Gene Sharp and Serbia

An introductory essay by Metta Spencer, a report by Chris Miller, and a public address by Gene Sharp on the Albert Einstein Institution's involvement in the Serbian nonviolent revolution

By Metta Spencer, Chris Miller, and Gene Sharp | 2001-10-01 12:00:00

Introduction: Nonviolence versus a Dictatorship

by Metta Spencer

Democracy is important. Democratic states virtually never are involved in wars against other democratic states, and they also have vastly lower levels of "democide" - murder of the population by the regime - than do dictatorships. Furthermore, according to Amartya Sen, they have a greater capacity for economic development. For example, no famine has ever occurred in a democratic country; the government would simply have to solve the problem before the population began starving.

There are no "benign dictators." Few dictators even begin with the intention to protect human rights and freedoms, but those who do so inevitably make terrible mistakes and bring disaster on their people. This is true of big tyrants and minor ones alike - Hitler, Lenin, Stalin, Mao, Castro, Pinochet, Saddam Hussein, Ceausescu, Idi Amin, Ayatollah Khomenei ... the list goes on.

Yet the distinction between dictators and democratic leaders is not always clear in terms of their public support or their foreign policies. Thus dictators are usually adored by most of their countrymen (as were Hitler, Mao, and Stalin, for example) whereas democratic leaders may have as many critics as admirers (as Bill Clinton could especially attest). Nor do democratic leaders necessarily make wise decisions. (The deterioration of Canada's medical system, for instance, shows that voters may foolishly demand tax cuts even at the risk of their own health and longevity.) Indeed, as Winston Churchill pointed out, democracy is the worst system of government - except all the others.

Nowhere is the judgment of democratic leaders more questionable than in their frequently reckless attempts to induce dictators to adopt democracy. If the adoption of democracy is a fool-proof method of protecting a country from war against another democracy, it clearly offers little or no protection from warfare against a repressive state - and sometimes the democratic regime is the belligerent party. Thus the United States (which is as democratic as any other state) has a long record of military interventions. Sometimes these may be undertaken for the honorable goal of protecting victimized foreigners from dictators; sometimes there are interests at stake; and sometimes the motive may be a simple desire for revenge.

Yet occasionally, after making a whole series of foreign policy blunders, a Western democratic state will be driven, from sheer desperation, to try something that actually is wise and workable. This was the case recently when the NATO countries, having bombed Serbia to smithereens, adopted a sound nonviolent approach to the democratization of that nation. It was clear that the voters of Yugoslavia would hardly respond favorably to any American endorsement of the democratic opposition candidate Vojislav Kostinica in his electoral campaign against Slobodan Milosevic. (Indeed, Kostinica was strongly anti-American, largely in reaction to NATO's bombing of his country.) So the United States took no position in favor of any candidate or party, but did however, discreetly support the democratic opposition movement financially. The democrats nonviolently defeated Milosevic at the ballot box and, when his supporters tried to keep him in power, took to the streets and swept him out of office. Now he is in The Hague, awaiting trial for crimes against humanity and for genocide.

The process by which this change took place will be discussed in this editorial and in the following three articles, for it deserves to be recognized as a case study in the effective use of nonviolence for establishing democracy. Democratic states should have supported this nonviolent approach seven or eight years ago but - despite the demonstrations throughout Eastern Europe in 1989 - they blindly assumed that only force can overthrow a dictatorship.

The Rise Of A Dictator

Slobodan Milosevic certainly was not the only war criminal among the leadership of the former Yugoslavia. (The Tribunal in The Hague has indicted members of all the major nationalist groups that were responsible for that country's dismemberment.) And Milosevic did not come to power by means of force alone; there were multiple political parties in his country, though their independence was severely limited and the public had little access to a free and critical press. It must be acknowledged that Milosevic began, not as a full-fledged dictator, but as a nationalistic demagogue in conflict with other nationalists in the breakaway Yugoslav republics. In 1989 he addressed a million Serbs on the 600th anniversary of the Turkish defeat of the medieval Serbian kingdom, stirring up racist hatred. The following year, he was elected Serbia's president in the first free election since World War II. Not only did Serbian voters choose him as their leader, but they continued to support him throughout the wars that he brought about. To this day, most Serbians believe themselves and their army to have been the chief victims in the war, innocent of significant atrocities. As with any other dictator, Milosevic's power rested on the willing support (or at least acquiescence) of the populace. This, then, is the question: How can public backing for a dictator be changed in favor of democracy?

