Letter from 2 activists from Belgrade

Date: 12.07.99

Dear friends,

Seizure of NATO bombing relieved us here in Belgrade about the immediacy, but left us in a specific state of vacuum and with a great uncertainty about the future. We are choked by the pictures we receive via satellite TV, dominated by horrible evidence of atrocities by Yugoslav militia and paramilitaries conducted in Kosovo, and withdrawal of YU armoured vehicles with soldiers waving flags and bottles singing (on withdrawal!?). All combined with home TV full of congratulations "we won", medals to heroic generals and officers, and our dictator not concerned at all for being indicted for war crimes enthusiastically announcing the reconstruction of the country. Pleased that the monstrosities of the war are stopped make us concerned equally about retaliations, despite KFOR heavy presence, against Serbian civil population and Albanians in Kosovo, that are called collaborators even by BBC commentator. After incredible bombardment, which as we envisaged didn't hit the regime, with bitterness we wonder how one should name all of us who worked hard and a with great courage, lobbying all these years, since summer 1991 for peace and right of voice of pluralistic multiethnic civil open society. We are the victims on the ground, expelled from the community by extremes of the regime, from the air by bombs (ecological and psychological impacts are catastrophic) and now the international community imposes on us all the collective guilt and consequent punishment by exclusion of NGOs and academic contacts from any dialogue.

All in all, this produces a really schizophrenic context in which we have to think about our immediate tomorrow with no sugar in shops, no petrol in the pumps and no money in our pockets. It gets more depressing to think of the coming summer with yet another year without any holidays and of approaching winter with no heating; and then what about prospects with the status quo (lawlessness) institutions where we still earn our wages (read humanitarian aid), where new "patriots" are mushrooming. In the first session of Parliament after bombing one smells the internal exterminations, just proving how little the regime is hurt. But how disadvantaged are we, the seeds of otherness, and a community which could generate reconciliation inside the country but more so across the region.

We then listen to Mr. Clinton saying "no help to Serbia so long as the dictator is in power", also stressing "we are not going to get him, you Serbian people should know how to achieve a change". The grim reality as the poor country is getting poorer (and Serbia is devastated economically and financially), the change to liberal democracy is less likely, poverty produces a distribution of misery and an economy of rationing, and junta-type authoritarian dictatorship with this finale of military intervention.

Of course one resists and considers the urge for a change either by free elections - which means unfortunately within a framework of a brainwashed xenophobic "patriotic" population who "have beaten NATO", without the free media to promote an alternative (or at least to make people aware what happened), and without control over ballot boxes and counting. Even if elections were won, the question would be the seizure of power, as in 1996 local elections; the four political parties in power are actually the fractions of a single block, a continuation of single party system. The threshold of democracy has not been crossed.

The alternative and opposition parties are slowly consolidating but in three blocks: all fragmented with numerous leader-dominated parties and NGO groups, disunited, disorganized (with no real resources to travel within the country to promote themselves, even to have reasonable premises). So even with the great dissatisfaction of the vast majority of the population about the real economic issues (with average income of metal worker of DM 41'8 a month, many work without any salary), the "patriotic" rhetoric like a drug dominates media and minds and we fear the future months.

The alternative to this: a much more constructive and legitimized, visible support of the international community to the alternative democratic forces, to proven, long-standing civic society active NGOs, enclaves of free media and alternative democracy-promoting projects conceived even before the bombing started, and dispersed, but not really ruined, in these events.

But in this state of vacuum with all the focus just on Kosovo, the next catastrophe could happen in the core of the country. We fear that this scenario is not enabling us "to put our own house in order" but rather that we will be swept away as well. We plead for understanding and for strongly structured support.

Sonja & Milan Prodanovic
Ecourban workshop
e-mail: ecourbanateunet.yu

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