Firstly, in my peace and reconstruction class we watched thing incredible documentary. It is about an incredible student movement in Serbia that ultimately brought down Slobodan Milosevic, the brutal dictator of Serbia. I should say that I was pretty ignorant about the conflict in the former Yugoslavia. I know that there were allegations of ethnic cleansing and NATO bombs, but I really didn’t know much more than that.
This documentary is about an incredible group called Otpor! (which essentially means ‘Resistance’ in Serbian). This grassroots group was created and led by 18-20 year olds. The documentary that we watched in class highlights their to non-violent struggle to remove the ruling dictator (well, there was apparent “democracy” in Serbia, but it was well known that Milosevic brought votes and rigged elections). There were two things that were incredibly powerful about this documentary. First, this group was completely non-violent. They marched, mobilized, communicated, passed out flyers, protested, emailed, and organized. They were relentless in their quest for a free Serbia. They were committed- all in for their cause. While they accepted financial contributions, they refused to compromise their goals or their strategies. Secondly, this movement was almost entirely run by youth- young adults who demanded freedom and democracy. It was powerful watching the members of Otpor! talk about their love for their country and their desire for political freedom. Otpor! became such a big and powerful movement that they forced political change. Before the intense pressure from the group, the political opposition in Serbia was too fragmented to run and win against Milosevic. However, because of demands from groups like Otpor! the opposition parties overcame their personal quests for power and created a coalition determined to overthrow Milosevic and his cronies. Once the opposition was united, elections were called by Milosevic 10 months early, in hope that the opposition would be unprepared. The international community and groups like Otpor! monitored the election and counted votes from the provinces before the votes were sent to Belgrade- this was to ensure that Milosevic would not be able to claim that he’d won. Of course, the opposition won- but Milosevic refused to step down, saying that there was no decisive victory and that there would need to be a second round of elections. Thus began 10 days of protesting, led of course by Otpor! Each day the protests would get systematically larger. On the 10th day, hundreds of thousands of people from all over the country made their way into Belgrade to meet at the Parliament to protest. There is an incredible scene in the documentary where they filmed the highways on that day and every car is moving in the same direction. There were no cars leaving the city. I had goosebumps watching this. People, mobilized can be incredibly powerful.
I say all this about this documentary and this group today because I was inspired. Really inspired. Bombs and troops did not bring down the dictator- a group of students, who were willing to do anything but pick up weapons did. I am really interested in the non-violent movement and I found this story to be hopeful.
I had coffee with some friends of mine later and we were talking about all sorts of things. They just back from a trip to Ghana where they were helping run medical clinics, so it was really cool to hear the things that they had learned. I was telling them how in my last year of my undergrad, in my forth year international development, my classmates and myself were asked how we felt about the state of the world. When it was my turn to speak I think I said something along the lines of “I don’t think the world is going to get any better.” Basically, after four years of studying development, I thought the whole thing was hopeless. I have come to see now that I was very wrong.
I believe that God is making the whole world new. He’s all about restoration and new life. All he asks of us is to be a part of that. We are to be made new and we are to be agents of new creation. And as I sat in my forth year class, defeated, I had forgotten this. Only in hindsight can I see how blind I was. While I am by no means an idealist, cynicism is for the lazy. When I choose to look at the world through a cynical lens, I choose to do nothing. Cynicism can only be talked about- it never accomplishes anything. Watching this documentary and talking with my friends today reminded me of these things. It reminded me that we hope for a reason. We hope so that we will act. And we act so that the world will change. I genuinely do believe that another world is possible. Hearing stories like that of the students of Otpor! remind me of this. I am also reminded that the greatest stories are about those where the characters are willing to risk everything in order to accomplish their goals. For the Serbian students, they were willing to give their lives for their country to be free. Yet, they refused to use weapons. In these times it often seems like weapons are our main tools for change. Think of Iraq or Afghanistan…sometimes weapons don’t seem to be very effective. And if they are “effective” the human cost is often staggering.
Resistance movements like the one in Serbia give me so much hope that our generation has not lost our capacity for creativity and imagination. It reminds me that there is a lot to be hopeful about…and that the choices we make and the things we believe in DO matter.
Great friends, hope and inspiration. What a day.