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Michael Gurstein on 6 Sep 2000 04:49:20 -0000


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<nettime> Fw: Rage Against the Regime Serbian Students Fight Milosevic




----- Original Message -----
From: Michael Pugliese <debsian {AT} pacbell.net>
To: <lbo-talk {AT} lists.panix.com>; <dsanet {AT} quantum.sdsu.edu>
Sent: Monday, September 04, 2000 11:57 PM
Subject: Rage Against the Regime Serbian Students Fight Milosevic


Lingua Franca
http://news.bbc.co.uk/hi/english/world/europe/newsid_910000/910238.stm
Tuesday, 5 September, 2000, 04:26 GMT 05:26 UK
Serb police raid student movement


September 2000
Table of contents for this issue

FEATURE

Rage Against the Regime
Serbian Students Fight Milosevic
By Laura Secor


STROLLING DOWN KNEZ MIHAILOVA, the pedestrian thoroughfare at the heart of
Belgrade, you would almost think you were in a normal European city.
Modest but respectable-looking storefronts line the street; ice cream and
popcorn vendors hawk their wares from metal carts; women saunter past in
the latest fashions. But something is not quite right. Outdoor cafés
remain empty on a sunny June afternoon, and pedestrians mill around
listlessly. The former French cultural center now sports a spray-painted
swastika and the words 1939 NATO 1999 -- equating the Nazi invasion of
Serbia with last year's bombardment. A block or two farther on, the
American cultural center is a boarded-up ruin, tagged NATO KILLERS on the
outside, reduced to rubble inside.


Across from the remains of the American cultural center lies the
University of Belgrade's Faculty of Philosophy, the site of massive
student protests both in 1968 and in 1996-1997. Today the faculty's
dissident professors work under constant threat of losing their jobs. A
surly guard keeps watch at the main campus building, which even students
are currently forbidden to enter. The faculty's plaza, known as Plato (not
after the philosopher but after the word for "plateau" in Serbian), is
obstructed by a plywood wall that conveniently bisects one of Belgrade's
most open and visible gathering spaces.


Some of Belgrade's old-timers say they can no longer bear to visit this
part of town. They remember Knez Mihailova as the hub of a cosmopolitan
city, not the core of a provincial police state. On a winding side street
of crumbling stone buildings, an ominous message adorns a dingy wall:
MILOSEVIC=CEAUÇESCU. Slobodan Milosevic is rumored to be hiding in a
bunker somewhere. But the greatest threat to his power these days is not
the Hague Tribunal, the local opposition parties, or even the likelihood
of an assassination attempt. It is the burning discontent of Serbian
youth. Just a couple blocks from Plato on Knez Mihailova, a second-story
office above a bustling café streams with college students. Unlike just
about everyone else in Belgrade, these kids look like they have places to
go and things to do. Their cell phones abuzz, they hit the streets with
boxes of buttons, stickers, and posters. They organize "actions" that
resemble 1960s street theater with a sardonic Serbian edge. The movement
is called Otpor -- in English, resistance. Its symbol is a stylized
drawing of a clenched fist. In just two years, Otpor has grown from a
nucleus of fifteen college students into a movement of thirty-five to
forty thousand. Its message is simple: "If there is a way to remove
Milosevic without force, then Otpor will do it," explains Marko Djuric, a
lanky seventeen-year-old with glasses and a grave manner. "In the future,
when we bring down Mr. Milosevic, we would like to be the conscience of
Serbia."


To their elders, the Otpor activists are cause at once for hope and for
concern. Sonja Licht, president of the Fund for an Open Society
Yugoslavia, says she is watching the students' activities with great
excitement. "The fact that someone, and it could only be young people, has
the strength and the potential, the courage, to create a movement in
itself is a miracle," says Licht. "This is exactly what we need." But
other observers are less certain. Otpor's strategy combines absurdist
street theater with an effort to build the broadest possible
anti-Milosevic coalition. As a result, Otpor has opened its doors to
nationalist intellectuals and to the Serbian Orthodox Church -- two sets
of elites that many in Serbia see as responsible for the rise of Milosevic
in the first place. It may be that no grassroots movement will succeed in
Serbia without the blessing of these groups. But some critics wonder how
much Serbia can benefit from a movement that includes them.

