Otpor was a Serbian political youth group formed ahead of the 2000 elections -- they received funding and training from various US agencies. The group has a wesbite (www.otpor.com), but it is a single page with the group's symbol and nothing else. The same people who trained Otpor went on to train similar "colored flag" opposition movements elsewhere in Eastern Europe.
Otpor type of activities entail organizing a militant section of society to instill cynicism in the government, drown out the government's message, and convey the impression that there is broad based support for the opposition. Its activities amount to disrupting the government's message and tarnish its image. NB: the same formula has been re-used in Ukraine, Georgia, Albania and Belarus. Otpor's principal activities were:
- graffiti encouraging cynism against those in power. Or as Michael Dobbs put it: "U.S. taxpayers paid for 5,000 cans of spray paint used by student activists to scrawl anti-Milosevic graffiti on walls across Serbia, and 2.5 million stickers with the slogan 'He's Finished,' which became the revolution's catchphrase."[Dobbs op. cit.]
- massed concentrations with flags for the benefit of foreign (CNN) camera crews
- Organizing student groups
- Shouting down government speakers at public events
- Hostile questioning of government officials and demanding resignation; booing… and in general disruptive and intimidating actions
Otpor! (Cyrillic: ОТПОР!) was a pro-democracy youth movement in Serbia which is widely credited for leading the eventually successful struggle to overthrow Slobodan Milosevic in 2000. It was formed in October 1998 as a response to repressive University and Media laws that were introduced that year. In the beginning Otpor had activities at Belgrade University. In the aftermath of NATO airstrikes against Yugoslavia, Otpor started a political campaign against Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic. This resulted in nation wide police repression against Otpor activists during which almost 2000 of them were arrested and some beaten. During the presidential campaign in September 2000 Otpor launch "Gotov je" (He's finished) campaign that galvanized Serbian discontent with Milosevic and resulted in his defeat. Some students who led Otpor (whose name means "Resistance" in the Serbian language) used Serb translations of Gene Sharp's writings on nonviolent action as a theoretical basis for their campaign.
Otpor was instrumental in inspiring and training several other civic youth organizations in Eastern Europe, including Kmara in the republic of Georgia (itself partly responsible for the downfall of Eduard Shevardnadze), Pora in Ukraine (currently involved in protests following the Ukrainian presidential election, 2004), Zubr in Belarus (opposing president Alexander Lukashenko), and MJAFT! in Albania.
From Diana Johnstone, Fool's Crusade
- The U.S. NED provided millions of dollars and training in "methods of nonviolent action" to a network of young activists calling itself Otpor (resistance) with no political program other than the desire to "be normal" on Western terms. Otpor youth plastered walls with posters of clenched fists and tried to get arrested in order to denounce the "regime" as repressive.
In the first round held on 24 September 2000, Milosevic failed to gain re-election. Official results gave Kostunica over 48 per cent of the vote in a five-man race. This fell slightly short of the 50 per cent required to win, but indicated an almost certain landslide in the runoff against Milosevic, who trailed by some ten percentage points. (Yugoslav electoral law calls for a second round if no candidate wins an absolute majority in the first round.) Not satisfied with this prospect of a certain victory at the ballot box, DOS (democratic opposition of Serbia) claimed a first round victory and announced it would boycott the second round. This heightened tension and provided an opportunity for the Otpor agitators to take matters into their own hands. The DOS thereby moved the contest from the ballot box onto the streets. The result was the spectacle of the 5 October 'democratic revolution', when a large crowd stormed the Skupstina, the parliament building in the center of Belgrade. Presented to the world public in the as a spontaneous act of self-liberation, the event was staged for television cameras, which filmed and relayed the same scenes over and over again: youths breaking through windows, flags waving, flames rising, smoke enveloping the parliament building, described as "the symbol of the Milosevic regime". —Fool's Crusade, p. 257.
Training and the players
The training and organizing of the Otpor agents was a lengthy and costly operation. This article summarizes how it was done and who was involved:
- While NDI worked closely with Serbian opposition parties, IRI focused its attention on Otpor, which served as the revolution's ideological and organizational backbone. In March, IRI paid for two dozen Otpor leaders to attend a seminar on nonviolent resistance at the Hilton Hotel in Budapest, a few hundreds yards along the Danube from the NDI-favored Marriott.
During the seminar, the Serbian students received training in such matters as how to organize a strike, how to communicate with symbols, how to overcome fear and how to undermine the authority of a dictatorial regime. The principal lecturer was retired U.S. Army Col. Robert Helvey, who has made a study of nonviolent resistance methods around the world, including those used in modern-day Burma and the civil rights struggle in the American South.
Helvey, who served two tours in Vietnam, introduced the Otpor activists to the ideas of American theoretician Gene Sharp, whom he describes as "the Clausewitz of the nonviolence movement," referring to the renowned Prussian military strategist.
Daniel P. Serwer, an operative with IRI and USIP, was also one of the trainers of Otpor.
Funding Sources and Training (alpha order)
- Freedom House (Mowat, op. cit.)
- International Republican Institute (IRI) (Mowat, op. cit.)
- National Endowment for Democracy
- Open Society Institute
- USAID – Financed T-shirts, stickers, spray-paint (Ackerman, quoted in Mowat, op. cit.)
- United States Institute of Peace (Dobbs, op. cit.)
References about Otpor
- PBS series, Bringing Down a Dictator, PBS, 2002. NB: this documentary portrays Optor in a positive light — no references to its origin or possible CIA relationship. Note that the director of the film is Jack DuVall, the producer is Peter Ackerman, and the film was produced for ICNC. Read the history of this film under DuVall's biography.
- Roger Cohen, "Who Really Brought Down Milosevic?", New York Times Sunday Magazine, Nov. 26, 2000.
- Michael Dobbs, ""U.S. Advice Guided Milosevic Opposition: Political Consultants Helped Yugoslav Opposition Topple Authoritarian Leader", Washington Post, December 11, 2000.
- Interview with Srdja Popovic of Otpor, National Public Radio, March 20, 2002.
- Diana Johnstone, Fool's Crusade: Yugoslavia, NATO and Western Delusions, Pluto Press, 2002, p. 257.
- Stephen Mulvey, Behind the scenes at Kiev's rally, BBC Online, Nov. 28, 2004. States: "Natalia is the deputy leader for the Kiev region of a student protest group called Pora, modelled on the Serbian group Otpor, which played a key role in the ousting of Slobodan Milosevic. In spring she attended lectures in Kiev by Otpor leader Alexander Maric".
- Brian Pozun, Planning for an Uncertain Future, CE Review, Feb. 26, 2001. References to Otpor post-Milosevic. (CE Review has been renamed TOL).
- Daan van der Schriek, Georgia: How good the revolution has been!, World Press Review, Dec. 7, 2003
- Jonathan Mowat, "The new Gladio in action?: Ukrainian postmodern coup completes testing of new template", Online Journal, March 19, 2005. Contains descriptions of the operators behind the manipulation of Otpor, and who financed this.