Srdja Popovic

Aggressive activism definitely opens eyes—but peaceful actions work best.

Founder of Otpor! and CANVAS; author of Blueprint for Revolution

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Srdja Popovic | Founder of Otpor! and CANVAS; author of Blueprint for Revolution
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“People power and nonviolence are here to stay,” says Srdja Popovic. Named among Foreign Policy’s Top 100 Global Thinkers—and author of inspirational handbook Blueprint for Revolution—Popovic is a founder of Otpor!, the Serbian youth movement that toppled Slobodan Milosevic. Now at CANVAS, he teaches a new form of protest that is changing the nature of peaceful revolutions. 

“With this wonderful book, Srdja Popovic is inspiring ordinary people facing injustice and oppression to use this tool kit to challenge their oppressors and create something much better...Srdja rules!”

— Peter Gabriel

Srdja Popovic is the founder and executive director of the Center for Applied Nonviolent Actions and Strategies (CANVAS), a non-profit organization based in Belgrade, Serbia that teaches the use of non-violence to make change. The organization has trained pro-democracy activists from 46 different countries, such as Burma, Iran, Zimbabwe, Belarus, Cuba, and Venezuela. Some of the most prominent participants were members of Ukrainian “Pora” and Georgian “Kmara,” groups that played a key role in democratization of Ukraine and Georgia in 2003 and 2004, as well activists from “Kefaya,” who headed the anti-Mubarak civilian movement in Egypt in 2011.


Additionally, CANVAS has collaborated with several universities to a great degree of success. In partnership with Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government, Popovic served as an instructor for an online course entitled “The Strategic Application of Nonviolent Action.” The course has been offered every year since its debut in 2013. CANVAS also offered the Harvard course, “Leading Nonviolent Social Movements: Tactics for Success” in 2014, where Popovic also served as instructor. Popovic has worked in lecturing and instructing with CANVAS at a number of universities, including (but not limited to) New York University’s “Nonviolent Political Activism” course, Colorado College’s “Strategic Nonviolent Struggle” course, and Grinnell College’s “Methods of Nonviolent Struggle.” CANVAS and Popovic have won numerous human rights awards and recognitions of their work, including the Paul Lourtizen Award in Human Rights in 2010 and the Jean Mayer Award from Tufts University in 2016. Popovic has been listed as one of the top 100 Global Thinkers by Foreign Policy, “50 people who will change the world” by WIRED, one of Young Global Leaders of World Economic Forum in Davos, and was speculated to be a Nobel Peace Prize laureate in 2012.


Blueprint for Revolution is not only a spirited guide to changing the world but a breakthrough in the annals of advice for those who seek justice and democracy. It asks (and not heavy-handedly): As long as you want to change the world, why not do it joyfully?”

— Todd Gitlin, author of The Sixties and Occupy Nation

Born in Serbia, then part of Yugoslavia, Popovic graduated from Belgrade faculty of Biology, holding MA in animal ecology. A prominent human rights advocate, Popovic has played key roles as a supporter for human rights, nonviolence, and democracy. He was youngest candidate in history to be elected as representative in Belgrade City Hall in 1997. In 1998, he founded the student movement “Otpor!” (“Resistance!”), which had a crucial role in ousting President Slobodan Milosevic, the Serbian dictator accused of war crimes. After Milosevic was defeated in 2000, Popovic was elected to Serbian Parliament where he served from 2000 until 2004. Popovic also served as special advisor to first Serbian Democratic Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic from his election in 2001 until his assassination in 2003.

Popovic’s work has been profiled by some of world’s most renowned news outlets such as The Guardian, Foreign Policy, Financial Times, Siedeutzthe Zeitung, Die Welt, Charlie Hebdo, Slate, and NPR. Outside of CANVAS, Popovic is the author of numerous publications. He has written many articles for scholarly journals and news sources, including Foreign Policy, Slate, and TUFTs security journal. He co-authored two books on nonviolent struggle used by activists worldwide, including the most recent Blueprint for Revolution in 2015. The book has been published in US, Canada, Australia, United Kingdom, France, Germany, Serbia, Spain, Turkey, and South Korea. Popovic has been a speaker at many conferences and universities across the globe, and his TEDxKrakow conference-speech “How To Topple a Dictator” has over 215,000 views. Other notable positions of Popovic’s include being a board member of the Varkey Foundation, and a global fellow in the Project of the Study of the 21st Century.

Speech Topics

Civil Resistance Non-Violent Strategies for Fighting Extremism

As violent extremism rises around the world, so too must our ability to resist and eliminate it effectively. From ISIS and Al-Qaeda in the Middle East to Al-Shabaab in Africa, governments are trying—and often failing—to counter religious extremism in a military capacity—in other words, with guns and bombs only. To author, Otpor! founder, and CANVAS executive director Srdja Popovic, there are better ways to beat groups like the Islamic State: and namely, these tactics are non-violent in nature. In this keynote, Popovic outlines civic, media, activist, communication, and other strategies to dismantle the power of terrorism and oppression. He asks, and answers, a number of urgent questions. What is the background of this phenomenon? How do extremists breed support in the vacuum of narratives? Can we fight the very conditions that spawn extreme groups with nonviolent strategies? How can nonviolent organizers defeat extremists on non-military battlefields: of propaganda, communications, and economic support? This is a crucial, timely talk from one of Foreign Policy’s Top 100 Global Thinkers, perfect for any academic institution or group dealing with security, culture, or the military.

Social Media, Social Movement Mobilizing Activist Movements in the Age of Social Media

After the Arab Spring in 2011, worldwide media were quick to proclaim an “Internet Revolution”—a game-changer in social mobilizing. Today, contemporary groups are using social media platforms for mass rallying, in both democratic and authoritarian societies. With such a sea-change in community organization and political action, knowing the best practices of social media is crucial.


In this talk, Popovic explores the relationship between social media and today’s social movements, based on his online course Leading Nonviolent Movements for Social Progress at Harvard, and through his work with CANVAS. How can we use digital platforms to draw millions onto the streets? What can we learn from past examples—from the Arab Spring through Hong Kong to Venezuela and Occupy Wall Street? What are the pitfalls and hazards of using social media for political mobility? How have oppressors already learned insidious means of censorship and surveillance in the digital age? Why do some movements fail (like Kony 2012), while others explode (like the Ice Bucket Challenge)? And why are the most effective online campaigns those that also have powerful “on the ground” components?

Social Change
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.