The latest round of daily protests began September 21, when tens of thousands rallied in Belgrade and 19 other, cities across Serbia, including Novi Sad, Nis, and Kragujevac calling on Milosevic to resign.
On September 29 about 20,000 demonstrators marched in Belgrade and attempted to cross a main bridge to reach the neighborhood where Milosevic lives. The police stopped the march and forcefully dispersed the demonstrators. The next night, a crowd of 40,000 protesters came out on the bridge in a second attempt to reach Milosevic's residence. This time they were attacked by the heavily armed police and forced back. Twenty-one people were arrested and more than 60 were hospitalized, some with serious injuries. "Now I know how Croatians, Bosnians and Albanians felt under Milosevic's iron fist," Ljubica Micic, a 28-year-old nurse who was beaten by the cops, told the Associated Press.
Zorica Trufonovic, a leader of Women in Black, described this renewed police violence and moves to limit democratic space in a phone interview from Belgrade. Women in Black has combated the chauvinist policies of the Belgrade regime for a decade. "There are 23,000 cases pending against people who refused to go along with the war in Kosovo, many of them soldiers," she said.
Organizations like Women in Black, Nezavinost (a union independent of government control), and the Student Union of Yugoslavia have a record of efforts to extend a hand of solidarity to the Albanian toilers of Kosova who were fighting Belgrade's repression.
The daily newspaper Glas Novosti was banned from publication for 15 days for publishing a bulletin distributed at anti-Milosevic rallies. For the first time, police visited the offices of the Student Union of Yugoslavia for a "routine check."
Workers also face stepped-up intimidation on the job, according to Christina Ranic, a worker at the Zastava auto plant in Kragujevac and a member of Nezavisnost. "We are afraid to say anything to the supervisor," said the unionist. "You can find yourself on the street the next day."
Protests against the Milosevic regime halted during more than 11 weeks of bombardment of Serbia by Washington and other imperialist powers earlier this year. That assault devastated most of the industry and infrastructure of Yugoslavia, killing or injuring thousands of people and leaving hundreds of thousands without work. The bombing raids destroyed bridges, hospitals, schools, and houses.
With the lifting of martial law and the end of the US–NATO bombardment of Yugoslavia in June, working people and youth took advantage of the opening to express their outrage against the Belgrade regime and its policies that led to the prolonged war and press for democratic rights. The protests peaked August 19 when a crowd of between 100,000 and 150,000 people demonstrated in front of the parliament building in Belgrade. Since that protest, the participation has been less.
"Lots of workers are individually participating," says Ranic in a phone interview, "but our union itself has not endorsed the marches." Neither has the Student Union of Yugoslavia, though many students participate individually
Many workers and youth participate in demonstrations and protest rallies despite their being called by pro-capitalist opposition parties—such as the Alliance for Change led by Zoran Djindjic—who they do not support or see as an alternative to the policies of the Milosevic regime. Djindjic and other opposition leaders blame Milosevic for the draconian sanctions imposed on Yugoslavia by Washington and other imperialist powers. At the same time they advocate the integration of Belgrade's economy with the world capitalist market, especially with that of Europe.
Djindjic and Vuk Draskovic, leader of the Serbian Renewal Movement, have supported Milosevic's national-chauvinist policies and oppressive measures against Albanians in Kosova, while blaming Milosevic for the loss of "our" Kosova to "a greater Albania." Draskovic, while initially supporting the protests, recently has backed off, insisting that such protests "could trigger a civil war."
The pro-capitalist opposition parties call for "free and fair" early elections after Milosevic resigns. "Key to conditions for free elections are 2 million people on the streets," the equivalent of the population of Belgrade, said Djindjic in a meeting of several opposition parties on September 30 But his expectation of as many as 100,000 people for the protest rally of the previous night fell short
Working people continue to confront the devastating effects on their daily lives of the massive imperialist bombardment. The Milosevic regime has taken a few steps to rebuild the country and improve the situation of working people. For example, the oil refinery in Pancevo, a city near Belgrade, began to function again September 28, four months after its bombing by NATO.
But these steps are far too little. The Yugoslav ambassador, Dragomir Vusinevic, stated at a September 27 press conference in Athens, that more than 600,000 workers continue to be unemployed as a result of the destruction of factories, while 2.5 million do not have essential means to get by. The total cost of the destruction by NATO's bombing is over $100 billion, Vusinevic said.
According to the Federal Statistics Bureau of Yugoslavia, a family of four needs a monthly income of 2,877 dinars ($270) to get by—double the average monthly salary workers receive. Many workers are not paid at all, or irregularly. Milk, meat, medicine, and gasoline are among the goods hard to find and are hoarded on the black market.
"We are still only getting 20 Dmarks [US$11] a month," said Ranic, one of the workers of the destroyed Zastava automobile manufacturing complex, which at one time employed 38,000 people. "You need more than 300 to feed a family."
