Day 19 Laughtivism – Why Dictators don’t like Jokes (Otpor, Serbia late 1990’s)

I’ve written about other comic resistance to dictatorship, but this one, so devastatingly simple, amazed me! Giving people an opportunity for citizens to smack the barrel with Milosovic’s picture may not seem like leadership on the surface. After all, the comedy of the state ignoring the clobbering citizens and arresting the barrel seems more like a show of weakness, or an attempt to quiet a possible cathartic riot! But the leadership of Otpor, which used guerrilla theatre, rock concerts and small, ironic actions like this oil barrel event, brought resistance into the hearts, minds and bodies of the people themselves. Creating opportunities for self expression through laughter, they created a non-violent army, gathered via cell phone texts, and were key in building popular resistance to Milosevic. Many believe this grassroots movement was pivotal in supporting the cultural and social force to elect Kostunika in September, 2000.



When Serbia’s non-violent pro-democracy movement, Otpor, was just a tiny group of 20 students with $50, they decided to play a prank and took an oil barrel, taped a picture of Serbian dictator Slobodan Milosevic to it, and set it up in the middle of Belgrade’s largest shopping district.

Next to it they placed a baseball bat. They went for coffee, sat down, and watched the fun unfold. Before long, dozens of shoppers lined the street, each waiting for a chance to take a swing at “Milosevic”—the man so many despised, but whom most were too afraid to criticize. About 30 minutes in, the police arrived. That’s when they held their breath, waiting for what would happen next. What would the Milosevic’s police do? They couldn’t arrest shoppers—on what grounds? And they couldn’t arrest the culprits—since they were nowhere to be seen.

So what did Milosevic’s police do? The…

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  1. […] out as we rush past a protest. The humor and simplicity of this kind of artistic leadership (see laughtevism about its power to change election results!) is visionary leadership at its creative best. See videos of their festive exploding "flower mines" […]


  2. […] rather than build solutions from within. It’s a controversial stance, probably better fitted to challenging dictatorships or cultural problems through popular culture and mass […]


  3. […] dignity and irreverent shock-tactics. Irony, parody and artistic confrontation are often the first tools to challenge dictatorship, dogma and oppression. They open a conversation, not politely, but with a rude awakening. While […]


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