The dangerous choice to dissent in Serbia
In their quest to unseat Milosevic, opposition members endure threats, harassment, phone taps.
(Page 2 of 2)
"There were long lines to sign our petition," says a Democratic Party activist in Nis. "Then the police showed up to warn us. Later plainclothes men from state security told us to leave immediately."Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
The petitioners now operate discreetly in downtown Nis.
Yesterday in Belgrade, the Democratic Party held a petition drive in 24 locations asking for Milosevic to resign. "Officially we're allowed to collect signatures, but police showed up at every location to intimidate and harass our activists," says Ljiljana Lucic, vice president of the Democratic Party. Some of the people collecting signatures were called in to the police station for what is known here as "an informative talk."
But opposition organizers expect much worse, and recent events in the southern Serbian town of Leskovac serve as an example of what is yet to come. Leskovac became the fulcrum of antiregime activity on July 1, when Ivan Novkovic, an editor with TV Leskovac, aired a videotape of himself speaking to the camera during the halftime broadcast of the highly watched Yugoslavia-Germany basketball game.
Mr. Novkovic politely invited the citizens of Leskovac to "a meeting" to call for the resignation of local Socialist strongman and district leader Zivojin Stepanovic - a Milosevic crony.
Novkovic's hands trembled as he asked Mr. Stepanovic a series of rhetorical questions: "How do you feel when you fire people because they think differently than you? Were you initiating positive changes when you sent 40,000 people to war? Do you believe in God?"
Twenty thousand people showed up to Novkovic's "meeting," and he is now an opposition hero while he serves his 30 days in jail. His trial was swift and secret, and he'll have no job when he gets out. The other eight people who worked with him on that shift were placed on temporary leave.
In Belgrade, where offices of the Christian Democratic Party of Serbia serve as the headquarters of the Alliance for Change, mobile phones don't work, and other peculiarities have been noted.
"We really can't figure out why. There's some sort of interference," an employee says sarcastically.
"We know our offices are bugged," says Ms. Lucic. "That's just part of being the opposition."
Opposition leaders now speak of absolute sacrifices, thoughts born in extreme desperation. "If people in the opposition are scared of organizing, they're much more scared of the idea that Slobodan Milosevic will still be in power in the year 2000," says Slobodan Orlic, vice president of the Social Democrats.
"I lost my job because of politics. So what? We have to let go of fear. We expect to be intimidated and harassed, but they can't arrest all of Serbia," says Goran Svilanovic, president of the Citizen's Alliance, an opposition group.
"In Serbia, being involved in professional opposition politics entails enormous risks, but we have to press forward. We have no choice," says Zivojin Stjepic, of the Christian Democrats.
This week, opposition demonstrations are planned in Jagodina and Kraljevo.