October 29, 2020
The source of the article: Slate
The leader of the movement that brought down Milosevic on what Americans might need to prepare for.
When I was 23, my country’s president lost an election and, not caring for that outcome, decided to annul the results. His name was Slobodan Milosevic—a lovely character sometimes called the “the Butcher of Balkans”—and my homeland was Serbia. In 1996, Milosevic’s party had lost local elections to a united opposition in 15 of the 18 largest cities. It took three months of demonstrations and street protests to make him concede. And that experience changed my life forever.
Four years later, he tried to do it again, after he lost the presidential election in a landslide. But this time, together with my friends in the Serbian student movement Otpor, I led nationwide demonstrations and strikes that inspired hundreds of thousands of my fellow Serbs. Milosevic finally conceded on Oct. 5, 2000, only after our movement had turned out half a million protesters in front of the national assembly and strikes brought the country to a standstill.
For the last 15 years, my organization CANVAS, which specializes in empowering pro-democracy movements, had worked with dozens of groups around the world facing unfair, stolen, and disputed elections. Some of them like Ukrainians in 2004, Georgians in 2005, or Maldivians in 2008 were capable of defending democracy, despite the vast arsenal of autocratic tricks they had to overcome, including bribing voters, ballot stuffing, annulling results in state-controlled courts, and, if that didn’t work, brutal violence and repression.
Last Autumn, I moved to the United States, so imagine my surprise when I discovered that the overwhelming fear of my American friends is that their country may now be on the verge of a disputed election. I may be a newcomer to American democracy, but after my work combating autocracies globally, I believe there are some universal tips that people facing the danger of a disputed election should know.
When Georgia held parliamentary elections in 2003, exit polls and parallel vote tabulations by local nongovernmental organizations showed opposition parties winning by a landslide, while the state-run electoral commission affiliated with long time country’s leader Eduard Shevardnadze claimed the opposite.* International organizations like the OSCE deemed the election neither free nor fair. Soon after, a series of nationwide nonviolent protests known as the “Rose Revolution” brought the county to a standstill, resulting in Shevardnadze’s resignation on Nov. 3 as well as the Supreme Court of Georgia annulling the results of the election. (Americans may not be able to count on their own Supreme Court in this election.)
When a fresh round of elections was held six weeks later, opposition leader Mikheil Saakashvili won 80 percent of the vote.* None of this would have been possible if the real winner had not been so clear and obvious from the beginning.
Never forget that democracy is not something granted to you because of your place of birth. Rather, think of democracy like love: You need to practice it every day.