The Bulldozer Revolution: Serbia's Youth Shouts against Dictatorship

The Overthrow of Slobodan Milošević: A Pivotal Moment in Balkan History

The overthrow of Slobodan Milošević (Former President of Serbia) from power in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia began after a general election on September 24, 2000. It reached its peak on October 5, 2000, leading to the downfall of Slobodan Milošević's government. People often call this important event the "5 October Revolution," or sometimes they call it the "Bulldozer Revolution." They call it that because of something memorable that happened during a day of protests. A person driving a heavy machine, like a bulldozer, charged at the Radio Television of Serbia building. This building was very significant because it was where the Milošević government spread its messages to the public.

The Bulldozer Revolution: Serbia's Youth Shouts against Dictatorship
Belgrade, Serbia

In this article, we will take a closer look at the background, reasons, important people, strategies, outcomes, lasting effects, similarities to other revolutions, and debated issues related to the Bulldozer Revolution. By examining these elements, we can achieve a better understanding of this significant time in history.

Slobodan Milošević: An Authoritarian and Corrupt Rule

Slobodan Milošević's time in power was often described as authoritarian and corrupt. People accused his government of engaging in activities like rigging elections, carrying out political killings, restricting media freedom, and using excessive force by the police. He was also the first sitting leader to face charges for war crimes. The Yugoslav Wars, which he was involved in, led to international sanctions against Yugoslavia, causing significant harm to the country's economy and society. The situation worsened with NATO bombings, which caused extensive damage to infrastructure.

Demanding Democracy: Serbs Unite to Overthrow Milošević's Regime

The removal of Milošević from power might look like it happened suddenly, but it was actually the outcome of a year-long effort by many Serbs. They wanted to weaken Milošević's control, make his security forces stop supporting him, and force him to hold elections that he wouldn't dispute. In simpler terms, they worked for a whole year to peacefully remove Milošević from his position as a leader.

The Bulldozer Revolution: Serbia's Youth Shouts against Dictatorship
Balkans Regions

In 1998, a group of twelve students founded Otpor! (Serbian for "resistance"). Learning from the mistakes of the 1996–97 protests, they realized the need for better organization, strategy, planning, and recruitment for a sustained effort. Outraged by new laws that imposed political control over their universities and harassed independent media, the Otpor! students demanded the removal of Milošević and the establishment of democracy and the rule of law.

Prior to this, Milošević had been suppressing opposition, non-governmental organizations, and independent media since 1991, leading to campaigns of civil resistance against his administration. These campaigns eventually culminated in the largely non-violent revolution of October 2000, which led to the collapse of his regime.

Controversial Decision: Early Elections Announced Amidst Milošević's Presidency

As Milošević's time as President of Yugoslavia was coming to an end (he had previously been President of Serbia for two terms from 1989 to 1997), the rules for electing the president changed on July 6, 2000. Previously, the president of Yugoslavia was selected by lawmakers in the Yugoslav parliament for a single term. However, a new decision was made to change this process. From now on, instead of being chosen by lawmakers, the president of Yugoslavia would be elected directly by the people.

The Bulldozer Revolution: Serbia's Youth Shouts against Dictatorship
1991-1995 Yugoslav War

This means that citizens would have the opportunity to vote for their preferred candidate in two rounds of voting. Additionally, the president would be allowed to serve for a maximum of two terms in office. Many people thought that Milošević supported these changes not to make democracy better but to stay in power longer.

On July 27, 2000, authorities announced that early elections would be held on September 24, 2000, even though Milošević's term was not set to expire until July 23, 2001. Elections for the upper house of the federal parliament, the Council of Citizens (Veće građana), as well as local elections, were also scheduled for the same date.

On August 25, 2000, Ivan Stambolić, a former mentor and political ally of Milošević, was mysteriously kidnapped from his home and later executed in Fruška Gora. This act was believed to have been coordinated by Milošević to prevent Stambolić from becoming an electoral opponent. Stambolić's remains were found three years later in March 2003, and the four officers involved in his kidnapping were sentenced. Milošević was charged with initiating the assassination.

Foreign Influence: U.S.-Funded Consultants and Support Shape Anti-Milošević Campaign

The Bulldozer Revolution: Serbia's Youth Shouts against Dictatorship

After the announcement of the elections, a youth movement called Otpor! took the lead in mobilizing against the government, aiming to bring about a transparent democracy. To strengthen the opposition, eighteen parties in Serbia joined forces to form the Democratic Opposition of Serbia (DOS) coalition. Their candidate, Vojislav Koštunica, emerged as the primary contender to challenge Milošević. Although other opposition parties, such as the Serbian Radical Party and the Serbian Renewal Movement, presented their own candidates (Tomislav Nikolić and Vojislav Mihailović, respectively), the main electoral battle unfolded between Milošević and Koštunica.

During the campaign, which lasted for about two months, there was a lot of tension and strong feelings. Many things happened, like people accusing each other of betraying their side, shutting down independent media, and even some violent incidents that hurt people. The competition was tough because both sides really wanted their own idea of what Serbia's future should be.

In the year before the elections, U.S.-funded consultants played a significant role in the campaign against Milošević. They helped a lot. The main slogan of the campaign was "Gotov je!" that “He is finished!" It was thought up by Otpor!. The U.S. government gave money to help the opposition (around $41 million). They provided 2.5 million stickers with the slogan and 5,000 spray cans for anti-Milošević messages on walls. The U.S. Department of State sent money through organizations that are not exactly part of the government (QUANGOs - Quasi-Non-Governmental Organizations). In the months before the election, the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) also gave money to opposition parties, media groups, unions, and student organizations. Otpor! received the most support from them.

A Turning Point in Yugoslav History: The End of Milošević's Rule

On September 24, 2000, an election occurred. Initially, the government-controlled Federal Electoral Committee claimed that no candidate, including Vojislav Koštunica, had won over 50% of the votes in the first round of the election, necessitating a second round between Koštunica and Slobodan Milošević.

However, due to widespread public protests, allegations of election fraud, and international pressure, the situation evolved rapidly. The protests grew in scale and intensity, with people demanding that the election results be respected and that Milošević step down. The international community also exerted pressure on Milošević to concede defeat.

As a result of this pressure and the escalating protests, Milošević eventually conceded defeat and acknowledged the victory of Vojislav Koštunica. There was no need for a second round of voting because Milošević's acknowledgment of defeat effectively ended the election dispute. Vojislav Koštunica then assumed the presidency, and Slobodan Milošević's rule came to an end.

The Bulldozer Revolution: Serbia's Youth Shouts against Dictatorship
Dayton Peace Agreement

In December 2000, the DOS coalition won the parliamentary elections with a big majority. Then, on April 1, 2001, Serbian police arrested Milošević, and he was sent to The Hague to face trial at the ICTY (International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia). Unfortunately, he passed away in his cell on March 11, 2006, just a few months before his four-year trial was set to finish.


We observe the consequences of dictators across the globe throughout history. Slobodan Milošević's end followed this trend. When a state lacks democracy, its people invariably suffer. Democracy is a globalized system, so the absence of democracy in a particular state can also have adverse effects on other governments. Optor's role in the establishment of democracy in Serbia was admirable. From a geopolitical standpoint, the establishment of democracy in Serbia was of utmost importance for fostering stability in the Balkans region. This achievement was appreciated through diplomatic efforts, including peacekeeping negotiations initiated by organizations such as NATO, like the Dayton Agreement.