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Milosevic Overthrown

In the late 1980s, Slobodan Milosevic propelled himself to power in Belgrade by exploiting the fears of the small Serbian minority in Kosovo. In the last days of September 1987, Slobodan Milosevic ousted his longtime mentor Ivan Stambolic and changed the course of Balkan history. In 1989, he arranged the elimination of Kosovo's autonomy in favor of more direct rule from Belgrade. Belgrade ordered the firing of large numbers of Albanian state employees, whose jobs were then taken by Serbs.

In late 1998, Milosevic unleashed a brutal police and military campaign against the separatist Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), which included atrocities against civilian noncombatants. For the duration of Milosevic's campaign, large numbers of ethnic Albanians were either displaced from their homes in Kosovo or killed by Serbian troops or police. These acts, and Serbia?s refusal to sign the Rambouillet Accords, provoked a military response from NATO, which consisted primarily of aerial bombing. The campaign continued from March through June 1999. After 79 days of bombing, Milosevic capitulated and international forces, led by NATO, moved into Kosovo.

Even as opposition to his regime grew in the late 1990s, Yugoslav President Milosevic continued to dominate the organs of the F.R.Y. Government. Although his political party, the Socialist Party of Serbia (SPS), did not enjoy a majority in either the federal or Serbian parliaments, it dominated the governing coalitions and held all the key administrative posts. An essential element of Milosevic's grasp on power was his control of the Serbian police, a heavily armed force of some 100,000 that was responsible for internal security and which committed serious human rights abuses.

Under Milosevic the Government's human rights record remained extremely poor, and it continued to commit numerous serious abuses. Milosevic attempted to prevent citizens from exercising their right to change their government. The police were responsible for numerous serious abuses, including extrajudicial killings, disappearances, torture, brutal beatings, and arbitrary arrest and detention. Impunity for those who committed human rights abuses was a serious problem. Often, serious crimes such as murder remained uninvestigated and unsolved. The judicial system was not independent of the Government, suffered from corruption, and did not ensure fair trials. Under the Milosevic regime, there were many cases of political detainees and political prisoners.

When MiloseviŠ came to power, life in Serbia was better than in most other communist countries. In the meantime, wages and pensions have dropped to one fifth of the original level, national product to one fourth, unemployment doubled, and surplus of employees tripled. Most people slid into penury.

In July 2000 Milosevic altered the Constitution to permit his candidacy in the September federal elections. Throughout the summer, the Milosevic regime continuously exerted undue pressure on persons and groups attempting to peacefully change their government.

Milosevic called elections for September 24, 2000. Vojislav Kostunica ran against Milosevic for F.R.Y. president in the September 24 elections under the Democratic Opposition of Serbia (DOS, a broad coalition of 18 anti-Milosevic parties). Milosevic banned international observers from monitoring the elections; the opposition reported election fraud in some areas, particularly in southern Serbia and the voting in Kosovo.

The outcome was not in Milosevic's favor. Routine federal elections resulted in a narrow official victory for Milosevic and his coalition. Milosevic attempted to manipulate the election's results by trying to coerce the Serbian electoral commission and the Supreme Court into calling the second round instead of declaring Vojislav Kostunica the new president after the first round. His attempts to alter its results led to a series of mass protests and strikes throughout Serbia, even in places that had been considered Milosevic's strongholds.

The Yugoslav Federal Election Commission claimed that neither candidate had won an outright majority and called for a second ballot. This sparked citizen protests in Belgrade and a general strike in favor of the opposition beginning on October 2. Immediately, street protests and rallies filled cities across the country as Serbs rallied around Kostunica . Cries of fraud and calls for Milosevic's removal echoed across city squares from Subotica to Nis. Main streets were blocked in most big cities, garbage was not collected for days and opposition supporters organized daily protest walks.

The unrest paralyzed most of the country and culminated in what is often referred to as the "October 5 Overthrow" or simply "The Revolution." A mass demonstration on October 5, 2000, by half a million citizens called for Milosevic to give up power. Kostunica declared himself President of Yugoslavia that night and 2 days later Milosevic conceded electoral defeat. Slobodan Milosevic was forced to concede defeat after days of mass protests all across Serbia. New F.R.Y. President Vojislav Kostunica was soon joined at the top of the domestic Serbian political scene by the Democratic Party's (DS) Zoran Djindjic, who was elected Prime Minister of Serbia at the head of the DOS ticket in December's republican elections. The parties that assumed power upon the overthrow of Milosevic were clearly in opposition to those parties, like the Radicals (SRS) and the Socialists (SPS) that collaborated with Milosevic.

