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After Serbia’s revolution

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Issue 1718

After Serbia’s revolution

REVOLUTION BY hundreds of thousands of ordinary people swept Serbia’s Slobodan Milosevic from power last week. Milosevic had ruled for 13 years. He did not want to admit that he had lost the presidential elections to the opposition candidate Vojislav Kostunica. But his regime fell apart in days.

The parliament building in the capital, Belgrade, was in flames. Demonstrators ransacked the official files in the cabinet office and attacked the headquarters of RTS, the state television service. Around a million people took to the streets, facing down the teargas and batons of the armed police.

They forced sections of the police to join the protests and break from the regime. The events in Belgrade are confirmation that no regime, however ruthless or violent, can withstand revolt from below. Working class people were central to the opposition against Milosevic. The uprising followed days of rising resistance.

There were strikes, road blockades and political rallies across Serbia. Workers at the Pancevo oil refinery first organised a one-hour strike and then declared they were all out.

The copper mill at Sevojno also stopped. Workers in almost all the state and private companies in the town of Uzice backed a general strike. Thousands of people blocked the Belgrade to Nis motorway. Car workers, postal workers, electricity workers and copper miners were just some of the many groups who staged warning strikes, and some then began a general strike. In over 20 towns demonstrators destroyed the local headquarters of Milosevic’s party. But the key action was the strike at the Kolubara coal mine.

The strike by around 7,500 miners began a week before the mass protest in Belgrade. It has always been regarded as one of Milosevic’s core support areas. It supplies the nearby Obrenovac electricity plant, which means it is vital to Serbia’s power supply. It provides energy to more than half the country, including Belgrade.

Milosevic sent in the police almost immediately to try to intimidate the miners back to work. But thousands of local people turned out to show their support for the strikers. Milosevic then sent a top army general to meet the strikers. Again they would not back down.

Milosevic was desperate to smash the strike. He announced that 11 of the miners’ leaders should be detained for investigation on possible sabotage charges. This simply hardened the strikers’ resolve. On Wednesday of last week coaches of police and armoured vehicles burst into the mine complex.

They found a workforce that would not give in. They also discovered that crucial mining equipment would not work because the computer microchips had been removed. As one of the strikers said, “The police can dig coal with their bare hands, or they can talk to us, or they can make sure our democratic rights are upheld. “These are the choices for them. It is not a choice that we will give in.” The police invasion of the mine led to a huge show of solidarity from surrounding areas. Cars and lorries came to Kolubara from Belgrade in the north to Cacak in the south. A bus of supporters pushed back a police van and sped into the mine. The fear of the police had gone.

“IT ALL began when we started the general strike in the mine. When people saw that we weren’t frightened by the police or the army, they joined us and Serbia was paralysed.”

  • DUSAN from Kolubara

West’s role

BRITISH foreign secretary Robin Cook and other Western leaders claimed that the fall of Milosevic was their victory. But Western intervention helped him stay in power for so long. Serbian workers have faced over a decade of bitter hardship. Milosevic had been able to point to NATO attacks and European Union (EU) sanctions as the source of these problems.

Western leaders say that they will send funds to help Yugoslavia. US secretary of state Madeleine Albright says, “We are ready to assist where we can in helping Yugoslavs to repair infrastructure.” Who destroyed that infrastructure? The bombs and missiles of the US last year. Whatever economic assistance is sent to Yugoslavia, it will not compensate for NATO’s damage.

In Bosnia less than 20 percent of the aid pledged by the US and the EU has ever been paid. The powers that rained death on Yugoslavia are no friends of the Serbian people. They will be terrified of a movement that demands real change. Companies from Britain are hoping to cash in. The Department for Trade and Industry has already called construction industry chiefs together to put in bids for reconstruction work.

Fight goes on for workers’ demands

WHENEVER A hated regime is pulled down by protest from below, there is an initial unity against the old order and then a period of vital discussion about what should come next. This has only just begun in Serbia. On one side are those who want a smooth transition to a stable government which protects capitalists. On the other are workers and students who want the fall of Milosevic to signal far wider change.

Kostunica will not bring the jobs, the houses and the decent future that Serbia’s workers crave. Kostunica and his allies wanted Milosevic out. But they do not want to change the way that people are governed. Some police chiefs and those who had grown rich under Milosevic threw in their lot with Kostunica as the revolt gathered pace.

They organised army reservists and some policemen to take part in the storming of the parliament. They wanted the movement to succeed but also to be limited in how far it should go. None of this detracts from what happened last week. But it is a sign of what still needs to be done.

Several leading members of the former regime felt confident to appear at the first session of the Yugoslav parliament since Milosevic’s fall.

They included Ivica Dacic, Ljubisa Ristic, Milan Beko and Goran Matic. The upper house of parliament, the Chamber of the Republics, then elected Srdja Bozovic of the formerly pro-Milosevic Montenegrin Socialist People’s Party as president. But many workers like those in the Smederevo steel mill want more than cosmetic change.

They were considering a strike at the start of this week to force the removal of their boss-a leading Milosevic supporter. Hundreds of pensioners marched through Belgrade last week demanding the new government gives them a proper future. There is furious debate about how much more can be won and how to achieve it in the student group Otpor! (“Resistance!”)

Otpor! activists, with their flag and its clenched fist symbol, were central to many of the demonstrations which led up to last week’s revolt. The revolution needs to go far deeper, and spread. Workers must fight for their own demands-control of production, real freedom to organise, big improvements in wages and conditions, a clearout of the corrupt officials and policemen who served Milosevic.

This is the way to push for fundamental change that will bring a real revolution in every aspect of people’s lives.

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