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Hopes of pro-democracy protesters turn to disappointment

May 16, 1997

BELGRADE, Yugoslavia (AP) _ For three fabulous months, Jasmina Jokic marched and cheered with tens of thousands of people united in their outrage at Serbia’s president.

Each day, the 35-year-old dentist was among those demanding Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic restore opposition election victories in 14 major cities. That would allow the opposition to deliver on its promise of a new Serbia _ a place where public-minded policies, not power, were the goal.

The protesters won Milosevic’s concession to the opposition coalition, Zajedno, or Together. But now that the coalition holds office, its supporters say it has chosen politics-as-usual over delivering on its pledges. Two of its three leaders are at each others’ throats, driven by an appetite for power that Jokic says is as ugly as that of Milosevic’s former communists.

``Do they know what they are doing at all?″ she asked. ``Soon, we’ll start demonstrating against them.″

The widespread discontent with Zajedno leaders plays into the hands of Milosevic in a general election year.

Only a united opposition could vote out Milosevic’s Socialists. That’s what Zajedno promised when it called people into the streets late last year _ a united front against the autocratic Serbian president and his attempts to have opposition election wins annulled in key cities.

The coalition pledged not to let Milosevic rest, and the chances of a Socialist defeat looked better than at any time since the president and his party came to power 10 years ago.

Yet today, Zajedno exists only on paper, crippled by non-stop fighting between leaders Zoran Djindjic and Vuk Draskovic and reports of corruption in some towns it controls.

The split started when Djindjic refused to support Draskovic’s candidacy for the Serbian presidency, saying his coalition partner was not strong enough. It deepened over whether Zajedno should be expanded to embrace numerous smaller parties, intellectuals, and students, as Djindjic wanted.

In the northern city of Novi Sad, the Zajedno local government almost collapsed with the two parties unable to agree on how to distribute posts.

``They are all the same,″ said Tatjana Arsic, a 50-year old housewife who occasionally attended the protests. ``They all just want power; no one seems to think about this country.″

``Our fine leaders seem to believe we were out there just for them,″ said Milan Samardzic, who attended most of the protests until they ended in January. ``But they are wrong. They were there for us and the sooner they realize that, the better.″

For now, citizens’ flood Belgrade’s independent papers with angry complaints about Zajedno leaders’ political immaturity. The coalition still has managed to achieve some promising results in cities it runs.

In Belgrade, for instance, new authorities have axed phantom organizations from the city budget and improved trash pick-up. They also have concluded contracts with foreign firms for new city buses, garbage recycling and other municipal services.

Young and ambitious, the 44-year-old Djindjic still enjoys the support of Belgraders as mayor of the Serbian capital. But without Draskovic, he cannot prevail against Milosevic and his Socialists _ and Draskovic cannot do so without Djindjic.

Separate election campaigns by the two would turn off many in the anti-Milosevic camp who came out snow or shine, day after day, month after month, to listen to their proclamations of unity. It also would split the opposition votes, opening the way for Milosevic’s triumph.

``I cannot believe they are so stupid,″ said Jokic. ``They are playing with us and our lives _ just like Milosevic.″

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