: 03-12-2003
Milos Vasic: A Revolution Brought to You By

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BELGRADE, Serbia and Montenegro--Serbian television viewers were cheerfully amused during the Georgian crisis that led to President Eduard Shevardnadzes overthrow. The breaking-news footage from Tbilisi, beamed into their living-room TVs, showed symbols and political iconography they had grown deeply familiar with.

The posters of a clenched fist, plastered everywhere, were identical to those used by Serbias Otpor! (Resistance!) movement in 2000, during the campaign to oust Slobodan Milosevic. Even the slogans on billboards were familiar: Gotov je! (Hes finished), the Latin-script letters proclaimed--in Serbian. Clearly, young Georgian protesters didn't have time to translate the propaganda material theyd borrowed from their Serbian friends.

And yes: Otpor! militants have confirmed that they were consulted by Georgian opposition--and that they provided advice, material, and help.


Otpor! was founded in early 2000, and quickly spread from Belgrade to every corner of Serbia. Their idea was simple; they would muster and organize young Serbs (in fact, any Serbs) into a non-partisan popular movement, with just one simple political objective: to get rid of Milosevic and his lot.

The idea was supported by Serbias opposition parties--and the great powers also decided to throw their weight behind the movement. The European Union, the United States, and many non-governmental organizations provided training in political marketing and resistance tactics, advice--and yes, money too.

But the most important feature of the campaign was the Wests unexpected willingness to let Serbias young militants follow their creative instincts. And by then, their instincts were well-honed. There was not much the West could teach Serbian opposition and youth about street and extra-parliamentary politics: these boys and girls had received a hands-on education in the streets of Belgrade, during the series of demonstrations, protests, sit-ins, and campaigns of the 1990s.

There were many of them, and long-sustained. One of largest series of demonstrations came in the long winter of 1996-1997. For almost five months, demonstrators protested and rioted every day against Milosevic's blatant electoral fraud during the local elections of November 1996. On many occasions, the police waded in, using water cannons, tear gas, and their batons to disperse the crowds.


By the spring of 2000, all this experience had been synthesized into a new tactical approach. The main campaign was led by very young people, and targeted every layer of the Serbian population. The aim was to finish off the regime once and for all, and the demand was simple: elections--or else.

The tactics were varied, but straightforward: the message was plastered on everything imaginable--from matchboxes, stickers, and lapel buttons to graffiti on walls. The campaign was massive, the expenses high, and the funding was foreign--smuggled across the border and carefully concealed.

The message emphasized the finality of the people's decision: Gotov je! He's finished, over, done with; defeated, once and for all. These stickers and graffiti were everywhere. Everybody who cared proudly displayed the Otpor! badge.

Very soon, Otpor! had a mass following. The clenched fist became ubiquitous. The movement was not linked to any political party, and that helped. The opposition parties had tended to irritate the Serbian population; they were simply too quarrelsome and too pushy.

Otpor! became a real people's movement. The elderly joined in surprising numbers, something unprecedented in Serbia. Since early 1987, pensioners support for Milosevic had become a byword.

The police were overwhelmed by sheer number of Otpor!-organized events. And that was just part of a broader ploy, giving the police a rubber bone to gnaw, a diversion--while a much more important campaign was being prepared, ahead of the September 2000 elections.

By 5 October 2000, Otpor! had prevailed. Milosevic was gotov for good.


The movement has remained active. Just a few weeks ago, it registered as a political party--though its strategy and political profile are still unclear. No wonder: Otpor! is a very heterogeneous movement. It will take some time to settle down and find its own political identity.

But Otpor! still knows how to campaign. The transfer of know-how to the Georgians showed that. But passing on the craft of political protest happens all the time.

It happened, most importantly, in the glorious 60s, when the tactics of Americas civil-rights and anti-war movements were successfully copied throughout Europe. (Other specialized skills of the trade were also transferred--how to gather intelligence, how to orchestrate street protests--but well not dwell on those for now.)

Poor old Eduard Shevarnadze cant be compared to Slobodan Milosevic, of course; but there simply arent many efficient ways and means of getting rid of an autocrat.

The Otpor! way is, at least, as non-violent and as democratic as it comes.

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