The Washington Post, December 11, 2000, Monday, Final Edition 

U.S. Advice Guided Milosevic Opposition; Political Consultants Helped
Yugoslav Opposition Topple Authoritarian Leader 

Michael Dobbs , Washington Post Foreign Service 

In a softly lit conference room, American pollster Doug Schoen flashed the
results of an in-depth opinion poll of 840 Serbian voters onto an overhead
projection screen, sketching a strategy for toppling Europe's last
remaining communist-era ruler. 

His message, delivered to leaders of Serbia's traditionally fractious
opposition, was simple and powerful. Slobodan Milosevic--survivor of four
lost wars, two major street uprisings, 78 days of NATO bombing and a decade
of international sanctions--was "completely vulnerable" to a well-organized
electoral challenge. The key, the poll results showed, was opposition unity. 

Held in a luxury hotel in Budapest, the Hungarian capital, in October 1999,
the closed-door briefing by Schoen, a Democrat, turned out to be a seminal
event, pointing the way to the electoral revolution that brought down
Milosevic a year later. It also marked the start of an extraordinary U.S.
effort to unseat a foreign head of state, not through covert action of the
kind the CIA once employed in such places as Iran and Guatemala, but by
modern election campaign techniques. 

While the broad outlines of the $ 41 million U.S. democracy-building
campaign in Serbia are public knowledge, interviews with dozens of key
players, both here and in the United States, suggest it was much more
extensive and sophisticated than previously reported. 

In the 12 months following the strategy session, U.S.-funded consultants
played a crucial role behind the scenes in virtually every facet of the
anti-Milosevic drive, running tracking polls, training thousands of
opposition activists and helping to organize a vitally important parallel
vote count. U.S. taxpayers paid for 5,000 cans of spray paint used by
student activists to scrawl anti-Milosevic graffiti on walls across Serbia,
and 2.5 million stickers with the slogan "He's Finished," which became the
revolution's catchphrase. 

Regarded by many as Eastern Europe's last great democratic upheaval,
Milosevic's overthrow may also go down in history as the first poll-driven,
focus group-tested revolution. Behind the seeming spontaneity of the street
uprising that forced Milosevic to respect the results of a hotly contested
presidential election on Sept. 24 was a carefully researched strategy put
together by Serbian democracy activists with the active assistance of
Western advisers and pollsters. 

In the long run, many people here say, Milosevic's overthrow was
inevitable, if only because of the economic and military disasters that
befell Serbia during his 13 years in power, first as head of Serbia,
Yugoslavia's dominant republic, and then as head of Yugoslavia itself. But
there was nothing inevitable about the timing or the manner of his departure. 

"Without American support, it would have been much more difficult," said
Slobodan Homen, a student leader who traveled to Budapest and other
European capitals dozens of times to meet with U.S. officials and private
democracy consultants. "There would have been a revolution anyway, but the
assistance helped us avoid bloodshed." 

"The foreign support was critical," agreed Milan Stevanovic, who oversaw
the marketing and message development campaign for the opposition
coalition, the Democratic Opposition of Serbia. "In the past, we did what
we intuitively thought we should do. This was the first campaign where our
strategy was based on real scientific research." 

Had Yugoslavia been a totalitarian state like Iraq or North Korea, the
strategy would have stood little chance. But while Milosevic ran a
repressive police state, he was never a dictator in the style of Iraqi
President Saddam Hussein. His authority depended on a veil of popular
legitimacy. It was this constitutional facade that gave Serbian opposition
leaders, and their Western backers, an all-important opening. 

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Louis Proyect
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