Both Washington and the capitalist governments of the European Union (EU) have expressed their support to the opposition parties' efforts to bring down Milosevic, making it easier for the regime to accuse those protesting of being "traitors" and "NATO lackeys." In a joint statement in the beginning of September, the foreign ministers of the EU appealed for the EU to support and send "humanitarian aid" to the local governments in Serbia controlled by the opposition parties. Clinton administration officials had previously also made similar promises of releasing some funds to cities where mayors are part of the opposition forces, at the same time as Washington maintains its sanctions against Yugoslavia. "We expect them to assume the lion's share of the reconstruction and development effort," said U.S. deputy treasury secretary Stuart Eizenstat referring to the EU.
The U.S.-led NATO occupation force (KFOR) is sinking its roots deeper into Kosova. Washington and its imperialist allies/rivals have carved Kosova into five sectors, each under U.S., British, French, German, or Italian command. This has been done with the acquiescence and participation of the bureaucratic rulers in Moscow.
The occupation of Kosova began after the murderous bombing campaign of Yugoslavia. During that imperialist assault, Serb paramilitary forces, as well as special military forces loyal to Milosevic, brutally expelled more than one-half of Kosova's Albanian population. Thousands of Kosova Serbs who disagreed with Belgrade's "ethnic cleansing" campaign fled as well. Most of the Albanians have now returned to the bombed-out villages and homes.
The imperialist military operation is further fanning the chauvinist divisions among working people promoted by the Milosevic regime. This has provoked the exodus of Serbs, Gypsies, and others from Kosova. Most of the 200,000 Kosova Serbs have been pushed out. Kosova Serbs have accused the Kosova Liberation Army (UCK) of carrying out attacks against them with the cover of the imperialist occupation forces. Just in the week ending September 26, KFOR spokesman Roland Lavoie reported 10 killings. Serbs organized a blockade that week of the central East West road in Kosova after two persons were killed and 40 wounded in a mortar attack near Kosovo Polje.
After a meeting with U.S. general Wesley Clark, head of NATO forces in Europe, UCK leaders Hasim Thaci and Agim Ceku signed an agreement September 20 to form a 5,000 strong police force auxiliary to NATO, called Kosova Defense Corps. The armed force will ultimately police Albanian toilers and others who will resist NATO's occupation. The U.S. government is pressing for the UN office in Kosova to have the right to issue travel documents to Kosovar residents.
The struggle of Albanian toilers throughout the region of formerly federated Yugoslavia for self-determination and national rights has for the last decade included a battle against plans to privatize Kosova's mines. Washington is pushing for the swift privatization of the rich Trepca mine, several power plants, and the local cellular phone network. Meanwhile last month the German mark was given the status of official currency in Kosova.
Washington's military intervention in the Balkans aims to further establish its supremacy in Europe, deepen its military confrontation with the workers states in Eastern Europe, including Russia and Yugoslavia, and create conditions that will eventually allow it to reimpose capitalist social relations in this region. The Yugoslav workers state was forged by a powerful workers and farmers revolution in the 1940s that overthrew landlord and capitalist rule and imperialist domination and established the Yugoslav federation.
European imperialist rivals of Washington—including Britain—as well as Moscow initially rejected the conversion of the UCK into a police force, but backed down under Washington's pressure. "Specter of Independent Kosovo Divides U.S., European Allies," read a headline in the Washington Post September 28. "Instead of European nations serving as a model for Kosovo, there is increasing concern on the continent that Kosovo's troubles might somehow serve as a prototype of Europe's future," the article stated.
"Both the European allies and Russia are alarmed by signs of readiness in the Clinton administration to envisage Kosovo as an independent ethnic Albanian state" under Washington's domination, stated an article in the October 1 International Herald Tribune. Washington's imperialist rivals in Europe "assert that the Clinton administration has started accommodating a blueprint long nurtured by leaders of the UCK to make Kosovo the core of a greater Albania," said the article.
Milosevic's government denounced the UCK-NATO agreement and warned that it will "resist by any means at an any cost the violation of the national sovereignty" of Yugoslavia. The agreement was also denounced by Djindjic, who declared that "the international community cannot convert terrorist groups into a regular army."
Meanwhile, Nikola Kabasic, head of the Serbian National Council based in the city of Mitrovica, warned that if the UCK-NATO agreement is not annulled "Serbs also will form a parallel defense body." Dozens of Kosova Serbs blocked Kosova's main road on September 26 protesting the confiscation of their weapons by NATO's forces. They lifted the blockade after representatives of KFOR promised that NATO's forces will protect them against UCK.
Two days earlier hundreds of Kosova Serbs protested in a rally in Mitrovica against the imperialist occupying forces' inaction in face of UCK attacks. They demanded the dissolution of the UCK armed forces. Mitrovica is a center of a mineral-rich region that includes the Trepca mine. Since August Kosovar Serbs are being pushed and concentrated in the region of Kosova north of Mitrovica, adjoining Serbia, raising fears of a de facto partition.
Bernard Kouchner, founder of the France-based organization Doctors Without Borders and now head of the imperialist occupying forces in Kosova, claimed that he needs more police forces to provide protection for the Kosova Serbs. So far 1,200 policeman from several countries, including Britain, Canada, Germany, France, Russia, and the United States are part of the planed 3,100-strong international police force. "But I have asked the UN Security Council to increase the force to 6,000" declared Kouchner.
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