Ivan Marovic, founder and leader of “Otpor!” student movement that overthrew Milosevic, speaks to Chinese people and sends off a strong message to Chinese authorities through the young organizers engaging in the Jasmine Revolution in China.
Ok. Hi, my name is Ivan Marovic. I’m from Serbia, and together with my friends I was one of the founders and leaders of Otpor!, the resistance movement that brought down Slobodan Milosevic, our dictator, back in 2000.
My story begins when I was a very young kid. I was still in high school, and Milosevic was in power. There was a first demonstration against Milosevic. This was in 1991. It was interesting. It was two years up to Tiananmen Square, but it ended the same way Tiananmen ended. The Milosevic regime sent armies and tanks and destroyed the demonstration—the pro-democracy demonstrations in the metro powers.
As I was growing up the situation was becoming worse and worse—you know we had the civil war, and hyperinflation, and economy sanction, and poverty, and all that. So there was a need to bring down the regime because it was making the situation worse and worse every day. But the problem was when we tried to do it it ended up with military intervention and tanks in the streets. So slowly we started connecting in the way that was not so obvious to the authorities and getting together and trying to build, which we finally did, an underground resistance movement, which we called “otpor”, which is the Serbian word for resistance. Otpor was slowly building its strength through small victories. First the universities tried to limit the power of the deans and school principals then slowly came out to the streets in some smaller towns and cities, and finally turned into a mass movement that managed to bring down Slobodan Milosevic in 2000.
So if I recall the differences between Serbia and China, [they are] enormous. So I don’t know if any of the things that I would say would be of help…may be not. But nevertheless, here is my message: there are certain things that we learned over the time that we were fighting against Milosevic.
The first thing was, it was important to rely on young people, and the reason why we succeeded was because we organized as a youth movement. And youth movement doesn’t only mean members were young, but the leadership was also young. It got some benefits over old style political organizing because young people…they are not married, they don’t care about careers, and they don’t care about children, so they cannot be easily blackmailed or threatened, or bullied as older people, so they are much much braver. For instance, they can do things that older people can never do, because of that.
Another thing is that young people can meet other young people much more easily than older people. So for instance it is very difficult for us to meet in person a high ranking officer of the army or to meet in person some high ranking bureaucrats form the government, but to meet his son or daughter in person was easy. So this is how we reached to the elements of the regime and slowly worked on bringing them closer to our side. We worked actually on their children. So that was the way we reached them. That was the first thing that we actually discovered through our struggle.
The second thing is we always tried and succeeded in remaining non-violent in our actions. We didn’t threaten the other side. We didn’t threaten the bullies when they were arresting us. We were cordial and we were polite to the police officers when we were arrested. At one point Milosevic declared us as a terrorist organization so ordered swift arrest of all the Otpor! activists and members of the organization. And we were arrested by the police. But because we didn’t threaten the police in any way, we actually…we were of course arrested and put in jail but we weren’t suffering cases of torture like other political groups because we managed to establish relationship with the police. And that was important.
And that leads me to another lesson that we learned from struggle that is it is important to keep your people, your members safe, not to put them at risk if it is not necessary, not to waste their energy and to waste their lives on things that are not very important or things that don’t create certain effect. I have to stop here because I’m distracted. So let me go back. So that leads me to another lesson that is you have to keep your people safe, you have to keep your members safe, from harm, as much as possible, and not to risk their lives.. And they are held for something that is not going to match the investment. The risk that they are going to take is going to be just too high for the benefit of the action. So it is important to grow slowly, not to grow too fast so that you can not handle the crackdown that is going to come when the authority realize that you pose a threat. To grow slowly means to create the capacity to withstand that crackdown when it happens. So that’s another thing.
The third thing that we learned over the course of the years is it is important to create the unified front. There are many different people, different ideological backgrounds, different world views, different social status. They all needed to be united in one front in order for the movement to be victorious. We have a saying in Serbia: you have two Serbs, you have three political parties. The people are very factionalized than…how should I say…they are very big political—this is another difference about people.
So working slowly in building these relationships within people and bringing them together in the united front, that actually was what I think crucial for the success because when Milosevic confronted the whole population, it was such a huge crowd of people from all parts the country so that he couldn’t do anything, so he called in the police to disperse the demonstrations, but there weren’t just demonstrations in one square. They were all over the capital, in every street, everywhere, so the police couldn’t disperse the demonstrations. And then he called in the army, but the army was, this time, unlike the previous demonstrations. The army understood that the people who are in the army are recruits, so they belong to the same people that are in the street. There are so many people that they cannot actually disperse them either because they are all over the city. So finally Milosevic realized that nobody was going to help, so he decided to step down. So he stepped down without a single shot fire. And that was an important moment in our history because if you look at the two hundred years of modern Serbian history, every president or king of Serbia was either assassinated or had to run away to save his life. So we had a series of bloody wars and transitions, so to have for the first time somebody stepped down with the use of non-violent method, and public pressure, and to step down without casualties and without even him being killed, that was a…
There was once an encounter of a policeman who beat you up and you still remember his name. So what’s the story?
Yes. Well, I was at one point arrested. I mean many times I was arrested, but I mean at one point I was arrested and they wanted to take my finger prints and my photo. So the guy who was taking the photo he slapped my several times. Then later, I ran into him. You know, after Milosevic was overthrown. And I found him, and because my apartment was broken into and there was burglary, I needed a police to help me to investigate that. So I encountered the same person who beat me up. That was a funny encounter. But on the other hand, you know, he felt sorry for what he did, and I felt no desire for revenge, because in the end we won, and we didn’t win just for ourselves, but we also win for that policeman, because he now works in the police force that he is not forced to beat his citizens. So even it’s better for him today than when Milosevic was in the past.
Do you have a message to the Chinese authorities who are still in power? Did you have a message for Milosevic when he was in power?
Yes we had a message for Milosevic was in power, and I think the same message can work for the Chinese authorities. That is, is it impossible to prevent people when they wish to be free. That is just not going to work because you can only spend more and more effort, more and more energy in preventing them, but eventually they will pervade. And this was what happened in Serbia. He had finally to step down. There was no way he could avoid that. So that would be my message.
Thank you very much.