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Strategic Nonviolence and Humor: Their Synergy and Its Limitations: A Case Study of Nonviolent Struggle led by Serbia’s Otpor
Lucas, Anne M.

2010, BA, Kent State University, College of Arts and Sciences / Department of Applied Conflict Management.

Violent wars have long occupied a prominent place in the history of the world. Struggles waged with strategic nonviolence including psychological, social, economic, spiritual and political methods are much less prominent in the Western world. Likewise, humor has often been overlooked by historians and social scientists up until recently. With this thesis, I bring these two under-studied topics together, descriptively analyzing humor’s ability to aide in the development of strategic nonviolent campaigns. Using the example of the Serbian resistance group, Otpor, I demonstrate how humor played important roles in the relationships between Otpor activists, between Otpor and oppressed Serbian bystanders and between Otpor and oppressive authorities, mainly government leaders and police who I collectively refer to as the ‘opponent.’ Otpor is widely attributed for playing a pivotal role in the nonviolent overthrow of Serbian President Slobodan Milošević in October 2000. Milošević subsequently became the first major political leader to be put on trial at the International Criminal Court on charges of war crimes, genocide, crimes against humanity and grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions.


This thesis is comprised of a three-part framework that details Otpor’s use of humor including the elements of provocation, transformation and collaboration. Provocation refers to tactics that encourage members of the opponent group to incriminate themselves such as Otpor’s renowned dilemma actions. Because of Otpor’s provocative humor, members of the opponent group lost face both with the public and with one another, particularly with police officers distrusting their commanders. Transformation refers to the use of sardonic and other types of humor to birth intellectual, emotional, spiritual and social change, from a paradigm dominated by apathy, fear and rationality to a paradigm characterized by hope and the ability to mobilize resources for social change. Collaboration refers to the use of carnivalesque actions and jokes that emphasize shared humanity and draw members of the opponent group to fraternize with activists. In this thesis, I also discuss humor’s limitations and its inherent weaknesses in the context of Serbia and nonviolent struggle, which include wounds cut by directly provocative humor and the trial of isolation during secret police interrogations among other challenges.


The methodology used is a single case study. I conducted interviews with several Otpor activists and academics and also collected documents including books, peer-reviewed scholarly articles and online press materials. In a world where conflict is ubiquitous, strategic nonviolence, especially that which incorporates humor can be a constructive way to engage in conflict and produce social change. This thesis contributes to the history and practical understanding of humorous strategic nonviolence at a time when there is a potentially global upward trend in the usage of humor within nonviolent struggle.

Patrick Coy, PhD (Committee Co-Chair)
Landon Hancock, PhD (Committee Co-Chair)
Babacar M'baye, PhD (Committee Member)
Sara Newman, PhD (Committee Member)
Richard Stanislaw, ABD (Committee Member)
158 p.

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Lucas, A. (2010). Strategic Nonviolence and Humor: Their Synergy and Its Limitations: A Case Study of Nonviolent Struggle led by Serbia’s Otpor. (Electronic Thesis or Dissertation). Retrieved from https://etd.ohiolink.edu/

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Lucas, Anne. "Strategic Nonviolence and Humor: Their Synergy and Its Limitations: A Case Study of Nonviolent Struggle led by Serbia’s Otpor." Electronic Thesis or Dissertation. Kent State University, 2010. OhioLINK Electronic Theses and Dissertations Center. 05 Aug 2015.

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Lucas, Anne "Strategic Nonviolence and Humor: Their Synergy and Its Limitations: A Case Study of Nonviolent Struggle led by Serbia’s Otpor." Electronic Thesis or Dissertation. Kent State University, 2010. https://etd.ohiolink.edu/

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