Svetlana Lukic: What was October 5th? A revolution, a coup or a somewhat unusual takeover of power?
Vesna Pesic: At the beginning of January 2001, Vojislav Kostunica met Milosevic as the president of the largest opposition party. From that, and other similar moves, it is obvious that he perceived October 5th primarily as a change of government. Which meant, elections were held, his and some other parties won, but that did not exclude, since he was a democrat, the possibility that Milosevic and his party could return on next elections. This is one way of understanding what took place on October 5th.
Another viewpoint is that this was a coup. There are arguments in favor of this interpretation because parts of Milosevic’s system of power, primarily military services and the State Security, together with the JSO, came in touch with DOS representatives even before September 24th. They offered guarantees they would not open fire on the people. Because of this deal, some people believe this was a coup. Mr. Djordjevic, who was, at that time, head of Public Security, ignored Milosevic’s order, and general Pavkovic disobeyed Milosevic’s order to move with the soldiers stationed in the Bubanj Potok barracks. Legija, with his special forces, also refused to obey orders. They all betrayed their boss.
And those citizens who came into the streets, there were not only décor, as some believe. The citizens who came into the streets did create this revolution, had great expectations, and you cannot deny the perception that a revolution was being created. Is getting rid of such a dictator a small event? Every revolution starts by first overthrowing the king of the dictator. October 5th was a revolution, as well.
Thus, all of this together took place on October 5th, a coup, a revolution and a takeover of power.
As for what followed after October 5th and lasted until the assassination of Zoran Djindjic, I see it this way: similar to the way a war started in Russia during the October Revolution after the Winter Palace was captured, and lasted 3 to 4 years, some sort of concealed civil war began in Serbia after October 5th, which in effect, represented a struggle for the interpretation of October 5th.
Svetlana Lukic: How much of a role did the US, Russia and Europe play in overthrowing Milosevic?
Vesna Pesic: Americans and Russians were the most engaged in overthrowing Milosevic. I believe that the Americans coordinated lots of their activities with the Russians. This is evident from the events that took place on October 6th, when Milosevic left Belgrade for Zlatno jezero (Golden Lake), only to be forced to turn back because the Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs Igor Ivanov arrived to Belgrade. Ivanov probably came to Belgrade to tell Milosevic that Russia also believed he should acknowledge defeat.
Americans, incidentally, did not support the opposition too much, although the opinion that we were their mercenaries was generally accepted. From time to time, they helped us in the anti-war movement, radio B92, Vreme, but all of this was almost negligible. We used to have this illusion that it was extremely important to them that Serbia becomes a democratic country as soon as possible. However, they did not care about this. They were interested in Serbia as a country which threw this region out of balance and they relied on Milosevic when they wanted to pacify the situation. During the Dayton Agreement they also relied on Milosevic as the only man who could deliver what they needed at the time. They knew, of course, who Milosevic was, they knew he was the main culprit for the atrocities that took place, but at the same time, he was the strongest player, because he could, for example, help them solve the hostage crisis in Bosnia. What would be the point to rely on me, when I can’t do anything about those hostages?
For years, even during the demonstrations in 1996 and 1997, Americans did not offer any help whatsoever. During these demonstrations, the US Chargé d’Affaires Richard Miles (at the time, the US did not have an ambassador in Belgrade), even held a press conference in Nis together with Milosevic’s socialists. He wasn’t very interested in what was happening on the streets of Belgrade.
Reading the book by Zivorad Kovacevic, in which he described the role of the US in the breakdown of Yugoslavia, I concluded that during 1998, when the war in Kosovo broke out, American attempted to reach certain agreements. And, once again, they tried to rely on Milosevic. And then Richard Holbrooke, who communicated with Milosevic the best, made a deal about Kosovo. However, Milosevic broke that agreement. After Holbrooke suffered a defeat, the harder line in the State Department, headed by Madeleine Albright, took over. She was the one who pushed the idea that the US could no longer negotiate with Milosevic, and that a new partner had to be found. That partner was the opposition. Significant funds and energy were invested in overthrowing Milosevic. Although it seems to me that they were nevertheless very surprised that October 5th was successful – they did not believe the opposition was cable of doing that.
