What is 'Otpor'?

Vladimir Milovanovic

WED, 24 MAY 2000

Belgrade - They appeared unobtrusively, and then started to spring up where nobody expected them, and there number is rapidly increasing. The authorities are constantly accusing them, persecuting them, taking them into custody, arresting them, blaming them for terrorism, undermining the constitutional system, linking them to murders of high officials, calling them “NATO infantry of treacherous opposition”, “fascist phalanx”, “group of bad students, drug addicts, foreign mercenaries and vagabonds”. They claim that they are ordinary, inoffensive kids. They fight with posters, protest performances which they organise in all parts of Serbia. Their activities are witty, urban, they “hit straight on the head”. Nobody can be indifferent to them, neither the regime nor the citizens. They do not deny good relations with the opposition, but do not forget to stress that they are independent either.

On the other hand, there is no opposition party which would not gladly adopt them, almost all the leaders of democratic opposition tried to put them under their umbrella. They are not unknown to the international community, western governments occasionally express their verbal support, but “inoffensive kids” claim that they do not assist them financially. They enjoy great confidence of the so-called ordinary citizens. Their symbol – trademark is a clenched fist which, among other, should convey the message that they are not afraid of anything. This, of course, refers to what was at first the students’ organisation called Otpor (Resistance) which has recently developed into the People’s Resistance Movement.

In view of the attributes the regime of Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic labels them with, the recently published summed up data on persecution of the members of Otpor are not at all surprising. In the course of a little over a year and a half of its existence (Otpor was established in autumn 1998), on the territory of Serbia, the police arrested or took into custody about 400 activists of this organisation who have spent the total of 11 thousand hours in custody or prison. One of the prominent activists of Otpor Ivan Marovic says that these data were published in the beginning of May and that they are already outdated. On the day when the regime was celebrating the day of the victory over fascism in Pozarevac and the opposition planned to organise a protest the immediate cause of which was beating up of two activists of Otpor from Pozarevac, several of them were arrested.

In the following few days as political tensions were growing, the number of arrests, interrogations and imprisonment for at least 72 hours as prescribed by law, increased. But, in the course of this same period of a year and a half, from a students’ organisation from downtown Belgrade, Otpor has become a mass organisation. Nowadays, according to the words of Ivan Marovic, Otpor has its branches in 102 towns and villages in Serbia, and these data also become outdated every day. “The central office receives information every day that an office of Otpor has been formed in a place in Serbia which is so small that it is not even on the map”, says Vukasin Petrovic, some kind of a spokesman of the movement.

We say “some kind of a spokesman” because Otpor does not have a classical internal organisation and that is what annoys the regime a lot. “We have no leaders, we are not a vertical organisation, the regime cannot point its finger at any of us and try to discredit us”, Marovic explains. “We do not struggle for power, we are not pushy, we have gathered around the idea that we wish to stay in this country, but that it should become normal, so that it will be able to offer a normal life to its citizens”, Petrovic explains. Indeed, the regime “does have a problem with members of Otpor. Majority of them are young people with no family or children and it is difficult to blackmail or intimidate them with anything, majority of them are unemployed and cannot be bought by promises of promotion or raised salary, they are people with no blemishes in their past; besides, it is an organisation with no president, secretary or vice-president. That is why, according to his words, the attacks of the regime against Otpor turn out to be ridiculous in their outcome.

Indeed, members of Otpor managed to ridicule operations of the regime against this organisation by organising the campaign of mass surrender to the police on 13 May, the Security Day. Security forces had a perfect opportunity to arrest all “mercenaries”, “terrorists and “murderers”. “If we are terrorists as minister of police Vlajko Stojiljkovic says, we should be in prison. If they do not arrest us on that day, they must be silent”, said Marovic before 13 May. None of those who voluntarily “surrendered” to the police were arrested, but the regime not only refuses to keep silent, but, it seemed to be bringing accusations against Otpor down to a very concrete level.

After the murder of Bosko Perosevic, president of the Executive Board of Voivodina and leader of Voivodina branch of the Socialist Party of Serbia (SPS) the authorities raised a hue and cry against this organisation more severely than ever. Not only was Perosevic’s murderer Milivoj Gutovic “labelled” as a member of Otpor, but Goran Matic, federal minister of information, declared that Otpor was an unregistered organisation, announcing open campaign against its members.

Marovic does not expect that Otpor will be banned which would force them to go underground, although, in view of the way this organisation operates, it would land on its both feet even in such a situation. “Otpor is the idea on an all-people’s movement and possible bans cannot do much about it”, says Marovic. “For a whole year after its establishment this organisation operated without any infrastructure or premises whatsoever and that is why it would easily get accustomed to a similar way of operation if necessary”.

Repression of the regime against Otpor is directly linked by Marovic with its growing reputation and massive participation in this organisation, all in accordance with one of their slogans “as repression grows, so does resistance (otpor)”. “We feed on repression of the regime and in all the towns where they arrested our members, the movement quickly grew and immediately after that new people contacted us, sometimes even pensioners, ready to go on with resistance”, says our interlocutor. Indeed, Otpor grew into an organisation with a hundred branches. First, in a place inside Serbia, young men appear who stick up posters, then the police beats them up and arrests them, and then, after a day or two, as a logical sequence of events, the office of Otpor appears.

Except for news about interrogations and arrests, a couple of weeks ago Otpor was in focus of public interest after the information that this movement had been joined by Dobrica Cosic, respectable Serbian writer, former president of Yugoslavia and the man with the epithet of the father of the nation, which is interpreted with both positive and negative connotations. They are aware in Otpor that Cosic as a political figure is not liked by a big part of their sincere supporters, but on the other hand they are also aware that he is a person who enjoys great respect of a big part of the public. After Cosic, Otpor was joined by Velimir Ilic and Milan St. Protic, co-presidents of New Serbia, but also by Vesna Pesic with her Centre for anti-war activities, that is, a group of people of completely different ideology and political commitment.

This brings us back to the story about Otpor and politics, about this organisation’s links with political parties. From the very foundation of Otpor, the public has been wondering who their boss is – Vuk Draskovic, leader of the Serb Revival Movement or Zoran Djindjic, president of Democratic Party. Are they close to the League for Changes, are they financed by Dusan Mihajlovic, president of New Democracy, who is again close to Draskovic. “In the country in which there is couple hundred parties, trade unions, non-governmental organisations, every one of which has its boss, such a question is completely logical and it is also logical that it is difficult for the people to accept the idea that we have no boss, we don’t even have a president from our ranks”, Marovic explains.”

What will happen to Otpor? Marovic says that he expects increased repression, but not the ban of this project, except in case state of emergency is proclaimed”. And, at least that is what was the case so far, with increase of repression, the number of members of Otpor suddenly increases. Although they are not classical politicians, members of Otpor will have a role to play in the forthcoming election campaign. It is not likely that they will call their members and sympathisers to vote for a certain party if the opposition fails to finally unite, but it certainly will try to arouse interest among younger population.

Original article