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Peaceful revolutions


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Benin 1989-1991

From 1974 to 1989, dictator Mathieu Kérékou ran Benin as a socialist state, earning it the nickname "Africa's Cuba.” After 17 years of rule by the Marxist-Leninist Kérékou, an economic crisis and massive social unrest spurred a civic movement consisting of students, teachers, university faculty, and union leaders that called for a paralyzing nationwide strike in January 1989. As suppression efforts failed and French political and economic pressure increased, Kérékou was forced to legalize the oppositional parties. He called for the holding of a National Conference in February 1990. Delegates to the conference included leaders from the opposition parties, unions, universities, religious associations, the army, and women’s groups. A new constitution was drafted despite Kérékou’s protests (Karatnycky and Ackerman, 2005). Free elections were reestablished in 1991, and Kérékou was defeated by Nicéphor Soglo.



South Africa 1994

The struggle against apartheid went on for many decades. During this period, the view on nonviolence as the means to change the system changed several times. The struggle included an armed ingredient most of the time, but nonviolence was always a central factor for the resistance and the building a new society. In the following, only a few of the many nonviolent activities are mentioned.

In June 1977 in the township of Soweto, a number of leading citizens and representatives from several organizations met to elect a “Committee of Ten.” These included people with experience from earlier African National Congress (ANC) campaigns. The aim was to develop a nonviolent strategy for democratic self-government in Soweto. The police arrested all of them, obviously very afraid of such ideas. Two years later, the Soweto Civic Association was created, and it planned for the use of several nonviolent techniques. Some tried to learn from history by reading about foreign revolutionaries. Especially influential was a manual written by Filipino activists in 1974, “Organizing People for Power.” The Filipino activists said that success would come from helping people win modest but real improvements in their lives. After a terrible crackdown in 1977, many Africans were afraid of getting involved in political groups. Townships organizing in South Africa in the early 1980s succeeded in doing what Polish dissidents had done in the 1970s. Instead of directly defying a regime steeped in its own orthodoxy and capable of repression, they opened space for independent action within the system, through which they could organize people to help themselves (Ackerman and DuVall, 2003, pp. 343-347).

In August 1983, more than 500 organizations joined forces to form the United Democratic Front (UDF). This was a wide coalition of churches, trade unions, students, women, and many other groups. African people stood side by side with whites and Indians, with the goal being a peaceful and just future. The UDF arranged a number of nonviolent demonstrations and other actions.

An important test for the UDF was the government's decision to create a new parliament with separate chambers for whites, Coloreds, and Indians. Africans were not to be represented, but would be given greater independence in their towns. Prime Minister P.W. Botha's motives were to present a better international image and to weaken resistance to apartheid in the country. The UDF called for a boycott of the elections, and the turnout was down a third from the previous election. In elections for Colored and Indian representatives to the racially segregated parliament, less than 20 percent of those eligible voted.29

Apartheid depended on the support of the white population, but white-owned businesses also depended on the support of blacks. Several middle-aged women in Port Elizabeth came to their civic committee with a plan to boycott businesses. In the summer of 1985, civic leader Mkhuseli Jack spoke to a large crowd at a funeral, which was the only type of public gathering the government then allowed. "We won't buy in town on Monday," he told the crowd. "We won't even buy a box of matches on Monday!" Though Jack and other leaders were jailed, the boycott cost white business owners 30 percent of their business. Store owners pleaded with government officials to give in to the boycotters. Chief DuPlesssis said, "If they don't want to buy, what sort of crime is it? . . . You can't shoot all these people. You can't lock them all up" (Ackerman and DuVall, 2000, p. 357).

Many whites supported the struggle against apartheid. Young men drafted into in the South African Army started South Africa's End Conscription Campaign (ECC), which became an important force within that country's white community to oppose not only obligatory military service but also apartheid minority rule. Many outside South Africa saw the ECC as a way to concretely demonstrate that work against militarism and racism could and should be part of the same movement (Meyer, 2000).

