by Batic BACEVIC
Some comedian of history took care that the electoral campaign of the candidate of the Democratic Opposition of Serbia, Vojislav Kostunica probably resembles the campaign led a long time ago, during the Yugoslav Kingdom between two world wars, by his grandfather Zivojin Arandjelovic, who was trying to win the voters from the Branicevo district over to the program of the then Democratic Party. The decision of the opposition leaders to stop impersonating clowns in the circus of the state-controlled TV has been met with approval by the voters, who have a while ago been characterized by a respected Serbian politician as "the people of fun and spite". "Do not go to the TV Serbia. The less you can be seen there, the more respect people will have for you," was a message Kostunica received from many impromptu advisers and political strategists in Valjevo and Sabac.
After a ten-year-long mirage of a pluralist democratic system, in which opposition parties were treated as benign tumors, this fall the opposition for the first time started a campaign without TV advertisements on state TV, large PA systems, busing of supporters to big rallies and messianic speeches of the important leaders to the opposition supporters from cranes, large stages, or a third floor of a nearby building. Everything is different. Speeches are different, the audience is different. Above all, it seems that Vojislav Kostunica is a different sort of Milosevic's opponent than Milan Panic or Vuk Draskovic.
"I really like that he did not promise anything. He is like God in comparison with those bastards who during daytime led a battle against Sloba and at night tried to get into, forgive my language, where the sun does not shine. I could let him take care of my children, he is so trustworthy. They cannot find anything compromising in his past," says Zdravko Milentijevic, a middle aged salesperson whose last salary arrived in May, when Pozarevac was defended from the domestic and foreign fascism. At first he trusted all the opposition politicians, then he despised them all and solemnly swore to stop voting. Now, he says, he came to greet the future president.
"Let people choose between Misic and Izolda Barudzija, and they will quickly know whether they voted well," assesses a judge from Sabac. Because of the Pozarevac case, he wants to stay anonymous. People who haven't heard about the events at the Faculty of Law 25 years ago, and the fate of professor Duric and his book about single-party political systems [Kostunica wrote a chapter in that book and was fired because of it] have apparently heard about popular prophesies, and the connection between General Zivojin Misic [Serb general and hero from WWI, apparently related to Kostunica] and their candidate. The decision to talk less at people and listen more to their problems, as well as a whole series of newly composed folk tales, have awoken in the people something that would be found in the most recent dictionaries of foreign words under faith, hope or other still undiscovered entries.
That could be seen most clearly when Kostunica came in rain to the central square in Valjevo and stood in front of the monument of the mentioned General Misic. "How can I not cry. We cannot live any more like this. They have taken everything away from us. I do thing that the country must be defended, but someone needs to defend us from them too. We shall die like this," an elderly woman from Valjevo speaks haltingly, while wiping away tears with her kerchief. Her cousin, a clerk, Milena Djukic, says that she came to the rally because she immensely respects Kostunica, but she did not expect to start crying here. "So much has piled up inside us. We shall realize that once all of this is finally over," she says and shakes her head.
At the end of a maudlin story about the Serbian opposition and its charismatic leaders, it turned out that an expert for constitutional law and a grumpy cabinet politician was able to shake up and reach out to blue collar workers, farmers and honest intellectuals all over Serbia. His travels through Serbia thus became a serious proof that some strange, supernatural laws rule the political scene in Serbia. These laws put political experts in a difficult situation. Therefore, the leader of the Democratic Party of Serbia hasn't changed during the last decade but it seems something seriously changed in his surroundings. Those changes probably speak less about the increased rating of the opposition and democracy in Serbia than about the depth of the misery in which Serbia lives among plum trees.
Thus, in Zajecar, a man in a white shirt with a big felt pen approached Kostunica and insisted that Kostunica sign on his back. Behaving like rock-star fans, people patiently waited for interviews to end in order to get autographs or to tell the candidate what to pay attention to. In eastern Serbia they demanded that he sign on their personal identification papers ("write over the photograph, I have nothing to be afraid of any more"), the local brass orchestras from traditional Socialist strongholds played the old Serbian anthem "God of justice" for him, while the citizens form Bor greeted him by banging into pans at their windows. Almost 2,000 citizens of Zajecar gathered in front of the hotel at midnight and demanded to be addressed by Kostunica although he was supposed to do that the following day. Two policemen greeted him by "hello comrade presidential candidate", while a guy at a toll booth on the highway refused to charge "the president".
