Otpor!: Wikis

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Otpor! (Serbian Cyrillic: Отпор!, in English: Resistance!) was youth movement in Serbia which has been widely credited for leading the successful struggle to overthrow Slobodan Milošević in 2000.

Contents

Origins

Otpor was formed on October 10, 1998 in response to repressive university and media laws introduced earlier that year. In the beginning, Otpor's activities were limited to University of Belgrade.

In the aftermath of the NATO air-strikes against FR Yugoslavia in 1999 regarding the Kosovo War, Otpor began a political campaign against the Yugoslav president Slobodan Milošević. This resulted in nationwide police repression against Otpor activists, during which nearly 2000 were arrested, some beaten. During the presidential campaign of September 2000, Otpor launched its "Gotov je" (He's finished) campaign which would galvanize national discontent with Milošević and eventually result in his defeat. Some students who led Otpor used Serbian translations of Gene Sharp's writings on nonviolent action as a theoretical basis for their campaign.

Otpor became one of the defining symbols of anti-Milošević struggle and his subsequent overthrow. By aiming their activities at the pool of youth abstinents and other disillusioned voters, Otpor contributed to one of the biggest turnouts ever for the September 24, 2000 federal presidential elections.

Having succeeded in persuading a large number of the traditional electorate to abandon Milošević was another one of the areas where the smear-proof Otpor played a key role. Milošević had in the past succeeded in persuading the public that his opponents were spies and traitors, but on this occasion, it backfired, as the beatings and imprisonments during the summer of 2000 further cemented the decision to vote against the regime in many voters' minds.

Post-Milošević

In the immediate months following 5th October Overthrow, Otpor members were suddenly the widely praised heroes throughout FR Yugoslavia as well as in the eyes of western governments. The clenched fist logo became the instant seal of approval, appearing everywhere. From the wide range of local celebrities and public figures seeking positive attention by wearing Otpor T-shirts, to Partizan basketball club painting an Otpor logo in the center circle for their FIBA Suproleague game, the clenched fist was omnipresent. This wide spread popularity inspired some truly bizarre episodes of opportunism as a variety of individuals tied to the former regime sought to now ingratiate themselves with new DOS authorities by praising Otpor and its activities.

MTV also took notice, presenting Otpor with the Free Your Mind award at the 2000 MTV Europe Music Awards in Stockholm.

In the midst of all the praise, the movement promised to keep on, with corruption monitoring becoming the new focus. Several new anti-corruption campaigns were started (Samo vas gledamo, Bez anestezije, etc.), but it was clear that Otpor experienced problems staying relevant on the transformed political scene of Yugoslavia.

Otpor receives Free Your Mind award at 2000 MTV Europe Music Awards in Stockholm

First signs of backlash and criticism appeared when some of the prominent activists virtually abandoned the movement in pursuit of their own political and diplomatic careers, substituting black washed-out shirts with designer suits. An example was Srđa Popović, who previously jokingly referred to himself as Otpor's 'political commissar' - he was entered on the DOS ballot for the December 2000 parliamentary elections, and subsequently became a MP for the Democratic Party within the wide DOS coalition as well as an environmental advisor in the newly inaugurated Serbian government led by Zoran Đinđić; posts seen by many to be Popović's revolutionary reward.

U.S. involvement

Additionally, information started to appear during this time about substantial outside help, both in funds and logistics, which Otpor received leading up to the revolution. A group of activists made one trip to Budapest in neighbouring Hungary in June 2000 to attend a lecture by retired US Army Col. Robert Helvey, a colleague of Sharp, who was later portrayed as the "creator" of Otpor, although the movement had already reached its peak when the lecture took place. Otpor was also a recipient of substantial funds from U.S. government affiliated organizations such as the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), International Republican Institute (IRI), and US Agency for International Development (USAID).

In a November 2000 article from the New York Times Magazine, American journalist Roger Cohen talked to various officials from the above organizations about the extent of American assistance received by Otpor. Paul B. McCarthy from the Washington-based NED stated that Otpor received the majority of US$3 million spent by NED in Serbia from September 1998 until October 2000. At the same time, McCarthy himself held a series of meetings with Otpor's leaders in Podgorica, as well as Szeged and Budapest.[1]

Just how much of the US$25 million, appropriated in the year 2000 by USAID, for the purposes of bringing down Milošević, went to Otpor is not clear. Donald L. Pressley, the assistant administrator at USAID said that several hundred thousand dollars were given to Otpor directly for "demonstration-support material, like T-shirts and stickers".[1] Otpor leaders intimated they also received a lot of covert aid -- a subject on which there was no comment in Washington. Albert Cevallos of the USIP has written a paper about how his organisation supported Otpor.[2]

Daniel Calingaert, an official with IRI, said Otpor received some of the US$1.8 million his institute spent in the country throughout 2000. He also said he met Otpor leaders "seven to ten times" in Montenegro (then Yugoslavia), and Hungary, beginning in October 1999.[1] All of this did not resonate well with the national public. It eroded the widely held view of Otpor as a spontaneous, grass-roots people's movement.

The biggest reason for Otpor's lack of success in the post-Milošević years was their failure to formulate a coherent political program. Acting against Milošević earned them wide praise, but when the time came to channel all that popular support into a clear ideological position - a definite disconnect occurred. In short, it was always clear what Otpor was against, but it was not clear what this movement represented now that the former regime was gone.

Serbia

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In late 2003, ahead of the parliamentary elections, Otpor finally transformed into a political party, but the writing was by now on the wall. The candidate list of "Otpor—Freedom, Solidarity and Justice" led by Čedomir Čupić did poorly, with only 62,116 votes (1.6% of total vote) in the 2003 Serbian parliamentary election, which left it out of the parliament (census required a minimum of 5%).

It finally merged into the Democratic Party of Boris Tadić in September 2004.

Lasting legacy

Kmara flag

In addition to greatly contributing to Slobodan Milošević's overthrow, Otpor has become the model for similar youth movements around Eastern Europe.[3] For this Otpor members have been called "revolution exporters". [4].

Otpor members were instrumental in inspiring and providing hands-on training to several other civic youth organizations in Eastern Europe and elsewhere, including Kmara[5] in the Republic of Georgia (itself partly responsible for the downfall of Eduard Shevardnadze), Pora in Ukraine[6][7] (which was part of the Orange Revolution), Zubr[5] in Belarus (opposing the president Alexander Lukashenko), MJAFT![8] in Albania, Oborona[9] in Russia (opposing the president Vladimir Putin), KelKel [7] in Kyrgyzstan (active in the revolution that brought down the president Askar Akayev), Bolga in Uzbekistan[10] (opposing Islom Karimov) and Nabad-al-Horriye.[11] in Lebanon. A similar group of students was present in Venezuela against Hugo Chávez.

See also

External links

References

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