Cast of Characters
The story of the overthrow of Slobodan Milosevic is richly populated with scoundrels and heroes, who displayed outsized egos and selfless dedication. On the one hand it is very much a story of individuals, but from another perspective it represents the latest chapter in a long-overlooked political saga, the triumph of nonviolent conflict over tyranny. The ousting of Milosevic was spearheaded by a group of student revolutionaries who labeled themselves Otpor, the Serbian word for “resistance.” These are some of the people who figure prominently in BRINGING DOWN A DICTATOR, the one-hour documentary film written, produced, and directed by Steve York. Peter Ackerman is executive producer. Martin Sheen narrates.
Srdja Popovic: A native of Belgrade, Popovic was raised in a political environment with both parents working in the media. His father was a prominent television reporter and his mother a popular news anchor on state television. A founding member of Otpor, Popovic’s main responsibility was human resources and training Otpor activists in nonviolent action. In a sarcastic reference to Yugoslavia’s communist past, Popovic was sometimes called Otpor’s ideological commissar, an appropriate label as he studied and translated the literature of nonviolent strategy, including books by the American scholar Gene Sharp. Popovic worked as a behind the scenes strategist, drafting speeches and writing training manuals. He was elected to the Parliament of the Serb Republic in late 2000 where he also served as environmental affairs advisor to the Serbian Prime Minister, Zoran Djindjic until Djindjic’s assassination in March 2003. He left the Parliament in late 2003 and co-founded the Center for Applied Non-Violent Actions and Strategies (CANVAS), a group that supports nonviolent democratic movements through the transfer of knowledge on strategies and tactics of nonviolent struggle.
Ivan Marovic: A founder of Otpor, Marovic was one of the most public of the organization’s members, speaking often at rallies and marches. In May of 2000, Marovic led a march to Central Prison and used a bullhorn to demand information on the welfare of protestors arrested following Information Minister Goran Matic’s denunciation of Otpor members as terrorists. As Otpor’s representative in the Democratic Opposition of Serbia (DOS), Marovic took part in planning and preparations for elections and protests that took place after Milosevic attempted to falsify ballots.
After the successful democratic transition in Serbia, Marovic began consulting with various pro-democracy groups worldwide and became one of the leading trainers in the field of strategic nonviolent conflict. He lives in Belgrade where he heads The Center for Nonviolent Resistance, which he founded.
In 2004 Marovic was tapped by the filmmakers at York Zimmerman Inc. to bring his skills as a strategist and his passion for video games to the design phase of A Force More Powerful – the Game of Nonviolent Strategy, a computer game that was released to the public in March 2006.
Slobodan Milosevic: A Communist apparatchik who assumed the mantle of Serbian patriotism following the breakup of the Soviet Union, Milosevic possessed first and foremost a steely resolve to further his own power. Wars, ethnic cleansing, corruption, and economic breakdown marked his years of rule.
The son of a family straight out of Greek tragedy – both parents committed suicide – Milosevic met his wife and most influential partner, Mirjana Markovic, when they were teenagers. Together they plotted the political maneuvering that led to Milosevic’s assumption of the presidency of the Communist Party in 1987, and together they abandoned Marshall Josip Tito’s vision of a united Yugoslavia to embrace the cause of Serbian nationalism. In his attempt to create a single Yugoslavian state, Tito had sought to weaken Serbia by dividing the country into two non-contiguous provinces, with an ethnic Albanian majority in each. Many Serbians actually lived outside these “Serbian” provinces. Milosevic took advantage of Serbian resentment against the ethnic Albanian majority to launch himself into power as the creator of a Greater Serbia.
In 1989 he rode this wave into the presidency of Serbia. His first target was the ethnic Albanian population in the southern province of Kosovo, the majority of whom are Muslim. In 1991, Croatia and Slovenia seceded from Serbian-dominated Yugoslavia, and Bosnia-Herzegovina followed suit. Bosnian Serbs rebelled, claiming that the Bosnian government aimed to create a fundamentalist Muslim state. Their extraordinary brutality and extensive ethnic cleansing distinguished the struggles that followed. Ultimately, in the name of Serbian nationalism, Milosevic launched four Balkan wars, causing more than 250,000 deaths in concentration camps, in sanctioned civilian atrocities – often neighbor against neighbor – and on the battlefield.
That he remained in power was due in part to the actions of Western nations, who chose to deal with Yugoslavian unrest through diplomatic means rather than through intervention. Treaties, such as the 1995 Dayton Conference, were the objective, so Milosevic’s signature became essential. By failing to support Milosevic’s opposition, the West probably helped to keep him in power.
