- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 10, 2000

In Pyongyang and Rangoon, in Havana and Beijing, even in Tehran and Algiers, the people in power watched the pictures coming out of Belgrade with a horror grown weary by repetition. They have seen the scenes so often that what once seemed unimaginable has become routine: heavily armed, ruthlessly repressive regimes being overthrown by non-violent revolts. And they know that if it can happen to Slobodan Milosevic, it could happen to them too.

It will happen to them, sooner or later. By now, everybody with access to television knows how to overthrow a dictatorship and not get too badly hurt in the process. Timing is still critical, and the Cubans and Burmese and North Koreans may have to wait a while longer. The Serbs, after all, had to wait 11 long years. But in the end triumphant protesters will be proclaiming democracy from the balconies of official buildings in those countries, too.

In the real world, of course, nobody lives happily ever after. In Serbia's case, there's a great deal of clearing up to do before they can even start to live at all normally. What is to be done about Mr. Milosevic? What is to be done about the official archives which (if they didn't have time to shred them) must contain enough information to bring hundreds of Serbians and Bosnian Serbs before the international war crimes tribunal at The Hague?

And above all, what is to be done about Kosovo? Last year NATO fought a war to free the province from the savage repression and ethnic cleansing of the Milosevic regime, and most of the Albanian-speaking Muslims who are the overwhelming majority of Kosovo's 2 million people would rather fight than return to Serbian rule. But even NATO does not deny that Kosovo is legally part of Serbia.

But there's no cause to be downhearted about these complications, any more than we should be discouraged because Indonesia is still struggling with the aftermath of a generation-long dictatorship two years after Suharto was finally overthrown. Any more, indeed, than we should be disappointed because South Africa is not a paradise seven years after the end of two generations of apartheid, and Russia is still a bit short of perfection nine years after the end of three generations of communist tyranny.

Every country has problems, but tyrannies actively foster them because acute problems provide a kind of justification for extreme measures. Former Yugoslavia did not go through a decade of war and genocide because its various peoples are more bloodthirsty than other ethnic groups in other places. The region is rife with historical grudges, like many other parts of the world, but without Mr. Milosevic's machinations there would probably have been no wars.

With Mr. Milosevic's removal from power, there is every reason to hope the killing in the Balkans now is finished. And for those who still cling to pessimism about the prospects for democracy, peace and justice in the world, there is a larger lesson in all this. It is that every nation, without exception, really wants these things, even if some countries can be distracted from them for a time by cynical dictators using lying propaganda and that every people now has the tools to get them.

The men and women who ended the Milosevic regime in Belgrade last Thursday were following a trail blazed by others in Manila and Seoul and Bangkok, in Berlin and Prague and Bucharest, in Moscow and Pretoria and Jakarta. It's no longer a trail, but a broad, well-marked route that can be taken by anybody looking for a way out of dictatorship. Disciplined, non-violent revolution works better than violence ever did, and it leaves far less mess to clear up afterward.

The world's surviving absolute rulers, who watched the Belgrade events with such dread, are all living on borrowed time. Nobody knows when this wave of democratization will finally sweep the Middle East and Africa, the two regions that have been most resistant to the phenomenon so far, but elsewhere dictatorships have become a seriously endangered species. That is a reason for celebration, because even the worst-run democracy is usually more just, more peaceful and even more prosperous than the best-run dictatorship.

Gwynne Dyer is a London-based independent journalist.

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