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Yugoslavia: Cacak Mayor Regrets Incomplete Revolution

  • Jolyon Naegele

The October protests in Belgrade that led to the overthrow of Slobodan Milosevic brought to the capital thousands of demonstrators from around the country. A disproportionate number were from a region in central Serbia known as Sumadija. Their leader was the stocky mayor of the region's central town of Cacak, a traditional anti-Belgrade bastion. RFE/RL correspondent Jolyon Naegele visited Cacak this week and spoke with Mayor Velimir Ilic about his frustration with what he regards as Serbia's incomplete revolution and his own political ambitions.

Cacak, Yugoslavia; 30 November 2000 (RFE/RL) -- Cacak is a bustling market town known for its fruit -- and also for being a traditional bastion of opposition to Belgrade.

Shortly after World War II, Yugoslav communist leader Josip Broz Tito paid a 27-minute visit to a factory on the outskirts of town, but never visited the city center. Slobodan Milosevic visited Cacak only once, 10 years ago, but was pelted with tomatoes and eggs and never returned.

Cacak historian Spomenka Aleksic says the people of Cacak have a tradition of impatience as well as of thinking and working freely. As a result, she says, communism never took root in the region.

"Neither in the past nor now could we tolerate dictatorship. We fought against the (Ottoman) Turks, later against other occupiers, Austria-Hungary then against (Nazi) Germany, and today we have been fighting against the dictatorship of Slobodan Milosevic."

Aleksic says recent democratic trends in Serbia began in Cacak:

"Cacak has been an opposition town for four years. Milosevic's dictatorship did not take root here and local government worked democratically. [But this meant] all of the federal and [Serbian] republic institutions of power tried to suppress Cacak, and its democracy, much more than other towns."

After the Milosevic regime tried to falsify the results of federal presidential elections in September, Cacak residents refused to accept defeat. They proceeded to block roads and hold nightly protests to demand that the regime concede.

But the regime held on and finally, on October 5, hundreds of thousands of people from across Serbia marched on Belgrade. Thousands of these were from Cacak, all led by Mayor Velimir Ilic.

Ilic, a stocky man and the owner of a shoe factory, commands popular appeal among ordinary people. In conversation, he expounds views that might provoke derision elsewhere but in Serbia are widespread and popular. He is a monarchist and would like to see the establishment of a parliamentary monarchy modeled after Sweden.

He is also the leader of the two-year-old opposition party, New Serbia. And in October, he saw the opportunity to bring his democratic dreams for Serbia to fruition. He played an important role in the October 5 demonstration, bringing a bulldozer along to help clear police barricades. The bulldozer was used by demonstrators to storm the main building of Radio-Television Serbia (RTS) in central Belgrade.

Eight weeks later, however, Ilic regrets that the overthrow of the Milosevic regime was not what he calls sufficiently thorough:

"Personally, I am dissatisfied because after the successful operation on Oct 5, in which all of us from Cacak marched, Slobodan Milosevic was not arrested. He must be brought to justice. Without the arrest of Slobodan Milosevic, there can be no democratization of Serbia. His return to political life completely destabilizes Serbia."

Ilic says many of the elements of the demonstration were planned in advance, including Milosevic's overthrow as well as the storming of parliament and Serbian television. But he says there was no agreement among opposition leaders to arrest Milosevic.

Milosevic remains politically active. Over the past weekend, he won nearly unanimous re-election as head of the Socialist Party of Serbia at a closed party congress in Belgrade. Serbia's parliamentary elections next month (Dec 23) are expected to provide a good gauge of Milosevic's remaining support.

Ilic says that he expects Milosevic's democratic successor, Vojislav Kostunica, to leave his current post of Yugoslav federal president to become Serbian republican president. But Ilic says if Kostunica doesn't want the job, Ilic would be willing to take it himself.

This is not an unrealistic possibility. Public opinion polls indicate Ilic is Serbia's fourth-most-popular politician behind Kostunica and two reformist economists (Mladan Dinkic and Miroljub Labus of G-17), and is well ahead of the leading candidate for Serbian prime minister, Zoran Djindjic. Ilic tells RFE/RL his popularity rating makes him an ideal candidate for the Serbian presidency.

"If the federal state is not dissolved and Kostunica does not run as a candidate for president of Serbia, and if Montenegro does not become a problem, [and] if Kostunica doesn't run for the Serb post but remains as head of Yugoslavia, then I will certainly run for president of Serbia and I certainly will win. There is no one who could beat me, provided that Kostunica is not a candidate."

An Ilic presidency would not likely lead to any accommodation on the part of Serbia with ethnic Albanians in the province of Kosovo.

Ilic says he is frustrated with the failure of the international community to find a solution to Kosovo's status and with the difficulty of reaching accommodation with the Kosovar Albanians, whom he speaks of with undisguised derision.

"Quite simply, Serbia has to clarify what it wants. You see that life with the Albanians doesn't function. Serbia doesn't have any more time to waste with the Albanians. Serbia has to deal with its own issues. We in Serbia need to have a really good state, economically good and democratic, and we should forget about the Albanians. That's my vision. I don't want to hear anymore about Albanians. Living with the Albanians always led Serbia to war."

Ilic accuses the international community of failing to resolve anything by establishing a protectorate in Kosovo and points to continuing violence in southern Serbia's Presevo Valley. But in an echo of the Milosevic regime, Ilic says a survey should be made to determine who the ethnic Albanians in Kosovo really are -- who comes from Albania who has native roots in Kosovo. Asked how his views on Kosovo differ from those of Milosevic or Vojislav Seselj's Radical Party or Djindjic's Democratic Party, Ilic says: "All Serbs are united and all parties see eye-to-eye on this."

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