New Revolutionary Movements


Originally Published in Jørgen Johansen & Charles P. Webel, Peace and Conflict Studies: A Reader, Routledge 2006.

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New Revolutionary Movements

The history of nonviolence goes back hundreds if not thousands of years. Several philosophical, political, and religious traditions have strong elements of nonviolence in their theories and practice. Nonviolent actions can be traced to the earliest written history, and most probably have a forgotten history even older than our printed texts. People have refused to cooperate, staged symbolic protests, and opposed oppression in a variety of ways. Most holy scripts have both brutally violent behavior and examples of nonviolence. However, the use of peaceful actions is less documented than wars and cruel behavior. We still see that same tendency in contemporary literature and in the modern media. Library shelves are filled with books on the wars in our history, yet it is close to impossible to find books on the history of peace. Even the terminology is badly developed. Nonviolence is used as a term for a lifestyle, a philosophy, and a political tool, and the word “peace” hardly has a plural form. Historians seem to regard peace as something that can be found between wars, but barely a topic in itself. In the modern media we all “know” that a story is not worth covering if it doesn’t involve violence.  Most journalists and academics lack interest in and understanding of nonviolence. The result is meager coverage and focus on nonviolence.

Nonviolent Revolution

The focus of this chapter is on those movements that have confronted governments and parliaments and demanded changes in leadership. These movements have gotten different labels depending on who they are and who is using the terminology, from “terrorists” to “democratic movements.” Between those extremes we find terms like “paramilitaries,” “rebels,” “freedom fighters,” “guerrillas,” and “opposition.” Often the same movement receives many of these labels at the same time from different quarters. This labeling is part of the political rhetoric included in the conflicts.

In order to limit the scope of this chapter, I mainly focus on movements that do not use violent means in their struggle and that have been successful in toppling the leadership of a country. These limitations mean that I exclude those who have not (yet?) been successful. By successful I mean those who have achieved their primary goal of changing the regime in their country. That is not to say that other achievements aren’t also important and that successes can’t be understood differently than the limited scope of this text.

I am also limiting this article chronologically to the period from the late 1970s to the present time. Preliminary research indicates that an important change happened around that time in the use of means by those movements that worked for a change. The trend for such movements since 1945 had been that successful movements that aimed for a change in their countries’ present regimes based their strategies mainly on the use of armed struggle. Since the late 1970s an important part of the strategies for successful movements has been massive demonstrations in central areas of their countries’ capitals.

It is important to stress that I am not evaluating the consequences of changing the leadership in a country. Cases are included only because the former regime resigned; I do not judge what replaced them. This limitation is not because the end result is irrelevant or unimportant; it is just because my present research does not have enough data on the short- and/or long-term consequences yet. To include short- and long-term consequences will be an important follow-up of the present research.

It should also be mentioned that I exclude all movements that follow constitutional procedures. Cases where movements have used ordinary channels such as elections, referendums, or other conventional political tools within the system of law are consequently excluded. I also exclude all forms of coups d’etat from elitist groups, which is the most common type of nonconstitutional regime change. Most coups d’etat are even carried out with few or no casualties.[1]

In summary, the cases in this study are those movements from below that have used mainly nonviolent means to unconstitutionally change a country’s regime.

  Process of conflict Actors Means

Figure 1


The term “nonviolence” must be discussed in more depth. In the literature, the concept of “nonviolent revolution” is frequently used in the context of such cases as I focus on in this article. There is no agreement on the definition of this phrase. Both “revolution” and “nonviolence” are controversial terms separately and of course when they are used together. Dave Dellinger wrote in his 1965 essay “The Future of Nonviolence” that “the theory and practice of active nonviolence are roughly at the stage of development today as those of electricity in the early days of Marconi and Edison” (Dellinger, 1971, p. 368).  The concept as well as the use of nonviolence have definitely developed since 1965. And some basic and stable core elements in the concept have been much more widely used and are part of the mainstream vocabulary to a much larger extent today than forty years ago.

In the framework that I am using it here, “nonviolence” is used as a political tool. It is not as a philosophy or lifestyle but a number of activities used by individuals and groups in order to influence a conflict. This form of nonviolence could be seen in Poland from 1980 to 1989, when the trade union Solidarity challenged the role of the communist party and its leadership. Solidarity’s actions were carried out in such a way that other humans were not intentionally or seriously harmed. Many of the members hated the communist regime and many would have liked to “strangle the leaders slowly,” but they decided for strategic reasons to use nonviolence.

