1996–97 protests in Serbia

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Column of students in the protest, carrying the "Belgrade is the world" banner

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 Milošević after the 1996 local elections.

The protests started 17 November 1996 in Niš where thousands of opposition supporters gathered to protest against election fraud. Belgrade University students joined 19 November 1996 and protests lasted even after 11 February 1997 when Milošević 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.

During the course of the rallies, students held their protests separately from the citizens' ones, led by opposition then gathered in coalition Zajedno (Together). Actually, 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.

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 Milošević unfolded in the street of Belgrade in December [1996], 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 Milošević to show support. For the first time in eighteen months, Milošević felt no significant American pressure, and turned back towards the extreme nationalists, including Karadžić, for support. His tactical skills saved him again, and within weeks, the Together Movement was together no more, as its leaders split among themselves.[1]

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  1. ^ Richard Holbrooke, To End a War, p. 345


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