Long ago Milosevic's support had plummeted in the cities. Opposition members estimated that he enjoyed the true support of only 20% of the electorate; the others did not usually vote against him because they considered it impossible to get rid of him. However, NATO's bombing upset the population enough to sustain his power base. In 1997 he had stepped down as Serbian president after serving the maximum two terms, but he became president of Yugoslavia instead - transferring most of the powerful functions to that office, though Yugoslavia by then was only a rump state with two republics, Serbia and Montenegro.

In 2000, after the NATO bombings had ended and Milosevic had been indicted as a war criminal, there were new calls for an early general election. Milosevic set the date - September 24 - and without prior notice amended the federal constitution to reduce Montenegro's influence and to consolidate his power. He also began to shut down the few institutions that had served as a free press and to crack down on street protests and demonstrations. The democratic opposition expected him to rig the votes, but they set out to constrain his power to do so by planning to monitor the voting and galvanize the populace over irregularities.


Previously the opposition had been too divided to win even a fair election; the remarkable street demonstrations in 1996 had ultimately failed because of fights among the anti-Milosevic factions. In the election of September 24, however, there was a new force that galvanized the electorate: a grassroots youth movement named Otpor (which means "resistance"). And Otpor's nonviolent methods were based on the advice of the Boston-based peace researcher Gene Sharp and his organization, the Albert Einstein Institution.

Otpor had chosen a provocative symbol of defiance: a clenched fist, black-on-white or white-on-black. With extensive funding from the United States, Otpor grew into the mass underground movement whose members went out at night to spray paint fists and election slogans-Gotov Je (He's finished) and Vreme Je (It's time). They wore T-shirts that urgedPromene (Changes) - a notion that Milosevic's followers feared.

Otpor members generally maintained a playful approach in their demonstrations. For example, on Milosevic's birthday they baked a huge cake in the shape of Yugoslavia, sliced it up, and distributed it to passersby, saying that this is what the president had done to the country. They also displayed enormous personal bravery and avoided establishing any hierarchy, thereby keeping the regime from co-opting their leaders. It was precisely their willingness to go to jail and be beaten up by the police that backfired against Milosevic; people throughout the small towns of Serbia knew these young people personally, and knew that the regime was lying when it called them terrorists and used the police to assault them.

Otpor did not acknowledge Serbia's guilt for war crimes in Bosnia or Kosovo. However, their members hated being regarded globally as a pariah society. Their goal was to make Serbia into a "normal" country. To this end, they were ready to undergo arrests and not even to resist police violence - a courageous commitment that shamed the opposition parties into uniting.

While the US government kept quiet instead of endorsing a democratic candidate, it did offer financial assistance to Otpor through an independent organization that it funds, the National Endowment for Democracy. There were financial grants from other non-governmental organizations as well - notably the International Republican Institute and George Soros's foundation, the Open Society Fund. Especially crucial was a training program held in a Budapest hotel by a retired US colonel, Robert Helvey, on the methods developed by Gene Sharp. Helvey trained Otpor activists and created a manual of nonviolent resistance theory and techniques which was disseminated to 70,000 activists throughout Serbia. His strategy relied on undermining the regime's pillars of support - the police, the army, and the news media, as well as Milosevic's authority which depended on the widespread compliance with his orders. Once that authority is challenged, a dictator may hold the symbols of power but his actual power will be steadily undermined. Sharp has shown that dictators require the assistance of the people they rule - their skills and knowledge, their material resources, and especially their submission. Sharp's strategy brought down Milosevic.