AT THE TIME OF MY VISIT to Belgrade, Otpor is the target of a relentless,
government-sponsored propaganda campaign. Depicting the hated U.S.
secretary of state, posters around the city decry the students as
"Madeleine Youth" and show the Otpor fist crammed with dollar bills. The
official television news intercuts footage of activists in Otpor T-shirts
with images of World War II - era Croatian fascists raising clenched fists
-- then with pictures of dead bodies in Bosnia, and long, still shots of
Zagreb's central square. Political assassinations, now commonplace in
Serbia, are officially blamed on Otpor. According to the government, Otpor
activists have even called for armed struggle and for Milosevic to be
hanged. "We are terrorists, we are traitors, fascists, we are everything
bad in this world," says Marko Djuric, laughing.

But ludicrous as the state propaganda seems, it carries an implicit and
serious threat. This summer, Milosevic's ruling party, the Socialist Party
of Serbia (SPS), drafted a law against terrorism that left members of any
organization unregistered with the state vulnerable to sweeping acts of
repression, including life imprisonment. Denied recognition by the
authorities, Otpor was undoubtedly the proposed legislation's main target.
The law's language sent a shiver up the spines of many Serbs: The killing
in Kosovo had been justified on the grounds that the Albanians, too, were
"terrorists."

Every day, dozens of Otpor activists are hauled into police stations for
"informative talks." Activists estimate that more than a thousand of their
number have been interrogated: The police photograph and fingerprint them,
grilling them about Otpor's sources of funding and its leadership
structure. The authorities open dossiers on the students and then release
them. Those who are apprehended at demonstrations and street actions are
often badly beaten or imprisoned.

None of this has stopped the students from staging their exuberant,
symbolic, and sometimes cryptic street performances. Students play
Monopoly and Risk on the street "to tell the authorities to stop playing
with our fate," Djuric explains. When Milosevic ceremoniously named
himself a National Hero, Otpor activists decorated themselves and
passersby with badges that read I AM A NATIONAL HERO. Members of the Otpor
chapter in the southern Serbian town of Nis were arrested when they
awarded Milosevic their own "Alleged Hero" decoration. In Zajecar,
activists have planned a follow-up performance in which they will attempt
to join Milosevic's SPS en masse. Participants explained that "after
awarding the medal to the president of the republic for his merits in
defending and reconstructing the country, this will be another move toward
repentance by the People's Movement Otpor." (Because the activists are
"terrorists," the ruling party can be expected to reject their bid for
membership.)

Otpor's irreverence and plain old silliness have confounded the
authorities, who respond at times like playground bullies who know they
are being mocked but don't quite get the joke. Since Yugoslavia's soccer
team lost to Holland in the Euro 2000 football tournament, for example,
Otpor has been calling for the resignation of Yugoslav coach Miljan
Miljanic. An activist informed B2-92, Belgrade's independent radio
station, that Miljanic is "a personification of all those guys ruling our
destiny and our lives for all these years.... I think Mr. Miljanic is the
only man who could get more signatures on a petition than Slobodan
Milosevic himself." Demonstrating the pervasiveness of the Yugoslav
president's influence, activists staged a soccer game between a team
called Milosevic, after Slobodan, and another team called Milosevic, after
the Yugoslav soccer star Savo Milosevic. The players were not only
arrested but thrown in jail.

Performances like Otpor's Milosevic-Milosevic soccer match reflect a
spirited refusal to take Milosevic seriously, and they infuriate a regime
that cultivates and thrives on fear. From the outset, recalls the Otpor
activist Milja Jovanovic, "We saw ourselves as some kind of annoying
insect that bites all around the body of the regime. Those were the
proportions at the time -- we were very, very small, and a large man stood
before us. We stung him a couple of times, and those small insects grew
larger and more numerous."


IF OTPOR'S ANTIPOLITICS have proven popular, a look at Serbia's squabbling
opposition politicians may explain why. As much as 80 percent of the
Serbian public disapproves of Milosevic, but the people's preferred
candidate for the Yugoslav presidency is "none of the above." Vuk
Draskovic, head of the Serbian Renewal Party (SPO), and Zoran Djindjic,
head of the Democratic Party (DS), are widely believed to have squandered
Serbia's antigovernment energies with their infighting, corruption, and
periodic cooperation with the regime. When Otpor representatives attend
rallies organized by the SPO or other parties, they win thunderous
applause for demanding accountability from the opposition leadership. "If
you betray us again," an Otpor spokesperson is reported to have announced
at one opposition rally, "next time we will bring ten thousand of our
people."


