SCMP Saturday, October 7, 2000


Time for celebration as terror makes way for freedom


"I'm watching the Yugoslav Parliament burning. Turn on the television quick."
These words, relayed on the phone by a friend, stopped my heart late on Thursday night. Words I could not believe were true until I saw the images myself.
There was no confusion about what was happening in my father's Yugoslav homeland, just pure joy. And relief. All the despair, frustration and fear were wiped away with footage of Serbs taking action - not in the name of war, but of democracy. I was speechless as ordinary Serbs stormed the parliament building, but felt like screaming and celebrating, tears filling my eyes.
Despite being born in Australia, I was raised a Montenegrin Serb and desperately wished that I, my father and my family could join our relatives in Belgrade and Montenegro. I wanted to party. I rang my father, who was ecstatic. "Maybe we'll see pictures of him [Slobodan Milosevic] strung up," I said. "No, no. That would mean one less Serb and there are too few of us already," he joked.
We cried with joy. We wanted to embrace the hundreds of thousands of Serbs who had risked so much to get rid of THAT man.
Under Milosevic's reign, the people of Serbia and Montenegro had endured so much hardship. I saw it during my last visit there in 1992, during the Bosnian war. People who had once had opportunities, prosperity and security - including the educated young with modern tastes and a hunger to live a Western lifestyle - were reduced to surviving with little money, commodity shortages, increased crime and the constant threat of war on their doorsteps.
The Milosevic propaganda machine was in full swing, terrifying the nation, filling it with venom and hate. It was tense and ugly. My teenage male cousins dreaded the arrival of army conscription letters. Their mothers turned grey. I fled when sanctions were imposed, full of guilt and anxiety about the aunts and cousins I had left behind. Meanwhile, a world which is now applauding the Serbian people turned its back on them.
When Nato bombed Yugoslavia last year, serving only to strengthen Milosevic's grip on an already traumatised people, I marched in protest with thousands of others through the streets of London. Why kill oppressed civilians? Why leave decent people with even less after so many years under a communist dictator? In the lead-up to the recent election, Serbs everywhere were terrified. It seemed that, after making war on all the former Yugoslav states, Milosevic was going to turn his guns on his own. The thought of the Yugoslav army tanks rolling into Montenegro and ensuring communism by force made my stomach turn.
My relatives there were angry and confused. The stress was driving people crazy as rumours changed by the minute. What next, they kept asking. What next?
Yesterday, I could not reach my relatives on the phone. And for the first time in years, that was a good sign. I knew where they were. Out on the streets celebrating. Celebrating for the first time in over a decade. Celebrating together. Finally.
Yes, there could be serious repercussions. Milosevic could make a last stand and try to crush the protesters. Vojislav Kostunica might turn out to be another monster. But right now, nothing can dampen the euphoria of seeing the Serbian people united and taking what is rightfully theirs.
Mirjana Jovetic is a Serb-Australian journalist for the Features section of the Post.