Initially Milosevic claimed that Kostunica had not won the required 50% of the votes on September 24, so that a second round of voting would be held. However, the Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe criticized the first round of elections as being neither free nor fair. On October 5 hundreds of thousands took to the streets demanding that the dictator quit. Some people - those less committed to nonviolence - even occupied the parliament building and the central TV broadcasting studio. Finally admitting that Kostunica had won the election, Milosevic resigned, saying that he wanted to spend more time with his grandson. He was kept under house arrest in Belgrade for several weeks while charges were being prepared against him within Serbia. Not until June 29 was he turned over to the International War Crimes Tribunal in The Hague, where he is now in UN custody.

The Indictments

When brought to The Hague, Milosevic was facing only the charges for which the former prosecutor, Louise Arbour, had indicted him in May 1999: crimes against humanity in Kosovo. Arbour's successor, Carla Del Ponte, had spent the intervening three years preparing more extensive indictments for crimes committed in Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina, but these were not yet ready in June. The difficulty, as Arbour had noted, was in providing proof at the level required in a criminal case that Milosevic was actually in command of Serbian forces in Bosnia and Croatia. Oddly, Milosevic himself may have helped Del Ponte prepare the case against him when, in April, he asserted in Belgrade that he had not used secret funds to accumulate personal wealth but rather to arm Serbs in Croatia and Bosnia. If this was so, he was obviously controlling those armed forces.

When he arrived in the tribunal courtroom for his arraignment hearing on July 3, Milosevic stated that he did not "recognize the tribunal" and that he planned to put forward a "political defence." Louise Arbour had already indicated that when the UN Security Council set up the tribunal in May 1993, it did not ask for the approval or permission of Milosevic or any other Yugoslav leaders and, further, that the tribunal does not require the accused to "recognize" it, but to answer its accusations. However, Milosevic had indeed explicitly recognized the tribunal.

Declining to be represented by legal counsel, Milosevic was brought before a British judge, Richard May, and attempted to make a political speech,refusing to enter a plea because the tribunal "is illegal, being not appointed by the UNGeneral Assembly." (Judge May had indeed been appointed by the UN General Assembly.) After assuring Milosevic that he would eventually have a chance to make his defence, he shut off the accused man's microphone and adjourned the hearing.

For two months Milosevic received visits from his family, numerous lawyers, and the main board of his political party, the Socialist Party of Serbia. When he appeared again in court on August 30, he appeared rested and was given an opportunity to raise concerns regarding his case as well as his physical or mental condition. He continued to refuse any defence lawyer. However, the judges ordered the appointment of an amicus curiae ("friend of the court") - a lawyer who would make representations on his behalf and be able to challenge the prosecutor's case and evidence. Milosevic evidently will not cooperate with such a person.

During that hearing, Ms. Del Ponte announced that on October 1 she will amend the indictment to include crimes during armed conflicts in Croatia and Bosnia, including the crime of genocide. If the judges permit this, the prosecution will ask that the indictments be joined, so that Milosevic would be tried for all crimes alleged to have occurred in Croatia, Bosnia, and Kosovo. The trial may begin in mid-2002.

Milosevic was given a chance to raise concerns, and drew a 36-page paper from his pocket, demanding to be allowed to present it to the court. It was entered as a motion disputing the jurisdiction of the court, and was immediately distributed by the press officer to journalists after the session. This rambling document was evidently produced by the International Committee for the Defence of Slobodan Milosevic, led by the Canadian Christopher Black. It claimed that the UN Security Council, because of being dominated by the United States, lacked the authority to conduct a just tribunal. Milosevic had pencilled in some remarks of his own, including accusations against "globalization - New Colonialism."

Potential Benefits of the Trial

Even the political opponents of Milosevic in Yugoslavia have not generally paid serious attention to the responsibility of Serbians voters for the disastrous policies of the Milosevic regime. It is possible that no significant discussion of the country's collective guilt will ever be posed. Fortunately, however, holding this trial in The Hague will be particularly valuable, for in covering the case, the press will almost certainly force a public discussion to take place throughout Serbia. Denial will be less possible than at present. The whole process could take years.

