- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 30, 2002

"Bringing Down a Dictator" seems especially timely as former Yugoslav President and Serbian strongman Slobodan Milosevic stands trial at The Hague for crimes against humanity for atrocities his forces committed in Kosovo, Bosnia and Croatia in the 1990s..
The hourlong WETA presentation, narrated by Martin Sheen and showing at 10 p.m. tomorrow, focuses on nonviolent opposition that toppled Mr. Milosevic and his decade-long regime in elections in September 2000. It concentrates on a student-led movement known as Otpor ("resistance" in Serbian).
Steve York, the show's producer, director and writer, is well-known for his TV work he most recently made the Emmy-nominated PBS series "A Force More Powerful." He teams up with Peter Ackerman as executive producer. Mr. Ackerman is a scholar of strategic nonviolent conflict. Given the ideological basis for the film, a viewer knows not to expect any negative notes about the tumultuous campaign that led to the ouster.
Mr. York was drawn to the subject when he learned of the protests that followed Mr. Milosevic's annulling of 1996 municipal elections for the Yugoslav National Parliament.
Nothing succeeds like success, as divided Yugoslav political opposition leaders learned when Otpor pressured them to rally behind a single presidential candidate in order to win a decisive, and carefully monitored, election in 2000 that Mr. Milosevic predictably declared too close to call.
To the filmmakers' credit, the documentary tells a story that should have been told more fully in the press at the time. For most viewers, one suspects, the saga will present a new side to the tragic events of past years in the Balkans. It leaves one falsely, perhaps with a sense of hope seldom to be found in the stories about struggling democracies in the world today.
Perhaps that is the trouble the only major one with documentaries of this type that follow a certain predictable pattern: sleek narrator with polished clothes and voice; many clips strung together of the action; talking heads to provide perspective and linkage; and policy-minded types able and willing to help make the world a better place.
How ruinous would it have been to include just a tiny statement from one of the enemies, someone caught up in the maelstrom? Or the thoughts and feelings of opposition leaders struggling against one another, or one of those anonymous soldiers who disobeyed orders and stood on the sidelines while massive strikes and demonstrations raged nationwide after the 2000 presidential election?
This may be asking too much of a group of professionals committed to exploring in vivid fashion how such movements get started and why they need the help of nations such as the United States. Mention is made several times of the millions of dollars in money and support supplied to Otpor by the United States and several European countries, but how such support was delivered is deliberately kept vague.
That might make an intriguing follow-up story in another context, to offset the impression that our country only underwrites bombing raids and aggressive military-run campaigns.
Not that Otpor was unaware of the benefits of military strategy. As several student leaders make clear when addressing their "troops" a motley crew wearing black-and-white T-shirts and whose symbol was the clenched fist the training and tactics involved were nonviolent imitations of military methods. Apart from an emphasis on peaceable approaches (the only life lost in Otpor-generated demonstrations, we are told, was caused by a heart attack), the difference was the movement's use of visual humor and psychological warfare. It also had technological savvy. The cell phone and the Internet were its weapons.
Mr. Sheen sets the stage by providing the viewer with appropriate background information, noting how in the spring of 2000, "angry young Serbs have declared war on the man they say stole the best 10 years of their lives." At first, they had no financing and no real organization. By contrast, the NATO bombing that followed the Milosevic regime's 1998 ethnic cleansing of Albanians in Kosovo cost $3 billion, we are told. The United States contributed $25 million to Otpor.

WHAT: "Bringing Down a Dictator"
WHERE: WETA (Channel 26)

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