Interview: Srdjan Milivojevic
Milivojevic was the leader of the Otpor branch in Krusevac, in central Serbia.
On joining Otpor:
In 1998, I saw an ad in the newspaper, Daily Telegraph, where the fist published. I immediately recognized that fist was a symbol of enormous force. I saw something that we Serbs never had in our history: a national movement. Otpor is an organization that called for unity, solidarity, and had a plan. Serbs have always been reckless with regard to planning. We never used to plan and would always let ourselves be carried by the tide. We were never able to anticipate future events in order to adjust to modern world trends. Therefore, under Slobodan Milosevic's regime we were rapidly following the road of fallen and extinct peoples.
On the effectiveness of nonviolence:
On June 15, (1999), I spray-painted a big green graffiti message on the SPS headquarters (Milosevic's Socialist Party) that read, "Infidels, you betrayed Kosovo." I also drew a big fist and wrote "Otpor, Krusevac." The following morning, some police and security people came and photographed the fist. They stayed for a long time. It looked like they were afraid of it.
The following day, I climbed on the roof of the socialist party building and destroyed all their satellite antennas with a hammer. I understood that such an action bordered on violence. Nobody wrote about it, nobody knew what I did and so the citizens of Krusevac could not free themselves of fear in any way. On the other hand, everybody noticed the message on the SPS building — "Infidels, you betrayed Kosovo." That's when I realized that through these small deeds I could do much more than by any violent actions.
On Otpor as an organization:
After visiting Otpor in Belgrade, I realized that I would have absolute freedom in my actions. It was not a very centralized organization. They told me that I would be allowed to implement whatever ideas came to my mind. They said, "Just let us know about it and we will try to print some materials for you. You are free to express your ideas as you want." There was a very strong common factor that brought all these people together — it was Slobodan Milosevic. They didn't care about the national, religious or ideological beliefs of their members. There were democrats, monarchists, republicans, anarchists, even some people with leftist beliefs there.
Our agreement was that all of our actions should be nonviolent — because we were a nonviolent organization. I also liked that because I already had had an experience in which violent actions did not bring the expected results. On the contrary, they give a bad image to the entire organization. Those of us in small towns always cared about decentralization, we were never receptive to something that was imposed on us from the outside.
I saw some really good qualities in Otpor. They enforced planning. They had this autonomous idea of resistance. This idea was not imposed on them from the outside, it was not imported from the West. The idea of Otpor was conceived in Serbia, it was our indigenous and independent idea.
They also had something else that I liked very much — the feeling of true solidarity among all the members of the organization. They told me if I had any problems, or was arrested by the police, they would notify our team of legal experts and inform the media — that I would not be left alone. That was unusual for Serbs who have a negative attitude toward solidarity. We even have a saying about this feeling that no other people have — "Let the neighbor's cow die." Even though they will not profit from that, their neighbors will certainly be damaged by it. For the first time, I saw something completely opposite happening here in Serbia.
On being arrested for the first time:
The first time I was arrested was on January 18, at night, during our action of putting up posters in the city. It was very cold, the temperature was about 22 below zero (Celsius). We wanted to put up posters saying "Resistant New Year" all over the place. Two policemen came up to me around 4 am. They saw me putting up a poster with four other boys. First, they pretended they did not see us and I made a remark about them being very nice and not arresting us for what we were doing. But about three minutes later a police car arrived. Five cops jumped out of the car and the first one approached me and said, “Srdjan,” --he knew me personally -- "What are you doing?” I did not stop doing what I was doing. I replied, “ I am putting up some posters, do you want to put up some with me? You will feel great after putting up Otpor's poster, you will not have fear anymore.”
He said, “You have to come with me.” These other boys were frightened and ready to go with him, but I asked what that meant, that we needed to come with him, whether we were arrested. He just said that we had to come with him. I said, "I am sorry, but I cannot join you. I have a lot of posters that I need to put up tonight, and really don't have time to go with you." And I continued with my business. They came to me, took me by my hands, said come with us, and they tried to push me inside the police car. I said I could come to the police station on foot. And when they did not allow that I asked whether I was arrested. They said that I was not, but that I still had to come with them.
