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Intellectuals dominate Belgrade’s anti-Communist protests

December 16, 1996

BELGRADE, Yugoslavia (AP) _ They fly the flags of the United States and the European Union. They carry posters promoting reggae singer Bob Marley and Italian car maker Ferrari.

These are Serbia’s elite _ intellectuals, students and middle-class urbanites. Before war started in 1991, they lived well and traveled widely.

Today, they are the backbone of the opposition movement to oust authoritarian President Slobodan Milosevic.

Their daily protests, in their fifth week, express their frustrations with postwar Yugoslavia and their longings for their old, prewar life. For most, the goal is to end the isolation of the Serb republic of Yugoslavia and make it a democratic, cosmopolitan citizen of the world.

Doing that, they say, means getting rid of Milosevic _ his Communist economy, his corrupt cronies and the legacy of the wars he started.

``It all goes in a package,″ said 53-year-old elementary school teacher Vlasta Nedeljkovic. ``He created enemies for Serbia, but they are his enemies _ not ours.″

Like other Eastern Europeans, these protesters repeat the mantra of ``Europe,″ the continent whose space they shared even while communism kept them far from the stability and riches of a France or Germany. Above all in this region, ``Europe″ means building a parliamentary democracy and privatizing the economy.

``Of course, Serbia is part of Europe,″ said Ljiljana Kolundzija, in her 20s. ``It’s obvious, and it will really be so once we kick out the `Red Gang.‴

Belgrade’s intellectuals and youth have rebelled against Milosevic before. Police and soldiers crushed March 1991 demonstrations. Subsequent student protests had no effect.

Supported by rural and blue-collar workers, Milosevic and his Socialist Party _ formerly Communists _ instigated wars in Croatia and Bosnia in support of their minority Serbs.

Economic sanctions imposed because of those wars and Milosevic’s refusal to reform the state-run economy have destroyed Belgrade’s middle class. For that reason, the middle class supports the opposition as never before.

The opposition, too, has changed. Opposition leaders like Vuk Draskovic of the Serbian Renewal Movement once were touched by the same nationalism as Milosevic _ the jingoistic patriotism and isolationism that led to war.

Now, they deny any association with the nationalist cause.

``Being a patriot is not the same as being a nationalist,″ Draskovic said. ``Our goals are purely social, existential and political, and have nothing to do with nationalism.″

On Friday, he and the protesters proved their point by observing a minute of silence in support of Albanian activists fighting for independence in the southern Serb province of Kosovo, where Albanians make up 90 percent of the population.

Most Serbs regard the province as the heart of their medieval kingdom, and the issue has been a Milosevic rallying cry.

In an unprecedented gesture, about 200,000 protesters held a minute of silence Friday in honor of an Albanian activist said to have been tortured to death in Serb police custody.

Draskovic also has urged protesters to stop carrying Serbian flags, to carry U.S. and German banners instead to show where their sympathies lie.

Still, the symbols of Serbia have not been suppressed.

Aleksandar Sakic, a 29-year-old technician and protester, held a Serbian flag as he listened quietly to the anthem of the old Serbian kingdom, which is played every evening at the rally.

To him, such symbols have nothing to do with nationalism.

``This is Serbia,″ he said, ``but not Milosevic’s Serbia.″

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