February 20, 2011

ANYONE SMELL A NOBEL PRIZE?:

Revolution U (TINA ROSENBERG | FEBRUARY 16, 2011, Foreign Policy)

The Serbian capital is home to the Center for Applied NonViolent Action and Strategies, or CANVAS, an organization run by young Serbs who had cut their teeth in the late 1990s student uprising against Slobodan Milosevic. After ousting him, they embarked on the ambitious project of figuring out how to translate their success to other countries. To the world's autocrats, they are sworn enemies -- both Venezuela's Hugo Chávez and Belarus's Aleksandr Lukashenko have condemned them by name. ("They think we are bringing a revolution in our suitcase," one of CANVAS's leaders told me.) But to a young generation of democracy activists from Harare to Rangoon to Minsk to Tehran, the young Serbs are heroes. They have worked with democracy advocates from more than 50 countries. They have advised groups of young people on how to take on some of the worst governments in the world -- and in Georgia, Ukraine, Syria-occupied Lebanon, the Maldives, and now Egypt, those young people won.

In Belgrade, Adel took a week-long course in the strategies of nonviolent revolution. He learned how to organize people -- not on a computer, but in the streets. And most importantly, he learned how to train others. He went back to Egypt and began to teach. The April 6 Youth Movement, along with a similar group called Kefaya, became the most important organizers of the 18-day peaceful uprising that culminated in President Hosni Mubarak's departure on Feb. 11. "The April 6 Movement and Kifaya are the groups that have led the charge in actually getting protesters organized and onto the streets," a Feb. 3 report from the geopolitical analysis group Stratfor said. The tactics were straight out of CANVAS's training curriculum. "I got trained in how to conduct peaceful demonstrations, how to avoid violence, and how to face violence from the security forces … and also how to organize to get people on the streets," Adel said of his experience with the Serbs, in an interview with Al Jazeera English on Feb. 9. "We were quite amazed they did so much with so little," Srdja Popovic, one of CANVAS's leaders, told me.

As nonviolent revolutions have swept long-ruling regimes from power in Tunisia and Egypt and threaten the rulers of nearby Algeria, Bahrain, and Yemen, the world's attention has been drawn to the causes -- generations of repressive rule -- and tools -- social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter -- animating the wave of revolt. But as the members of the April 6 movement learned, these elements alone do not a revolution make. What does? In the past, the discontented availed themselves of the sweeping forces of geopolitics: the fall of regimes in Latin America and the former Soviet bloc was largely a product of the withdrawal of superpower support for dictatorships and the consolidation of liberal democracy as a global ideal. But the global clash of ideologies is over, and plenty of dictators remain -- so what do we do?

The answer, for democratic activists in an ever-growing list of countries, is to turn to CANVAS. Better than other democracy groups, CANVAS has built a durable blueprint for nonviolent revolution: what to do to grow from a vanload of people into a mass movement and then use those masses to topple a dictator. CANVAS has figured out how to turn a cynical, passive, and fearful public into activists. It stresses unity, discipline, and planning -- tactics that are basic to any military campaign, but are usually ignored by nonviolent revolutionaries. There will be many moments during a dictatorship that galvanize public anger: a hike in the price of oil, the assassination of an opposition leader, corrupt indifference to a natural disaster, or simply the confiscation by the police of a produce cart. In most cases, anger is not enough -- it simply flares out. Only a prepared opponent will be able to use such moments to bring down a government.

"Revolutions are often seen as spontaneous," Ivan Marovic, a former CANVAS trainer, told me in Washington a few years ago. "It looks like people just went into the street. But it's the result of months or years of preparation. It is very boring until you reach a certain point, where you can organize mass demonstrations or strikes. If it is carefully planned, by the time they start, everything is over in a matter of weeks."

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Posted by Orrin Judd at February 20, 2011 6:01 AM
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