'Slobodan Milosevic's Police Are Outnumbered'

  • Share
  • Read Later
Wednesday, 10:20 a.m. EST

How is the situation there now that Milosevic has threatened a crackdown on protests to force him out of office?

"Well, protests have escalated, if anything. Right now I'm at the Kolubara coal mine south of Belgrade, and that cheering and chanting you can hear in the background is from thousands of people who've come from all over the country to protect the miners from the police. It's the most important mine in Serbia, and has been on strike all week to demand that Milosevic step down. Today the police surrounded the mine, hoping to bring in their own workers to break the strike. But the miners held firm and called for reinforcements. Thousands of people have been pouring in by bus from all over Serbia, turning it into a huge showdown."

Why is the regime so concerned about the strike at this particular mine?

"Kolubara is the largest coal mine in Serbia, and if it's not working they have a real crisis. Already they're running out of juice — there have been power shortages all over Serbia."

So are they more likely to use violence against protesters there than they would be in Belgrade?

"If they were, they've already missed the opportunity. This morning armed riot police were on their way to disperse the crowd picketing the mine and force it to reopen. But once the busloads of reinforcements had broken through the police cordons, the situation changed. Now the police are outnumbered and more protesters are flowing all the time. So it's unlikely to turn into a confrontation right now because there are a lot more people than police."

The fact that protests are mounting despite threats from Milosevic suggests that Serbs no longer fear the regime...

"These are hard-core working-class people who've realized that they have to get rid of Milosevic if they ever want a better life. The police have little enthusiasm for clashing with them. And on Sunday night the military's chief of staff went to meet the strikers, warning that the mine's closure was a matter of national security. But after talking through most of the night, he had to give up and go away empty-handed. So now we're waiting to see if the government is willing or able to carry out its threats to crack down."