Svetlana Lukic: How would you assess the attitude of the US and Europe towards the government headed by Zoran Djindjic?
Vesna Pesic: As for the Americans, I believe that, after October 5th, they put too much pressure on the new government, primarily on Zoran Djindjic. This government had no power, and the Americans pushed so hard the cooperation with the Hague Tribunal, which became the focal point of everything later on. Americans used only the cooperation with Hague as a measure of whether Serbia changed or not, that was the only measure. You will either arrest and extradite Milosevic or you will not. This pressure was very strong, and they had no mercy. And, at the same time, the government led by Zoran Djindjic had no power. The manner in which Milosevic was arrested was comical. The two of us would have arrested him that way. The arrest warrant was issued on charges of financial malversations and Milosevic was guarded by the military. General Cosic waited in front of Milosevic’s house, and said: stop, you can’t come in. The government had no control over the instruments of force and was unable to arrest Milosevic in a normal way. And the pressure and conditioning were enormous: there will be no aid, there will be no donor conference… There was a very strong pressure related to the Hague Tribunal, which nowadays does not exist, despite the fact that Ratko Mladic has not yet been arrested. At that time, when Djindjic’s government did not control the instruments of force, there was no mercy. The instruments of force had more control over Djindjic than he had over them. The pressure was almost unbearable.
Svetlana Lukic: Immediately after October 5th, it became clear that Vojislav Kostunica would not allow any kind of serious change. Many people wondered, even then, why DOS chose him as the candidate to run against Milosevic.
Vesna Pesic: Since the very beginning it was clear that Milosevic could be overthrown only if the opposition united. The strategy was to present, actually, some sort of a lie, namely that everything that lived and breathed was united against Milosevic, and that only his wife and his children were on his side. The strategy was: with our clenched fists held high, we march into the final battle. I believe that this strategy was good, because we really had to gather together in order to win. But there also lies the curse of October 5th – immediately after this event, it became obvious that the coalition could not function. The entire DOS was in favor of immediately deposing at least two individuals, Nebojsa Pavkovic, Chief of General Staff and Rade Markovic, head of National Security. However, Kostunica did not allow this.
And Kostunica was chosen to be our candidate, because the idea was to challenge Milosevic with his double. This, unfortunately, turned to be a sabotage of what came afterwards. The strategy was successful, because the people would not have voted if Djindjic or I were chosen as the opposition candidate. Milosevic always attacked Djindjic, never Kostunica, because he had nothing to say against him.
Svetlana Lukic: What do you think October 5th meant to Kostunica?
Vesna Pesic: For Kostunica, October 5th meant: we are continuing with the national and adding democracy. What was the real measure of this October 5th? Djindjic or Kostunica? I would say that the measure of October 5th was Kostunica. Thus, we all voted for Milosevic’s double, because that was the only way to overthrow the original. When the original was overthrown, then, naturally, this coalition began to divide. Kostunica immediately made it clear that he did not want Djindjic to be the candidate for Prime Minister following the elections in December, because he knew that he was from a completely different story, had many different views, different ideas. However, the entire DOS supported the idea of Zoran Djindjic as Prime Minister, and Kostunica was not able to prevent it. From a political point of view, the government itself was split into two irreconcilable opposites. In such an atmosphere, nothing was able to function anymore. A terrible kind of instability was introduced into the system. In those circumstances, mafia and organized crime started blackmailing and saying: well, we were the ones who put you in power. In a manner of speaking, the two leaders became hostages of the coup executioners, who started to shift from one to another.
And that is where the Hague issue came into place. The Americans put pressure: extradite this one, extradite that one, arrest… And in order to arrest Milosevic, one had to ask Crvene beretke (the Red Berets) for help. Then they tried to play a trick by not wearing their uniforms and instead appeared with balaclavas and sneakers, and of course they failed to do anything. And the government had embarrassed itself in front of its citizens and the entire world. We must not forget that Crvene beretke and all that state mafia lived in fear of the Hague Tribunal, while the government was trying to cooperate with them and wanted to extradite Milosevic.
So, the entire state mafia started moving around: we will side with you for a while, then we will side with the other one. This practically meant a civil war was underway. There was no shooting on the streets, but something close to that was taking place.
