- Serbia’s Opposition Speaks
The following remarks by the leaders of Serbia’s Zajedno (“Together”) coalition are adapted from talks they delivered at a forum co-sponsored by the U.S. Institute of Peace and the National Endowment for Democracy in Washington, D.C., on 4 April 1997. The remarks are introduced here by Paul McCarthy, program officer for Central and Eastern Europe at the National Endowment for Democracy.
On the evening of 21 February 1997, the streets of Belgrade echoed with the cheers of 100,000 jubilant citizens as the large metal communist star atop City Hall was pulled down. The crowds were celebrating the triumph of their 12-week protest against Serbian president Slobodan Milosevic and the takeover of municipal councils in the country’s largest cities, including the capital, by the opposition coalition Zajedno (“Together” in Serbo-Croatian). Zoran Djindjic, one of the opposition leaders, was set to become Belgrade’s first noncommunist mayor since 1945. Zajedno’s place in history seemed assured: It had mounted the most serious challenge to Milosevic since his rise to power more than a decade before. With opposition representatives taking office in municipal councils throughout the country, it appeared that the Serbian political system would never be the same again.
The Zajedno coalition was formed in early 1996 when the two main parties of an older opposition grouping called the Serbian Democratic Movement (DEPOS)—the Serbian Renewal Movement (SPO) and the small Civic Alliance of Serbia (GSS), led by Vuk Draskovic and Vesna Pesic, respectively—were joined by the Democratic Party (DS), led by Zoran Djindjic. Following the formal signing of the Dayton Peace [End Page 3] Agreement in December 1995, the three leaders had worked together briefly in a shadow parliament created after opposition parties boycotted the Serbian parliament to protest the regime’s termination of televised broadcasts of the body’s sessions. What united them a few months later was a desire to make Serbia a “normal country” and to save it from what they viewed as the disastrous decade-long rule of Slobodan Milosevic of the Socialist Party of Serbia (SPS), which included years of war, economic decline, and international isolation. Despite this common resolve, Pesic, Draskovic, and Djindjic were seen from the beginning as strange bedfellows with very different backgrounds as well as varied, and sometimes contradictory, party platforms.
Of the three Zajedno leaders, Vesna Pesic has been the most constant in her dedication to democratic principles and human rights. In contrast to Djindjic and Draskovic, she has consistently opposed the ethnonationalism sponsored by the regime, in particular its drive to create a “Greater Serbia” and Serbia’s involvement in the Bosnian war. Above all, she has decried the war crimes committed in the name of the Serbs. Like her Zajedno partners, Pesic has roots in the Belgrade intellectual community. She received a doctorate in sociology from the University of Belgrade in 1977. Since 1991, she has been a senior research fellow at the University of Belgrade’s Institute for Philosophy and Social Theory, where her work has focused on ethnic nationalism, conflict resolution, and human rights. Pesic was active in Yugoslav dissident movements throughout the 1980s. She helped establish the Committee for the Defense of Free Speech in 1984 and Belgrade Helsinki Watch in 1985. In 1989, she cofounded the Association for a Yugoslav Democratic Initiative (AJDI), which was dedicated to the democratic transformation of the former Yugoslavia. When the Serb-dominated Yugoslav People’s Army attacked Slovenia and Croatia after those republics’ declarations of independence in June 1991, Pesic established the Center for Anti-War Action, Serbia’s first peace organization.
Politically, Pesic has always been supportive of the reformist option. In the 1990 parliamentary elections, she was a member of the Alliance of Reform Forces of Yugoslavia of then-Yugoslav premier Ante Markovic. After the disintegration of the former Yugoslavia and AJDI’s subsequent dissolution, she became president of the short-lived Reform Party of Serbia. In June 1992, Pesic founded the GSS on a strong antiwar and prodemocratic platform. In the parliamentary elections the following year...