All those details could be dismissed as a part of the usual election euphoria among the Serbs, which makes even the worst defeatists believe that there is hope and try to talk about what they would do after a big victory. But this outburst of emotions and the moving, protective manner in which people "listen to their president" is something intangible for even the opposition politicians, journalists and smart analytical minds. "He is our man. He is honest and modest just like us, only smarter," explains a taxi driver from Valjevo why he came to see Kostunica. To his every moderate statement ("It will be hard...a victory is only the first step") he reacts with unrestrained zeal and shouts "that's it doctor, just don't lie to us".
"Oh course I am encouraged to see that so many people are hopeful but I also realize the magnitude of my responsibility. I was aware of that responsibility at the moment when I accepted to be the candidate of the opposition, but only now, after seeing those touching and moving reactions of people all over Serbia, I realized the magnitude of that responsibility. These elections are not of fateful importance only for the citizens, but also for the whole generation of politicians who have been trying to change something in this country for far too long," assesses Kostunica, the first leader of the democratic opposition who managed to make inroads to the petrified voting block of the Socialist supporters and heads of those who have discovered that the commander in chief is neither a nationalist, nor a socialist, and there are also indications that he is also not a democrat.
Among those who came to hear Vojislav Kostunica there are people who never attended opposition rallies. However, in the meantime something, it seems, has snapped inside them. "I liked [Milosevic] a lot, I even got in a fight with my brother because he did not like him, but during the last two-three years, the life has been impossible. They have looted everything, people wait the whole morning to buy cheap bread and his children build nightclubs, TV stations and all sorts of things," explains a retired driver from Loznica. As a youngster he spent two years in the communist prison camp on the island of Goli Otok, by mistake. Then he curses, and when he realizes that the first curse did not make him feel any better, he curses again, even worse. He has pinned badges with the mathematical formula "1+1=2" and a watch dial showing five minutes to noon to his blue driver's coat.
A worker on forced leave, Zoran Topalovic, says that he used to vote for the Serb Radical Party because he thought that they would get rid of crime and protect the Serbs but they "really disappointed" him. "How come Seselj has enough money to pay for all those TV advertisements and posters, when not even a single honest person in Serbia has enough money to buy a new car? Fine, there are exceptions, but Seselj is not one of them. I've heard that he, the Socialists and the JUL have spent more than 140 million dinars only on the TV advertisements and that makes me go nuts just thinking that I voted for them. With that sort of money we would be able to solve all the problems in the Macva region."
Meetings with people who protectively advise him how to prevent vote-fraud, tell him to take care of himself on the road, advise him to use simpler language ("you, Sir, talk like my university professors. You have to adjust a bit," advised a student from Valjevo) additionally demonstrate that an essential turnaround has taken place in the minds of voters. While traveling through north-eastern Serbia, the presidential candidate of the DOS kept repeating that he is aware of the position of the current president of FR Yugoslavia, realizing that all the rallies on both sides had started spinning around the basic existential category - fear. "I know that they are afraid but, God help me, we are also afraid that they will stay in power for another year or two. I would pay them whatever I can, if some of them haven't looted enough, if only they would let us live in peace," says Ikonija Stanisic, a pensioner supported by her children who live in Belgrade.
Probably the towns of Sabac, Loznica, and Valjevo have seen bigger and better organized opposition rallies, with better speeches and happier crowds, but the citizens from those towns say that this September something new is taking place: "For the first time people really believe that he will become the president and that Sloba cannot last forever," say the local opposition politicians during their five minutes of fame. To the question about what is taking place in the town, one of the most consistent destroyers of beer and other weak liquor in the Macva region replied "the one who shall get rid of the one above is coming". He wasn't referring to God.