This is far from a Gandhian or pacifist definition of nonviolence. It does not exclude minor harm of a psychological or physical kind or destruction of material things. It does not exclude harming animals or other parts of nature. The large majority of those who take part in movements like Solidarity, and the other ones that I describe later in this text, are not pacifist and do not care about the well-being of those “on the other side.” The use of nonviolence in large-scale societal conflicts is primarily a choice based on very pragmatic analyses of “what is effective?”

There will always be gray zones when such definitions are applied to the real world. “Where is the borderline?” will always be a question. My answer to that is that each case must be judged separately, and that the main point here is not the few cases belonging to the gray zone but rather the large bulk of examples, which can easily be defined as nonviolent.

Of course the use of guns and other forms of weapons is excluded if we use the term “nonviolence.” But in a number of the cases we know about, individuals and groups carried, or had access to, arms, but never used them. If the opponent knew about the arms, these cases can of course be regarded as “threats with arms.” Then the questions arise: Is a threat with arms a nonviolent activity? Will the answer to such a question be dependent on whether the opponent knew about the arms? Does it make sense to include a discussion of whether violence is intended or unintended?  We can imagine a number of scenarios regarding the use of or lack of arms/violence.

One example of this is the case of Serbia and the large demonstrations on October 5, 2000. A substantial part of those who demonstrated had either easy access to arms or actually carried them. But they had a policy of nonviolence. Through training, dialogue with the authorities in advance, and via the media, they had maintained for weeks that it was going to be a peaceful demonstration. Many knew that if anyone started to shoot, the demonstration could have easily ended with a bloodbath. In my view, it was their commitment to nonviolence that prevented that from happening. Even if the police and security forces were afraid of a bloodbath and therefore decided not to use their guns that day, the result was a day without the use of direct violence.

The first and perhaps most crucial distinction here is who is using or not using violence as part of their overall strategy. I am discussing two types of actors: the “opposition” and the “position.” By position I mean those who are in power, the leadership with the main political power in a country. By opposition I mean those actors who oppose the status quo and demand change. In a later section called “Complexity of Conflicts,” I discuss a more detailed view on actors in these conflicts. Both the opposition and the position have of course a choice of what means to use. As shown in Figure 2, we can imagine at least six different choices by the opposition and three by the position.[2] This leads us to eighteen possible options. It is obvious by looking at the figure that we can have a number of cases where only one of the actors is using nonviolence. Then the definition of “nonviolent revolution” is confronted with problems.

Some of the problems are:

  •  Is the revolution nonviolent if one or more of the actors uses violence?  This includes the actors from the position. Do the activities of the state influence the discussion of whether the revolution is nonviolent or not? Or, more specifically, should a movement stick to nonviolence even when confronted with violence?
  • Is the threat of violence also a type of violence, and should it be counted as such in this context?
  • Does it make a difference if the lack of violent means is due to lack of arms (difficulties in obtaining arms)? Should such cases be labeled nonviolent?
  • How should we regard groups that are armed but that have promised not to use their arms?

The Opposition

Active use of weapons Threats to use weapons Nonviolent actions due to lack of weapons Armed with promise not to use them Proclaimed policy of not having or using violent means Well prepared nonviolence through training

The Position (State)

Active use of weapons
Threats to use weapons
Armed with promise not to use them

Figure 2

The following is based on a pragmatic concept of nonviolence. It is not a Gandhian type of nonviolence in “actions, words, and minds,” but rather nonviolence as a pragmatic political tool that avoids serious physical harm to human beings. The reason for this limited view of nonviolence is that in most empirical cases, we have seen the majority using this type of nonviolence. Even if some pacifists are found among them, the morally based nonviolence does not influence the movement.

