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(en) Anarchist movements in Serbia

From "Chris Robinson" <christopher@nodo50.org>
Date Sun, 25 Feb 2001 11:18:42 -0500 (EST)

      A - I N F O S  N E W S  S E R V I C E

I am sending this article to a-infos on  request from the author.

"Serbia's October Revolution"

Was the storming of Belgrade by enraged citizens of Serbia in October of
last year really a piece of showmanship comparable with the script in
Eisenstein's film October? Some independent writers in the Belgrade press
and the Belgrade anarchists are sceptical about some of the more theatrical
scenes portrayed in the media, with crowds leaping up the steps of the
Federal Parliament and flames flaring from the television studio RTS on
October 5 2000 while the NEWS cameras whirled.

What the Belgrade anarchists are cautioning is that people should
distinguish between those features of the Serbian October revolt which were
orchestrated and those that were spontaneous. And if stage management
occurred who was behind it?

My main contact in Belgrade, Vladimir Markovic, called what happened on the
final day the Agit-Prop Revolution". He urged us to consider the stagecraft
and media management used to arouse in the public mind the idea that
something world shattering was happening - something like a 'revolution'. On
reflection, he and other Belgrade anarchists feel the events of October 5th,
with the change of rulers of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, though
necessary and overdue were less significant than the media images suggest.


The Belgrade anarchists do not just base their doubts about the degree of
political change in Yugoslavia after October on their own anarchist dogma.
They are employing practical reasoning and straightforward observation of
the groups, parties and individuals acting in Serb society.

They are keenly aware of the entrenched nature of the economy which has
evolved since the West imposed sanctions in 1992. And because they have
insights into the developments in the regime which go beyond the websites
and newsprint, they know what to expect from opposition leaders like the
Federal President, Vojislav Kostunica and Zoran Djindic the boss of the DOS
(Democratic Opposition of Serbia) coalition. More importantly for
anarchists, they have grave misgivings about 'Otpor' (Resistance) in which
many anarchists outside Serbia have had high hopes.

The British anarchist paper Freedom ran in October a front page report
stating: "The biggest catalyst for change ... has been the movement known as
Otpor (Resistance), a leaderless (and for that matter anarchistic)
organisation, with no formal membership." Ratibor Trivunac disputed this in
his Summary of the General Strike in Serbia in October last year. When I
spoke to Vladimir Markovic, Ratibor's friend and another Belgrade anarchist,
he confirmed Ratibor's criticisms and gave me an outline of the nature of

Otpor was founded in 1998 and was made up mainly of students. It claims to
be a 'leaderless movement'. Markovic admits that as an organisation in the
universities Otpor was a useful campaigning group to begin with, and it
still has decent people among its members. But Markovic claims the
organisation does have senior figures in it who lead the organisation, and
that this leadership is composed of about ten key individuals.

These star figures, it is suggested, work closely with both elements within
the party system of the new regime and co-operate with foreign agencies. I
wasn't given hard facts, the local anarchists in Belgrade are in the main
working on hunches here. Their claim that the US authorities are linked to
the Otpor leaders can only be speculation. What they do argue persuasively
is that here is an organisation which seems to be well funded, and had no
trouble mounting expensive protests during the era of Milosevic and his
Socialist Party of Serbia. Markovic argues that eventually Otpor got backing
from people inside the Milosevic establishment, from media people and from
people in the opposition parties.

Inside Otpor Markovic says the Council of Otpor operates. He says this is
made up of professors from the universities and members of the Academy of
Arts and Sciences. The novelist and politician, Dobrica Cosic, has links
with this Council of Otpor. Cosic was President of Yugoslavia in 1992 and
1993. He has long been a promoter of the idea of the culture of Serb

Misha Glenny, in his book The Fall of Yugoslavia (1992) claimed "Cosic and
some like-minded academics from the Serbian Academy of Sciences had been
behind a notorious document called the Memorandum - in 1986 - (t)his bitter
attack on the Kosovo policy of the then Communist authorities anticipated
the atmosphere of national intolerance which was about to smother reason in