In Alexandra, the Alexandra Action Committee (AAC) also fought apartheid with a consumer boycott targeting black officials who collaborated with the white government. Stores and taxis turned them away. Churchgoers would not listen to their priests. The people of Alexandra demonstrated that if they refused to cooperate with white oppressors or black collaborators, the apartheid system could not remain in power. Under the leadership of the AAC, townspeople proceeded to elect their own town executive and establish their own criminal justice system. As much as possible, they would govern themselves.30

Global opposition to apartheid grew in the late 20th century, leading to widespread sanctions and divestment abroad and growing unrest and oppression by the National Party within South Africa. Sanctions, protests, and brutal police and military interventions in demonstrations made South Africa an international outcast. In 1990, after a long period of resistance, strikes, and unrest by various anti-apartheid movements, most notably the ANC, the National Party government took the first step toward relinquishing power when it lifted the ban on the ANC and other left-wing political organizations, and released Nelson Mandela from prison after 27 years. Apartheid legislation was gradually removed from the statute books, and the first multiracial elections were held in 1994.31 When Mandela was elected president, he asked former white leader De Klerk to be his vice president. The first government had representatives from both the former apartheid regime and the ANC as ministers.

The role of the ANC's military wing, Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK), in the liberation of South Africa is highly debated. Some say that MK was more important for the leaders of the apartheid regime than for the ANC. MK made it easier for them to justify the brutal use of violence against all ANC members. They could label all activists potential terrorists. But MK was also important as a symbol of resistance for many Africans, although it was never a military threat to the South African government. An interesting analysis of the ANC’s operational strategy in 1976-1986 is found in Howard Barrell’s Ph.D. dissertation “Conscripts to their Age.”32 Gail Presby’s recent research on the realities of MK and nonviolent tactics in the ending of apartheid also suggest the need for a more nuanced analysis of the road to revolution in South Africa. (Presbey, 2006)



Indonesia 1998-1999

On May 21, 1998, Indonesian President Suharto was forced to resign after 32 years of rule. The country was undergoing a shocking economic collapse, and protests and demonstrations took place every day. The protestors did not have tanks or guns, but many of them had a new tool that was not available during earlier uprisings: the Internet. The state-controlled TV and radio stations did not provide reliable or useful information for those who wanted the regime to leave, and telephone calls were prohibitively expensive, but e-mails, chat rooms, and Web pages became practical tools in the hands of the opposition. According to an associate professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, this was the first revolution to use the Internet (Marcus, 1999). It was used to organize protests and to spread information about what the army and the police were doing, where they were, and where they moved. Fear of tapping forced the activists to use encrypted messages. This Internet usage was very effective.

Students from a wide variety of backgrounds and many parts of Indonesia were an important group among the opposition. When four students from Trisakti University were killed by the police, the demonstrations grew in numbers and size. These four came to be known as “martyrs of reformation,” and rallies in their honor were held all over Indonesia. These tragic deaths inspired more people to protest.

The students’ movements were from the very beginning infiltrated by units from the military, police, and secret services. One of the main student organizations, Forum Kota,33 responded to this by changing its leader and its command post every week. This made it difficult for any individual, police infiltrator or genuine student, to gain control over the whole movement (Martin and Varney, 2003, pp. 20-21).

Some of the large demonstrations created problems for people in the cities. Large parts of the streets were blocked for long periods of time, and all traffic was blocked. In addition to the demonstrators, police blockades were also obstacles. Armored fighting vehicles and barbed wire were used all over the city (Walters, 1999). Travel to work and shopping was difficult, but the majority of the population supported the students and other protesters.

A number of oppositional activists were found dead, and rumors blamed different groups for these killings. Christians, ethnic Chinese, Muhmadiyah, and Icmis were all held responsible. It was later learned that the military was behind most or all of the killings, which resulted from a power struggle between different political elites (O’Rourke, 2002, p. 169) Much of the turmoil in the cities was also carried out by agents of the government, who wanted to justify their use of the military and to show that the opposition organizations were violent groups that they needed to arrest. The protests and demonstrations escalated, and there was no sign of an end to the demands for Suharto’s resignation.