The question of one or more actor using violence must be explained. There is a widespread view when conflicts are presented that there are only two or three actors. Typical examples are Kashmir, Colombia, and the Middle East. Seen from a distance or through the lenses of the mainstream media, it is indeed difficult to recognize more than a few actors. Kashmir is presented as a conflict between India and Pakistan. The war in Colombia is described as the government against Marxist drug-financed guerrillas. In Palestine, the media explain the situation as a conflict between Israel and Palestine. But anyone who spends time in these areas will easily identify many actors.[3] By “actor” I mean an individual or a group that influences the conflict and that has its own distinct agenda.[4] In most micro-, and all meso-, macro-, and mega-scale conflicts, the majority of actors and activities/means are not violent. Even in the midst of the most violent conflict, one will always find nonviolent actors and nonviolent activities. It is not exceptional to find that the numbers of actors is more than twenty in such conflicts, and most do not use violence. The tendency to limit the number of actors when describing a conflict creates a number of difficulties for those who want to understand or act in the conflict. All important actors need to be recognized in order to understand the process in the conflicts.

The point here is that most actors never use violent means, and those who do also have a number of nonviolent means in their toolbox. Should a few actors using violent means on some occasions be enough to label the whole revolution violent? Or does it depend on who is using the violent means? I argue that the means of those actors with popular support who are opposing the present situation should be the ones to determine whether the conflict is violent or not. In Iran in 1979 and Tiananmen Square in 1989, the opposition kept to its nonviolent strategy even when confronted with brutal violence from the state. Even these blood-spattered conflicts should in my view be labeled nonviolent. In Figure Two this means that whatever the “position” is doing, the revolution can still be correctly labeled nonviolent. The reason is that the interesting focus is the results achieved by peaceful means. As long as one main oppositional actor tries to accomplish their goals with peaceful means I will in this context label the struggle as nonviolent.

The situations when the opposition is not using violent means due to either lack of arms or because it is using arms as “just” a threat, are difficult to categorize without discussing each case separately. For the most part, these situations should probably be categorized as violent. The willingness to use arms is an important factor. If the reasons for not using arms are purely tactical and not strategic, it doesn’t differ very much from the actual use of arms. The situation can easily change, and arms could be used. In the case of Indonesia uses of arms were relatively rare, but riots took place. Cars and shops were put on fire and fights with sticks and stones took place. Some of this was done by vigilantes paid by those in position in order to blame the opposition and justify the use of brutal violence from police and militaries. On site comments and analyses are documented well in The last days of president Suharto (Aspinall et al. 1999)

The situations where the opposition has arms but has promised not to use them are more complicated. In Belgrade on October 5, 2000 a large proportion of the demonstrators were armed or had easy access to arms, but it had been public policy prior to the demonstrations not to use the arms. The reason for this policy was that the opposition was convinced that Milosevic would win any armed confrontation, but would have serious problems handling large masses of nonviolent people. The fact that people carried guns that day can be explained partly by the fact that Serbs are used to having guns easily accessible and partly by their wish to have arms as a last option for self-defense in case they faced armed threats. The wars in the 1990s made them even more used to carrying arms in their daily lives. Therefore, the large demonstration on October 5, 2000 should be labeled nonviolent. Here only nonviolence was planned. Arms were not an integral part of the demonstrators’ strategy and were not included in their “toolbox” for the actions.

A more nuanced discussion of this can be had by using three different components, the process of conflict, the actor, and the means. The “ABC triangle” from Galtung (Galtung, 1975) identifies three ingredients in a conflict: Attitude, Behavior and Conflict. In later texts he uses the label “content” or “contradiction” for the C-corner (Galtung, 2000). The purpose of this triangle is to keep analytical apart what is often mixed together and confused. Too frequent in media as well as textbooks the means are mixed up with the

These three components can all have either a violent or a nonviolent value. The obvious conflict is the revolution itself, which is a complex process with at least one process, a number of actors, and several activities (“means”). The next component is the actors who are involved in the process. And the last component is the means used by the actors. By dividing this subject in three and then discussing violence and nonviolence, it is easier to be more exact. If we talk about a violent revolution, do we then mean that the whole process is completely dominated by violence? In most cases there are only a few, violent actors. And they don not use solely violent means and not at all times. The violent means and events get the most attention, but that is not relevant from an analytical point of view. Even in the most violent conflicts it is almost always possible to identify nonviolent “islands.”