The case also has enormous implications for the development of international law - especially for the future prospects of the fledgling International Criminal Court (ICC). The statute for this body was adopted in Rome on July 17, 1998 by a vote of 120 to 7. At least 37 of the required 60 ratifications have already been achieved, and probably the Court will become a reality next summer. The main obstacles are American, despite the mild support the US has given the Yugoslav and Rwandan Tribunals. During the negotiations for the statute, the United States demanded that its own service personnel be exempt from prosecution. This being impossible to justify rationally, the US next argued that tribunals should be held strictly on an ad hoc basis. President Clinton vacillated, signing the treaty during his last days in office, but without sending it forward for ratification. It is not clear what position the Bush administration will take. Bush wants to rescue his international reputation when addressing the General Assembly in September. Certain Republican senators would tie his hands with legislation rejecting all cooperation with the Court. However, the terrorism against the Pentagon and World Trade Center shows that the ICC would be an ideal instrument if empowered to prosecute terrorists f r crimes against humanity.

Source: War Crimes Tribunal Update.

The Albert Einstein Institution Visits Serbia

Gene Sharp provided the model by which Otpor managed to rid the country of Slobodan Milosevic. In May, Gene and Chris Miller, a staff member of the Albert Einstein institution, visited Serbia. This is Miller's report of that visit.

by Chris Miller

Gene Sharp and I visited Belgrade and several outlying towns from May 20-28. There were public meetings, a two-day seminar, and various private meetings. We quickly learned that Gene is well known in Serbia. Albert Einstein Institution (AEI) materials had reached the people through two sources. From Dictatorship to Democracy came indirectly into the hands of Civic Initiatives. The Politics of Nonviolent Action, analyzing especially the sources of political power, came directly through Robert Helvey, AEI consultant Unknown to us, Civic Initiatives had published a Serbian edition of Gene'sFrom Dictatorship to Democracy, as od Diktature do Demokratile,in early 1999. Civic Initiative's executive director, Miljenko Dereta told us about this publication. In October 1998, Marek Kazakievec, a Polish emigre associated with a peace movement in California, had visited Serbia and met with several NGO activists. He brought with him a photocopy of the English-language Burmese edition of From Dictatorship to Democracy and asked Mr. Dereta if Civic Initiatives would be interested in publishing a Serbian edition. The book impressed Mr. Dereta with its practical usefulness. However, the bombing threats in late 1998 and early 1999 halted publication explorations; proceeding might prove too perilous. After the bombing stopped, Civic Initiatives printed 4,500 copies and distributed them free of charge, retaining only about 40 internal and archival copies. Mr. Dereta described the interest expressed in the publication: "Every time people would see this book in someone else's hand, they would call us and ask for a copy. When there was an action, people would say `It's by the book.' "The book" was From Dictatorship to Democracy.

Public Meetings: "From Dictatorship to Democracy"

As we soon learned, Gene Sharp's name pervades a vast cross-section of Serbian society. Civic Initiatives suggested three public meetings where people would have the chance to hear Gene speak and to interact with him. The sites included Belgrade, Krusevac, and Pozarevac, the hometown of Milosevic and his wife. Their son Marko had ruled the town with an iron fist. Opposition activities had been legal, but citizens of the town dared not organize such events. Each meeting lasted about two hours, including a question/answer period. The public meetings were recorded on audio and video. Translation between English and Serbian was provided in parallel. Several common themes arose:

Clearly, the NATO bombings strengthened the Milosevic regime, pushing most people of Serbian towards passivity. It was impossible to conduct any activities, "normal or otherwise," during the bombings.

Several people said they could not understand how Milosevic was able to retain power so long. We were supported by the other speakers on this topic, who agreed that it was possible mostly because the people allowed it. Without the acceptance of the population, Milosevic, or any dictator, would be unable to retain control.

Some felt that with Milosevic removed, democracy would flourish in Yugoslavia. We emphasized that so many "ordinary people" played parts in Milosevic's downfall, demonstrating a pluralistic model of power. By taking an active role in society through independent institutions, people disperse power throughout society so that it cannot be concentrated in the hands of a few atop a pyramid. Such developments do not occur overnight and require active commitment from the general population. Yugoslavia has only started its long journey towards democracy.

