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The Anti-Bureaucratic Revolution was a campaign of street protests ran between 1986 and 1989 in former Yugoslavia by supporters of Serbian leader Slobodan Milošević. The protests, termed "Rallies of Truth", overthrew governments of the Serbian autonomous provinces of Vojvodina and Kosovo, as well as the government of the Socialist Republic of Montenegro, and replaced them with allies of Milošević.
The name is derived from the proclaimed revolt against bureaucratic and corrupt governing structures, but the campaign is widely considered as orchestrated by Milošević, in an attempt to strengthen his power through populism, and the expansion of his centralised influence.
The events were condemned by communist governments of western Yugoslav republics (especially SR Slovenia and SR Croatia), who successfully resisted the attempts to expand the "revolution" onto their territories, and turned against Milošević. The rising antagonism eventually resulted in dissolution of the ruling League of Communists of Yugoslavia in 1990, and subsequently in the breakup of Yugoslavia.
Prelude: Milošević's rise to power
Milošević took control of Yugoslav Communist League's Serbian branch in September 1987, when his faction won over its opposition led by Ivan Stambolić. His rise to power coincided with Serbo-Albanian tensions in Kosovo, as Kosovo Serbs felt oppressed by Albanians and the Albanian-dominated leadership of the province. The tensions were further boosted by inflammatory reports in the Serbian media.
According to the 1974 Yugoslav constitution, the two autonomous provinces of Serbia (Vojvodina and Kosovo) were largely independent from the central Serbian government, with both of them holding a seat in the Yugoslav Presidency, on par with the six constituent republics of Yugoslavia. In effect, their status was almost equivalent to republics' which enabled provincial leaderships of Kosovo and Vojvodina to lead practically independent policies.
In late 1987 and 1988, a populist campaign started in Serbia which described that situation as untenable. Provincial leaderships were being accused of bureaucratic inefficiency and alienation from the people. Popular slogans like "Oh Serbia in three parts, you will be whole again" (Ој Србијо из три дела поново ћеш бити цела, oj Srbijo iz tri dela ponovo ćeš biti cela) caught up. The atmosphere was further stirred up by numerous articles and readers' letters in Serbian press, the most notorious being Politika's rubric "Odjeci i reagovanja" (Echoes and reactions), a letters to the editor column which was used as a type of astroturfing.
The main points of the campaign were the following theses:
- Serbs in Kosovo are being harassed by Albanians and suppressed by the Albanian-dominated Kosovo government
- Due to the 1974 constitution, Serbia has no effective control over its provinces, whose leaderships are bureaucratic and estranged from the people
- It was also alleged that this Constitution was created by influence of other Yugoslav republic, especially Slovenia and Croatia, in order to suppress Serbia's power and create an environment for the exploitation of Serbia's natural resources
- The constitution had, in effect, created a confederal type of government, as no decision could be made without the consensus of all six republics in the federal parliament;[verification needed] and a system with a better consideration of popular majority was called for (the slogan "one man, one vote" was one of the most popular)
- Therefore, a thorough revision of the federal constitution and the enhancement of Serbian control over its provinces were necessary
The mass protests started in February 1986, with several meetings of Kosovo Serbs in Belgrade and in Kosovo, pleading for a resolution of the problematic situation on Kosovo. These were relatively small, with 100-5,000 participants, and were mostly reactions to individual inter-ethnic incidents. The largest such protest was held in Kosovo Polje in April 1987, gathering around 20,000 people.
However, the outburst of protests began in the latter half of 1988. In June, the protest of workers of the Zmaj factory gathered 5,000 protestors; in July, meetings were held in seven towns with tens of thousands protesters, and in August in ten towns with 80,000 people. By September they spread to 39 towns with over 400,000 people.
October 1988: Vojvodina: Yogurt Revolution
On 5 October 1988, around 150,000 people gathered in Novi Sad to protest against the Vojvodina provincial government. The gathering started a day earlier in the nearby town of Bačka Palanka, and, as Politika explained it, people "spontaneously" gathered and moved on to Novi Sad, the provincial capital. The protest in Bačka Palanka was led by Mihalj Kertes, a mid-level official of the Communist Party, an ethnic Hungarian who would later become famous for his remark "How can you Serbs be afraid of Serbia when I, a Hungarian, am not afraid of Serbia?" (and later still, as Milošević's money man). Protesters from Novi Sad and other parts of Serbia gathered in huge numbers, and began the protest in front of the provincial Parliament of Vojvodina.