"You're looking at the same faces in the opposition for the last ten
years," says Slobodan Homen, a twenty-eight-year-old Otpor activist. "All
these politicians are politicians of the Milosevic era. And our main
strategy is that to get rid of Milosevic, they have to become part of the
past. Of course not in the same moment, but two or three years after
Milosevic, they have to be history for this country." In the short term,
however, Otpor plans to support the opposition in the next elections. The
students do not seek power for themselves; they just want to make sure the
opposition answers to the demands of its own constituency.


The opposition will need its tough young allies, not least because Otpor
has studiously cultivated an image of incorruptibility, a rarity in
today's Serbia. Leaders can always be seduced or blackmailed by the
regime, the students reason. So although Otpor has an advisory board of
prominent professors, the group makes its decisions by consensus among
committee members in each of its local chapters across Serbia. Says Marko
Djuric, "You can blackmail one activist. Or you can blackmail two or five.
But you cannot blackmail thirty-five thousand." Homen points out that
youth also works to Otpor's advantage. "You can lose everything if you
have a family and children. The regime can blackmail you; maybe you have
something dirty in your past. But with somebody eighteen or nineteen years
old, it's difficult to find anything. The big accusation is that somebody
is a NATO spy, NATO infantry. But if you're talking about an
eighteen-year-old, he would have had to have started working for the CIA
when he was sixteen."

ALTHOUGH OTPOR HAS GROWN into its role as political gadfly, it was
originally conceived for the specific purpose of resisiting Serbia's
draconian 1998 University Act. The Act allowed the Serbian government
directly to appoint deans and rectors, who would then oversee faculty
appointments. It also required professors to sign new contracts that many
saw as oaths of loyalty to the regime. Since the law was enacted, more
than 150 professors have been fired.

Belgrade's largest faculty, the Faculty of Philology, which houses the
university's literature and foreign-language departments, was one of those
hardest hit by the University Act. The neofascist Serbian Radical Party,
one of three parties in Serbia's ruling coalition, appointed an
ultranationalist dean, who fired most of the faculty's world-literature
department. Philology students revolted, staging months of demonstrations
at the faculty. Among the demonstrating students was a knot of maybe
fifteen young activists who called themselves Otpor.

Otpor and its allies succeeded in ridding the philology faculty of its
appointed dean and reinstating the fired professors. Says Branko Ilic, a
philology student and a member of the original core of Otpor, "After five
months of protest on the Faculty of Philology, the dean, Radmilo
Marojevic, was dismissed. It was the first victory of Otpor. We are trying
to say to the Serbian public that there is another dean of this country,
and his name is Slobodan Milosevic. And just as we were successful, the
Serbian people can be successful in dismissing Slobodan Milosevic."

But despite the students' victory at the philology faculty, and despite
the movement's burgeoning ranks, fierce repression still governs the
University of Belgrade. This May, a chilling incident at the architecture
faculty exposed the severity of the university's problems. The regime had
just seized control of Belgrade's only independent television and radio
station, Studio B, and four hundred protesting Belgraders had been beaten
by antiriot police. On May 24, 150 students massed at the architecture
faculty in protest, pledging to spend the night on the premises. At ten
o'clock, the faculty's street went dark: Electricity had been cut. The
students, who had gathered in a third-floor lecture hall, started down the
stairs. A formation of thirty young men, wearing surgical masks and
sweatpants and wielding batons, rushed at the exiting crowd, beating
everyone within reach. "It was a really organized unit, not a group of
ragtag bullies trying to intimidate us," says economics professor Goran
Milicevic, who was there. The fact that electricity was restored to the
block directly after the incident supports most observers' suspicion that
the beatings were ordered by the government, possibly through the
SPS-appointed architecture dean.

Milicevic, who also chairs the Coordination Committee for the Defense of
Universities in Serbia, was badly shaken by the episode. "The most
terrifying thing is, I felt, that when you are beaten by the antiriot
police it is a risk you calculate. To be beaten in the faculty -- the
first association that came to my mind is Latin American dictatorship.
Pinochet." Other concerned professors tried to organize a strike in
response to the incident, but only the visual arts, drama, and philosophy
faculties managed to mobilize. Soon enough, even these activities would
come to a halt: On May 26, several weeks before final exams, Yugoslavia's
minister of higher education pronounced the entire university closed.

