Serbian oppositionists condemn NATO and Milosevic

Issue 

By Michael Karadjis

A declaration condemning the NATO attack on Serbia was released in April by 17 organisations which have long opposed the Serb national chauvinist regime of Slobodan Milosevic. Their stance reveals how little NATO's attack has to do with winning the “hearts and minds” of the anti-nationalist opposition in Serbia.

 

For the opposition groups, the war has been an unmitigated disaster. Serb national chauvinist “homogenisation” has reached a fever pitch in the war conditions and the opposition has not been able to operate freely in this oppressive atmosphere.

Women in Black, a peace group which has carried out weekly anti-chauvinist vigils for eight years, is suddenly unable to operate. Milosevic “overnight acquired a most potent ally — fear. It is all-pervasive and has silenced every dissenting voice”, according to a dissident Serb journalist.

On April 11, Slavko Curuvija, a journalist who wrote an open letter to Milosevic last year calling on him to break his coalition with the fascist Serbian Radical Party, was gunned down outside his home.

Before the NATO attack, Milosevic did not have things going his way. Around the country, parents from many cities gathered outside the office of the army's general staff with the simple message: “Bring our sons back from Kosovo”.

When nationalist parties in February attempted to organise demonstrations at the national parliament to insist on rejection of the Rambouillet accord, only a few dozen turned up. Passers-by took no notice. With 2 million Serbs out of work and pensioners owed seven months' pension, Serbia was close to rebellion.

One of the declaration's signatories is the independent trade union federation Nezavisnost, which has about 300,000 members. Nezavisnost has long held a staunch anti-nationalist position. During the Bosnian war, it joined Women in Black and other anti-nationalist organisations in the coalition “Living in Sarajevo”, which openly condemned Belgrade's aggression against Bosnia and declared support for the Serb Civic Council, the mass organisation of Bosnia's Serbs who supported Bosnia's multi-ethnic government against the Milosevic-backed rightist forces. Only Milosevic and his allies were recognised by the West as legitimate “representatives” of Bosnian Serbs.

Targeting working-class resistance

Many of the industries where Nezavisnost is strong have been destroyed by NATO's bombs, including the massive Zastava car plant in Kragugevic. Last year, workers there went on hunger strike against the refusal of the regime to pay them, and two years ago they launched a strike wave under the banner “the factories to the workers”.

Speaking to reporters from the US Militant, Nezavisnost leader Branislav Canak said, “Many workers joke that NATO's special target is the independent trade union”. This is unlikely to be a joke. It is precisely working-class opposition to Milosevic that imperialism most fears.

Of course, NATO's bombs have hit far and wide, killing and devastating indiscriminately. But if Western powers really had wanted to overthrow of Milosevic, they would have spared places known to be strongholds of the opposition. The opposite has happened.

In addition to working-class centres such as Kragugevic, NATO bombs have continually hit Novi Sad, the capital of once autonomous multi-ethnic Vojvodina province. Milosevic, who suppressed the province's autonomy, has remarkably little support here. It was a centre of last year's “bring our sons home” movement. Even the members of the municipal government led such protests, yet the municipal government building was hit weeks before Milosevic's headquarters.

There are reports of a rise in Serb chauvinism directed against the Vojvodina's large Hungarian minority, who are being branded “traitors” following Hungary's recent joining of NATO.

NATO has even bombed the Vojvodinan city Subotica, the proud multi-ethnic town that resisted for years attempts to draft it into the Bosnia slaughter, identifying instead with multi-ethnic Bosnia.

Likewise, the NATO bombing of Montenegro has played into the hands of the pro-Milosevic forces, who have been pushing to overthrow the anti-Milosevic government of the republic for more than a year. The Montenegrin government has opposed Milosevic's brutal counterinsurgency operation in Kosova.

Declaration

Early this year, the ruling Montenegrin Democratic Party of Socialists formed an alliance with a number of Serbian opposition parties to form the Coalition for Changes. The coalition included the Civic Alliance, long opposed to Milosevic's Kosova policy.

The opposition declaration appeared in the Greek leftist paper Epohi. It stated:

“Deeply shocked by the catastrophic NATO attacks on our country and the terrible situation of the Albanians of Kosovo, we, the representatives of non-government organisations and the trade union confederation Nezavisnost, demand that all those who created this tragedy take all necessary steps to create the conditions for the renewal of the peace process.

“For two weeks now, the strongest military, political and economic countries of the world kill people and destroy military and civilian installations, bridges, railway lines, factories, warehouses and power stations. This has resulted in a cost of first-rate dimensions. Hundreds of thousands of Yugoslavs, above all ethnic Albanians, have been forced to abandon their ruined houses and flee from the bombings and from the military actions of the Milosevic regime and the KLA, in the hope of finding salvation in the tragic situation of exile.

“It is obvious that all this leads to catastrophe and that a peaceful solution to the problem of Kosovo through negotiations, for which we struggled for years, is now further away than ever. Our struggle to develop democracy and civil society in Yugoslavia and to help restore its place in all international organisations, occurred despite the endless pressure on us by the Serbian regime.

“We, the representatives of groups and civilian organisations, have struggled courageously and systematically against warmongering and nationalistic politics, for respect for human rights and, in particular, against the suppression of the Kosovar Albanians.

“We have always insisted on respect for human rights and the restoration of autonomy for Kosovo. Throughout this time, the Serbian and Albanian civil society groups were the only ones who maintained contact and cooperation.

“The intervention of NATO has not only destroyed everything we accomplished until now but also the very possibility of the existence of civil society in Serbia. Confronted by the current situation, we put forward the following demands in the name of humanity and in the name of the values and ideas which guide our actions:

  • We demand the immediate end to all bombing and all military operations;
  • We demand the renewal of the peace process with international mediation, at both the regional and the European level, as well as the United Nations;
  • We demand the European Union and Russia undertake the weight of responsibility in finding a peaceful resolution to the crisis;
  • We demand an end to the practice of ethnic cleansing and the repatriation of all the refugees;
  • We demand support for the peace, stability and democratisation of Montenegro and every possible action that helps relieve that republic of the catastrophic results of the refugee crisis;
  • We demand that the Serbian and international mass media describe with professionalism and without bias the current developments, refrain from participation in the media war and the encouragement of inter-ethnic hatred, hysteria and glorification of violence, considering this to be the only logical road out of the crisis.
“We cannot achieve the above by ourselves. We expect you to support our demands and to help us realise them through your actions and initiatives.”

Signed: Civic Alliance for Democracy, Social Justice and Support to Trade Unions; Belgrade Circle; Centre for Cultural De-pollution; Centre for Democracy and Free Elections; Centre for the Passage to Democracy; Political Initiatives; Centre EKO; European Movement of Serbia; Forum for Ethnic Relations and Foundation for the Management of Peace and Crises; Group 484; Helsinki Committee for Human Rights in Serbia; Student Union of Serbia; Union for Truth and Anti-Fascist Resistance; Weekly Video News; Women in Black; Committee of Yugoslav Lawyers for Human Rights; Trade Union Confederation Nezavisnost.