by Branka Kaljevic
Belgrader Dragana Manojlovic, whose seventeen-year-old daughter Marta is an Otpor activist and was brutally beaten about two weeks ago in front of the Belgrade City Hall, in an open letter called on the parents to protect their children, and on the Police to "restrain storm troopers in its ranks". Thanks to Ljiljana Vranesevic, our other fellow Belgrader, who in the night when surgeons (already established nickname for pro-regime thugs in Belgrade because of their practice to hide behind surgical masks) beat up students of architecture was with the students, the public quickly found out about that incident.
Collocutors of Vreme are mothers whose children are either Otpor activists or have been in Police custody. This is their story about their lives, their fear for their children who are labeled by the authorities as criminals, hirelings, terrorists, or fascists and subjected to arrests by the Police; how do they bear silence of other parents regarding the repression against the youth, how do they see violence and the decision of their children to take their future in their own hands.
Trust in the Son: Brankica Ilic, until a few months ago a Ministry of Internal affairs [Police] clerk in Arilje, now suspended from work, is a mother of two sons. Elder son Branko is a second year student of philology in Belgrade and an experienced Otpor activist. The younger son attends elementary school in Arilje. "In early May they came to our place to arrest my son, a minor, because he had allegedly writen some graffiti. I did not allow them to take my child and brainwash a teenager there in their station. We knew about Branko's activism in Otpor from the very beginning. He is an adult and explained us a year and a half ago that he wanted better future and to study at a University whose diplomas would be recognized everywhere in the world. We understood and supported him. Today I am ashamed that our children have to do what our generation failed to do, to expose themselves to danger."
Last year, during the demonstrations at the Philology department, Branko was beaten up by some men in civilian clothing. He ended up with a brain concussion.
"That's when my fear began. I also had hope. Dean Marojevic was replaced... These are dangerous times in which no one feels safe. However, I have always supported my son. I couldn't help much, because of my job. Arilje is a small town and we all know each other here.
"I have had unpleasant experiences because of Branko. Parents follow their instincts. Most of them have the attitude that the children are in Belgrade to study and for nothing else. I trust my son and fully and increasingly support him.
"Otpor is not a violent organization and that is good. They fight in the right manner. They grew up at the worst time, during wars and poverty. I think that those children are smarter than us. I realized that they are absolutely right when the authorities started to brand them as terrorists. That is stupid and shameful. I don't even know what that is supposed to mean. Everyone in Arilje knows about us, about our family, and they know that we are not terrorists."
Brankica Ilic says that she does not care about politics, but only about living. "Our life is such that no one should be indifferent. We are not living. This is an imitation of life. I think that we must resist, peacefully and non-violently."
After a while she saw her son last week in Belgrade. "I would not wish that on anyone. We almost could not find him, and we only saw him for thirty minutes. He was wearing somebody else's T-shirt, he has nothing to wear. And they say he is a foreign hireling. What hireling?
"Those children are not doing that because of money. If only we had more money. Everything would be easier. If nothing else, I could go to Belgrade more frequently and see my son. Our family income is only 1,500 dinars [about $75 a month] and it is hard."
Brankica is convinced that she was suspended from work after 25 years because of her son's activities in Otpor. "I do not regret money, but the efforts invested into that job. After so many years, it is as if I did not exist. It is obvious that I was an example that is supposed to intimidate others." Brankica Ilic believes in her son and hopes for better future, for her children and grandchildren. "I don't care for those ugly stories about Otpor. I see Otpor through my son Branko. I trust him and believe that we should support those kids. That is what I do. Others may do as they like. Our life and life of our children is a huge misfortune. And it can knock on anyone's door."
Family in a Police Van: During last week's Police suppression of Otpor in Soko Banja, Radica Avramovic, a teacher and a member of Otpor, spontaneously climber in a Police van in front of her son Dragan, also an Otpor activist, and a few other young activists apprehended by the police; she was questioned in the van together with her son, future daughter in law, her sister and a few other persons.
