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Comment: Otpor Vows to Break Mould of Serbian Politics

Youth party says it is challenging the current political stalemate in an effort to kick-start the stalled reform process.
By Ivan Marovic

Otpor, the grassroots youth movement that helped bring down Slobodan Milosevic in 2000, is back on the political stage. Ahead of parliamentary elections later this month, my party has decided to register as a political party to counter disillusionment with the stalled reform process.

Three years after the fall of the old regime and the accession to power of the Democratic Opposition of Serbia, DOS, Serbia is in deadlock. DOS - once a coalition of about 20 parties united against Milosevic - has been dissolved and elections scheduled for December 28.

The confusion and apathy generated by the DOS government is thought to explain why many voters boycotted the last election, while others opted for Tomislav Nikolic, of the extreme-right Serbian Radical Party, SRS.

Parties comprising DOS were blamed for concentrating on internal splits instead of changing the political system and making a break with Milosevic's legacy.

Otpor, founded in 1998, contributed to the toppling of Milosevic. But it never took part in the DOS government, confining itself to a watchdog role of highlighting problems and proposing solutions, which rarely met with the approval of other parties.

Now it has resolved to become a party, citing the failure of the other DOS members to break with the Milosevic era and generate new institutions.

Otpor says its priority is to build institutions that will render the republic's democratic transition irreversible. The lack of them is worrying. Serbia has been without a president for a year, a new constitution has not been adopted and media freedoms have no guarantees. DOS parties have in the meantime continued to influence the courts, legal system and other nominally independent agencies.

Experts locate Serbia's problem in the failure to follow the example of other Eastern European countries, which formed new pro-democracy parties after the fall of communism in 1989.

In Serbia, communism did not give way to democratic forces but to Milosevic's nationalism. The opposition parties merely echoed Milosevic's Socialist Party of Serbia.

The rise of DOS and Milosevic's transfer to The Hague in 2001 appeared to represent a break with the past but in reality the extradition stemmed from international pressure, not from any government investigation into his alleged crimes.

DOS members are widely seen as having failed to transform Serbia's criminalised society into a law-abiding one. Milosevic's extradition allowed his associates to come away clean and blame everything on him.

The government's unwillingness to confront the criminal legacy of the old regime proved fatal when its policy of non-interference resulted in the assassination of Serbian prime minister Zoran Djindjic on March 12.

The killing marked the failure of the DOS transition concept. The police operation that followed Djindjic's murder also did not go deep enough to excise the criminal elements embedded in the state apparatus.

DOS is believed to have exhausted its potential in internecine conflicts, pitting the Democratic Party, the most important member of DOS, against the Democratic Party of Serbia, led by Vojislav Kostunica.

Otpor's advantage is that it represents a new generation, untainted by war crimes or organised crime, which waves neither the flags of communism nor of Serbian nationalism.

It sees itself as different from the existing parties, as its members share a strong commitment to the democratic values on which the organisation was originally based. Unlike other Serbian parties, which follow the dictates of the party leader, Otpor is based on team work.

From the beginning, Otpor attracted many talented individuals who had shunned politics because of the traditional parties' insistence on blind obedience.

With 20,000 members and over 100 active branches, it has a strong infrastructure and support base.

Otpor's core programme is to strengthen state institutions that guarantee freedom, justice and solidarity.

It places competence over allegiance and will support candidates who are not its members. This is a novel approach in Serbia, where the parties are strictly hierarchical, and it will be crucial in establishing institutions that include professional, non-partisan figures.

Otpor's election list for the forthcoming parliamentary ballot contain prominent individuals known for their independent stance. They include Cedomir Cupic, professor of the faculty of political sciences, and member of the government's anti-corruption council; medical faculty professor Dr Jagoda Jorga; and a former judge on Serbia's supreme court Zoran Ivosevic.

The fall of Milosevic offered Serbian society a chance to turn its back on the rotten political scene that had developed over the previous decade. That chance was missed, but Otpor intends to continue the renewal process by offering voters the opportunity to make a real break with the past.

Ivan Marovic is a member of Otpor's executive board.

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