An education in nonviolence

By James Keller

Most people aren’t aware of the revolution in Yugoslavia during President Slobodan Milosevic’s final days. To most, “revolution” means the opposite of non-violence and peaceful protest.

The film Bringing Down a Dictator chronicles the two year effort of Otpor!, a group of Serb students who helped organize, motivate and eventually bring a country to action. Filmmaker Steve York says the film’s Canadian premiere as part of the G8 Summit in Calgary was very appropriate, considering the summit’s focus on power and potential dissent.

“The perception was that there was going to be a protest here and it would be non-violent,” says York. “The leaders of the eight most industrialized countries in the world are here. It’s very much about power.”

Narrated by Martin Sheen, the film tells the story of the opposition both through groups like Otpor! and political parties that eventually presented the president with an electoral race. He says the movements’ success extended far beyond an organized few and relied heavily on the nation’s masses–who turned out in droves on the streets of Belgrade in September of 2000.

“The kind of power of the G8 is very different than in Yugoslavia,” he says. “But you have this people power. The same people power that brought down Milosevic exists in these other countries. People here can do the same thing.”

Organized by the International Center on Nonviolent Conflict and the University of Calgary, the movie premiere event stressed the power of nonviolent action. However, York admits this isn’t the solution to every political conflict.

“It’s a terrible mistake to overpromise on the power of nonviolent action,” he explains. “I don’t think any kind of sanctions could have brought down the Third Reich.”

Ultimately, York would like to see this film, soon to be broadcast nationwide on History Television, teach viewers the options available to them, even in countries like Canada and the United States where oppression and conflict are sometimes not as obvious or brutal.

“When people decide they don’t support their leaders, they do have to power to create change,” York says. “There are other methods which are as effective or more effective and I hope this film is a reminder of that.”

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