Founder of Otpor! and CANVAS
"If CANVAS has torn up the old democracy-promotion playbook, it's because the group's leaders have drawn up a new one, taken from their own firsthand experience" (Foreign Policy)
In 1998, Srdja Popovic and his friends formed Otpor! (“Resistance” in Serbian)—a youth movement that grew to 70,000 members, and which displaced Serbia's dictator Slobodan Milosevic in 2000. For Otpor!, Popovic and his friends drew on their love of Monty Python, using street theater, pranks, and simple yet powerful messages as their chosen (and inspired) form of protest. With an understanding of how peaceful revolutions worked, Popovic and his friend Slobodan Djinovic next created the Centre for Applied Non-Violent Action & Strategies—or CANVAS.
Popovic is determined to spread the models and messages of Otpor! and CANVAS worldwide—and from the looks of it, he's achieving his goal. Otpor! was the inspiration for the Arab Spring protestors: Otpor!’s symbol—a clenched fist—would be used in their logo (as in other revolutions around the world), and they passed around subtitled copies of the Otpor! documentary, Bringing Down a Dictator. CANVAS is now taught as a graduate study in a university in Belgrade, where Popovic is a regular lecturer. Popovic is currently a visiting scholar at Columbia University, and lectures at Rutgers and Northwestern.
Before Otpor! and before CANVAS, in 1996, Srdja Popovic joined the liberal opposition Democratic Party as the youngest member of the Belgrade City Parliament. When his leader became prime minister two years later, Popovic (by then an MP) was appointed as an adviser on environmental issues.
The Power of the People: How Nonviolent Revolutions Work
How do you start, build, and complete a peaceful revolution? In this powerfully illustrative talk, Srdja Popovic draws on his firsthand experience to lay out a set of skills that can be—and have been—followed through to sweeping social and political change worldwide. “There are things you need to avoid if you don't want your movement to be doomed,” he says. “One is violence." With a sure command of the topic, Popovic looks at how past youth movements have successfully toppled dictatorships, pointing to the importance of unity, planning, and discipline, and explaining the difference between “complete” and “incomplete” revolutions. Some starting points: Use the internet, but use it wisely. Rely on humor and slogans, and pick the battles you know you can win. With wit and charisma, Popovic uses unforgettable imagery and still-fresh case studies to make his point: when we are all on the same (nonviolent) page, the power of the people can, and will, win.