HIP AND CONFIDENT, twenty-year-old Branko Ilic seems to draw from an
endless well of energy. On pain of arrest, he cannot return to his
hometown of Arilje: He has been falsely accused of bombing a café there.
On a sweltering June afternoon, he and Marko Djuric agree to meet me and a
colleague at the café below the Otpor offices. To our surprise, the
students openly discuss the group's activities outdoors, in English, with
a tape recorder in plain view. Their fearlessness makes us nervous, but it
is consistent with the movement's outlook and strategy. "Okay, they
probably listen to everything we are doing," says Djuric. "And they
probably infiltrate some people in our rolls. But they cannot stop the
actions. It is almost impossible to stop our activities except to use
force. Brutal force."

Indeed, despite the recent round of arrests, Otpor's indefatigable
activists stencil the clenched fist onto buildings; affix stickers with
slogans in public places; wear T-shirts and buttons emblazoned with the
Otpor fist; and plaster posters to city walls. The movement's imagery,
produced by Otpor's "marketing" department, is bold and contemporary,
combining a digital-age sensibility with a wink and a nod to 1930s
propaganda poster art. The raised fist is an ironic reference to both
fascism and communism. One Otpor poster features the bruised face of an
opposition activist who was beaten by the police, along with the words,
THIS IS THE FACE OF SERBIA.


Lately, activists have been visiting Serbia's long lines for milk, bread,
sugar, and oil, handing out leaflets printed with an expression that means
both "Are you okay?" and "Are you in line?" in Serbian. One such queue was
overtaken by Otpor activists holding a banner that read NOTHING OUT OF
LINE IN SERBIA. Accosted by the police for holding an unregistered
protest, the students said they had no time to discuss the matter because,
like the rest of the Serbian populace, they had to wait in line for basic
food products. "We told them that, as far as we knew, we were not required
to register with police to wait in queues," one spokesman told Radio
B2-92.

Ilic points out a popcorn cart, just across from the café where we sit,
bearing several Otpor stickers. The popcorn vendor has an excellent view
into the Otpor office windows, and activists once spotted him entertaining
a secret service agent at length. Could the vendor be an informant? During
the night, activists spray painted the wall next to his cart, "This
popcorn vendor works for the police." The vendor appeared in their office
the following morning, assuring the students they were wrong and taking
their stickers to prove it. Later, we notice that the block's ice cream
vendor also displays Otpor stickers. They are proliferating, slowly, up
and down Knez Mihailova.

OTPOR'S SPIRIT, SAYS DJURIC, smiling, is "like a virus. It spreads." True
enough. But privately, some skeptics worry that Otpor, which defines
itself only as a movement against the current authorities and not as one
in favor of any particular political program or ethical principle, lacks a
constructive goal.

Such concerns are not allayed by Otpor's acceptance of high-profile
nationalists as members -- among them, the novelist and former Yugoslav
president Dobrica Cosic, who is widely cited as the original visionary
behind the drive for a Greater Serbia. The activists have also enlisted
the support of the Serbian Orthodox Church, an institution with few
admirers among Belgrade's antinationalist intellectuals. Biljana
Srbljanovic, a twenty-nine-year-old playwright and drama professor,
worries that Otpor does not advance a real alternative to the current
system. But she adds that "it is normal, because these kids were ten or
eleven years old when the whole mess started, so they don't know what to
do." Says Sonja Biserko, head of the Helsinki Committee for Human Rights
in Serbia, "Young people have no idea who Cosic really is, or how bad the
church is. They grew up with this model." Nonetheless, nagging questions
remain about the movement's agenda for the future. "Who will replace
Milosevic?" Biserko wants to know. Serbia needs a "credible leader with
moral values. Moral values are important." With allies like Cosic and the
Church, is Otpor drawing from a poisoned well? Although it broke with
Milosevic as early as 1991, the Serbian Orthodox Church is widely
distrusted due to its early advocacy of Serbia's territorial ambitions.
But according to Sonja Licht of the Fund for an Open Society, the Church
is a heterogeneous institution that also includes sharp critics of
Milosevic's adventures in Bosnia and Kosovo. "I don't mind that some of
those kids are close to the Church," says Licht. "Why wouldn't they be?"
Otpor's Branko Ilic explains, "We invited our patriarch to our student
meeting on Plato because we were expecting the police would beat us, so we
invited him to come before his children and protect us." The patriarch
gave Otpor his blessing but did not attend the rally.