The provincial leadership, led by Milovan Šogorov, Boško Krunić and Živan Berisavljević, were caught by surprise. Before the event, they tried to compromise and negotiate with Milošević, expressing cautious support for the constitutional changes while trying to keep their and Vojvodina's position intact. However, the avalanche of media campaign orchestrated from Belgrade was about to overwhelm them; they were labelled as power-hungry "armchairers" (foteljaši) and "autonomists" (autonomaši).
The Vojvodina government then cut off power and water supply to protesters, a move which enraged them further still, and caused even more people from Novi Sad and its vicinity to join. When power was restored, they tried a different tactic: in order to cheer the demonstrators up, they gave them bread and yogurt. However, thousands of yogurt packages were soon thrown at the Parliament building by angry protesters. That term "Yogurt Revolution" for the protest was named after that episode.
The rally in Belgrade, at Ušće (the large field at confluence of Sava River into Danube) was held on November 19, 1988. According to the state press, it gathered about a million people, and according to others, several hundred thousands. It was conceived as a "mother of all rallies", and a huge crowd of people come from all parts of Serbia by public and factory buses taken just for this opportunity. Milošević reaffirmed his and Serbia's confinement to the principles of liberty and Serbian equity within Yugoslavia:
We will win the battle for Kosovo regardless of the obstacles placed in front of us in the country and abroad. So, we will win regardless of the uniting of our enemies from abroad and those in the country. And that this nation will win the battle for freedom, is a fact well-known even to the Turkish and German conquerors.
October 1988–January 1989: Montenegro
Rallies and media were also similarly used in Montenegro with the first rally in support of Kosovo Serbs and Kosovo Montenegrins taking place in Titograd on 20 August 1988. The leadership of the Montenegrin Communist League was on the defense at the time, claiming that it was also "protecting Kosovo", but their restraint in direct support for Milošević was deemed not good enough by the putschists.
What eventually proved to be the coup's first act occurred on 7 October 1988 when Montenegrin police intervened against protesters in Žuta Greda demanding resignations from the Montenegrin leadership. In order to deal with the situation the leadership proclaimed the state of emergency. The state of emergency didn't last long though, as it was taken as act of hostility towards Serbia by media outlets controlled by Milošević as well as Milošević's supporters in Montenegro.
The second act started with joint rallies consisting of workers from Radoje Dakić, a state-owned factory, and Veljko Vlahović University students. On 10 January 1989, over 10,000 protesters gathered in Titograd. The old leadership, confused and disorganised, soon gave in; none of them later played a significant political role. The new "young lions" of the Montenegro, Momir Bulatović, Milo Đukanović and Svetozar Marović, became the new leadership, strongly allied with Milošević in the years to come. The League of Communists of Montenegro was subsequently transformed by the "triumvirate" who had full control over the (Socialist) Republic of Montenegro into the Democratic Party of Socialists of Montenegro, which vigorously maintained its grip over Montenegro and does so to this day more than 20 years later.
Toppling of Kosovar leadership
Azem Vlasi and others were replaced in November 1988. The Albanian population of Kosovo grew restless, and in February 1989 they engaged in a general strike, particularly manifesting itself in the 1989 Kosovo miners' strike. Meanwhile, on February 28, another major rally was held in Belgrade, where the chants "We want weapons" and "Arrest Vlasi" were heard, and three days later, Vlasi was indeed placed under arrest.
When the "revolution" was attempted in Ljubljana, Slovenia in December 1989, in an action named "Action North" Slovene police forces with the help of Croatian police forces prevented it and the action can be considered the first Slovenian defense action against the Milošević's supporters attacks, leading to Slovenian independence.
The anti-bureaucratic revolution affected the balance of power in the Presidency of Yugoslavia. Serbia's Borisav Jović (at the time the President of the Presidency), Montenegro's Nenad Bućin, Vojvodina's Jugoslav Kostić and Kosovo's Riza Sapunxhiu, started to form a voting bloc. In August 1990 the Croatian Parliament replaced its representative Stipe Šuvar with Stjepan Mesić in the wake of the Log Revolution. Mesić was only seated in October 1990 because of protests from the Serbian side, and then joined Macedonia's Vasil Tupurkovski, Slovenia's Janez Drnovšek and Bosnia and Herzegovina's Bogić Bogićević in opposing the demands to proclaim a general state of emergency, which would have allowed the Yugoslav People's Army to impose martial law in March 1991. When Sapunxhiu 'defected' his faction in the final vote, Jović briefly resigned and returned, Bućin was replaced with Branko Kostić, and Sapunxhiu with Sejdo Bajramović, effectively deadlocking the Presidency. Soon enough, the country descended into the Yugoslav Wars.
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