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Feature 05 Oct 17

Serbia Protesters Recall Day When Milosevic Fell

Seventeen years on from October 5, 2000, when energy-packed protests overthrew the Yugoslav strongman Slobodan Milosevic, those at the heart of those stirring events recall them fondly.

Filip Rudic

A former reporter on Serbia's once iconic B92 station, Daniel Bukumirovic, says the events of October 5 2000, when street protests finally toppled the unpopular regime of Slobodan Milosevic, remain burned into his memory as perhaps the most important in his own life – but also in Serbian history.

"So many stories that are hard to forget took place that day," Bukumirovic, now editor-in-chief of Vice Serbia, says.

He recalls how a former Democratic Party official brought him into an office in the Belgrade city assembly, where all the leaders of the coalition that had overthrown the Milosevic regime had gathered.

Bukumirovic stood at the balcony of the building stretching a landline phone through the window to capture the speech of Milosevic's opponent in the previous presidential election, Vojislav Kostunica, while his B92 colleagues listened on the other end.

A defeated Milosevic finally recognised Kostunica’s victory in the September presidential elections the next day.

Bukumirovic also recalls telling Serbia's future prime minister, Zoran Djindjic, and future foreign minister, Goran Svilanovic, that B92 had reclaimed both its offices and its old frequency, which Milosevic's regime had "usurped".

"I remember their genuine congratulations and my joy at having the radio back on the airwaves," Bukumirovic says.

He also remembers an encounter with a plainclothes policeman after he left for home around midnight.

"[He was] a frightened man who I knew for years from various protests who now begged me to help him against revanchism."

"I was worried that he thought I had any power, and even more worried by the thought of how many people in new Serbia might abuse such power," Bukumirovic says.

Dejan Restak, who was director of the B92 website at the time, had spent the period before protests that overthrew Milosevic in Budapest, to where his office had relocated for safety reasons.

Restak drove his car from Budapest to Belgrade shortly before October 5 and remembers the night-time ride well.

"I was so tired, since in Budapest we worked day and night, deprived of sleep. So, on the way back, I played myself some classical music and fell asleep at the wheel and hit the hard shoulder. I somehow managed to stop the car," he says.

During the protests themselves, although Restak could not go outside and join the citizens since he was working, he felt closely involved in what was taking place.

"In a way, we coordinated the whole action, since we were one of the few media who did their job right," he says, adding that he watched events unfold from his office window.

"I remember the sight of [police] vehicles driving past Tasmajdan Park [in Belgrade], and how they refused to confront the citizens who threw flowers at them," Restak says.

Protesters on October 5. Photo: Srdjan Veljovic

Activist Vlajko Zivkovic says that some people on October 5 wanted to "lynch" the policemen, but actions were taken to prevent this.

"There were plenty of situations, including cops being forced to run down Aberdareva street in their underpants," Zivkovic recalled to BIRN.

Like many activists, he was disappointed by the way matters developed after Milosevic was toppled. He is especially critical of the way privatisation was conducted, calling it "plunder".

"The old oligarchy that was created under Milosevic" retained their wealth even after the regime was over thrown, he says. He would have preferred a proper lustration process for former regime figures, as well.

"People had amassed huge amounts of capital and it [the country] could no longer function without them; you had to forgive them and incorporate them into the system," he says.

Jelena Djurovic, then a student at Belgrade University, saw the protests at first hand. "I was in front of the parliament building until it got too dangerous for people with a slight build like me," she says.

She then left for home, but cheered from the balcony when she saw people coming to trash the nearby local offices of Milosevic's Serbian Socialist Party.

That evening, she and her firend went to a party organised by Otpor, the youthful anti-Milosevic movement, and came across the perfume store owned by Milosevic’s son, Marko.

"It was completely in ruins, and graffitti was scrawled on it that read: 'Where are you now, daddy’s boy’?" Djurovic recalls.

She, too, soon realised that even with Milosevic out of the way, the future was not necessarily about to become rosy.

It was clear as the takeover of power proceeded in the following days that there would be "terrible corruption".

"The people I was friends with at the time openly talked about it – how they were going to take over this and that. It upset me, but I thought: 'At least Milosevic is gone,'" Djurovic remembers.

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