Many people expressed concern about the new government and the future. Are reforms moving quickly enough? Are we moving in the right direction? How can danger signs be identified? To these questions, we deferred to the local speakers.

An additional recurring topic focused on reconciliation and Milosevic's fate. Again, such issues were best handled by local speakers.

Seminar: "From Dictatorship to Democracy"

Nine speakers, including Gene Sharp and I, participated in the two-day seminar, "From Dictatorship to Democracy," which was attended by about 40 representatives from NGOs throughout Serbia. We were troubled to learn of the obvious rift between Otpor and some of the "national" NGOs of Serbia, predominantly located in Belgrade. Otpor deliberately worked with "local" NGOs in Serbia during several campaign efforts, yet contact between Otpor and particular larger NGOs seemed limited. Doubtless such issues arose during the struggle to oust Milosevic, but apparently were not serious enough to endanger the successful outcome. The division extends beyond individual animosities. While differences in approach can be healthy, it was disheartening to see this division displayed with such confrontation in that milieu. As foreign visitors it was wise not to become entangled in the internal politics. The Albert Einstein Institution's visit generated much interest among the Yugoslav media. Gene's interviews were broadcast over radio and television, reaching over twenty towns in Serbia. Also, a report on the seminar in Belgrade was published in the prestigious magazine, Economist, on June 4, 2001.

Private Meetings

We met with Srdja Popovic, a founding member of Otpor (Resistance) and currently an MP in the Serbian Parliament. He was one of the architects of the strategy for Serbia's nonviolent struggle, using the power analysis from Gene's The Politics of Nonviolent Action. We learned a great deal about the nonviolent struggle from Otpor's perspective, including details of planning, specific campaigns, and methods. Regarding the future use of nonviolent action, Mr.Popovic's convictions have not strayed."We have the living proof in our hands to show that this is a good strategy and to encourage the nonviolent movements in dictatorial countries in which people want to change dictatorship to democracy." Since the ousting of Milosevic, several members of Otpor have met with members of the Belarusian group Zubr (Bison). In following developments in Belarus since early this year, It is clear that Zubr was developed or at least conceptualized, using Otpor as a model. Also, From Dictatorship to Democracy is available in English on the Zubr website Of course, success will not be achieved in Belarus or anywhere else, simply by mimicking the actions taken in Serbia. However the successful Serbian nonviolent struggle was highly influenced and aided by the availability of knowledge and information on strategic nonviolent struggle and both successful and unsuccessful past cases, which is transferable.


Otpor established two broad objectives: (1) convince the general population that they can remove Milosevic through the presidential election; (2) presidential electoral victory in September by the opposition, regardless of the specific candidate.

To meet these objectives, a conscious division between two broad interdependent campaigns was developed:

"He's Finished!" This was a negative, aggressive, and mostly covert campaign. Otpor's clenched fist symbol closely identified the campaign with the organization. Absolutely everything that was wrong in Yugoslavia was blamed on Milosevic;

"It's Time!" (Get-Out the Vote Campaign- GOV) This was a positive, colorful, and open campaign. Otpor did not want to be closely associated with this campaign, as it did not fit their image. They, therefore, strove to involve as many local NGOs throughout Serbia as possible. The two-track approach created confusion within the government, since the two seemed mutually supportive, although visibly unconnected.

They estimated that Milosevic would receive about 35% of the vote (1.4 million), and that he would steal at least 200,000 votes in Montenegro, Serbia, and Kosovo respectively. Therefore, he should receive about 2 million votes. The GOV campaign aimed to attain 4.1 million votes for an opposition victory, targeting specifically the young voters.

Otpor focused on building their human resources, especially among youth. An Otpor training manual to "train future trainers" was developed, which contained excerpts from The Politics of Nonviolent Action, provided to Otpor by Robert Helvey during his workshop in Budapest for Serbs in early 2000. It may be applicable for other countries.

