Vladimir Sukalovic continues his first-hand account of the overthrow of Slobodan Milsevic. Part 1 told of the campaign leading up to the election and Part 2 described the turmoil as the people of Yugoslavia protested against Milosevic's attempts to
challenge the election result.
The air was full of tear gas as I got back to the street. I was wearing a wet scarf around my nose and mouth, as protection from the gas. I saw people running back and forth in all directions, some shouting "It's over! We won!" some of them gasping for fresh air and some of them crying because of the tear gas. Then another armoured
troop carrier went by, turned around the corner, and stopped at the crossroad with the street leading to the RTS building. A machine gun was clearly visible on top. It was loaded and soldier was aiming it. It looked like he was going to fire but he changed his mind and got back into the carrier, closing the top hatch. In the next moment people
charged the short distance to the Carrier and got on the top, blocking peeking holes and visors.
One of them waved the DOS flag and shouted "Get out! Join us, we are the same people". In a few minutes a huge crowd formed around the carrier, and eventually the top hatch was opened and the soldier got out. He was greeted with applause, cheers, and shouting, and some of people on the carrier hugged him and shook hands.
He asked us to let him pass as he had orders to reach the RTS building. People made a passage, and the carrier slowly moved on.
On the next crossroad we encountered 4 hummers (US military jeeps) full of soldiers. They were piled inside the back of the Jeeps with gas masks on their faces and weapons in their hands. We also saw thick black smoke coming from the RTS building and people who were surrounding the jeeps, but we kept a good distance from them. At that moment
I was scared. The situation was very uneasy. It seemed to me that the soldiers were waiting for a rock, bottle or stick to be thrown at them, and then they would open fire and kill every one in sight. They looked terrible, as they were wearing full NATO (or US) battle uniforms, with those easy-to-recognize deep-cut helmets and harnesses loaded
with ammunition clips and grenades.
Some of them were armed with 40mm grenade launchers that were full of tear gas clips, but what really frightened me was a rifle that I had only seen twice in my life – once in the papers and the second time while I was in the army. That was an Ilarco Americana 180 (I'm not sure about this, I think that's the name) submachine gun, capable
of firing 20 rounds per second. One can easily recognize this model by the clip mounted on top of the weapon, holding 3 500 bullets. All of the soldiers were wearing black gas masks (NATO model, as the Yugoslav Army has green ones) and no marks on their uniforms or vehicles.
For a moment everyone was quiet, but our arrival with the carrier, decorated with opposition flags and full of people, broke the silence. People started to shout "Take off the masks! Get out of the jeeps! Join us!" but the soldiers were quiet. I saw two friends of mine and tried to find out what was going on, who those soldiers
were, which side they were on and what were they doing there, but my friends knew nothing. One of them approached the hummer to ask them, but got no reply. People surrounded the jeeps, and more were coming every minute.
In the end the crowd blocked the street from all sides. Fear was still in the air, and continuous shouts to "take off your masks and got out of vehicles" were still unanswered. I was curious about who they are, as they were dressed more like Delta Force than our army, but most of them were armed with AK-47Ks, a rifle used by our
troops. And then it happened almost in a flash. A small man dressed in something that looked more like a jump suit than a uniform, got out of the hummer and ordered soldiers to take off masks and dismount the vehicles. I recognized his suit as belonging to SAJ (Special Antiterrorist Unit), responsible only to president of the state, something
like SAS in United Kingdom. People ran to the vehicles to greet the soldiers, and hugs were exchanged.
Some of the soldiers were happy and flashed three fingers in the air, but most of them were afraid, much as we were, and showed little emotion on their faces. But for me, that moment was the moment of truth. The elite force of the army were on our side. Something must have snapped inside the commander, as he disobeyed a direct order to
protect the RTS building at all cost.
The police still in the burning building surrendered shortly after that, knowing that all was lost. Most of them gave their helmets, shields and sticks to the people, and went from the building to the nearby parking lot, followed by the crowd. I came closer to see them. Without their formidable equipment, they all looked tired, depressed and
lost. Never before had I dared to stand in front of them within range of their sticks, but this time they were harmless. People quickly mixed with the police to celebrate, ask for a photo or just to chat. I overheard some fragments of conversation in which young policeman explained to an elder man: "Our commander left us. We were
desperate, and didn't know what to do. I didn't hit any one." In about 15 minutes, some buses came and took the police to a central police station.
The army withdrew to their city HQ. We were triumphant. I rushed to the RTS building. People were trashing everything they had found inside. Some of them were demolishing the building, breaking windows, and throwing things out, but some of them decided it was better to take some still-working equipment out of the burning building and take it
home. In the end it was burned to the ground. The RTS programs went off the air.
What NATO failed to do by bombing, people did barehanded. The main symbol of Milosevic's regime, the pillar of his power, was taken down. Never again will RTS spread its lies and half-truths. I passed by the RTS building, there was nothing to be done there, and continued to the Assembly building, which was still in flames. The firemen
couldn't get near it because of the crowd. Across the park standing in front of the Assembly was the local JUL (Yugoslavian leftwing party – notorious party of Mira Markovic, Slobodan's wife) office.