Then I asked why they were taking us. He said that we were putting up posters with inappropriate text, in inappropriate places, that we disrupted public peace and order and that we were upsetting the public. Then I asked him why he was upset by the text "Otpor, I love Serbia," — whether that meant that he did not love Serbia. The policemen said that if I had spent as much time as he had in Kosovo fighting Albanian terrorists, I would love this country ten times more. "Yes," I said, "but I would consider Milosevic twenty times more responsible for his foolish policies for which so many of my colleagues had to die, and we lost Kosovo anyway."
Then he said that I was disrupting public peace and order. I said that I did not think that my activities were waking up the citizens of Krusevac that night. He said that I upset the public. Then he got very unnerved by me and pushed me inside the car. I got into it and took the spray paint and other materials from my colleagues thinking that as the oldest Otpor member there, I should suffer the consequences for what we had done.
We went to the police station where I humiliated and even ridiculed the policeman on duty. He felt humiliated because he could not understand some things. When we began talking, he asked what Otpor was. And then when I said, "in today's ambiance of political relations," he asked what ambiance was. I told him. And then at once he closed his notebook in which he was writing his notes and said, "Listen son, I've been trained to arrest criminals who steal tape recorders and break into houses at night, not those who express their free political beliefs." It was clear to me then that the system was beginning to fall apart, and that we were on the right road to give it the final blow.
On interactions with the police:
I was convinced that the police were interested in how many people were active in Otpor. I noticed that I was being followed. That my phone was bugged. A couple of times over the phone, we announced certain actions to be performed at 4 o'clock in the morning during the extremely cold weather and naturally we would not show up. My friend and I would then go to that place to see police barricades. So while they would be waiting in one place to arrest us, we would go to the other place and write graffiti on the wall saying, "You were freezing for nothing. We were here last night."
So, a dozen young people gathered very quickly. We started selecting activities. We did not want an organization with a leader. All of our decisions were made by consensus. We would plan together all of our actions. We copied the model of the Belgrade Otpor movement, of the Novi Sad Otpor movement. Then in November we decided to re-organize the structure of the national Otpor movement to make it a more serious organization, without hierarchy, without a leader. It would have been easy to bribe, arrest or eliminate a leader. We had to make hundreds of small leaders.
The most important thing to citizens was that we did not fight for power, but for the freedom of Serbian people. That was the thing — not only for Serbian people, but also for all citizens of Serbia.
On being arrested in Kraljevo:
Not too long after I was arrested in Kraljevo, they took me to a room for questioning. An undercover police officer came and asked me, "Are you Srdjan Milivojevic?" I responded, "Yes I am Srdjan Milivojevic." He then stood up, offered his hand and said, "It is a great honor to meet such a person." I asked him, "What for? I'm just an ordinary person" He then said, "My mother knows your speech in Kraljevo by heart. My wife and children remember all of the aphorisms you have said on TV, and repeat them constantly. And I myself am delighted to have met you. I don't want to question you because I feel you are a sincere and truthful man and a fighter for freedom and democracy. I would be happy if you would go home now."
On Otpor members and being labeled by the regime:
They were primarily young people, in their 20's on average. They were well educated. They were patriots. You could not label as a traitor a person who spent 4 years fighting in any of the nonsense wars of Slobodan Milosevic. You could not proclaim as a traitor a person who, during the NATO aggression, defended his country even though he knew that the war was lost even before it had started — because he loved his country. You could not proclaim as a traitor a young girl, 22 or 23 years old, who wants to live as people of her age in the rest of the world, who wants to be able to travel in the world with a Yugoslavian passport, who does not want to feel ashamed to be from Serbia. They were people who knew exactly what they wanted and how they wanted to do it.
The scariest thing for the regime was that we used nonviolent methods in our rebellion. Those methods were so diverse that it shocked them. There was a constant flow of new ideas, and young people are a source that cannot be drained. There are always more and more new ideas.
Excerpted from an interview with Steve York: Krusevac, November 27, 2000. Note: This interview was translated from Serbian.