Many young people were not registered to vote and encountered difficulties in doing so. Also, many young people planned to vote counter to their parents. These obstacles, however, were balanced by a major advantage. Students and younger people had little to lose through sanctions and possessed a shorter memory of the atrocities of Yugoslav World War II history.

Otpor even assisted high school students in the small towns to organize demonstrations and marches, and Mr. Popovic recalled, "Then Milosevic took the bite and started to arrest kids of 15, 16, 17. That was a huge mistake."

Otpor at that time had already been labeled a terrorist group by the government. Yet when kids were arrested in these small towns, where everybody knows everybody, people knew their neighbors' children were not terrorists. Mr. Popovic distinctly remembered this point from Robert Helvey's workshop. Otpor thus wanted as many arrests as possible. People were encouraged to act nonviolently, and then the police jailed or beat them. As frustration mounted, people were encouraged to vote in the presidential election.

Otpor had been planning for the upcoming election, and 45 days before voting day they were ready. At that time other national NGOs formed coordinating bodies to plan for the election. The NGOs were then informed about Otpor's existing plans, and Otpor said these plans would be implemented whether the NGOs approved or not. However, Otpor did not want to take credit or the lead in the campaign. Otpor did not even want any reports or funds to flow through it, for fear of centralization, which could have led to blockages by single individuals or groups.

Robert Helvey provided Otpor with a copy of The Politics of Nonviolent Action during his workshop and Mr. Popovic explained:

The Politics of Nonviolent Action ... was copied in limited pieces into a brief translation of about 30 pages of material for a training program; 70% of that material was directly transcribed from the book and 30% was my own contribution.

Mr. Popovic equally lauded Robert Helvey's workshop. "His presentation was something that I had never seen in my life, and I have seen maybe 200 trainings and maybe performed 200 or 300. I am really experienced. But he is a miracle!"

A weekly training seminar was developed by the Otpor in June 2000 and continued until the election in September. The lessons Mr. Popovic learned during that workshop were obvious. For example, he explained one particular concept, "Do not focus on intentions, focus on capabilities":

You are losing time thinking about what he (Milosevic) intends to do. Think about what he could do ... He can use the police against you, he can arrest you, he can confiscate your materials, but stay one step ahead all the time. This is what he can do. So, make one after another of his capabilities senseless, stupid, vain, shocking.

Mr. Popovic also described the crucial roles played by Albert Cevallos (previously at USAID and currently at USIP), Daniel Serwer (USIP), Daniel Calingaert (IRI), and Jim Danton (previously at Freedom House). He called them "pioneers" for urging support for the Otpor nonviolent movement within the US administration.

Mr. Popovic also recounted the effects of the NATO bombing and impossibility of organizing activities during that period. "The bombing was just strengthening Milosevic. It gave him a chance to survive a little bit longer."

The Politics of Nonviolent Action ... was copied in limited pieces into a brief translation of about 30 pages of material for a training program; 70% of that material was directly transcribed from the book and 30% was my own contribution.

Mr. Popovic equally lauded Robert Helvey's workshop. "His presentation was something that I had never seen in my life, and I have seen maybe 200 trainings and maybe performed 200 or 300. I am really experienced. But he is a miracle!"

A weekly training seminar was developed by the Otpor in June 2000 and continued until the election in September. The lessons Mr. Popovic learned during that workshop were obvious. For example, he explained one particular concept, "Do not focus on intentions, focus on capabilities":

You are losing time thinking about what he (Milosevic) intends to do. Think about what he could do ... He can use the police against you, he can arrest you, he can confiscate your materials, but stay one step ahead all the time. This is what he can do. So, make one after another of his capabilities senseless, stupid, vain, shocking.

Mr. Popovic also described the crucial roles played by Albert Cevallos (previously at USAID and currently at USIP), Daniel Serwer (USIP), Daniel Calingaert (IRI), and Jim Danton (previously at Freedom House). He called them "pioneers" for urging support for the Otpor nonviolent movement within the US administration.