And in that last phase, right before the assassination, Djindjic started to distance himself from everyone, he sensed that it would not end well. In one interview, he told the reporter that there was no government, no substance, that it would turn to be one of those senseless civil revolutions where all ends in bloodshed. And the blood that was spilled was his. And in the end, this civil war ended with the assassination of Zoran Djindjic.
After his death, one could observe a society, which lived for a couple of years in the atmosphere of extreme heath, starting to decline, and finally ending in the current silence and absurdity.
Svetlana Lukic: A few years ago, you said that October 5th came to early…
Vesna Pesic: It came too early in regard to our visions, what we would have wanted to do and the path we wished Serbia to take. From that point of view, of course it was too early. And whether our visions will ever come true in Serbia, remains to be seen. In any case it was too early for Djindjic.
I still believe that the decision to depose Milosevic was a good one, as the most important thing was for Serbia to break out from isolation, as otherwise it would have fallen apart, both economically and socially. That was the measure of things, whereas the situation resembled a comedy of errors. The entire opposition kept repeating one thing only: we want freedom of the press… It is true that that was part of the story, but the West was not after Milosevic, nor were we bombed because of the freedom of the press, but because of the wars. And how did DOS explain this? Did it have a single standpoint on this issue? Not one. So, if we look at what the result of that revolution was supposed to be, the answer is: someone who is not a dictator to come into power, for example – Kostunica. The main concern would still be Kosovo, the national policy would be carried out by more moderate means, but we would not live in isolation anymore. This was the measure of things on October 5th. And everything else that we wanted, that would probably have been some second or third phase, if we had allowed these phases to come to be, and if Djindjic hadn’t been assassinated.
Svetlana Lukic: Djindjic, as a symbol of a particular idea and political view was assassinated. Kostunica – at least it seems so – is politically dead, there he is, settled in Belanovica. What is it that won, then?
Vesna Pesic: When we were children there was a drink called “spritzer”. When one entered a candy shop asking for a mixture of lemonade and boza, one would get a “spritzer”. That is what we got, and this was the way this story ended. It is very hard to fight this “spritzer politics”. You will not get drunk, because the drink is watered down, but you are not sober either. Boris Tadic covered everything, but he does not control anything. We have no government, no parliament, and now, it’s like we are waiting for someone to enter this empty space and say: hey people, you are doing nothing here.
We have nothing to write about, talk about, no one to complain to, and it turns out that although everyone is trying to appear well-bred, they are performing their government jobs in an indecent manner. It is like everything has wilted, like everything has been worn out during these ten years. No one has any strength left to start anything, we have no human resources… No one knows what everyone else is doing. Everyone seeks refuge in a distant clandestine life, and nothing is left on the public scene anymore.
Transcript from radio show Pescanik, 01.10.2010.
Translated by Bojana Obradovic
Vesna Pešić, političarka, borkinja za ljudska prava i antiratna aktivistkinja, sociološkinja. Diplomirala na Filozofskom fakultetu u Beogradu, doktorirala na Pravnom, radila u Institutu za društvene nauke i Institutu za filozofiju i društvenu teoriju, bila profesorka sociologije. Od 70-ih pripada peticionaškom pokretu, 1982. bila zatvarana sa grupom disidenata. 1985. osnivačica Jugoslovenskog helsinškog komiteta. 1989. članica Udruženja za jugoslovensku demokratsku inicijativu. 1991. članica Evropskog pokreta u Jugoslaviji. 1991. osniva Centar za antiratnu akciju, prvu mirovnu organizaciju u Srbiji. 1992-1999. osnivačica i predsednica Građanskog saveza Srbije (GSS), nastalog ujedinjenjem Republikanskog kluba i Reformske stranke, sukcesora Saveza reformskih snaga Jugoslavije Ante Markovića. 1993-1997. jedna od vođa Koalicije Zajedno (sa Zoranom Đinđićem i Vukom Draškovićem). 2001-2005. ambasadorka SR Jugoslavije, pa SCG u Meksiku. Posle gašenja GSS 2007, njegovim prelaskom u Liberalno-demokratsku partiju (LDP), do 2011. predsednica Političkog saveta LDP-a, kada napušta ovu partiju. Narodna poslanica (1993-1997, 2007-2012).