'No longer shall we feel shame at being Serbs'

On The Streets
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The Independent Online

The ghosts were there as Serbia rejoiced at the fall of Slobodan Milosevic yesterday - the ghosts of Bosnia, Kosovo and Croatia were in Serbs' minds as they celebrated victory over the man whose dream of a Greater Serbia fuelled a decade of wars in the Balkans.

The ghosts were there as Serbia rejoiced at the fall of Slobodan Milosevic yesterday - the ghosts of Bosnia, Kosovo and Croatia were in Serbs' minds as they celebrated victory over the man whose dream of a Greater Serbia fuelled a decade of wars in the Balkans.

"This is not only our victory," said Tanja Trebjesanin, one in a crowd of tens of thousands outside the parliament building yesterday. "It is a victory for the Croatians, the Bosnians, and the Muslims as well." But it was a victory won by the Serbs so long blamed for Mr Milosevic's crimes, a victory won far more quickly and peacefully than anyone imagined possible, when half a million people protested, state television was taken over and parliament was stormed on Thursday.

Ms Trebjesanin said: "We no longer need to feel ashamed to call ourselves Serbs. But, most of all," said Ms Trebjesanin, celebrating with her two young children on the spot where police fired tear gas on the crowds on Thursday, "this is a victory for the children." Yesterday her sons, Hebejsa, seven, and Veijko, one, were experiencing life without Mr Milosevic for the first time. Ms Trebjesanin said: "Yesterday evening was the first safe time for them, and even then we were afraid he might still come back. Today is the first totally safe day for them."

Ms Trebjesanin was only too aware of the precariousness of life for the young under Mr Milosevic, whose wars have robbed the Balkans of generations. Her husband's son from an earlier marriage was conscripted the day before Mr Milosevic fell.

The celebrations yesterday were a mix of speeches, religious services and a rock concert one Serb described as "our Woodstock". And it was a harsh crowd that gathered to mock the fallen dictator. Their badges said: "He is broken like a baby's rattle." A rock singer sang a mocking impersonation of Mr Milosevic's wife, Mira, that made her sound like a bimbo long past it.

Though not bloodless, the changeover in Serbia has been one of the most peaceful, comparable with Czechoslovakia's 1989 Velvet Revolution. It is as if Serbia was finally overthrowing its communist regime a decade after the rest of East Europe - Mr Milosevic was, after all, a communist official.

There were other resemblances with Prague: every section of Serbian society was represented. Georgi Georgijev and his wife, Slobodanka, both 53, were on the front line in the battle for parliament and were both tear-gassed. Mr Georgijev said: "I though I was going to die ... Milosevic is a catastrophe of a man. He took away a decade of our lives, the decade that should have been the most beautiful. It may take two decades to rebuild our lives, but we will do it."

But it was the politicisation of the young that was decisive, drawing them to the streets in tens of thousands. Demir Ahmetovic, 18, who was in the battle for parliament, said his 12-year-old sister was even more politically minded. "She knows more about politics than anyone else in my family," he said. "Milosevic thought he could create a Greater Serbia ... but he ended up with brother fighting against brother."

If the United States and its allies think the departure of Mr Milosevic will give them a new friend in the Balkans, the signs are that they are mistaken. Another activist, Ana Svab, said: "Nato made a big mistake bombing Serbia last year. I forgive them but the people here will not forget. Perhaps we can co-operate, but we can never be friends."

There are those who talk of friendship with the West, but they seem to be in a minority. With the shells of buildings bombed in last year's Nato attacks still a feature of the Serbian capital, many are not inclined to forget.

Sihija Bujas, a lawyer, was rejoicing yesterday at the downfall of a president he always disliked. But, asked about Mr Milosevic's wars, he replied: "You should ask your British government about the wars." As to the question of Mr Milosevic's whereabouts, and where he was going, few Serbs supported the idea of sending him to the International War Crimes Tribunal in The Hague - most people preferred a trial in Serbia. One of the demonstrators, Mirjaha Petrovic, said: "He should be judged by the mothers whose children were killed in his wars."

But Mr Bujas disagreed: "What does it matter what happens to him now? He is nothing now. He's finished."

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