spears. Finally guns were flashed although I didn't see any go off. Opposition supporters also armed themselves, picking up sticks. Soon firecrackers, eggs, fruit, bread, cans of coke, the occasional stone or stick was flying between the groups. The commies took the worst of the exchanges although the photographers were getting their fair share as well. We were in the middle of the groups, trying to get the action, but more frequently getting caught by the low-flying fruit or errant bash of a stick. Reuter Photographer Petar Kujundzjic got a stick in the face which had a nail on the end of it and received an ugly gash from just below his eye through to his nostril. Oleg Popov, another Reuter man caught a can of coke in the eye. I had my hand thwacked by an angry commie with a stick. But worse was yet to come.
And yet, as this was going on, the music screamed on insanely, Glenn Miller, classical Christmas tunes, James Brown, old patriotic songs. The cacophony nearly drowned out the shouts and insults of the opposing sides. The opposition crowd continued to swell maybe 250 or 300,000. The commies continued to slowly retreat. It seemed the opposition could gain the day by forcing the commies off the main street altogether and thus canceling Milosevic's planned rally. That would, of course, have been ultimate victory for the opposition and probably would have sealed the Stalinist dictator's fate. Efforts were made in that direction as one opposition supporter broke from the crowd and pulled down a klieg light, disabling an entire bank. But the opposition wasn't organized and this sort of destructive behavior was discouraged by calmer heads who had finally come to the fore of both crowds.
Around 1430 there was a stir in the crowd, then a murmur, the volume level went up and the blue helmets appeared down the left hand side of the street. They jogged, four abreast, swarming in from the side streets, down the main street to take up their positions in between the belligerents. I don't particularly care for cops, they are always hassling photographers without reason, and these cops, in particular, are real SOBs. Most photographers gained high ground to get pictures if the cops started to beat the protesters, or, perhaps, vice-versa. The cops linked arms. The front two rows had riot helmets, riot shields and big billy clubs. The next two rows had billy clubs and helmets, no shields. The last two rows were armed with AK-47 assault rifles and tear gas guns. Tension heightened as the communist supporters started to cheer the arrival of the police.
After establishing their position the cops waited for orders. They came quickly. Clear the main street of the opposition demonstrators without using unnecessary force, get them out of earshot so their whistling wouldn't mess up the planned appearance of the president at the rally. Do it now.
The cops started to push. Gently. The demonstrators slowly backed down the street. After the first push, say ten meters, many of the demonstrators sat down, making it more difficult for the cops to push them out of the way. Unfortunately for the seated demonstrators, they were also a lot easier to beat on the head with billy clubs. After refusing to be pushed back, the cops used their clubs to convince the front rows of people to get up and move back. In general, the cops did an amazingly efficient job of getting their job done without angering the crowd or injuring anyone seriously. Some photographers, of course, were caught in the billy clubs. These cops REALLY hate photographers, an AP photographer was one of the first beaten when the cops started to beat people, he took blows to the head and body. A Reuters photographer was forced to run a gauntlet of police and ended up with a huge bump on his head and a black and blue back. This is the price we pay for trying to get the news to the world outside. This is why I wear a flak jacket when covering these pigs.
After an hour of clearing the demonstrators down the street back into Republic Square, the police relented. Opposition leader Vuk Draskovic had addressed the crowd and asked they gather in Republic Square for their daily rally. The crowd followed Draskovic into the square and waited for his and other opposition leader's speeches to begin. Simultaneously President Slobodan Milosevic was addressing his 50,000 supporters up the street, and this was being relayed to the nation live on TV. There were, of course, comments about the violence, but the blame was laid directly at the feet of the opposition. Nothing was mentioned about the fact that Milosevic had scheduled his rally at exactly the same time as the opposition rally. Provocation at it's most blatant.
The communist rally broke up peacefully and the "supporters" hightailed it to their buses and were out of town well before darkness had engulfed the city center. The opposition rally continued until around 1730 when people started to disperse. The cops also started to pull back, forming ranks and retreating up the street to their buses. Then some hotheads, or maybe some police plants, (one can never be sure in Serbia) started to throw rocks, boards, ice, glass, or anything else they could get their hands on, at the police. About 100 police turned on the crowd, ran anyone down who happened to be standing in the street and beat them mercilessly. About 50 people were injured in this attack. If that weren't enough, the cops then lobbed tear gas at any remnants of the crowd and waded into those choked up and crying with their billy clubs. So much for friendly cops.
The cops then got into their buses and departed to the shouts of "dogs" and the waves of the traditional three-fingered Serbian sign. Opposition supporters remained defiant to the last. I believe it's this spirit that will eventually topple Milosevic and his evil police state. It was a merry Christmas Eve. Good thing here in Serbia the people are Orthodox and won't celebrate Christmas until Jan. 6th or 7th. It would have been a sad way to spend a Christmas Eve.
As an appendix to Christmas Eve, Milosevic has banned rallies because they "obstruct traffic" which is illegal. The cops are becoming more vigilante, they wait until the demo is just about broken up and then they turn and break on a few straggling demonstrators and kick the crap out of them. The word is also out that they have order to go for photographers and TV crews. Twice APTV guys have been beaten, although not seriously, and a Russian TV crew had its camera smashed in half. Further there are plain-clothes cops with billy clubs who beckon fleeing demonstrators over and then beat them. Evil. That's the only word for it.
Have a Happy New Year Everyone.