Otpor! - The Story of Mounting Resistance

A friend of mine joked with me whether the elections would be free or Free’s, because not only that Milosevic’s first name, Slobodan, in Serbian means Free, but Milosevic is the only free man in Serbia, akin to pharaohs in ancient Egypt.

Another friend of mine thinks that Serbs are accustomed to be ruled by a rude, arbitrary, capricious and cruel rulers as they were throughout their history - whether they were their own royal dinasties like Nemanjic, Obrenovic and Karadjordjevic, or Ottoman Turk rulers, or a communist dictator Tito - they will continue to vote people like that in office, according to that theory, because that is what they believe are the attributes a leader should have: rude, arbitrary, capricious and cruel...

True, there are three particularly strong groups of Milosevic supporters. The first consists of the members of the state machinery - police, parapolice, secret police, state security, higher military rankings, paramilitary, state bureaucracy, state media, state owned corporations. The another consists of Serbian "nouveau riche", strange mixture of bastards and crooks of all kinds who made fortune on shady business in the 90s during the sanctions, media moguls, criminals, mafia, folk stars, astrologists, big business monopolists. Third group consists of pauperized, ordinary people - workers and pensioners; brainwashed with fierce RTS (national media house) propaganda, shaped in accordance with Orwel's "1984", impoverished under Milosevic economy and under sanctions; those who believe that their 60 DEM monthly salary or 20 DEM pension can only get smaller if Milosevic is gone and those who believe that world consists of Serbs and their enemies (Chinese and Russians excluded) and finally - those who believe that Serbia won the war against NATO - a mantra presented every evening in RTS central news.

Things however seem to change: one morning Seselj’s Radical Party people put the posters with his face, freshly shaven, neatly combed hair, all around Belgrade. Well before the evening most of the posters were altered by indelible markers: Seselj got Hitler’s moustache, vampire’s teeth and goat’s ears. During the night over him the posters with Milosevic’s picture and with the picture of his wife appeared, promising peace and better and happier life. The posters did not survive the night.(1)

There is Otpor (Resistance) now. For the origins of Otpor one should look in the street protests in winter 1996/97 after Milosevic refused to recognize the results of municipal elections in the municipalities where he lost - the protests died off, but they reached the goal: those municipalities remained in the opposition hands. Now similar tactics and resoluteness appears once again on the streets of Serbia - with a goal of helping opposition capture power on the national/federal level.
On Saturday, September 16, Otpor plans global protest aiming to drive more Serbs in diaspora to vote against Milosevic. The protests will be held in all major cities on the globe and the pictures will be uploaded to Otpor’s site at the end of the day. In New York the protest will start at five minutes before noon across the Yugoslav mission to UN on Fifth Avenue and 67th Street. The center-point of the protest will be big rock concert in the Greek port city of Thessalonika. A week before, Otpor bands will perform at the major Rock And Roll event in Budapest.

Milosevic turned 59 on 8/20/00 - here is the birthday card that Otpor presented to him: "Thank you for the childhood you have taken from us, for the unforgettable war scenes you have given us, for all the crimes you have committed in the name of Serbs, for all the lost battles. Thank you for Krajina, Slavonija, Bosnia, Kosovo and everything else you plan to sell under your wise policies. Thank you for the unforgettable convoys of our brothers, for the sound of air raid sirens, for all the lives lost in vain. Happy birthday, Mr President, may you celebrate the next one with your nearest and dearest on a deserved holiday in the Hague" (source: BETA news agency)

So, who is Otpor?