General Wiranto, the chief of the Indonesian Armed Forces (ABRI), eventually realized that Suharto had to go. He negotiated an agreement for Suharto and his family to be protected if he stepped down. The U.S., which for decades had supported Suharto, also understood that his days were numbered. The U.S. had, prior to the events of 1998, through the Defence Intelligence Agency (DIA), trained units from ABRI “with an eye on potential domestic instability,” as an analysis in Janes’ Intelligence Review reported.

Indonesia gained formal democracy in 1998. Most of the violence used in the last days came from Suharto’s soldiers and other groups loyal to him. The majority of demonstrators did not respond with violence in their struggle for a democratic country.



Serbia 2000

The first nonviolent revolution in this century took place in the former Yugoslavia. NATO tried to remove Slobodan Milosevic with three months of intensive bombing in 1999, but they were more successful in destroying the opposition than in removing Milosevic. Serbs stood hand in hand on the bridges in Novia Sad and Belgrade to prevent the external aggressor from destroying their cities.

The student movement Otpor,34 created in October 1998 to oppose a new university law, soon became the main organization to oppose the government. The first leader of a state to be removed by a peaceful revolution in the new century was Milosevic. Otpor focused on three demands: Free and fair elections in Serbia, a free university, and guarantees for independent media (Sharp, 2005, p. 317). The students had some early discussions on strategies and means, but decided early on to use nonviolence. This was not due to philosophical or moral arguments, but basically because armed struggle would be much easier for Milosevic to handle than nonviolent actions.35 The main demand was a call for early elections. The students expected to be able to win and remove Milosevic and his people from power.

Otpor, the Center for Civic Initiatives, and other opposition movements got a lot of financial support from foreign sources. The National Democratic Institute and the International Republican Institute, two U.S.-based institutions, were among those who gave at least 40 million dollars prior to the elections in 2000, which was used to run the opposition groups’ campaigns.



The Philippines 2001

In 1998, President Fidel Ramos was replaced by Joseph Estrada; as a former movie star, Estrada was elected more because of the popularity of his on-screen persona than because of any political experience. He promised a lot economically, and he delivered it--straight into his own pocket. He was impeached and brought to trial in late 2000 on charges of taking bribes from gambling syndicates and using them for himself and his mistresses. Estrada and his political allies tried to derail the trial by blocking prosecutors' access to his financial accounts. Shortly after the Senate blocked evidence against Estrada, thousands of people massed at Manila’s EDSA Shrine, site of the People Power Revolution that had ousted Ferdinand Marcos in 1986. Protesters at the shrine rapidly swelled into the millions, demanding Estrada's immediate resignation. The en masse resignation of Estrada's cabinet and the withdrawal of support from the military and the police on January 19 signaled Estrada's loss of control. The Supreme Court declared the presidency vacant on January 20, 2001, and swore in Vice President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo as the country's fourteenth President, while Estrada and his family evacuated the palace grounds. And another nonviolent revolution had taken part in the Philippines. This time text messaging helped topple the government, including directing 700,000 demonstrators to the People Power shrine.

World reaction to the administration change was mixed. Though foreign nations, including the U.S., immediately expressed recognition of the legitimacy of Arroyo's presidency, foreign commentators described the revolt as "a defeat for due process" and "mob rule."

Madagascar 2002

The outcome of the 2001 presidential election was disputed, as both President Ratsiraka and Marc Ravalomanana both claimed victory. This was the background for Madagascar to be the next scene of a nonviolent revolution. Massive protests with more than half a million people on the streets every day for a week eventually forced Ratsiraka to resign. On January 28, 2002, a several-week-long general strike began. Banks, shops, and other businesses closed. The daily demonstrations began when the island’s High Constitutional Court announced the results of a recount. It declared that Ravalomanana had received 46 percent of the vote, versus 40 percent for Ratsiraka, and that neither candidate had an overall majority. The court ordered a runoff to be held within 30 days. This only strengthened the opposition, and led to what Financial Times described as “daily public demonstrations over the past two weeks not seen since independence from France in 1960.”