According to Otpor activist Milja Jovanovic, the movement not only
tolerates but welcomes the support of former Milosevic allies: "Our tactic
is to take everything that Milosevic was great for and that Serbs adored
him for -- to take it away from him and [his wife] Mira Markovic." Indeed,
Otpor activists are wholly aware that Dobrica Cosic, popularly known as
the "father of the Serbian nation," belongs to the cadre of intellectuals
who, says Branko Ilic, "made Slobodan Milosevic because they pushed him as
a god here." Nonetheless, Ilic insists, Cosic's registration as an Otpor
member does not alloy Otpor's purity: "We won't change our opinion because
Dobrica Cosic came to us. Probably that means Dobrica Cosic changed his
mind about nationalism."

The idea of Cosic's conversion is certainly attractive. But embracing
Otpor's one avowed goal -- the removal of President Milosevic -- is not
the same thing as abandoning the politics of ethnic nationalism. After
all, Otpor has not itself articulated an explicitly anti-nationalist
platform. According to Jovanovic, there are pragmatic reasons for this:
"In the nationalistic atmosphere, saying nationalism is crap just provokes
an immediate backlash of nonacceptance." Otpor prefers to project a
forward-looking image of optimism and strength, Jovanovic argues, rather
than "rubbing our noses in the idea that we are killers, that we are
responsible, that we have collective guilt and so on. I don't think that
works on the general level. I would rather say that we are guilty because
we let Milosevic stay in power and do all those horrible things."


OTPOR'S STRATEGY HAS PROVEN savvy, but it sometimes lures the students
into dangerous waters as well. One day, in the café below the Otpor
offices, four activists spotted the notorious Bosnian Serb general Ratko
Mladic, who is widely presumed responsible for the worst bloodletting in
the Bosnian war. The former general was surrounded by eight bodyguards.
Recalls Milja Jovanovic, "Somebody recognized him, and we just came up to
him and said, 'Hi.' He said, 'Hi.'... We offered him a T-shirt, and he
said he didn't want to accept it because he treats Serbian youth as a
whole and not as a specific, politically engaged group."

Offering an Otpor T-shirt to an indicted war criminal, says Jovanovic, was
"ironic and serious at the same time.... What can you say to him?" she
asks. "If you say 'you are a killer' or 'you are a hero,' you do not say
anything. Because in the end you would have to choose one of those two
things, and I don't feel any as my -- " She breaks off. "There were four
of us, and we were really confused, and he was more confused."

What if Mladic had requested a registration form? Jovanovic says Otpor
would accept his membership. But she doesn't think it was a real
possibility. "I would see it as, he doesn't know who we are. Or,
Milosevic's people are joining Otpor. I would say that either we are very
strong or we send a very confused message."

Otpor activists seem incredulous at the suggestion that they could shut
their doors to any potential member. "You can either be completely
tolerant or not at all," says Jovanovic. "I can't be a hypocrite and say,
okay, I will let somebody gay in Otpor, but I won't let a nationalist in
Otpor." Indeed, Sonja Licht concurs, ideological orthodoxy of any sort is
dangerous for Serbia: "I know that some people criticize Otpor because
they say that there are some nationalists among them. And my question is,
and what about pluralism?" Nonetheless, Licht does not believe that
pluralism necessitates an indiscriminate policy of inclusion. "My opinion
is that one should go into the broadest possible coalition now, making
absolutely sure that you don't let into that type of coalition people who
are chauvinist, racist, fanatics, fundamentalists of any sort."


Surely, such a coalition shouldn't include the likes of Ratko Mladic. But
what about Dobrica Cosic? At what point does too much pluralism dilute a
movement's message? After all, membership in a political movement is
normally limited to those who subscribe to a shared set of political
principles or moral values. In response to such concerns, Otpor activists
protest that theirs is not a political movement. Dusan Bjelic, a
sociologist at the University of Southern Maine, concurs: "Every movement
has a head and a tail; there is a certain organizational structure in a
movement. Otpor is more of a collective performance. They've invented
political art that has real political consequences."