In former Yugoslavia there was a TV series about the defense of Sarajevo during the WW II, called Das Ist Walter - it alluded to Tito’s code name Walter - at the opening of the first episode the new German military commander arrives to the city, and the old, out-going commander is telling him the story about fierce guerilla activity committed in the name of Walter. He says that after many months in office, he finally found out who Walter was. The young commander urges him to tell the name immediately, but instead the old officer takes younger to the window and shows him the panorama of Sarajevo saying: "This is Walter." The saying became a fad among my generation - like Beavis’s laughter here in the U.S., for example. The alternative rock band Zabranjeno Pusenje even used the opening credit sound-track for one of its songs. Otpor is kind of like Walter. They are multi-ethnic (as Tito’s partisans; a kid with Croatian passport just got deported from FR Yugoslavia for being an Otpor organizer), they are technologically savvy (just check the web pages - www.otpor.com and www.vreme-je.net), they are the generation comparable to generation of South African high school kids who fought down apartheid, they look, feel and breathe like the tongue-pierced generation who carried on protests in Seattle, Washington, Philadelphia and L.A. - sharing the semantics of disenchanted modern youth, ready to risk beating by the police (about 80 Otpor activists are detained and beaten weekly) - Otpor’s slogan is "He Is Finished!" - American youth protesting the un-democratic nature of the present-day U.S. electoral process uses the slogan "The Party’s Over!".

Otpor, however, perhaps because of different circumstances, attracts older people, people with influence, the ‘elite’ of disputable political reputation, as well: both, recently kidnaped former president of Serbia and once Milosevic’s best men Ivan Stambolic and the leading member of Serbian nationalist academic movement (and also one-time president of FR Yugoslavia) Dobrica Cosic, signed up for Otpor. Otpor is a cool club that everyone wants to be part of - even at the price of getting beaten up and hospitalized. On September 4, BBC reported that Milosevic’s government conducted the largest so far raid of Otpor movement, breaking into the Otpor head-quarters in Belgrade and confiscating everything (products and means of production). For Otpor, that is not sponsored and financed by any of the "something-must-be-done brigade" of international NGO-s with presence in the region, this must have been a particularly hard hit.

Why is Otpor?

Serbia has the transition of power problem. There are no historic precedents to look upon for clues about democratic, peaceful transfer of power between political leaders. Serbia was a ruthless kingdom until 14th century and then it was ruled cruelly by Ottoman Turks for 5 centuries, only to become a ruthless kingdom again in 19th century. With establishing of Yugoslav kingdom, the hopes for transition to democracy were quickly quelled first by establishing of royal dictatorship and then with the Second World War. After the war, Serbia was included in communist Yugoslavia - yet another dictatorial rule based on the cult of personality. The last Yugoslav Constitution (that of 1974.) did not envision transition of the country to the political democracy - instead it provided legal framework for transition of the country to the partition, civil war and establishing of five successor countries - with all of them initially retaining the un-democratic political system inherited from communist Yugoslavia. Milosevic, the ruler of Serbia, and the menace of the Balkans, is the last leader to survive unchallenged by the democratic change that swept the Balkans region. As if the Serbs simply do not know how to get rid off him. The mechanisms of democratic change are missing. Power only changes hands if opposed by stronger power. And nobody can match Milosevic.

Yet, in 1996 his party lost the local elections in many municipalities and when he rejected the results, he was faced with street protests that lasted for days - until he finally, grudgingly accepted that partial defeat. This was an important victory for democracy in Serbia and an important lesson for Serbian youth, who carried the street protests bravely on their backs, that democratic change is, indeed, possible and that they were the instrumental of it. They did not seek power, but their actions provided the framework for the transition of power: they forced Milosevic’s socialists to give up power to opposition in townships where opposition won the elections. Now, four years later, they are older, smarter, more cunning, better organized and when they say: "He is Finished!" - we better start believing them. Again, they do not compete for the political office, but they provide the framework for democratic transition - seriously demanding from their grown-ups to follow the rules, act mature and accept the results of the ballots. They refuse to take shit about the impossibility of change both from their politicians and from the ‘international community’ pundits - young people know that they have to get rid off Milosevic for their own good, and they are very serious about it, and they will, ultimately, succeed in that. Because they can’t be stopped effectively. What will the regime do? Kill its own offspring?

Read more on Otpor at MOJO NewsWire (with RealPlayer videos of Otpor! activists in Belgrade): The Kids Who Could Topple Milosevic.

