On October 5th, 2000, the Serbian nonviolent revolutionary movement, Otpor!, succeeded in overthrowing the dictator Slobodan Milosevic in a dramatic show of people-power. Otpor is Serbian for “resistance”.

Otpor! began in 1998, launched by veterans of a previous student anti-Milosevic campaign that had failed. A group of a dozen or so students picked themselves up from the collapsed effort, re-strategized, and tried again – which should stand as an important lesson for anyone involved in making nonviolent change. Otpor! was conceived as a “leaderless” nonviolent movement with one main goal: to remove Milosevic from power. Secondary goals included free and fair elections, free university, and free and independent media.

Otpor! used a vigorous outreach and training methodology, actively recruiting each weekend using humorous street actions, and requiring every prospective member of Otpor! to attend a series of evening trainings. The final “training” involved participating in a weekend street action, which then recruited more new members. Using this approach, Otpor! grew from a handful of students to more than 80,000 active members in two years. Otpor also distributed a training manual in nonviolent struggle based on Gene Sharp’s The Politics of Nonviolent Action.

Humor played a crucial role in the movement. The Milosevic government actively repressed Otpor! through censorship, arrests, and violence. At one point, they illegalized the group altogether. Activists used humor to make the arrests and repression seem over-reactive and silly.  In one example, Otpor! activists painted Milosevic’s face on a barrel along with a note asking passersby to pay one Yugoslav dinar to hit the portrait. The activists stepped back and watched as people banged on the metal barrel and a large crowd assembled. Police eventually confiscated the barrel, which then the activists mocked in press releases, stating, “Police Arrest Barrel.”  Another time, Otpor! “celebrated” Milosevic’s birthday with a cake, and collected gifts for the dictator – including handcuffs, a one-way ticket to the Hague, and a prison uniform.

It wasn’t all humor, however. One sobering action took place on New Year’s eve in 2000, during a downtown party in Belgrade of over 3,000 people. Otpor! interrupted the celebration with photos of horrors that had happened under the Milosevic regime. They told their fellow Serbians there was nothing to celebrate and asked people to go home peacefully and think about how they would work to change the situation.

In June 2000, Milosevic passed a law that would allow him to run for another term as president.  Otpor! intensively campaigned in anticipation of the elections – which everyone knew Milosevic would try to steal. On Election Day, Milosevic had already printed his victory pamphlets when hundreds of thousands of outraged Serbians descended on the capitol building in nonviolent noncooperation, refusing to leave until he resigned. Students “stormed” the building and occupied. They dumped the victory pamphlets out a window. A “bulldozer” pushed over barricades erected by police. On October 6, the Russian Foreign Minister met with Milosevic and his challenger (Kostunica) in the presidential election. Under pressure from both international officials and domestic protest, the Constitutional court reversed their previous election ruling and certified Kostunica’s victory instead of Milosevic’s. That night, Milosevic resigned from office. Nonviolent people-power won the day and ended the rule of Serbia’s dictator.

Learn more: http://nvdatabase.swarthmore.edu/content/serbians-overthrow-milosevic-bulldozer-revolution-2000 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Otpor!https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Overthrow_of_Slobodan_Milo%C5%A1evi%C4%87

Photo Credit: Otpor logo, Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=20711581

This article is from Rivera Sun’s book of nonviolent histories that have made our world. Click here for more information.


Rivera Sun is a change-maker, a cultural creative, a protest novelist, and an advocate for nonviolence and social justice. She’s a love-based revolutionary and the author of The Dandelion Insurrection, The Way Between and ten other fiction, non-fiction and poetry books. Her essays and writings are syndicated by Peace Voice, and have appeared in over a hundred journals nationwide. Rivera Sun speaks and facilitates workshops in strategy for nonviolent change across the country and around the world. She connects the dots between the issues, shares solutionary ideas, and inspires people to step up to the challenge of being a part of the story of change in our times. www.riverasun.com