They’re young, they’re bright and well educated, they speak English and many have experience in bringing down dictators without using violence. Recently, a group of young activists from Eastern Europe and Central Asia got together to seal an alliance. Curious to observe them at work, I decided to accept the invitation to attend their “festival of activism” in Albania.
There were two “clans”: retired activists from Serbia, Georgia, Ukraine and Lebanon with successful revolutions behind them, and those who haven’t (yet). Among the latter group were activists from Belarus and Azerbaijan, and a student from Uzbekistan who wished not to be identified.
What they all share is their drive as well as an impatient yearning for democracy and familiarity with modern tools of non-violent resistance. After the bloodless revolution that brought down Slobodan Milosevic in 2000, activists from Serbia’s Otpor! Youth movement started transferring their skills to peer organisations in Eastern Europe, through informal contact, but also through formal training sessions, largely supported and financed by Western governments, NGOs and private foundations. [links below] The wave has now reached Central Asia and the Middle East.
“What we achieved in these four months was something that people couldn’t do for over 30 years,” says Saad Gharzeddine, who’s with the PoF movement, which helped drive the Syrians out of Lebanon.
“We had people from Otpor! advising us, coming over many times telling us ‘Watch out guys for this, we were there, we made this mistake’, for example, about how to organise a press conference or how to deal with members who might be tempted to get violent.”
Principles and pragmatism
Non-violence is a sacred principle. Ivan Marovic, one of the Otpor! veterans who was in Beirut to support the Lebanese activists: “If police don’t feel threatened, it will be hard for them to attack.”
It’s a pragmatic approach. “We know that non-violence leads to successful change. In all these countries where non-violent change took place, democracy is much more stable than when it’s a result of violent change or a coup d’état or liberation war.”
“Dictators or whatever you call them are much weaker than we usually think!” The trick is to weaken their pillars of support and win over the army, the police, the security agencies, the bureaucracy, etc.
For more information: www.radionetherlands.nl