Boricua for the people:
Poster wars, also, are not unique to FR Yugoslavia. In my neighborhood (El Barrio, East Harlem in New York city) primaries are going on right now. The fiercest one is for the local NY State Assembly. There are two Democratic contenders - Adam Clayton Powell and Nelson Antonio Denis. While Powell belongs to a dinasty - an established political family, although black - his namsake-grandfather's name gracing the local public administration building, Denis is a Puerto Rican "maverick" four times consequtive winner not only of the assembly seat but also of the NY state legislators' race, dubbed the "Iron Man" of Albany. Of course, Denis consistently gets elected by the constituency of this largest original settlement of Puerto Ricans in the U.S. Both Powell and Denis run with cheap, simple black and white posters with their name and picture on it. Powell was smart enough to go billingual: "Powell para el Pueblo" - Denis responded by including the ethnic/nationalist identification to his posters: "Denis, un Boricua para el Pueblo" - reminding me of the ten year old saying about the "Croatian gun holstered over Croatian shoulder." One evening Denis people came buy and put posters on the fences, light-posts, traffic-lights-posts, garbage cans, etc. Early in the morning Powell people came, tearing away Denis posters and putting up theirs. This process was repeated several times and after a couple of days the streets got littered with the Denis and Powell posters, democratically torn to pieces. Coming home yesterday, with those poster pieces laying down in the street, the ubiquitous cop car, with the obliging colored person handcuffed in the back, just completed the bleak, byzantine, picture of my neighborhood. Primaries are held today (September 12) so I don't know the results yet, but I excpect Denis to win again. Because, Puerto Ricans have a very good reason to vote for a Puerto Rican - as Albanians would have to vote for an Albanian in Kosovo.

Demokratija pod ZDA Not unlike in Kosovo, after Milosevic took away its autonomy with Constitutional changes in 1989, the "U.S. federal agencies control Puerto Rico's foreign relations, customs, immigration, postal system, radio, TV, transportation, Social Security, military, maritime laws, banks, commerce, currency, and defense. That's without the people of Puerto Rico having a vote in U.S. elections." - wrote Denis in his letter to Daily News on September 23, 1999. Puerto Rico, which is being used as U.S. Army/Navy depleted uranium ammunition test range (13% of Puerto Rico's land is controlled by Pentagon), has its own version of KLA "liberators": FALN. With his wife announcing that she would run for a New York senate seat, Bill Clinton granted clemency to FALN "terrorists" sentenced to death in the U.S. shortly after the conclusion of the NATO bombing campaign against Yugoslavia.

Vreme-je on the CNNThe New York city Otpor protest was attended by about 80 people, half of which wore Otpor T-shirts. Left, a Vreme-Je activist was interviewed for CNN with the Yugoslav flag in the background. CNN was, however, disappointed that the protest lacked expected loudness - which was because the protesters did not get the sound permit from the NYPD. The sound permit went to the much larger group that organized Deutsche Amerikanische Freundschafta German-American Friendship parade on the Fifth Avenue. Given how many of them actually work for NYPD, I was not surprised.

Some old, leather-hosen clad German-Americans asked me what were we about, noticing that we all wore the same t-shirts, and I explained and they were very supportive and wished me luck to get rid off Slobo, and I said that they were lucky to have gotten themselves ridden of their Slobo some times ago, and they were laughing.

Votes of NY Serbs given to NYPDOf 80 people 83 voted in mock elections giving 79 votes against Slobodan Milosevic, 2 for and 1 ballot was disqualified. The ballot box was presented to NYPD officers guarding the Yugoslav Mission to the UN, since none of their employees came out to greet the protesters.
Gathered under the flagThen, later in subway an older black dude asked me what my 'resistance' t-shirt means and I explained so the conversation developed - he came to NYC from Alabama in 1965, where, as youth, he attended all the civil rights marches and was beaten by police on several occassions, he looked at the Otpor!'s clenched fist with nostalgia, telling me stories of Black Power days.

Otpor! has powerfull symbolic appeal and it is a young movement, so it must prevail in the long haul.

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