Serbia's Bulldozer Revolution: Evaluating Internal and External Factors in Successful Democratic Breakthrough in Serbia

(Excerpt) In 1987, Slobodan Milosevic showed promise as a modern liberator. The former Yugoslav communist apparatchik turned national protagonist rose to power swiftly, enjoyed immense initial support and ultimately retained the authority he achieved with violence, xenophobic propaganda, patronage and misappropriation of the country's wealth as his popularity declined. He ruled as Yugoslavia's constituent republics devolved into separate nations, through four wars and a NATO bombing campaign that pitted his regime against the West. The stirring electoral victory of his opposition and subsequent protests that removed Milosevic on October 5, 2000 came after more than a decade during which the autocrat often seemed unassailable, invulnerable and incorrigible. His fall was hailed inside and outside of Serbia as a decisive moment of revolutionary democratic change.

Few of the players critical in the dramaturgy of the electoral breakthrough of 2000 characterize the ouster of Milosevic as revolutionary today, however. Much of the architecture of the regime's judicial, security and intelligence apparatus remain intact. National chauvinism, distrust of pluralist politics, poor relations with the West, endemic corruption, and economic stagnation persist. It is not always the case that a successful breakthrough also triggers a gradual, evolutionary process of consolidating liberal democracy. Instead, successful cases can degenerate into partially consolidated democracies and sometimes slip back into authoritarian rule.

The intended focus of this study, however, is not democratic consolidation. Nor is it post- conflict stabilization or gradual liberalization. The subject is specifically the set of factors that produce democratic breakthrough (in this case within Serbia), factors that may be quite different from those that contribute to other kinds of democratic change.