A Troubled Peace
Reflecting on Revolution/Ana Trbovich, F98
Ana Trbovich, F98
It was my father on the phone from Belgrade: "We are just calling
to say that we won. Welcome to free Serbia! We are waiting for you!"
His voice faltered, full of joy and hope that we will once again
live in a normal country. Friends of mine, both Serbian and American,
called the same night. "Is it really over?" we asked one another
in disbelief. But it was true. Slobodan Milosevic had conceded defeat
in the September presidential elections. A democratic revolution
had overturned the Milosevic regime in Belgrade. Most Americans
take peace for granted.
For the past ten years, since I was 14, I have known only war and
uncertainty. Now, for the first time, I can hope to present myself
in Boston as a Serb and a democrat without causing disbelief. No
longer will Americans automatically think of Serbs and Milosevic
as one and the same. Now I can make plans for a normal life, for
a return home. Until now, we have just been waiting.
On the day of the news, people asked me, "What is going on in
Yugoslavia?" and I said, "Oh, nothing, just a revolution." It has
been so long in the making. But when it finally happened, it seemed
to do so with lightning speed. Since early morning on that day I
followed the news as it unfolded-over a dozen websites, simultaneously-with
updates each tenth of a second.
My parents had told me the previous night that October 5 was D-day.
The results of the September 24 federal and local elections had
been known since the evening of the vote. However, the opposition's
victory had been denied by the regime, provoking hundreds of thousands
of demonstrators to take to the streets of almost every town in
In a final attempt to stop the people's efforts to change the government,
the Milosevic-controlled Constitutional Court was expected to proclaim
the elections invalid, and the coalition of democratic opposition
parties in Serbia called on the people to come from all parts of
the country to Belgrade, focusing the strength of the protests on
the capital. The court's ruling confirmed the opposition's fears,
and hundreds of thousands of people flooded the streets of Belgrade.
At around 11:15 a.m. Boston time-5:15 in the afternoon in Belgrade-one
of the opposition websites posted alarming news: The Parliament
was in flames.
I called my parents immediately, but my father could not console
me. "The tear gas is making my eyes itch. I can only see the smoke,"
he said. "You will probably know better than me what is going on
in a few minutes. Check the Internet." Throughout the day I spoke
by cell phone with my parents, who were in the streets. When the
police began surrendering to the people, and the military sent to
fight the demonstrators instead deserted their tanks on the streets,
we knew it was over. I cried as I watched the footage.
My parents, who run an eye clinic in downtown Belgrade, had been
protesting every day since Yugoslavia's voters hailed the opposition
leader Vojislav Kostunica as their new president. Like other people
in Yugoslavia, they were experienced demonstrators. For five months
during the winter of 1996-97, they walked the streets daily protesting
against Milosevic, who had illegally annulled the opposition's victory
in local elections. When I could take a break from school, I joined
But a disunited Serbian opposition then dashed all our hopes by
yielding to Milosevic's power games. The dictator stayed in power
and the international sanctions continued to starve the economy.
Serbs felt oppressed by their regime from the inside and by the
West from the outside. Tragically, two years later, NATO decided
to help us reach democracy with bombs, killing 2,000 innocent civilians
and failing to resolve the conflict in the Kosovo region of Yugoslavia.
That is why the day Milosevic conceded, one Belgrade university
student posted a cynical message on the BBS Internet comment board:
"We did it on our own. Please do not help us again with your bombs."
I understand his bitterness. Like him, I felt disappointed by
the country I had considered a beacon of democracy, but which had
ignored the democratic movement in Yugoslavia and failed to aid
numerous Serbian refugees. Unfortunately, most Americans have not
been aware of the Serbian democratic movement, which is why they
could not easily fathom the success of the democratic revolution
in Yugoslavia. The new government will not be infallible. But it
will be democratic and in need of Western support in rebuilding
Yugoslavia's economy and its civil society.
The success of democratic reforms in Yugoslavia will be ensured
only by a victory in the upcoming republican elections, because
that is where the real power has been delegated by the Yugoslav
constitution. To win, democratic opposition in Serbia, under President
Kostunica, must demonstrate to the Yugoslav people that the West
has embraced its cause.
The West can begin by lifting international sanctions and providing
direct economic aid without interfering in the decision making of
the new government. It does, finally, belong to the people of Yugoslavia.
Ana Trbovich earned a joint BA/MALD from the Fletcher School
of Law and Diplomacy, where she is now a doctoral candidate. She
is the U.S. correspondent for Blic, a leading Serbian opposition
daily in Belgrade. Her essay appeared in the Boston Sunday Globe
on October 8, 2000.