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Friday, 6 October, 2000, 12:43 GMT 13:43 UK
Eyewitness: The last domino falls
By BBC World Affairs Editor John Simpson

It was the last eastern European communist domino to fall, but it happened to the same accompaniment as all the others, East Germany, Czechoslovakia, Romania and Russia itself.

The same whistles and plastic trumpets, the same loud chanting, the same belief that because so many people were out in the streets they must be invincible, and yet the same occasional moments of panic, when a bunch of policemen emerged or a helicopter flew overhead.


A revolutionary crowd with its spirit up can do anything

And now it is over, some particularly satisfying evidence has come to light of the manipulative habits of the Milosevic regime.

The ground outside the parliament building is covered with fraudulent ballot papers from the recent presidential election, which the crowd found when they broke into the building.

On each one the number opposite Slobodan Milosevic's name had been neatly ringed by some obedient bureaucrat.

Spirit of revolution

It wasn't entirely a revolution of velvet like the Czechoslovak one was, partly because this is the Balkans, not peaceable Central Europe.

Scaling parliament building
The parliament building was at the centre of defiance
I watched a large and enthusiastic crowd break into a government department store, while another smashed and stole everything in a perfume store owned by the Milosevic's son Marko.

But that was pretty rare and when demonstrators brought out hatstands, chairs and policemen's helmets from the parliament building, it was more in the spirit of souvenir hunting than looting.

Revolutionary crowds are some of the bravest and most generous groups of people on earth. Nothing is too dangerous for them to attempt, or too precious for them to share.

Celebrating Belgrade protesters
There was a party mood throughout the night
People made great tanks of coffee and went round handing it out at their own expense.

Shops gave bread and cakes and bottles of water, and sometimes of plum brandy, slivovica, to passers by. Assistants at a chemist shop I passed had put some antidote to teargas in a bucket, dipped wads of cotton-wool into it and dispensed them to a line of people with red, streaming eyes and hacking coughs.

A revolutionary crowd with its spirit up can do anything and policemen or soldiers, who are merely armed with guns, quickly understand that they can't do much against that kind of thing.

On air

I first guessed that the revolution would succeed when I saw a line of 13 armed policemen trooping nervously into the offices of an opposition party and being greeted with cheers and back-slapping after they'd decided to come over to the demonstrators.

But the final sign appeared a few hours later.

Vojislav Kostunica
Kostunica was greeted on state-run TV as the president

RTS, Serbian television, was gruesomely, grovelingly loyal to President Milosevic and not much that was true or objective appeared in its news bulletins.

When the demonstrations took hold, RTS still reported the details of a new trade agreement with Russia and there wasn't a mention of the demonstrations at all.

And then, around 2100 local time in the evening, Vojislav Kostunica, the real winner of the election 12 days ago, suddenly appeared on the set of RTS, where he'd never been allowed before, and was greeted as president.

Then we all knew that it had really happened at last and it was a long time before everyone stopped kissing and hugging each other and shaking hands in celebration.

The last communist domino had indeed fallen.


At The Hague

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