The Turning Point

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).

The moment of truth arrived on October 4, when a quarter-million Serbs rallied to support striking miners at the pit at Tamnava, and on October 5 when the police pulled out of the Kolubara mine complex where workers had been striking. And it happened when Velimir Ilic led a convoy of bulldozers, along with thousands of cars, trucks, and buses from all over Serbia carrying 200,000 people into Belgrade — as the police and army largely stood aside. It was a provincial uprising and when protestors arrived at the seat of official power, the people's refusal to stand down until Milosevic was gone became obvious to the world. But no one fired a shot: "We had the nation trained not to attack the police, nor to use violence, to be organized," said Srdja Popovic. "As Gandhi said... you must train the nonviolent army for so long that the battle becomes unnecessary."

On the morning of October 5, 2000, convoys from all across Serbia converge on Belgrade.

Police stand aside as the crowd storms the Federal Parliament building on October 5, 2000.

Unfortunately the smoke that billowed out from the parliament and state television buildings when rooms were set afire encouraged CNN and other networks to use seemingly violent images as the visual emblems of their coverage, even though only two people were killed in unrelated incidents in Serbia that day. As usual, the world media focused on the final frenzy, not the patient movement that really produced change. The revolution was "imprinted to the end with Otpor's nonviolent ethos," according to Roger Cohen of The New York Times. When he had been arrested back in December 1998, Popovic remembered a line from Jorge Luis Borges: "Violence is the last sanctuary of the weak." Ultimately, he knew, repression would fail and a different, more powerful force would prevail.

In just days after October 5, Kostunica was installed as president, and on April 1, 2001, Slobodan Milosevic — whom the West had first appeased and then mercilessly bombed, without either stopping his destructiveness or dislodging him from power — was arrested by Serb police for his crimes while in office. He and his regime were "preachers of death," said Srdja Popovic. "You know, their language smelled like death. And we won because we loved life more" — and converted that belief into power, at the polling booths, on the police lines, and on the streets of Europe's last, now-vanished dictatorship.