|English | Español||January 20, 2017 | Issue #67|
Laughing in the Face of Repression
Serbian Revolutionary Ivan Marovic Shares His Experience with School of Authentic Journalism
By Henry Taksier
Ivan Marovic at the School of Authentic Journalism. DR 2011 Noah Friedman-Rudovsky.
“Milosevic stole elections when I was at the university, and as students began organizing a protest, I got pulled in,” Marovic said. For four months, he and other students held demonstrations in Belgrade, Serbia. They protested every day, even in winter, and occupied the university. Their efforts left them exhausted, with no tangible results. “We were so depressed, disappointed and just empty. And as we protested at the university, 200 meters down the street, life went on normally.”
Two years after the protests collapsed, Marovic and ten of his friends formed an underground network called “Otpor!” (English: Resistance), symbolized by a raised fist. In two more years, the membership of Otpor grew from eleven people to 100,000. On Oct. 5, 2000, one million people showed up in Belgrade and occupied the federal Parliament, television station, post office, and airport flight control tower. At 5 p.m. that day, the revolution was complete.
“That day was easy,” Marovic said. “But the previous two years – how we went from 10 to 100 thousand – this is what I’m going to talk about.” The audience, many of whom had been involved in or reported on nonviolent movements themselves, listened eagerly as Marovic revealed the tricks of his trade.
“Ten people in the street is not news,” Marovic said. “But ten people doing something crazy is news.” He went on to explain how Otpor used an array of untraditional tactics, including street theatre, art, satire and humor, in addition to civil disobedience and national strikes.
Soon after Otpor formed, its members placed a barrel on the street in Belgrade. Milosevic’s picture was on the barrel with the words, “Collecting money for Milosevic’s retirement. Please insert a coin.” There was a baseball bat next to the barrel, which said, “If because of Milosevic’s economic policies you don’t have a coin, please bang the barrel.” After about 15 minutes, 100 people were banging the barrel and laughing. The crowd escalated until the police showed up, shoved the barrel in their car, and took it away.
“So here’s the dilemma action for the police,” Marovic said. “If they don’t touch the barrel, more people are coming and banging it and having a great time. If they take it away, they look silly.”
Marovic fondly recalled other dilemma actions Otpor designed, including one that forced the police to arrest a turkey. Otpor’s rapidly growing number of members constantly created absurd, Monty-Pythonesque situations on the street, all of which were engineered to make Milosevic and his cronies look ridiculous. The police wanted to preserve some level of honor in their profession, and they were getting exhausted.
Otpor’s use of humor is a common technique for throwing oppressive regimes off balance. Marovic said humor was especially important because humor lowers fear, and “fear, together with apathy, is the biggest enemy of social movements and the biggest ally of the regime.”
Another faculty member, Noha Atef, a journalist and human rights advocate from Egypt, supported Marovic’s emphasis on humor.
“People were doing stand-up comedy and street theatre in Tahrir square,” said Atef. “I could show you videos and you would think this was a party, or that it happened after Mubarak stepped down. The typical image of a protest is people raising their fists in anger and marching. I believe nontraditional tactics are more effective.”
- The Fund for Authentic Journalism