For a time Ravalomanana and his supporters controlled the capital Antananarivo and Ratsiraka set up a rival government in the eastern port city of Tamatave. Roadblocks set up around the capital prevented transport of people and goods.

The old rivalries between highland and coastal people were used by both sides to support their case. Propaganda was played every day on the television and radio stations that backed Ratsiraka, but these stations were attacked by students and eventually forced to stop their broadcasting of what the students called propaganda.

For a long time the armed forces refused to take sides, but small groups of supporters on both sides were armed, and around 70 people were killed altogether. Most of the violence came from supporters of Ratsiraka.

In May 2002, the constitutional court declared that Ravalomanana had won the election. He became the new president of Madagascar and then moved to decentralize government power.36



Georgia 2003

In 2003, Georgia’s “Rose Revolution” dethroned Eduard Shevardnadze. Here the student movement “Kmara”37 was the main organizer of demonstrations and protests. Kmara began organizing civilian groups of mainly students as election observers, and was vocal about the need for fair elections prior to the November 2003 elections. Its work garnered much attention from Shevardnadze, who complained that the Russian government and George Soros' Open Society Institute (OSI) had been funding an opposition movement meant to remove Shevardnadze from power. Links to the Russian government have never been proven, although the OSI is well known to have funded training for Kmara. The Belgrade-based Center for Nonviolent Resistance was also key in training Kmara, and several other Western organizations were involved in supporting the group. After international observers condemned Shevardnadze’s conduct of the November 2003 parliamentary elections, Kmara led the protests that led to his downfall. Kmara also received training and inspiration from Otpor, which had led the overthrow of Slobodan Milosˇevic in Serbia in 2000. Kmara also used Gene Sharp’s handbook “From Dictatorship to Democracy” as a basis for its campaigns.38

People encircled the parliament for weeks before the old regime gave up in 2005.

Ukraine 2004-2005

Ukraine was the site of a peaceful revolution in 2004. After the November 2004 elections, allegations of massive corruption and fraud were reported by international observers as well as national organizations. In the capital, Kiev, the student movement Pora39 led nonviolent demonstrations. Veterans of Otpor and Kmara supported the new movement, as did Freedom House and the National Democratic Institute. Support was also given to Viktor Yushchenko and his followers. One reaction to the oppositional movement and foreign support was a number of articles in the Western press criticizing Pora for being an undemocratic mob. Simon Jenkins wrote in The Times of London on December 1, 2004 under the heading “When is a mob not really a mob?”, “It is systematized anarchy. It is never reliable. Such crowds are the manifestation of failure. They suggest that constitutions have lost consent and democratic institutions [have] collapsed. They are the extension of politics in the direction of civil war” (Jenkins, 2004). These critiques also included several other nonviolent revolutions.

By the dawn of election day, when the scale of the alleged fraud became clear, the Yushchenko team publically called for action, and beginning on November 22, 2004, massive protests began in cities across Ukraine; the major one in Kiev's Independence Square attracted an estimated 500,000 participants, who on November 23, 2004 peacefully marched in front of the headquarters of the the Ukrainian parliament, many carrying orange flags or wearing orange, the color of Yushchenko's campaign coalition.40

The government bureaucracy showed signs of opposition from within at an early stage. When the censored government TV reported on the elections, the interpreter, Natalia Dimitrusk, said in her small box on the screen, “The results announced by the Central Electoral Commission are rigged (…) Do not believe them (…) I’m very disappointed by the fact that I had to interpret lies. (…) I will not do it anymore. I do not know if you will see me again” (Sorensen, 2005). Later more opposition was visible, including strikes that took place in many government-run offices.

