- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 19, 2002

Recent Balkan history came to life yesterday morning for students in the District's Wilson High School International Studies Program with the appearance of Srjda Popovic, 29, a leader of the student-led resistance movement that two years ago toppled the regime of former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic.
Using humor, ridicule and even rock 'n' roll in disciplined and novel ways, the movement known as Otpur "resistance" in Serbian began with a small group of college students in 1998 who were upset by the regime's brutality, corruption and failure to recognize the victory of opposition parties in 1996 municipal elections.
Mr. Popovic, the son of journalists and a biologist by training, serves in the Serbian Parliament. He wrote Otpur's training manuals, which were instrumental in maintaining an underground force that eventually grew to many thousands all over Yugoslavia. Dressed in blue jeans, leather jacket and yellow pullover, he spoke with humor and intensity while telling some 150 students and faculty members in the library what it was like to succeed using only nonviolent means.
"It succeeded because it was oriented toward the common people," he said, summing up Otpur's philosophy in the words of Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges that "violence is the last sanctuary of the weak."
Otpur's methods were something else.
"If you are a protest movement, you don't just get up Monday morning and march out in the streets," added television producer, writer and director Steve York, who is responsible for the upcoming PBS documentary "Bringing Down a Dictator," in which Mr. Popovic figures. (WETA-TV, the local presenting station, arranged the Wilson visit.)
"[Otpur activists] used all the kind of detailed planning similar to what is involved in the military."
Movement for real change "always starts in a cafe a small one," Mr. Popovic said. "What was important was we started with a small group and then became a very big group that appeared larger than the Milosevic government. We had 10,000 people in high schools people who were fighting and were arrested. They were teachers for their parents, who were afraid to act.
"If you want to defeat someone strong and powerful, you can use humor in lots of ways," he added. "Whatever [the Milosevic government] did, we tried to make fun of it." Otpur played such visual games as taking flowers to the police stations, parodying official government news channels on sympathetic media outlets its own bilingual Web site and the few independent stations not controlled by the government and presenting the Yugoslav president with a cake on his birthday.
One of Otpur's best speakers was a 17-year-old, he noted, "and nobody ever thought she was too young."
In semiserious fashion, Mr. Popovic, a fan of "The Lord of the Rings" triology ("I've read it 14 times."), said he was considering writing a book to mirror the popular "Dummies" series that would be called "How to Train a Nonviolent Army for Dummies."
The way to achieve power nonviolently, he said in response to a student's request for "five practical first steps" to start a nonviolent movement, is "first, call up a few friends and have coffee. Second, define every issue you want to address. Third, define your goal. Fourth, define your first step. Fifth, address the people. Recruit them; go around and convince people that they don't have to risk a lot, just do a little bit to help. Train them and put them into action. Nonviolent movements are made of volunteers. We had stronger armies than the biggest U.S. corporations 20,000 people working for free."
Student questions continued nonstop for nearly an hour on such topics as American foreign policy, the role of the media's influence in supporting Otpur's cause, and what Mr. Popovic thinks should be Mr. Milosevic's fate.
"I don't think about it; for me and for the youth movement, he is history," he answered. The questions, Mr. Popovic said afterward, "were more interesting than what I usually get from journalists."


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