In addition to the faculty and student reactions described in the above sections, two new organizations emerged in Belgrade in response to the law. Soon after the law was enacted, professors from several faculties (including both sciences and humanities specialists) formed the Alternative Academic Educational Network (AAEN). The stated intention of the group is to keep independent teaching and scholarship alive in Serbia. The organization does not have the authority to grant degrees but so far has been tolerated by the government and is planning five programs of study to start in January 1999. The AAEN mission statement, which sets forth the objectives of the new organization, and a letter of appeal from AAEN to the international academic community, released in December 1998, are attached to this report as appendices B and C, respectively.
In October, students from several faculties formed a new organization called Otpor (Resistance). Based on their experience in 1996-97, the students have insisted that the organization be strictly independent of ties to any political party, although its members include students active in established opposition parties. The Otpor symbol, a black fist against a white background, is now visible on fliers, stickers, and walls in many parts of Belgrade. The group has organized rallies at the University of Belgrade against the university law. On December 18, Otpor organized a march to Novi Sad. Some fifty members made the march to commemorate the second anniversary of a 1996 march by 150 Novi Sad students to Belgrade in support of the protests then centered there. Otpor organizers said that the 1998 march was held to draw attention to the fact that the crackdowns on the universities and the press were Serbia-wide problems.38
Otpor attracted the attention of government authorities soon after it was formed. On November 4, 1998, University of Belgrade students and Otpor members Nikola Vasiljevic (nineteen), Dragana Milinkovic (twenty-two), Marina Glisic (twenty-two), and Teodora Tabacki (twenty-two) were sentenced to ten days imprisonment. The students had been convicted of spray-painting the Otpor symbol on walls of buildings in downtown Belgrade and writing slogans against the new university and press laws. Comparable first-time offenders, such as football hooligans, routinely are fined, not imprisoned, for graffiti.
The close link between the crackdown on the media and the universities was demonstrated in November when the owner and editor-in-chief of the Devni Telegraf (Daily Telegraph), one of Belgrades leading dailies, was fined 1,200,000 dinars (about U.S.$110,000) for carrying the Otpor manifesto as a paid advertisement. Charges againstthe newspaper were brought by Bratislava Morina, a member of the Yugoslav Left. Morina claimed she had been offended by the advertisement which read in full: Resistance is the answer! There is no other way. It will be too late when someone close to you starves to death, when they start killing people on streets, when they turn off all the lights, and poison the last spring. It will be too late. This is not a system, This is a disease. Bite the system! Get Hold Of Yourself, Live The Resistance."
Violence against Students
Prior Human Rights Watch reports have documented government violence against political protesters and student activists.39 In separate incidents in December 1998, members of Otpor were beaten by police and attacked by unknown assailants believed to be acting at the request of Serbian authorities.
On December 14, 1998, at a campus ceremony commemorating the sixty-first anniversary of the Faculty of Economics, an event attended by high-ranking representatives of the ruling coalition parties including figures such as Vojislav Seselj and Ratko Markovic, Otpor students greeted the national anthem with protest whistles (a trademark of student protests in 1996-97) and then surreptitiously unfurled a flag carrying the Otpor symbol from the second floor of the faculty building. Although no one was caught, the following day police in Belgrade arrested twenty-five-year-old student and Otpor leader Srdja Popovic. In a press statement after his release, Popovic described his experience as follows:
I was arrested at Kolarceva Street by a group of policemen who jumped out of a jeep. The arrest was conducted in a rather spectacular manner, sort of like in American movies. During the arrest and search, I was not told why they were arresting me...
When we arrived at the police station in Majke Jevrosime Street, the policemen beat me. They were hitting my legs and my chest for about twenty minutes. The officer with badge number 101559 was the most eager to beat me. He also told me that he would like to be in Iraq, because he could put a bullet in my head and no one would care. They handcuffed me, we left the police station, got into the vehicles, and [I was transferred to another] police station at 29 November Street.
Three friends that came to ask about me were also arrested at this police station, and one of them was beaten up. At this station, they harassed me again. They made me take my clothes off and on several times. The officer with badge number 101559 told me that he would tear my head off if he ever saw me again.
Popovics attorney subsequently said that Popovic had been arrested by a special police unit and was then turned over to a regular unit. He also said that neither of the units could explain why he had been arrested, suggesting a political motive.40
The second incident occurred on the night of December 29, 1998. Boris Karajcic, a member of Otpor who had traveled to the United States and had testified before the U.S. Congress in November 1998, was returning to his apartment after a late night Otpor meeting when he was attacked by two unknown assailants. After being treated in a local hospital, Karajcic, a senior in the Department of German Language in the Faculty of Philology, described his experience as follows:
Just after a friend of mine drove me to my apartment building, I started walking toward the entrance. All of the sudden out from the dark, a bat "shined" while flying toward me and hit me so hard that I fell downon the ground. I was laying down for some 15 minutes and got some punches in the kidney area. When they started to run away, I noticed two silhouettes. [Before leaving,] the attackers told me to say hello to my friends in Otpor.4138 "Students on Protest March to Novi Sad, Beta Online, December 18, 1998.
39 Human Rights Watch/Helsinki, Discouraging Democracy: Elections and Human Rights in Serbia, A Human Rights Watch Short Report, vol. 9, no. 11(D), September 1997, pp. 6-15.
40 Press statement of Sinisa Nikolic, Belgrade, December 15, 1998.
41 Quoted in V. Popovic, Otpor Activist Beaten, Danas, December 31, 1998 - January 3, 1999.