According to one version of events recounted by The New York Times, Ukrainian security agencies played a markedly unusual role in the Orange Revolution, with a KGB successor agency in the former Soviet state providing qualified support to a political opposition. On November 28, more than 10,000 troops from the Internal Ministry were mobilized to put down the protests in Independence Square. The Security Service of Ukraine warned opposition leaders of the crackdown. Military intelligence chief Oleksander Galaka called for a prevention of bloodshed. " Col. Gen. Ihor P. Smeshko (SBU chief) and Maj. Gen. Vitaly Romanchenko (military counterintelligence chief) both warned Popkov to pull back his troops, which he did (Chivers, 2005).

Yushchenko was the winner of a second runoff election. Five days later, Viktor Yanukovych resigned from office, and his cabinet was dismissed on January 5, 2005.



Lebanon 2005

In 2005 the wave of nonviolent revolutions reached Beirut, Lebanon. Hundreds of thousands occupied Martyrs’ Square after the killing of former prime minister Rafik Hariri. The assassination resulted in huge anti-Syrian protests by Lebanese citizens in Beirut, demanding the resignation of the pro-Syrian government. Following the examples of the Rose Revolution in Georgia and the Orange Revolution in Ukraine, the popular action was dubbed the "Cedar Revolution"41 by the U.S. State Department, a name that quickly caught on among the international media. On February 28, 2005, as more than 70,000 people demonstrated in Martyrs' Square, Prime Minister Omar Karami and his Cabinet resigned, although they remained in office temporarily in a caretaker role prior to the appointment of replacements. On March 8, Hizbollah showed its strength by gathering an even larger crowd of people in support of Syria and its help to Lebanon. It accused the U.S. and Israel of meddling in internal Lebanese affairs.

On March 14, one month after Hariri's assassination, approximately one million protestors rallied in Martyrs' Square, the largest gathering to date. Protestors of all sects (even including a number of Shiites) demanded the truth about Hariri's murder, and called for independence from Syrian occupation. The march reiterated their will for a sovereign, democratic, unified country, free of Syria's hegemony.42

In these demonstrations, condemnation of U.S. politics in the Middle East were dominant. The Free Patriotic Movement, which mainly had students from the Christian Universityand the American University, were central in the demonstrations, with Druze and Sunni Muslims also participating.



Kyrgyzstan 2005

The “Tulip Revolution” of Kyrgyzstan, led by the student movement “Kelkel,”43 overthrew President Askar Akayev and his government after the parliamentary elections of February 27 and March 13, 2005. The revolution sought the end of rule by Akayev and his associates, who were seen as corrupt and authoritarian. Following the revolution, Akayev fled the country, On April 4 he resigned in Moscow, and on April 11 the Kyrgyz Parliament ratified his resignation.

In the early stages of the revolution, the media variously referred to the unrest as the "Pink," "Lemon," "Silk," "Daffodil," "Sandpaper," and "Tulip" Revolution. But over time, most of the media began to call it the Tulip Revolution. Such a term evoked similarities with the mostly nonviolent Rose Revolution in Georgia and the Orange Revolution in Ukraine, and possibly referenced the Velvet Revolution in Czechoslovakia. The Tulip Revolution, however, saw some violence in its initial days, and at least three people died during widespread looting in the capital in the first 24 hours after the fall of the Kyrgyz government.44

In an interview, when one of the people who started Kelkel was asked about its sources of inspiration, the answer was:

“Certainly we were inspired firstly by Otpor, and by Pora as well. Kmara (Georgia), Zubr45 (Belorus), Kahar46 (Kazakhstan), and Yok47 (Azerbaijan), smaller movements in Croatia, Russia, and Switzerland that campaigned not only for political freedoms but also for environmental rights, women’s rights, and religious minorities also become our inspirations. Certainly, the philosophies of Mahatma Ghandi, Martin Luther King, Rousseau, Karl Polanyi, Adam Smith, Karl Marx, Mancur Olsen, Edward Said, Noam Chomsky, Arundati Roy, Manuel Castells, and Arthuro Escobar–all works that provided critical overview of regimes and the workings of the state, civil society, and social movements--were extremely important in our strategizing, campaigning, and relationships among members.” 48

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