FOR OTPOR, AS FOR the rest of Serbia, the most vexed political question
remains that of Serb-Albanian relations. Asked why Otpor does not speak
out on behalf of Albanian students currently jailed in Serbia as
terrorists, Milja Jovanovic replies that this is one political issue among
many on which Otpor declines to espouse a party line. "We are not
addressing the inflation issue, we are not addressing Montenegro using the
deutsche mark as its currency, because we are not professionals for that,
and the Albanian issue is one of the issues and one of the problems caused
by this regime." She concedes that "one human life is more important than
the currency in Montenegro. I mean, I cannot stand the moral aspect of it.
But politics is a tough game."

Nowhere is it tougher than on the subject of Kosovo. Slobodan Homen
recalls that Otpor tried to make contact with Kosovar Albanian students in
1998. "And they had only one demand, that was an independent Kosovo. And I
said, sorry guys, but I can't give you independent Kosovo. You have your
politician, Mr. Rugova, he should negotiate with Milosevic. But I am a
student from Serbia. I can't give you independent Kosovo. 'No, no, no --
we want independent Kosovo.' I'm sorry, guys, wrong address." As for
today, says Homen of the Kosovo Albanians, "They can't recognize the
difference between bad Serbs like Milosevic and some who are maybe not so
bad.... We are open for discussions when they are ready. But I think that
for any serious talks with Albanians, we have to get rid of Milosevic
first." Perhaps Homen spoke too soon. Not a month after our conversation,
a group of Serb students that included six Otpor activists boarded a bus
to Ohrid, Macedonia, where Sonja Biserko had arranged a July 6-9 meeting
with Albanian students from Kosovo. Southern Maine's Dusan Bjelic was one
of the conference's speakers. At first, he recalls, the Otpor students
hung back; and Biserko adds that the Albanians seemed to regard them with
suspicion.The discussion should begin, some Albanians felt, with a Serb
apology for the devastation Albanians had suffered in Kosovo. Some of the
Serb students agreed. But one Serb protested that she was herself innocent
and had in fact opposed the war. Why should she apologize? An Albanian
student replied, "How do I know your brother wasn't involved?"


The most fruitful dialogue began, says Bjelic, the second night, when
Otpor kids "stayed on the beach with the Albanian students until four or
five in the morning, drinking and talking about everything that had
happened." By morning, the two groups had agreed to perform a joint Otpor
action, in which Serb and Albanian students would together arrest a
locally stationed NATO soldier. At the last minute, the Albanians
withdrew, saying it was still too early for such united gestures.
Nonetheless, final evaluations of the conference from both groups of
students were overwhelmingly positive. Both Bjelic and Biserko recall with
pleasure that the spectacle of their mixed Serb-Albanian entourage left
onlookers baffled and moved. (The group's Serb driver was stunned -- then
asked if he could attend the conference. He did.) "These two communities
have lived in parallel worlds," says Biserko. "They've had no chance to
meet each other in the last twenty years." And despite the ethnic
stereotypes relentlessly promoted in both communities, Biserko marvels
that it took the students "only half a day to start finding their own ways
of communicating."


THE OHRID MEETING AUGURS well for Serbia's young. But before much can
change, Serbia needs free elections, and this will be a fight. Indicted
for war crimes, Milosevic is "a lunatic, a wounded animal frightened for
his own life," says one professor. In July the president finagled a change
to the Yugoslav constitution that will allow him to serve another term.
The election, which has again divided the opposition, will take place
September 24. Things could be worse for Otpor. Back in June, Branko Ilic
told me that if elections were not scheduled for fall, Otpor would
"organize chaos here in Belgrade." By chaos, he meant massive civil
disobedience: Otpor would stop public transportation and other city
services, "but the most important thing will be if the people of Serbia
realize that they must stop paying bills, taxes -- then there is no
state." The opposition leader Vuk Draskovic, says Ilic, balked at this
idea. His response was, "Oh guys, if we do that, if we stop all those
systems, that means revolution. Are we powerful enough for a revolution?"
Says Ilic with disgust, "What can we do in that situation besides leave
the meeting?"


