|1996-1997 protests in Serbia|
|Part of Serbian local elections, 1996|
Students marching in Belgrade in November 1996, carrying the "Belgrade is the world" banner
|Date||November 17, 1996 - March 22, 1997|
|Caused by||Refusal of incumbent parties to recognize 1996 local elections results|
|Goals||Recognition of the 1996 local election results|
|Methods||Demonstrations, occupations, rioting, police violence|
|Parties to the civil conflict|
|Casualties and losses|
In the winter of 1996-1997, university students and Serbian opposition parties organized a series of peaceful protests in the Republic of Serbia (then part of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia) in response to electoral fraud attempted by the Socialist Party of Serbia of President Slobodan Milo?evi? after the 1996 local elections.
During the course of the rallies, students held their protests separately from the citizens' ones, led by opposition then gathered in coalition Zajedno (Together). The students' protest lasted until 22 March 1997, with additional requests of replacing the management of University of Belgrade and return of the university autonomy.
The protests started November 17, 1996 in Ni? where thousands of opposition supporters gathered to protest against election fraud. Belgrade University students joined on November 19, 1996 and protests lasted even after February 11, 1997, when Milo?evi? signed the "lex specialis", which accepted the opposition victory and instated local government in several cities, but without acknowledging any wrongdoing. The protests were strongest in the capital Belgrade, where they gathered up to 200,000 people, but spread over most cities and towns in Serbia.
On December 24, 1996, the government coalition called "Za Srbiju" ("For Serbia") organized a large counter-protest in Terazije. Milo?evi? spoke to the crowd in Terazije, telling them "Serbia will not be controlled by someone else's hand". The crowd chanted "Slobo, we love you", to which Milo?evi? replied, "I love you too".
The December 24 protests in Terazije resulted in massive riots, during which a young protester from the SPO named Predrag Star?evi? was beaten to death. Another SPO protester, Ivica Lazovi?, was shot in the head the same night by a SPS supporter ?ivko Sandi?. Although Lazovi? survived, he had an arm and a leg amputated in a life-saving operation in the emergency room. Lazovi? eventually met Sandi? in court, where he asked him, "brother, why did you shoot me?" Sandi? allegedly replied, "I don't know", and Lazovi? forgave him in person, saying "if my sacrifice was needed to prevent civil war in Serbia, then so be it."
After the December 24 violence, the government banned all street protests in Belgrade from December 26, 1996.Neboj?a ?ovi?, the mayor of Belgrade and an SPS member, claimed to have criticized the government's idea of counter-protesting, but that a majority of the SPS party board supported it. Milo?evi? allegedly ordered police to stay disengaged from the counter-protest. ?ovi? suggested to other SPS members that the counter-protest was risky, and defied Milo?evi?'s orders by calling in riot police. ?ovi? was subsequently kicked out of the SPS in January 1997. He stood by his decision years later, claiming that civil war could have begun if it were not for the intervention of riot police that night.
On the night of February 2-3, 1997, a confrontation occurred between riot police and protesters on Branko's Bridge, during which the police fired water cannons at the protesters, even though the outside temperature was -6 °C (21 °F). Vesna Pe?i?, leader of the Civic Alliance of Serbia, was hit by the police on the same night. According to Na?a Borba, 29 protesters ended up in the Urgent Care emergency room, while the "Anlave" clinic received 50 patients that night. After the incident, Yugoslav Left spokesman Aleksandar Vulin asked, "shouldn't we have sprayed them with warm water?"
In January 1997, a large column of riot police blocked off Kolar?eva street in Belgrade for several weeks, in spite of the continuation of a standoff with the student protesters. However, on January 27, 1997, the riot police opened Kolar?eva street, after which Patriarch Pavle and other members of the Serbian Orthodox clergy led a silent crowd of approximately 300,000 to the Church of Saint Sava. Contrary to what was reported at the time, the riot police left Kolar?eva street several hours before, as they anticipated the Patriarch and the crowd he would take to the Church of Saint Sava.
In early 1997, Wired journalist David Bennahum met philosophy professor Novica Mili? at a conference in Berlin called the "Data Conflicts: Cyberspace and the Geo-Politics of Eastern Europe", after which Mili? invited him to apply for a visa to visit Yugoslavia during the protests. Bennahum applied, eventually entered Yugoslavia and wrote about his experience and the alleged role of the internet in the protest mobilization in an article called "The Internet Revolution". Bennahum wrote about the existence of an internet stream called Sezam Pro, which broadcast the independent radio station B92 after it had been censored by the Yugoslav government on December 3, 1996.Voice of America and BBC recorded these internet streams and broadcast them back to Belgrade through short-wave frequencies, whose signals were picked up by the radio. At the time of the protests, at least 8 million people were living in Yugoslavia, of which no more than 10,000 had access to the internet. Speaking to Nedeljnik, Milan Bo?i?, a math professor who met with Bennahum to discuss internet access in Yugoslavia, claimed that Bennahum endangered him and Mili? by publishing their names in his article, adding that there had been an agreement to keep their identities hidden from the authorities. Mili? also commented for Nedeljnik, stating that Bennahum "severely exaggerated" the role of the internet in the 1996-1997 protests.
Richard Holbrooke commented on the issue in his memoirs, recalling that the Americans were not able to support the protests due to the transitional period to the Clinton II Administration:
"A remarkable challenge to Milo?evi? unfolded in the street of Belgrade in December , led by three politicians who banded together in a movement called Zajedno, or the Together Movement. For weeks, hundreds of thousands of Belgrade citizens braved subfreezing weather to call for democracy. But Washington missed a chance to affect events; except for one ineffectual trip to Washington, Zajedno had no contact with senior American government officials, and the Administrations sent no senior officials to Belgrade for fear that their visits would be used by Milo?evi? to show support. For the first time in eighteen months, Milo?evi? felt no significant American pressure, and turned back towards the extreme nationalists, including Karad?i?, for support. His tactical skills saved him again, and within weeks, the Together Movement was together no more, as its leaders split among themselves."