Curiously both Misha Glenny, the BBC journalist, and Vladimir Markovic, the
Belgrade anarchist, identify the intellectuals at the Academy as being the
chief culprits culturally creating the conditions of new Serb nationalism.
Misha Glenny argues "The Memorandum (of 1986) both prepared the ideological
ground for Milosevic by focusing public opinion yet more tightly on the
Kosovo issue and indicated to this ambitious apparatchik that here was a
real base among intellectuals for a nationalist assault .. "

Some anarchists, like most Marxists, are intellectual snobs who focus
readily on the politician's dirty hands but who avert their eyes from the
vanities of the ideas merchant who creates the cultural conditions in which
the politician works. Vladimir Markovic was one of those anarchists who
wanted to stress the danger of what George Orwell called The Dictatorship of

Here we have the image of the intellectuals at the Serbian Academy of Arts
and Sciences and theologians in the Serb Orthodox Church sowing, while
politicians like Milosevic merely reaped. Markovic maintains that the Serb
intellectuals were the dogmatic nationalists, and the politicians practical
people at once more utilitarian and pragmatic. But it was these practical
men who ended up with dirt on their hands. Meanwhile the illustrious
theorists, like Dobrica Cosic, at the Academy and in the church go on to sow
more seeds.


The Balkans, with its legacy from the Ottomans and the Hapsburgs, is often
seen as a bridge between East and West. This seems to be important to
understanding what is going on in the new governments of the Federal
Republic of Yugoslavia and the Serb Republic and, importantly, in Otpor.

The theorists of Otpor, according to my informants in the Belgrade
anarchists, have developed their ideas rooted in ancient attitudes and
hatreds of all things they see as being 'Eastern'. These ideologues are
stirring up the concept of a culture clash in Serbia between two
traditions - one eastern, the other western.Vladimir Markovic calls this
Cultural Racism; the dichotomy is thus defined:
An alien Asian, oriental culture which was introduced by the Turks in the
14th century and continued by Tito in the 20th century. Crudely classified
as 'Oriental Despotism', an era of Turks, Sultans and Communist Commissars,
belonging to a history which the Serbs should shed, together with the music
and way of life that goes with it, like dead skin.

The Otpor idea is that Serbian 'real' culture is Western, European and of
the Enlightenment, but curiously it also embraces the Serbian Orthodox
Church as part of this tradition. This approach proposes the spirit of
individual enterprise and liberal values in contrast to Muslim and Middle
Eastern ideas and values. This, according to Markovic, is a Western
Enlightenment vision at once intolerant, totalitarian and ignorant.

Let us consider the sinister sequence of events which started in 1986 with
the Memorandum; in April 1987 Slobodan Milosevic made his dramatic speech at
Kosovo Polje which one Kosovo Serb, Miroslav Soljevic later said "enthroned
him as a Tsar"; on May 8th 1989 Milosevic assumed the presidency of Serbia,
but timed the ceremony to coincide with the 600th anniversary of the Battle
of Kosovo, which took place on June 28th at Gazimestan on the battlefield in
front of all Yugoslavia's top politicians and an audience of one million.

The Memorandum was put together by academics at the Serbian Academy of Arts
and Sciences, some then in the Serbian Communist Party (now re-named the
Socialist Party of Serbia); today some of these same people, like Dobrica
Cosic, are now influentially linked to Otpor and the Democratic Opposition
of Serbia (DOS). In an essay written last June, entitled 'The Serbian
opposition during and after the NATO bombing', Vladimir Ilic warns us about
the efforts of the then opposition to the Milosevic regime to recruit 'elite
' figures from the University, Writers' Union, Academy of Arts and Sciences.
He says "These institutions were the ideological strongholds of ethnic
nationalism in Serbia and gave a big contribution to the creation of the
phenomenon that is most frequently coupled to Milosevic's name.".

What the Belgrade anarchists and other critics are now arguing is that, with
the fall of Milosevic regime and development of the new system dominated by
the Democratic Opposition of Serbia, Serb politics is undergoing
metamorphosis. This is the kind of change which occurs when the maggot
becomes a bluebottle. Thus Serbian intellectuals at the Academy of Arts and
the Universities, who previously influenced the Serbian Socialist system of
Milosevic, are now admired by the elements in the new regime of Kostunica
and Djindic, and among the supporters of Otpor (Resistance).