The work of market and democratic reform began in 2000 with the overthrow of Milosevic. There was a deliberate decision by the democratic forces at large - political parties, civil society, media, and youth - to overthrow Milosevic through a peaceful, electoral, democratic process. Instrumental for the success of the revolution was Otpor, a grassroots students' movement that overnight became Milosevic's adversary. The success of Otpor ("Resistance") in overthrowing the regime of Slobodan Milosevicin Serbia is an example of a combined insider-outsider strategy - the growing opportunities for "outsiders" and "insiders" to gain access to each other, and even for insiders to be secreted within an organization or sector of society.

Belgrade University students against repressive University Law established Otpor in October 1998 during a 3-month protest. A year later, a group of leading Serbian intellectuals and artists became members of "Otpor" which, by May 2000, was officially renamed "People's Movement Otpor". The Otpor movement played a crucial role in removing Slobodan Milosevic's regime from power in Yugoslavia. It started as a student movement but quickly grew into a massive force to include democratically minded people from all walks of Serbian civic society.

Otpor members engaged in passive resistance, never advocating violence nor returning the blows they received from the police and other thugs under Milosevic's control. Instead, they had a stronger determination and persistence. Fear would not keep them from putting up their posters, from wearing their black-and-white emblem of a clenched fist. Moreover, they kept their eye on the goal of a democratic and tolerant Serbia at peace with its neighbors and with itself. More than 1,500 Otpor activists, of about 50,000 based in over 10 Serbian cities, were arrested and interrogated by security forces under Milosevic's control.

Otpor benefited from the advice of retired U.S. Army Colonel Robert Helvey and generous funding from the Washington-based National Endowment for Democracy. Otpor was not a typical NGO, but a fast-growing students' movement with a collective, highly decentralized leadership, which made it more effective than the typical, Western-funded Serbian NGO. Equally important, infinitely more surprising - and less funded - were the coal miners of Lazarevac, a small town south of Belgrade. Once loyal to the regime, their strike was the first sign that Milosevic's government would not survive the election, tampered results or not.

In Serbia, many independent journalists were highly critical of the NATO bombing ofKosovo. When the bombing ended, these journalists continued to receive U.S. support. Ljiljana Smajlovic, a political scientist for the weekly Nin, who had been critical of the United States herself said: "U.S. aid came with no strings attached, no stigma. That was miracle of it. The fact that Veran Matic made his stand against bombing confirmed that the media remained independent and still got American support." The fact that the United States placed no editorial constraints on the media it supported was vital to the success that media had in helping overthrow Milosevic.

The Voice of America's (VOA) Serbian correspondent in Belgrade, Misa Brkic, has been awarded the "Otpor Award" for his courageous journalist work during and after the dramatic events in October 2000 that led to the end of Serbian President Milosevic's government. During the upheaval, Serbians relied heavily on the VOA for news of the fast-breaking events. Brkic's on-the-spot reports pierced the tightly controlled media environment, providing VOA listeners with reliable and accurate coverage.

It is not unimportant whether the events of 5 October are to be called a "putsch carried out by CIA" (see the headline on the front page of Velika Srbija, vol. XI, No. 1584, October 2000), or a "revolution", or some other kind of change of power. The dangerous situation for a ruler is one in which he kills a few people and then decides he doesnt't want to kill any more. A truly ruthless leader with loyal troops and a good internal intelligence service does not need to worry very much about popular uprisings. MiloseviŠ's troops surrendered without struggle. This revolution took place at the moment when the regime was already exhausted, so that the overthrow did not require much violence. Slobodan Milosevic's head of intelligence service known as the DB, was in fact "a reliable CIA associate" for eight years. The Los Angeles Times wrote on 2 March 2009 that Jovica Stanisic, "accused of setting up genocidal death squads", was "a valuable source for the CIA, an agency veteran says, he also 'did a whole lot of good'." Facing a war crimes trial at the Hague Tribunal, "Stanisic has called in a marker with his American allies. In an exceedingly rare move, the CIA has submitted a classified document to the court that lists Stanisic's contributions and attests to his helpful role.... "For eight years, Stanisic was the CIA's main man in Belgrade. During secret meetings in boats and safe houses along the Sava River, he shared details on the inner workings of the Milosevic regime. He provided information on the locations of NATO hostages, aided CIA operatives in their search for grave sites and helped the agency set up a network of secret bases in Bosnia."

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Page last modified: 09-07-2011 13:27:30 ZULU