Red Star fans tell of the day police met their match
By Lutz Kleveman

Daily Telegraph
( Filed: 07/10/2000)

FOR 10 years Alexander Bozic saw police shields turned against him. Now he was holding one in his hands, like a trophy. "It's war booty", the young man said as he basked in the sun on stairs leading up to the burnt-out federal parliament.

Tens of thousands of joyful revellers filed past, savouring the atmosphere of free Belgrade. He told his friends: "I took the shield from a special police agent." As a member of the vast crowd which stormed parliament, Mr Bozic braved tear gas and baton charges. His friend Zlatan Milanovic remembered: "When we first tried to enter the gates the police came out and beat us back."

He showed a large bruise on the arm but shrugged his shoulders: "When you've been fighting them for 10 years you learn how to dodge the worst blows." Mr Milanovic wore a T-shirt of the Red Star Belgrade football club whose fans led the attack on the federal parliament yesterday.

The hooligans have for years been in the forefront of the anti-Milosevic opposition and clashed regularly with the police forces. In May they beat special forces into retreat during a battle in the centre of town, chanting the opposition hymn: "Slobo, serve Serbia and kill yourself". Deeply embarrassed, the Milosevic regime prohibited the singing of the hymn at football matches.

Mr Bozic added: "We had no fear. At some point you forget all fear." But when the crowd attacked a second time the unexpected happened. The police stopped the beating and withdrew. "I grabbed the shield of the cop right in front of me and for a few seconds we were tearing it back and forth. I looked him in the eye, and suddenly he let go."

In a few seconds, everything had changed and the Serbian revolution was truly under way. "We were so many, that made all the difference. It was a stampede." How did the policeman react? "He kissed me," the 30-year-old said, stroking his white bandana which read "Aggressive". "We hugged on the steps, then we ran into the building together."

No desire for revenge, after all the beatings? "No, it was all over right there. It was instant forgiveness." Once inside the building demonstrators ran past more policemen scurrying to hide behind furniture. They rushed from door to door in the endless corridors, searching for the rooms where the electoral commission had stored the ballot papers.

When they found the stacks of ballot papers on the first floor they ripped them up, threw them out the windows and set them on fire. Mr Bozic admitted to a real adrenalin rush as he stormed in: "I wanted to show to the world how many votes for Milosevic had been stolen." Then the coffee shop employee took a white ballot paper from his bag.

The fringes burned, it showed a cross in front of Milosevic's name. "But look, it is not folded in the middle. That shows it was never thrown into a ballot box." Then Mr Bozic, who fought as a Yugoslav army soldier for three wars, whispered: "Milosevic stole not just votes, but 10 years of our lives."

Now the football fan wants an end to communism, and a return to monarchy. Looking at his shield trophy, Alexander said: "I do not ever want to see this thing again in Belgrade."