But the people Milosevic governed were growing weary of war and a disastrous economy, and his party lost the elections of 1996. Instead of accepting the results, Milosevic annulled the election, sparking an unprecedented three months of street protests. Ultimately, those protests forced him to yield Parliamentary seats to elected opposition representatives. In the following year, constitutionally barred from another term as the Serbian president, he was elected president of Yugoslavia. In 2000 he seriously underestimated the depth of public antagonism toward his regime and called for early elections. On September 24 of that year, despite his attempts to manipulate the vote, the clear winner was opposition leader Vojislav Kostunica. Milosevic finally acknowledged defeat on October 6, and was arrested by Serbian police on April 1, 2001. He was extradited to The Hague on June 28 of that year, where he was to stand trial on charges of war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide.
Despite four long years of testimony and delays, no verdict was ever reached by the International Court of Justice. Weeks shy of closing arguments, Slobodan Milosevic was found in his cell, dead of a heart attack.
Goran Matic: Milosevic’s State Information Minister, whose May 2000 attack on Otpor branded them as terrorists and fascists, was outwitted and outflanked when Otpor members all over the country paid visits to police stations to drop off membership lists. If it accomplished anything, Matic’s attack demonstrated once and for all that the traditional weapons of despotism were largely ineffective against a truly popular and highly organized nonviolent opposition. Matic left politics with Milosevic and currently lives in Belgrade.
The Political Opposition
Vojislav Kostunica: When an October 1999 poll identified Kostunica as having the lowest negative ratings of any opposition politician, the soft-spoken academic and constitutional lawyer became the presidential candidate of the Democratic Opposition of Serbia, (DOS), a coalition of 18 parties. In contrast to other politicians, he has always dressed modestly, lived simply, and drove a battered Yugo instead of a BMW. His personal integrity and moderate nationalism made him acceptable both to the liberal elite and ordinary citizens. A former ally of Zoran Djindjic, Kostunica split off to form his own small party in 1992, and was content to be a minor player in Serbian politics, with a few seats in parliament. Born in central Serbia in 1944, Kostunica is the son of a prominent Supreme Court judge who was dismissed by the communists who took power after World War II. When the Milosevic regime refused to recognize his presidential victory in September 2000 and demanded a runoff election, Kostunica dismissed suggestions (including some from Washington) that he participate in a second round of voting, and called for civil disobedience, which culminated in the drama of October 5. Kostunica was sworn in as president of Yugoslavia on October 6, 2000. He currently serves as prime minister of Serbia.
Zoran Djindjic: Co-founder (with Vojislav Kostunica) of the Democratic Party in 1990, Djindjic defined himself as a modern, pro-Western leader. Supported by a well-educated, business-oriented constituency, Djindjic was also described as “young, slick and power hungry” – an opportunist too ready to compromise. Named by Time magazine as a leader whose ideas were needed to bring Europe into the 21st century, Djindic had a Ph.D. in philosophy from a West German university, where he spent ten years studying, teaching, and running a business. During the 1990’s, his party was known for its internal rivalries and divisions, and his own reputation suffered when he sat out the 1999 NATO bombing campaign at a seaside resort in Montenegro. When 18 parties agreed to unify behind a single presidential candidate in elections set for September 2000, Djindjic put aside his own political ambitions to manage the campaign, in which Vojislav Kostunica defeated Milosevic. Djindic’s efforts were rewarded when he became prime minister of Serbia three months later. He was assassinated on March 12, 2003 by a gunman with ties to the Serbia Secret Police.
Mladjan Dinkic: Dinkic is an academic economist who co-founded G17, an informal group created to promote free market economic reforms in Yugoslavia. Eventually the group transmuted into G17+ and became an economic and political think tank for DOS, the political coalition that unseated Milosevic on a platform authored largely by the members of G17+. After October 5, Dinkic became the governor of the National Bank of Yugoslavia. He left the bank in 2003 and became vice-president of the G17+ political party. He also currently serves as Minister of Finance.
Velimir Ilic: As the mayor of Cacak, a city of 100,000 noted for its passionate resistance to Milosevic, Ilic was a highly placed and highly visible opposition politician. His actions on October 5, leading protestors into Belgrade in a miles-long convoy that included several bulldozers, gave the nickname “The Bulldozer Revolution” to the unseating of Milosevic. After the revolution, Ilic joined the Parliament of Serbia and Montenegro as a deputy, and is currently serving as the Minister of Capital Investment.