Mr. Popovic also recounted the effects of the NATO bombing and impossibility of organizing activities during that period. "The bombing was just strengthening Milosevic. It gave him a chance to survive a little bit longer."

Serbia's Struggle for Freedom

A speech by Gene Sharp

Congratulations! You, Serbians, have demonstrated that brave people can undermine an oppressive regime more effectively than can powerful foreign governments with all their military might. It is an honor to be among you.

Your success needs full recognition in the history of your own country. You deserve the credit, not some other internal or external forces. Unfortunately, following successful improvised nonviolent struggles of the past, the significance of one's people struggle has often been minimized or even forgotten. I urge you not to let that happen about your people's victory.

In the events of 2000 here in Serbia, and especially in early October, the major force operating in the actual struggle was provided by "nonviolent struggle." This is a general technique with its own means of operation and requirements for effectiveness. The choice of nonviolent weapons can increase the chances of success. At the same time, this choice greatly reduces the loss of life, and tends to diffuse power throughout the society. It can contribute to democratic control over future would-be oppressors. In contrast, violent struggle is often counter-productive in such conflicts, resulting in much greater loss of lives and increased capacity for authoritarian control.

Your struggle and its success also are of world significance for several rea-sons.You waged a struggle without use of violence even though Serbia has experienced a great deal of violence in the past. That means that it is possible for countries with a significant history of violence to shift rapidly to use nonviolent struggle with considerable power, without some other prior transformation. Your resistance in the final months undermined the sources of the Milosovic regime's power. This differs from relying solely on moral suasion or violence, which was the regime's chosen means of fighting. The authority of the regime was a primary target. You decided that the regime no longer had the moral right to rule.

All kinds of action followed naturally from that. For example, people working inside the government passed important information to the democratic opposition. Religious leaders did not lend moral support to the regime. Individuals whose talents could have made them useful to the regime instead turned to help the democrati forces.

People throughout Serbia, from villages, towns, and cities, played roles in determining the future of their country. In some important economic activities, such as mines, the workers went on strike. So-called "ordinary people" did extraordinary acts, such as blocking repression of strikers, mobilizing massive demonstrations, and driving in the stunning motorcades to Belgrade to make sure the change happened. Policemen recognized their responsibility to the people and country as a whole and often refrained from repressing democratic demonstrations. Military men, also, often recognized their duty was to Serbia and its future, not to a handful of people who claimed to be rightful rulers. All these people deserve credit for their courage.

So the sources of power of the regime were weakened. The regime did the only thing it could do. It collapsed. This is a profound lesson for the whole world where people often live under oppression. Your struggle is also of world significance for another reason. Past nonviolent struggles have usually been improvised or poorly planned. However, some careful thinking occurred in this case. Such strategic calculations make possible a greater chance of success.

A history of nonviolent struggle

From the late eighteenth century through the twentieth century, the technique of nonviolent action was widely used in highly diverse conflicts: colonial rebellions, international political and economic conflicts, religious conflicts, and anti-slavery resistance. This technique has been aimed to secure workers right to organize, women's rights, universal manhood suffrage, and woman suffrage. This type of struggle has been used to gain national independence, bring about economic gains, resist genocide, undermine dictatorships, gain civil rights, end segregation, and resist foreign occupations and coups d'etat.

Cases of the use of this technique early in the twentieth century included major elements of the Russian 1905 Revol-ution. Finland used these methods to resist Russification and Russian rule 1898-1905. In various countries the growing trade unions widely used the strike and the economic boycott, especially in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Chinese boycotts of Japanese products occurred in 1908, 1915, and 1919. Germans used nonviolent action against the Kapp Putsch 1920 and against the French and Belgian occupation of the Ruhr in 1923. In the 1920s and 1930s, Indian nationalists used nonviolent action in their struggles against British rule, under the leadership of Mohandas K. Gandhi.

