Ep. 79: Srdja Popovic - How to Topple a Dictator


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Dictatorships and “strong man” leadership is on the rise across the globe. In addition, and particularly in the West, entrenched special interests are very prominent. Indeed, it appears that democracy is in retreat.

How can dictators, with their stranglehold on power through military force, control of media and financial clout be toppled? How can entrenched special interests be overcome? In fact, how can any kind of civic change happen – be that improvements with your local rubbish collection, or overcoming grand corruption? Meet Srdja Popovic.

Srdja is a political activist from Serbia and one of the founders of the Otpor! (“resistance”) movement in the country in the 1990s. Otpor helped topple then dictator Slobodan Milosevic in 2000 through its strategies of non-violent resistance.

In fact, if you were to try and predict what might bring down the Milosevic regime in the mid 1990s (he held the de facto power in the country before he officially become president in 1997), you certainly would not have bet on the official opposition which was divided and ineffective. You might have bet on the 1999 NATO bombings facilitating this. However, it was a grassroots movement that started small and employed non-violent resistance and in particular, a lot of humour which served as a crucial factor in toppling the Milosevic dictatorship.

We talk about all of that but this is a wider discussion. Srdja himself was arrested and beaten and too a lot of risk. However, he and his compatriots had created an unstoppable force. There are many lessons in all of that – including how to disperse the risks associated with resistance to dictatorships.

Now, Srdja co-runs the Centre for Applied Non-Violent Action and Strategies (CANVAS) which advocates non-violent resistance to promote human rights and democracy. Srdja speaks all over the world and runs workshops. He is the author of Blueprint for Revolution: How to Use Rice Pudding, Lego Men and other non-Violent Techniques to Galvanize Communities, Overthrow Dictators, and Simply Change the World.

We discuss:

  • Non-violent resistance, including some tactics and strategies;
  • Democracy in our current global condition;
  • Spreading risk in opposition movements;
  • Laughtivism versus political satire;
  • Fake news
  • Much more!

Show notes:

Centre for Applied Non-Violent Action and Strategies (CANVAS)

Check out CANVAS’ extensive list of “must reads”

Blueprint for Revolution

Srdja’s TED talk

Interview with Srdja in The Guardian


Gene Sharp

From Dictatorship to Democracy by Gene Sharp

Gene Sharp’s 198 methods of non-violent resistance

Freedom House’s Democracy Index

Slobodan Milosevic

The Russia Toy Protest

Why Civil Resistance Works: The Strategic Logic of Nonviolent Conflict by Erica Chenoweth and Maria Stephan

Nothing is True and Everything is Possible: The Surreal Heart of the New Russia by Peter Pomerantsev


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115 episodes available. A new episode about every 11 days averaging 75 mins duration .