Markovic illustrated this by describing an Otpor demo last year in Nis in
southern Serbia. At that demo the organisers invoked the epic poem The
Mountain Wreath, declaring:

Have done with minarets and mosques!
Let flare the Serbian Christmas-log;
Paint gaily too the eggs for Easter-tide;
Observe with care the Lent and Autumn Fasts,
And for the rest - do what is dear to thee!
It continues in a warlike tone:
Though broad enough Cetinje Plain,
No single seeing eye, no tongue of Turk,
Escap'd to tell his tale another day!
We put them all unto the sword,
All those who would not be baptiz'd; .
We put to fire the Turkish houses,
That there might be nor stick nor trace
Of these true servants of the Devil!

Now however suitable this kind of literary epic may be in seminars at the
Academy, one wonders if it is seemly that it should be profiled at a
political function in Nis. Least of all at a gathering of Otpor, who some
claim has libertarian and anarchistic credentials, and many credit with
contributing to the popular overthrow of Milosevic and the Socialist Party
of Serbia (SPS),. Time Judah writes in his book 'The SERBS - History, Myth &
the Destruction of Yugoslavia' " . it is essential to understand that many
Bosnian Serbs went to war in 1992 elated and in the spirit of . The Mountain

Under the Tito regime the ethnic elites in Yugoslavia sought to restrain the
nationalism of their various regions. In June 1968 there was uproar at
Belgrade University as it followed in the trail of events in Paris, Prague
and other places that summer. The Belgrade student strikes focused on
conditions at first, but quickly became political. Authoritarianism,
unemployment and the Vietnam war were denounced, but there was no sign of
Serb nationalism. Much of the inspiration came from the philosophy faculty
of Mihailo Markovic and others associated with Praxis, the liberal Marxist

Initially Tito declared his backing for the students. He went on TV and
protested that the nation's bureaucracy had obstructed the common aims he
shared with the students. Two weeks after the students surrendered the
University, Tito demanded the sacking of Markovic and others in the
philosophy department on grounds that they were corrupting the country's
Some of today's anarchists in Belgrade trace their history back to those
events in 1968. By the 1970s Zoran Djindic, now leader of the governing
coalition in Serbia - the DOS - became an anarchist and remained so for
about 10 years. Today younger people are in evidence among the Belgrade

Some of these young anarchists and anarcho-syndicalists are wary of the
students in Otpor and the whole university scene. Ratibor Trivunac claims:
"Otpor is a nationalistic, neo-liberal organisation which is led by a few
organisers . , they are also funded by western countries."

Even in 1991, Misha Glenny describes how the politicians were using the
students: " . I bumped into Zoran Djindic organising his student battalions.
Djindic was in his element - a leading and respectable D.S. (Democratic
Party) parliamentarian, he had never been able to discard his Marcusian
memories gained as a disciple of the Frankfurt School." Even the political
writings of the anarchist academic, Noam Chomsky, had been selectively
published under the Milosevic regime to justify its own case against the
west. In such publications Chomsky was not identified as a libertarian
These Belgrade anarchists now look to the workers' movement and some of the
trade unions as a focus of resistance to the new DOS regime of Djindic and
Kostunica. To them the General Strike and the spontaneous actions of workers
in the coal mines, at Cacak and in Belgrade, were crucial to the final
overthrow of Milosevic. They see the more photogenic scenes outside the
Federal Parliament on October 5th, 2000 as largely froth.

The Belgrade anarchists are seeking a meeting with Branislav Canak,
President of 'NEZAVISNOST' - United Branch Trade Unions (UGS). This union
federation has 157,000 members based in engineering, education, public
utilities, transport, agriculture and mining. Canak himself voiced his
backing for the demonstrations in Seattle against global capitalism.
The fairytales which the Belgrade anarchists are challenging are: the
'anarchistic' credentials of Otpor; the 'revolutionary' status of the new
regime and the nature of its transformation, which they would liken to
metamorphosis; and the 'radical' role of the intellectuals in Serbian
society. The Balkan experience ought to warn us all against absurd
generalisations and cookbook critiques drafted in a rush on far-flung
campuses to prop-up some grand theory of global politics.

Northern Editor of Freedom UK

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