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Lessons from nonviolent movements past

In this short video, Al Jazeera looks at the disappointment that has followed the “People Power” movement, which ousted longtime U.S.-backed dictator Ferdinand Marcos in the Philippines in 1986, and suggests that the people of Tunisia and Egypt keep fighting to ensure that the removal of Ben Ali and Mubarak leads to real democratic government that addresses their needs, particularly the poverty and inequality that plague their societies.

And in this new article, the Carnegie Council looks at several important lessons that should be learned from the nonviolent movements in Serbia, Georgia and Ukraine, which is really worth the read. The authors argue that the organizations and leaders that are part of nonviolent movements should have concrete goals beyond the removal of the dictator, be wary of getting too close to foreign funders, and resist the urge to enter electoral politics. In Serbia, they contend, when numerous members of Otpor entered government it had:

…decidedly negative consequences for the movement itself and for Serbian civil society more generally. Otpor lost many of the visionaries that once defined its spirit in the run-up to Milosevic’s ouster. Perhaps more significantly, Serbian civil society was deprived of young, vibrant activists, leaving it too weak to convincingly counterbalance the powers of political society.

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More importantly, the transformation into a political party meant that Otpor had to drastically change its structure and methods of operation. Like all political parties, it had to establish clear leadership and a pyramidal structure that ran contrary to the decentralized nature of its revolutionary politics.

In doing so, Otpor sacrificed a major tenet of its struggle against Milosevic: the (seeming) absence of a leader. One of Otpor’s strengths in Milosevic’s Serbia had been its refutation of formal, bureaucratic procedures. This fluidity allowed Otpor to embrace Serbs of all backgrounds and opinions, and is what made it so attractive for Serbia’s youth, so disenchanted by traditional political parties and their corrupt practices. Ironically, however, it is also what delegitimized Otpor the party.

When in 2003 Otpor failed to enter parliament, the organization quickly disbanded.

[…]

The impact of Otpor’s unraveling for Serbia’s youth has been profound. Serbia’s young people lack a stake in the system. They have no effective means to voice their concerns, and no clear instrument through which to channel their discontent. Otpor could perhaps have provided such a vehicle had its leaders made the transition not to politics, but to youth advocacy. Just as they once resisted a dictator, so too might they have resisted the subsequent political disenfranchisement that has afflicted youths across Serbia and the greater Balkans region.

To read the rest of this very insightful piece, click here.