From 1940 to 1945 in various European countries, especially Norway, Denmark, the Netherlands, and Bulgaria, people used nonviolent struggle to resist Nazi occupation. Nonviolent action was used to save Jews from the Holocaust in Berlin, Bulgaria, Denmark, and elsewhere. The military dictators of El Salvador and Guatemala were ousted in brief nonviolent struggles in the spring of 1944. The American civil rights nonviolent struggles against racial segregation, especially in the 1950s and 1960s, changed laws and abolished long-established practices in the US South.

In 1968 and 1969, following the Warsaw Pact invasion, Czechs and Slovaks held off full Soviet control for eight months with improvised nonviolent resistance and refusal of collaboration. From 1953 to 1990 dissidents in Communist-ruled countries in Eastern Europe, especially in East Germany, Poland, Hungary, and in the three Baltic countries, repeatedly used nonviolent struggles for increased freedom. The sophisticated and extremely important Solidarity struggle in Poland began in 1980 with strikes in support of the demand for a legal free trade union, and concluded in 1989 with the end of the Communist system. Nonviolent protests and mass resistance were highly important in undermining the Apartheid policies and European domination in South Africa, especially between 1950 and 1990. The Marcos dictatorship in the Philippines was destroyed by a nonviolent uprising in 1986.

In 1988 Burmese democrats protested the military dictatorship with marches and defiance, brought down three governments, and finally succumbed to a new military coup d'etat and mass slaughter. In 1989 Chinese students and others in over a hundred cities, according to some accounts over three hundred, including in Tiananmen Square, Beijing, conducted symbolic protests against government corruption and oppression, but the protests finally collapsed following massive killings by the military. In 1991 nonviolent struggle brought about the end of Communist dictatorships in Czechoslovakia, East Germany, and the Baltics. The attempted "hard-line" coup d'etat in Moscow in August 1991 was defeated by noncooperation and defiance. Starting in November 1996 you Serbs conducted daily parades and protests against the autocratic governance of President Milosovic and secured correction of electoral fraud in mid-January 1997. Serb democrats, however, at that point lacked a strategy to bring down the Milosovic dictatorship. In Kosovo the Albanian population between 1990 and 1999 conducted a noncooperation campaign against Serbian rule, along with building alternative institutions. However, when the de facto Kosovo government lacked a vigorous nonviolent struggle strategy for gaining recognized independence, a guerrilla Kosovo Liberation Army initiated violence. This was followed by extreme Serbian repression, forced deportations, and massive slaughters of so-called "ethnic cleansing," which led to NATO bombing and intervention. The power of political defiance was again demonstrated in October 2000 by you Serbs. You removed Milosovic from power. This was something that the United States and NATO had been unable to do with 78 days of bombings which produced massive destruction and loss of life and reportedly cost the US alone five billion dollars. It cost many Serbs much suffering and loss of life.

Targeting the opponents' sources of power

Even dictators require the assistance of the people they rule, without which they cannot secure and maintain the sources of political power they require.

Sources of political power include:

All these sources, however, depend on acceptance of the regime and on the obedience of the population. Noncooperation and defiance can remove the obedience and cooperation that are needed to supply the necessary sources of power. For example, rejection of the rulers' authority reduces a crucial reason for obedience. Extensive popular disobedience and defiance create immense enforcement problems. Massive strikes can paralyze the economy. Widespread administrative noncooperation of the bureaucracy can slow or halt governmental operations. Mutinies of the opponents' police and troops can dissolve the opponents' capacity to repress resisters and to maintain their regime. By use of this type of struggle the oppressed people become empowered.

We are at a new stage in the history of nonviolent struggle. It is now possible to learn how to make this type of struggle more effective in the future than it has been in past improvised applications. This technique can be developed to meet new circumstances to ward off new dangers, and to wage new conflicts. It is possible to learn how to reduce casualties, to develop and communicate the technique's strategic principles, and to adapt it to meet the needs of future acute conflicts. Practical strategic plans need to be developed for particular conflicts.

A challenge to Serbia

Gene Sharp is Senior Scholar at the Albert Einstein Institute in Boston.

Peace Magazine Oct-Dec 2001

Peace Magazine Oct-Dec 2001, page 14. Some rights reserved.

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