For sale: The digger that helped oust Milosevic

BELGRAD Fri Oct 5, 2007 12:34pm EDT

1 of 2. Ljubisav Djokic stands on his digger, which was used in the October 5, 2000 revolt against late Serbian strongman Slobodan Milosevic, in Belgrade October 5, 2007. The 13-tonne digger, sporting flat tires and 82 bullet holes since the clashes, is now on sale on an internet auction site with a 90,000 euro starting price.

Credit: Reuters/Marko Djurica

BELGRAD (Reuters Life!) - A rusty, bullet-riddled digger which helped overthrow Slobodan Milosevic went on sale this week for a starting price of 90,000 euros ($127,000).

Seven years after the uprising that ended the Serb autocrat's decade in power, the blurb for the Internet auction describes the digger as "the historic excavator that brought down communism in Serbia."

For its owner, it is also a symbol of broken dreams.

"This day should remind us all of the failed hopes of all those who honestly believed change and justice will come," said Ljubisav Djokic, known in Serbia as "Digger Joe".

"Let this day be a warning for the next elections, to make us understand that our fate is still in our hands," reads a pamphlet he made for Friday's anniversary of Milosevic's fall.

On 5 Oct 2000, Djokic -- then owner of a gravel pit -- brought his digger to the mass rally gathering strength in downtown Belgrade.

In scenes televised around the world, he led protesters to parliament, then drove down the road to the state television building, bursting through the huge front window of Milosevic's last stronghold.

"I fought for a better life for the people, for justice," Djokic said.

But he said Serbia's transition since 2000, marked by assassinations, poverty, corruption and an inability to shed the nationalist baggage of the Milosevic years, has let him down.

"This is a false democracy," he said, "the fight must go on."

The 13-tonne digger was ruined in the clashes with police. Rusty, with flat tires and its windshield peppered with bullet holes, it sits in a gravel pit in a Belgrade suburb.

"I counted 82 bullets. The two which went through the back window were the most dangerous, aimed at my head," says Djokic, now a sprightly 64.

The auction, hosted on a local internet site, opened on Oct 1 and will last until month-end. Although no official bids have been placed yet, there have been many inquiries.

"But I would be happiest if a Kosovo Albanian would buy it. In the end, we had the same enemy," Djokic said.

The mass murders and expulsions of the ethnic minority in Serbia's southern province that Milosevic ordered resulted in a 78-day NATO bombing campaign against Serbia.

The campaign tested the population and hastened Milosevic's downfall. Kosovo, now run by the United Nations, is bidding for independence.

Djokic, who describes himself as "always in the opposition", hopes both his digger and the idea of revolution will at some point take their place in a museum. If the auction succeeds, he will give the money to orphans and people in need.

"I couldn't care less about the money," he said. "I want to prove this digger is worth something, even though they say it belongs at the scrap yard."

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