Rival opens fight in Milosevic territory

Gillian Sandford

Monday September 4, 2000

Zajecar - The leading opposition candidate for the presidency of Yugoslavia, Vojislav Kostunica, played on the nationalist pride of the thousands of people who gathered to hear him launch his election campaign in the Socialist heartland of eastern Serbia.

A buzz of approval ran through the main square in Zajecar, close to the Bulgarian border, as they heard him say: "Everyone in Serbia still has some heroic blood. And we will show how worthy we are of our ancestors on September 24."

He is looking for the votes of people who have traditionally supported Slobodan Milosevic and he made his challenge far away from Belgrade, the capital.

Mr Kostunica is the candidate of the Democratic Party of Serbia (DOS), a coalition of 19 opposition groups. According to the latest opinion polls he is leading President Milosevic by 51% to 31%.

Just over 70,000 people live in the Zajecar region. According to a DOS official, Cedomir Jovanovic, around a third of them are without work, although the official figure is lower.

The town has a core of opposition supporters, but in the villages the Socialists keep an iron grip on the loyalty of the old and uneducated peasant farmers.

Mr Kostunica berated communism and the Milosevic regime for stamping out democracy in Yugoslavia

"Reality has been fabricated." he said. "So don't be surprised if you hear in this big factory of lies that there were 10 of you here."

He promised to restore normal life and return Yugoslavia back to the world community.

Afterwards he led an enthusiastic group to the town's Orthodox church, said a prayer, and then had a private conversation with Archbishop Justin: a symbolic gesture which implied that the weight of the church was behind him and will help sway voters to his cause.

Outside the church a pensioner, Danilo Petkovic, 65, said: "I will vote for him. I would give him two, if I could. But we are not like the communists. We are the honest ones. I think 80% of Zajecar will vote for him."

But the real Socialist supporters are in isolated villages, where the daily news comes from state television and many people do not read newspapers.

The three hundred villagers of Gornji Bela Reka live 18 miles from Zajeca, close to the Bulgarian border.

Milivoje Veljkovic, 58, a peasant farmer there, said "Milosevic is with the people. He has shown it. Ever since he came into power he has fought for Serbia and Yugoslavia.

"Milosevic has looked after people. Everyone has a pension. I think everyone in the village thinks the same as me."

Asked about the hard times and the Nato bombing, he said: "I blame the ones from outside who are creating rules for us. All the countries that bombed us didn't have any reason, because we didn't attack anybody."

On the way to a nearby village an elderly woman in mourning black sat on a stone and watching her two goats. Bosanka Stojanovic, 70, said: "What do we expect from elections? Who has been up to now will stay. It hasn't been bad, so it won't be bad in the future."

With her pension of less than £10 a month she survives with her two goats, three sheep and a small plot of land. "Yes, I will vote for Milosevic," she said, smiling with her few remaining teeth.

•The EU will revise its policy towards Serbia radically if voters opt for democracy in the elections, the French foreign minister, Hubert Védrine, said yesterday.

He was speaking for the French presidency of the EU at a foreign ministers meeting in Evian, and said all 15 members supported the statement.

Original article