War tactics, minus the weapons

The notion of violence as the best means to address grievances has taken center stage in recent months. Sept. 11 and suicide bombers loom large. Parents and friends speak with respect of young lives cut short by martyrdom. Death is sometimes assessed as more valuable than life.

That kind of talk has lent an air of legitimacy to the use of deadly means to resolve deep-seated differences Â- especially those that have defied resolution for centuries.

It's reassuring, then, to be reminded that there's another way.

A documentary airing this month on public television stations nationwide highlights what executive producer Peter Ackerman calls "strategic nonviolence." (See story, page 18.) "Bringing Down a Dictator" looks at the successes a student group in Serbia had in undermining the brutal rule of former Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic.

Some of the tactics are similar to those of war: keep your opponent guessing, stay on the offensive, turn apparent opponents into allies. But in this case, symbols replace guns, and the power of persuasion stands in for the use of force.

The lessons of the student resistance in Serbia, says the film's producer, are applicable elsewhere. He doesn't offer a panacea, or guarantee that such tactics will effect dramatic change in every situation. But viewers Â- as well as visitors to a website that tells more of the history of the movement Â- will hear a message that offers hope in an enormously unsettled world.

Perhaps most reassuring are the words of a student leader interviewed in the film: "We loved life more than [Milosevic and his followers]...," he said. "Their language smelled like death.... We were a group of fans of life, and this is why we succeeded."

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