Summary of the Conflict Prevention Project and East European Studies meeting on the film Bringing Down a Dictator and discussion with Peter Ackerman, Executive Producer, Steve York, Writer, Director and Producer of Bringing Down a Dictator, Srdja Popovic, former leader, Otpor!
("Resistance") and member of the Serbian Parliament and Daniel Serwer, Director, Balkans Initiative, United States Institute of Peace.
Bringing Down a Dictator tells the story of Slobodan Milosevic's defeat in October 2000 - not by force of arms, as many had predicted, but by a nonviolent strategy of honest elections and massive civil disobedience. Using exclusive footage and conversations with the principal actors, the documentary shows how the youth movement Otpor, Serbian for Resistance, in partnership with pro-democracy and human rights groups, turned the people of Serbia against Milosevic. Narrated by Martin Sheen, Bringing Down a Dictator will be televised nationally on PBS on March 31st. The filmmakers also produced the Emmy nominated documentary film series and book on the history of nonviolent conflict in the 20th century entitled, A Force More Powerful.
The Serbian people were bound to defeat Slobodan Milosevic because they are lovers of life, said Srdja Popovic, a leader of Otpor, the Serbian resistance movement. Using tactics of non-violent action infused with humor and sarcasm, the student-led organization emerged from obscurity to become a powerful national movement with 25,000 activists and 120 chapters across the country. Otpor responded to Milosevic's call for early elections by organizing to get out the vote and monitor the polls. When Milosevic refused to concede the elections, Serbians demonstrated to Belgrade, blocked traffic and seized Parliament. On October 5, 2000, Milosevic was Gotov Je!" "He's finished!"
Serbia is at a crossroads, Popovic said, noting that while Milosevic is gone, the many of the bureaucratic structures remain. Elected to the Serbian parliament in late 2000, Popovic also serves as environmental affairs adviser to Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic. He and other Otpor members continue to work to reform Serbia either within the government, like Popovic, or with Otpor other non-governmental organizations or the media.
The United States openly supported Otpor and other organizations in favor of a more democratic regime, said Daniel Sewer, Director, Balkans Initiative, United States Institute of Peace. While many in the United States government were reluctant to support Otpor, doubting a movement premised on non-violent action, USIP was able to galvanize the support necessary to offer modest assistance to their efforts.
Peter Ackerman and Steve York suggested that non-violent strategies should be considered not as passive nouns or concepts, but rather active tactics that work. They noted that most regimes toppled violently are rarely replaced with democratic structures. The United States and other democratic governments should embrace non-violent strategies, they argued. For instance, Ackerman suggested that many "closed societies" have requested the literature of nonviolent strategy, including books of the American scholar Gene Sharp. Although many doubt that the Iraqi people might rise up against Saddam Hussein, it is not outside of the realm of the possible, Ackerman said. Compelling, yet peaceful, force of the masses toppled Milosevic and can work elsewhere.