This is the sixth time I’m writing the opening sentence for this article.It’s not that the last five, those that now rest in the great binary beyond,weren’t any good. In fact, most of them were probably better than the one you’ve just read. But the problem was they were all simply too clear and understandable to describe an event as confusing as the opposition rally held last Friday.
It’s not an information overload as much as conflicting accounts that will get you confused. First things first – how many people attended? A newspaper called ‘Borba’, so hardcore in communism that even their typeface is red, said there were 20,000 people. RTS reported 30,000. Associated Press said it was ‘over 100,000’ while according to Reuters it was ‘close to 150,000’.
Most independent media put it over 200,000 and my father, one of that unknown number of protesters that attended the rally, thinks it’s nearer 300,000. Studio B, a TV station run by one of the biggest opposition parties, SPO, kept saying in their live coverage that hundreds of thousands are on the streets, until at one point they said the numbers were close to half a million. And my brother, also out there in Belgrade booing every time some of the speakers mentioned Sloba’s name, is convinced there were more than 500,000 people out there.
And how did the protests go? ‘Some people started crying when Vuk Draskovic came to the stage,’a Studio B reporter said. ‘Awesome,’my brother muttered after coming home. ‘Marked with peace and tolerance,’the independents’ wrote. Most foreign channels mentioned: ‘a slight feeling of uneasiness felt between the two biggest opposition leaders Draskovic and Djindjic.’
‘The rally started late because there weren’t enough people too fill the whole square, the crowd booed to the opposition leaders more than they cheered, and most people left an hour into the event when one of the speakers mentioned some of the Serbia’s provinces getting more autonomy and another offered hanging certain individuals to lamp posts as the quickest way to get this country on it’s feet,’ – I guess there’s no point in saying who’s the author of this brilliant peace of journalistic integrity, honesty and impartiality.
But what was it really like? The truth is, I just don’t know. The fact that I wasn’t even there isn’t the only reason for that, because neither my father nor my older sibling have a clue about where they were and what they heard – they were more eager to watch the tape of the rally than I was.
Actually, the whole week was as confusing as they come, with RTS inviting Djindjic and Draskovic to a TV duel with some of the government officials, hoping to get them into an argument between each other, and then revoking their invitations when only one of them, Djindjic, accepted.
However, Djindjic did have his turn at pouncing the government the very next day right here in Jagodina, sharing the studio of one of late Arkan’s media legacies with ultra nationalist Radical party leader Vojislav Seselj, one of those three officials he was invited by RTS to argue with. It’s not everyday you get to see something like that – in the past year or so the gap between the government coalition parties and the opposition ones had become wider than ever, with the former calling the latter ‘traitors’ and ‘the extended arms of the NATO alliance just waiting for a new bombing campaign’in almost every public speech.
The outcome of the show, a draw that leaves both men thinking they’ve outsmarted the other, and people wondering why the hell did they watch a three hour name calling marathon full of hundreds of times before heard phrases from both sides, was very much a preview of what was to come the next day – the rally.
If you ask the government supporters about the meeting, they’ll say it showed the opposition’s disunity and lack of support from the public, the numbers in ‘Borba’ being the main argument. It also showed, they will say, how far the opposition is willing to go in order to gain more votes, and the biggest proof of their absence of patriotism would be the fact that Rasim Ljajic, a Muslim politician calling for more autonomy of the province of Sandzak, and leader of the three biggest parties in Vojvodina, also a Serbian province wanting more autonomy, were all called on stage to address the protesters.
If you asked the people who were out there in the streets of Belgrade that day about what they thought, they’d say that the rally was not only a showcase of the opposition’s unity, with Djindjic and Draskovic shaking hands, but also the proof that the government is frightened for its future more than ever.
Most of those people think that even more that half a million people would have attended (‘And it was half a million, they said just that on Studio B’), if not for the government’s below the belt hits like airing pirated copies of the ‘American Beauty’ and the new James Bond on one of its TV stations, jamming Studio B’s signal during the live coverage of the protests and replacing it with one of their own stations’, more known for it’s late night porn than objective reporting, or putting road blocks on the freeway to stop the out of town protesters on their way to Belgrade from getting there in time.
That last thing had quite a large potential of backfiring. The bus my brother was in encountered one of those road blocks, but instead of turning back to Jagodina they put a road block of their own, stopping not just buses packed with protesters, but the whole of traffic. If not for the soft-hearted policemen begging them to stop because they actually support the opposition’s demands for change, more than a dozen human walls like that on all major roads across the country would have caused a lot of stir.
The truth is not, as some may think, somewhere in the middle, but leaning quite a bit to the opposition’s side of the story. Yes, the rally could have done without some speakers calling for Sloba’s execution, and yes, the opposition does need a bit more unity. Some even think that this rally wasn’t needed and achieved nothing. But it had to be held, if just as an argument for the opposition that they’ve tried absolutely everything to have peaceful changes by spelling out once again their demands for early ‘fair and democratic’ elections. But until then, they can at least say that thanks to them the a dream of many single men, and some women, has been fulfilled – free porn for everyone.