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Strike!

This narrative is adapted from excerpts of "The New World of Power" in A Force More Powerful: A Century of Nonviolent Conflict, by Peter Ackerman and Jack DuVall (Palgrave, 2001).

When the results were counted, it was apparent that Kostunica had won — by a clear plurality if not an outright majority. Two days later, Milosevic conceded he had run second but held out for a run-off — and crowds poured into the streets of Belgrade, waving baby rattles to ridicule Milosevic for not conceding. The opposition claimed an outright victory in the September 24 vote; to have entered a run-off, Kostunica later said, would have been to "accept something that was falsification and a lie," echoing Vaclev Havel's conviction that liberation demanded an end to "living in the lie."

Poll watchers transmitted ballot counts to a tabulation center in Belgrade via e-mail, allowing vote fraud to be detected almost immediately.

17,000 striking workers at Kalubara mine—which provides coal for 70% of Serbia's electrical power— provide an unexpected boost to the protests following the September 24 election.

A general strike was called for October 2, and citizens blocked bridges and roads, high school students boycotted classes, and 7,500 miners joined the strike, along with textile workers. The opposition was opting for nationwide civil disobedience, to seal its victory and obstruct a run-off. What followed were daily rallies and traffic blockades in 50 cities, and "the police were very, very confused," remembered Djindjic. But it was more than confusion. "We had secret talks with the army and police," said Zoran Zivkovic, the mayor of Nis and an Otpor ally. " And the deal was that they would not disobey [their orders], but neither would they execute... So they said yes when Milosevic asked for action — and they did nothing."

The steady drumbeat of Otpor, the hopeful verve of the opposition's presidential campaign, and the exhausting, poisonous work of "confrontations with people, beatings, cordons" that the police were ordered to undertake had weakened the last stanchion of the regime. "One of the top people in the police," recalled Velimir Ilic, "told me... please defeat Milosevic already, even I feel sick of him." For months Ilic, the mayor of Cacak and an opposition leader, had slowly made lists of key people in the army and police, and went to talk to them, to determine who might fail to back the regime when the moment of truth came.