"They are arresting them like criminals and terrorists and opening criminal records for them. My son is neither a criminal, nor a fascist, nor a terrorist. He has never hurt an ant, let alone killed someone. I also know the other kids the Police persecute; I was their teacher and educator and I can't indifferently watch what they are doing to them, their lack of future or chances to peacefully be engaged in their chosen professions. Therefore, I absolutely understand this attempt of the young to do something for themselves. The authorities are persecuting them because they think differently. Well, hopefully in 21st century everyone has the right to his own political opinion. We are not engaged in politics, that is not our profession.
"Parents have an additional obligation to protect their children from lies spread by the authorities. Those who do not do so tacitly agree with the claim that their children are criminals or terrorists."
The citizens of Soko Banja strongly reacted to the arrests of the their fellow citizens.
They gathered in significant numbers to demand their release. The following day a statement of the local SPS organization was read on the local radio station. The statement asserted that an illegal terrorist organization wrote graffiti and broke a window pane somewhere, and that because of that a group was taken into custody at the Police station. The Police did not feel obliged to inform anyone of anything.
Ms. Avramovic credits good local media for the intervention of the citizens. "There are free media in Soko Banja. Many locals also listen to programs of foreign radio stations in Serbian."
Her fellow citizens congratulated Ms. Avramovic for her spontaneous defiant gesture. "I was glad, but I view that differently. All of us should be with our children, and there is no better support than to gather if someone is arrested or taken into custody. It is impossible to arrest the whole nation. That is what I think."
Parents, Don't be Silent: Already mentioned Dragana Manojlovic, a Belgrader who has for more than four years been forced to be a housewife due to problems of her bankrupt employer, joined Otpor only a few days after her daughter Marta. Marta is these days recovering from a brutal Police beating. Her mother says for Vreme that our children will seriously be hurt if the parents do not wake up soon: "The authorities beat children, parents keep quiet; the authorities arrest children, parents again keep quiet; and the opposition only talks. Something concrete needs to be done. All of us are depressed, apart from the young. Let us turn towards them so that they can give us some of their energy. There must be a reason for these attacks on them. The authorities are afraid. They are afraid of their inexhaustible energy, their intellect, their actions and refusal to come to terms with this sort of life. What are we doing while our children are distributing fliers, and are being beaten? We are sitting at home and pretending that this is happening to someone else's children. With folded arms we are waiting for the anti-terrorist law, again hoping that only someone else's children will be prosecuted based on that law. I have met in Otpor girls whose parents do not even know that they are activists. They claim that their parents would not allow them to be activists, not because they support the authorities, but because they are afraid. And what is happening? They are forcing their children to lie."
Ljiljana Vranesevic, a movie producer and director and a mother of three children, says for herself that she is one of those parents who always and with all their power support their children, and that she is not one of those who advise their children to keep quiet. Still under strong impression of the cruelty against students of architecture from a week ago, she reminds that those students among other demanded that the personal security force of the Electrical Engineering Department Dean be removed. In return they were beaten.
"Our children are the last straw. Political beliefs are not at stake here. My personal life is endangered once someone bans my child from entering University buildings or beats him up. I will not give up my attempts to protect my children.
"It is illogical and immoral that parents even failed to show up at the University to protest the beating of their children.
"Many Belgraders do not even know what happened. People living in the provinces are better informed. In this country no one takes upon himself to inform the parents that their sons and daughters have been beaten. And children hide that from their parents. They do not want to scare their already intimidated parents even more. And not only that. They cannot take parental pressure any more, and beatings would only contribute to that pressure. We have been humiliated, minced and intimidated as people. We have become morally degraded. Parents are afraid for themselves and their children. If they could, they would lock up their children in drawers. And the youth simply won't accept that."
She mentions the fear of most teachers and professors who have also been smashed by poverty, "blackmailed by tiny little salaries with which they can hardly support their children."
She does not justify their behavior. She fears for the future of her own and other people's children. "If students, with assistance of their parents and others do not succeed to secure for themselves even a minimum of moral rights, they will end up as a failed generation.
"They are getting used to failure and then one cannot expect from them any successes in life: neither moral, nor humane nor professional. This regime has lost its compass. It is burying a generation of intellectuals. These are serious issues, even ignoring the likely emigration."
When all reactions of the authorities, opposition, parents, professors, colleagues are added up, the young are facing a long and difficult struggle. Our collocutor hopes for their success in destroying the "fear that we have accepted. The fear that has wiped away our moral credibility."