Internet Technology & Nonviolent Struggle : Serbia#2

Below is the second part of my writing on Serbia case, with the eye-glass of Sharp’s method of nonviolent action in cyber-version. The third part, technological analysis, will be posted soon.

2. ANALYSIS of  Nonviolent Action

As similar to other cases around the contemporary world, media normally was used for violence as a propaganda machine to disseminate some agenda or content. In Serbia case, the significant media under state control was the monopoly and centralized Radio Television Serbia (RTS) that promote a lot of government agenda, such as nationalistic claims, ethnic chauvinism, ‘Greater Serbian’ campaign, homogenization, ethnic hatred, xenophobia in general; and polarization in particular period, like during peace process in Kosovo, between ‘peace-building’ government versus ‘unnecessary opposition’ (Reljic, 1998; cf. in Tunnard 2003a).

However, this case also shows that there were a lot of independent medias, both traditional (TV, radio, press) and new media (internet), that tried hardly to struggle with the repressive regime nonviolently. These nonviolent actions took place inseparably both in media and on other political arena, and also inseparably between nonviolent movement and the political institution. In this case, without collaboration between Otpor and other movement in general and DOS, the overthrown may not be achievable. Also, there were a lot of dynamic of violent and nonviolent action between the regime and the movement. Above all, every agent tried all of their capability to undermine (or in the regime side, to recover) the power of the regime. These attempts functioned targeting to both dimension of power: the people’s consent and the structural constraints. A lot of methods were drawn to take direct action, which can be categorized as three groups according to Sharp (1973). And to strengthen the direct action, a number of struggles took place in structural arena, generally in this case can be divided into two groups: technical and legal.

In term of traditional methods of nonviolent action according to Sharp (1973), Zajedno rally and daily demonstration all over the country in many time during 1996-2000 were methods of protest and persuasion. The nonviolent movement also had to deploy its dynamic when ‘the regime strikes back’. It may appear in such term of direct strike-back as police use force against the demonstration. The strike-back may happen as other method, such as political measure when Milosevic divided the opposition unity by bringing some of its leader into the government; or as legal measure when the law to limit freedom of media and of assembly was passed.

Concerning method of nonviolent action through new media as internet, there were also a lot of modes of action and a lot of dynamic fighting in both direct and other structural forms. For direct action, the establishment of many agencies on the internet—such as the independent ISPs : Sezam Pro, OpenNet; or independent cyber-agencies : Otpor, Kosovo/a On-line—were institutional set up for cyber-protest or cyber-persuasion against the regime. Beside informal political struggle, the cyber-persuasion also occurred in the formal political game as a number of independent websites promoted openly the opposition candidates, after Milosevic called for new election. In return, the state also had done its cyber-direct action to compete the movement by opening the own website to tell their story about Kosovo.

When the election commission called for the second round of election, the method of political non-cooperation was used significantly and collaboratively on the internet and in other political media, to mobilize the general strike and civil disobedience to force Milosevic to step down.

In this case, nonviolent interventions by the internet were drawn sophistically before the election. To use Burrowes (1996)’s word, this is the creative intervention using the internet. But the disruptive intervention was deployed only in the street—when a huge number of people launched nonviolent take over the parliament building at the climax day of fighting, not used on the internet. However, one action that may categorized as disruptive nonviolent cyber-intervention is that when the US and Albanian government website was attacked by the Serbian hacking group. To use other term, this action may be called ‘sabotage’, or using violent against things, not against human, which is another tactic that can be counted controversially as nonviolent action. (Brian, 1999)

Regarding structural fighting of power related to the internet, there were a number of means, mainly using technical and legal term. In technical dimension, re-routing Radio B-92 signals through internet to the world outside was the technically structural fighting in response to state technically aggressive measure. And when the OpenNet was technically filtered by and closed to the Serbian Academic Network, the nonviolent movement fought back using such technical mean as mirroring all website to external ISPs and re-establish e-mail network transmission.

In legal dimension, the regime had struck back by passing the Public Information Law was passed and the law allowing authorities to scan all e-mail and internet communication, and also issuing the decree to forbid ‘rebroadcast by any means’ including internet. This legal constraint can not be responded directly from the movement because they were under the undemocratic condition. Anyway, after overthrowing Milosevic, such law as Public Information Law was cancelled to unlock this legal structural cyber-constraint.


  1. Burrowes, Robert (1996) The Strategy of Nonviolent Defense : A Gandhian Approach, Albany : State University of New York Press. [see Brian Martin’s review of this book]
  2. Martin, Brian (1999) “Technology, Violence, and Peace,” in Encyclopedia of Violence, Peace, and Conflict, Volume 3 (Lester R. Kurtz, Editor-in-Chief), New York: Academic Press, pp. 447-459
  3. Sharp, Gene (1973) The Politics of Nonviolent Action, Boston: Porter Sargent.
  4. Surculija, Jelena (2003) “Internet Regulation in Serbia and Montenegro : Country Report”, Organization for Security and Co-Operation in Europe, Mission to Serbia and Montenegro.
  5. Tunnard, Christopher R. (2003a), “From State-Controlled Media to the ‘Anarchy’ of the Internet: the Changing Influence of Communications and Information in Serbia in the 1990s”, in Southeast European and Black Sea Studies, Vol.3 No.2, May. pp.97-120. London : Frank Cass.
  6. UNECE (2002), Towards a Knowledge-Based Economy – Yugoslavia. Geneva: United Nations Economic Commission for Europe.

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