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Otpor! (Serbian Cyrillic: Отпор!, English: Resistance!) was a non-partisan civic youth movement in Serbia that employed nonviolent struggle as their course of action. They were credited for their role in the successful overthrow of Slobodan Milošević in October 2000.
Otpor was formed on October 10, 1998 in response to repressive university and media laws introduced earlier that year by the Government of Serbia headed by Milošević loyalist Mirko Marjanović. In the beginning, Otpor's activities were limited to the 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!) and the "Vreme Je!" (It's Time!) campaigns, 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 campaigns.
Otpor became one of the defining symbols of the anti-Milošević struggle and his subsequent overthrow. By aiming their activities at the pool of youth abstainers and other disillusioned voters, Otpor contributed to one of the biggest turnouts ever for the September 24, 2000 federal presidential elections.
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 political opponents were traitors working for foreign interests, but in the case of Otpor!, the tactic largely backfired, as the beatings and imprisonments during the summer of 2000 only further cemented the decision to vote against the regime in many voters' minds.
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 just about everywhere. From the wide range of local celebrities and public figures seeking positive attention by wearing Otpor! T-shirts, to Partizan basketball club painting the 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 even some individuals tied to the former regime sought to now ingratiate themselves with new DOS authorities by praising Otpor! and its activities.
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.
The first signs of backlash and criticism appeared when some activists left the movement in pursuit of political, business, and diplomatic careers. Srđa Popović 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.
Many activists felt the group's mission was achieved once democracy was established. A smaller Otpor in the post-Milošević years transformed into a political party that faced a challenge formulating a coherent political program. Acting against Milošević earned them wide praise, but when the time came to channel 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 in a new political era. This was not helped by wide media exposure of broad overt US support for democracy in Serbia.
Information started to appear about substantial outside assistance to Otpor leading up to the revolution. 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. The movement had already reached its peak when the lecture took place. Otpor was 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, Times 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.
Just how much of the US resources appropriated in the year 2000 by USAID, for democracy and governance, which included support to groups that worked to bring an end to the Milošević era through peaceful, democratic means, 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". The USIP issued a policy paper that included USIP support to Otpor.
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. Although the support was in overt democracy programs supported by US taxpayers, all of this did not resonate well with the public in Serbia. It eroded the widely held view of Otpor as a spontaneous, grass-roots people's movement.
Transformation into a political party
In late 2003, ahead of the parliamentary elections, Otpor 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%). Otpor merged into the Democratic Party of Boris Tadić in September 2004.
Otpor! leaders on the Serbian political and business scene
Over the subsequent years, influential Otpor! members also rose to prominence within Serbian society in other arenas primarily the country's political and business scene. In the years since Milošević's overthrow, Slobodan Homen and his family were involved in various high profile real-estate business ventures in the city of Belgrade, some of which raised controversy. In 2008 Homen himself became state secretary in the Serbian Ministry of Justice working under cabinet minister Snežana Malović, within the government of prime minister Mirko Cvetković. In March 2011, Homen was named the Serbian government's PR coordinator.
Another Otpor! member Nenad Konstantinović (incidentally Homen's close relative) went on to a notable career within the Democratic Party (DS).
Ivan Andrić joined the Civic Alliance of Serbia (GSS) and later Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) where he became its MP.
Slobodan Đinović became the CEO of Orion Telekom, telecommunications company that was formed through merger of Internet providers Mediaworks, SezamPro, and Neobee.
In addition to greatly contributing to Slobodan Milošević's overthrow, Otpor has become the model for similar youth movements around Eastern Europe. For this Otpor members have been called "revolution exporters". MTV granted Otpor the Free Your Mind award in 2000.
Otpor members were instrumental in inspiring and providing hands-on training to several other civic youth organizations in Eastern Europe and elsewhere, including Kmara in the Republic of Georgia (itself partly responsible for the downfall of Eduard Shevardnadze), Pora in Ukraine (which was part of the Orange Revolution), Zubr in Belarus (opposing the president Alexander Lukashenko), MJAFT! in Albania, Oborona in Russia (opposing the president Vladimir Putin), KelKel  in Kyrgyzstan (active in the revolution that brought down the president Askar Akayev), Bolga in Uzbekistan (opposing Islom Karimov) and Nabad-al-Horriye in Lebanon. A similar group of students was present in Venezuela against Hugo Chávez. In 2011, an April 6 Youth Movement emerged in Egypt during the 2011 Egyptian protests that took advice from Otpor.
In 2002, some of former Otpor members, most notably Ivan Marovic and Srdja Popovic, founded the Centre for Applied Nonviolent Action and Strategies (CANVAS). This independent NGO disseminated the lessons learned from their successful nonviolent struggle through scores of trainings and workshops for pro-democracy activists and others around the world, including Egypt, Palestine, Western Sahara, West Papua, Eritrea, Belarus, Azerbaijan, Tonga, Burma and Zimbabwe as well as labor, anti-war, and immigration rights activists in the United States.
April 6 Youth Movement logo
In their search for lessons learned from other activist movements, the April 6 Youth Movement in Egypt consulted with Otpor members and adopted some of their strategies in their rallying for the 2011 Egyptian revolution.