Now Otpor is busy recruiting voters -- twenty per activist, in order to
bring the anticipated turnout to four million. The students particularly
hope to lure young, first-time voters to the polls. But the support of
older activists, some of them still wary of Otpor's motives, remains
important to the students as they consolidate what is Serbia's most
energetic and untested force for change. When Otpor needed a thousand
signatures on its application for legal status (the application was
denied), student activists approached Biljana Srbljanovic and her friend
and mentor, the distinguished novelist and literature professor Filip
David. "We signed for Otpor. We didn't want to, actually. But then they
asked us, and we said 'okay,'" says Srbljanovic. "If they are beaten,
let's be with them."

Indeed, perhaps Otpor's most valuable asset is the revulsion of the older
generation at the thought of violence against the young. The students have
some reason to suspect that this mechanism is not functioning completely
normally in their society -- Marko Djuric says of Milosevic, "He has
produced wars in Croatia, in Bosnia, in Kosovo, with hundreds of thousands
of deaths. Why wouldn't he kill, for example, thirty thousand Serbian
youths? I mean, I think he is capable of doing that." But at the same
time, the Otporasi are counting on their elders to refuse to cooperate
with such a state. They know that Yugoslav soldiers are being read a
statement informing them that Otpor kids are fascist terrorists. So they
send care packages to the soldiers -- cigarettes, cakes, newspapers,
crossword puzzles -- in the hope that, says Ilic, "in the key moment when
he orders them to shoot on us, they won't listen."

Otpor has been extraordinarily successful in enlisting support from
activists' parents, who have started to organize their own activities.
Bjelic notes that because Serbia's cosmopolitan middle class has mostly
emigrated, Otpor members "are the kids and grandkids of Milosevic's
constituency" -- and state repression against them is alienating the
ruling party's original power base. Belgrade's Radio B2-92 reports that in
front of the Nis military headquarters, on July 13, 2000, a father
destroyed his son's posthumous military decoration. The father, Dusan
Vukovic, announced, "My son was a soldier, but he did not want this war,
he wanted peace. He was a member of Otpor who went to Kosovo to fight
terrorists. Now they have proclaimed the children terrorists. On behalf of
those terrorists, I cannot accept this token from Slobodan Milosevic, who
did not once visit my son's grave."

In small cities like Nis and other villages across Serbia, the presence of
even one activist and that activist's family can have a profound impact.
Branko Ilic's mother used to work in the Arilje police station, but she
lost her job because of her son's political activities. Ilic's brother,
who is in primary school, is also an activist. While we are wandering
around the Otpor offices, Ilic gets a phone call. His father has been
arrested, held for two and half hours, and interrogated about his son's
activities. I ask Ilic if he plans to go home to Arilje, where there is a
warrant for his arrest. Soon, he says. The police are his mother's former
colleagues. They remember him from infancy. "I'd like to see their faces
and their eyes when they say, 'You are the one who bombed that café.'"

This is where Milosevic's true problem lies, as Otpor spreads across
Serbia. For how long will his shock troops continue to obey orders that
pit them against their own children? The innocence of youth may be a
hackneyed fairy tale. But whatever Serbia's youth, reared in an
environment of moral toxicity and international isolation, reveal
themselves to believe, they belong to their society's only demographic
segment that by generational definition does not have blood on its hands.
This is no small matter, considering that, as Filip David points out, in
twelve years Serbia has passed through "what in Europe people passed
through in the last seventy years. We have fascism, we had communism, we
had four wars." Could a fifth be brewing? Although the regime's first
draft was shot down in Parliament, according to a recent Otpor press
release, Serbian justice minister Dragoljub Jankovic still pledges to
enact a terrorism law that will "cut the great evil at its roots." Judges
who support Otpor are being routed out of Serbia's courts. Meanwhile, out
on the streets, demonstrators sing a popular new ditty whose chorus runs,
"Save Serbia and be a man, kill yourself Slobodan."

Under such circumstances, can a nonviolent student movement achieve that
rarest of ends -- a peaceful transfer of power in the Balkans? Nobody has
more riding on this question than Serbia's youth. "Ninety percent of us
students weren't born when Tito died," says Branko Ilic. "We believe we
have the right to create something new."



Laura Secor is a senior editor of LF. Her article "Testaments Betrayed:
Yugoslavian Intellectuals and the Road to War" appeared in the September
1999 issue. This story was reported in collaboration with Kira Brunner,
assistant editor of Dissent.



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