James C. Scott has studied and written about ways to create space for nonviolent resistance in extremely violent situations. His examples are not from revolutionary movements, but from local class struggles. His cases are, however, relevant for movements such as those we are dealing with here. In Domination and the Arts of Resistance (Scott, 1990) and Weapons of the Weak (Scott, 1985), he looks into the options for resistance among peasants in a Malay village. In Domination, he introduces the concept of “hidden transcript,” in which subordinates are able to create a space to empower themselves, even if the context makes it difficult for outsiders to realize what is going on.

There are actors who do not use violence, and there are actors who use both nonviolence and violence.

The reason for separating actors from means may need an explanation. At first, it is difficult to imagine nonviolent actors if their means are violent. Many actors use many means, and of course some can be violent while others are nonviolent. The separation can be in time as well as in space. Does it make sense to talk about a nonviolent revolution if one or more of the actors involved, from the position or opposition, are using violent means on one more or more occasions? Or would one violent incident from one actor make the whole revolution violent? Scanning the relevant literature makes it apparent that minor violent actions does not influence the labeling of a large-scale, mainly peaceful process. But it is not clear where the lines are or should be drawn for classifying a revolutionary process as violent or nonviolent. In the media, it seems more common than in academia to label a conflict violent if there is even the smallest violent activity included in it. There is an eagerness in the media to report violent incidents that tends to take over from a more appropriate objective overview. The events in Seattle in November 1999 are a good illustration of this effect. Most of the protests were essentially well prepared nonviolent actions in order to protest against the policy of the WTO Ministerial Conference. A small minority started with acts of vandalism and got most of the media attention.

In academia the situation is slightly better informed. But there is a lack of researchers who focus on the means used in such large-scale societal conflicts as we are dealing with here. Most peace researchers have traditionally only dealt with the most violent cases of such conflicts. Only a few of them have studied cases with fewer than a hundred dead bodies per year. And the focus on the different means used in a conflict is extremely rare (Johansen, 2006). Within those who focus on social movements, there are very few who focus on the means these movements are using. There are many theories on how these movements are born and develop, and many studies on what makes a movement successful and what the obstacles to success are. But studies on the means selected are missing in most works. Within social movement research some of the few exceptions from this sad rule are (Schock, 2004), (Zunes et al., 1999), and (Sørensen, 2005). Within political science there is a great deal of research on changes of regimes, but very little on the means used by the main actors in these processes. Important works like Theorizing Revolutions Foran, 1997),  Revolutions and Revolutionary Movements (DeFronzo, 1996) and The Future of Revolutions (Foran, 2003) are all lacking a discussion on the means used by the revolutionary movements. You will find some relevant theory and case studies in Tarrow (1998) and Markoff (1996) but not much on the means as such. The Albert Einstein Institute in Boston, under the leadership of Gene Sharp, has been a very active place for studies of the use of nonviolence around the world. Sharp’s theories and works have dominated this field for many decades. His 1973 book The Politics of Nonviolent Action is still the standard book for research on large-scale nonviolence (updated and expanded in 2005 as Waging Nonviolent Struggle).


The concept of revolution is discussed in many different academic fields. There are many schools of thought regarding revolutionary practice, and they define the concept in different ways. Most definitions include a rapid and comprehensive change of the society from below. Amanda Peralta distinguishes between political and social dimensions of change (Peralta, 1990). The main difference between a political revolution and a social one is that the first one achieves its goal by taking over power, while the second takes over power as a means to either achieve or secure broader goals. Peralta argues that for a change to be labeled revolutionary it must be comprehensive, thorough, and deep within the society. It is not enough to have an insurgence that ends after minimal changes have been achieved, like a government that resigns or a change of a law. A social revolution is dependent on a political revolution, but a political revolution does not require a social revolution (Peralta, 1990, pp. 35-36).

Peralta focuses on the close relation between war and revolution. She asserts that the “revolutionary war” is a result of the work done by Marx and Engels. When they analyzed the European industrialized countries, they saw a need for a revolutionary change of the power structure in these countries. Both of them had problems finding means these necessary changes could use. They knew why but not how. They both found a possible solution in Austrian general and war strategist Carl von Clausewitz. They both read his book Von Kriege in the 1850s and were impressed by it; they saw the idea that “war was a continuation of politics by other means” as a solution to their problems with revolutionary means. The only way to succeed in a confrontation with a well-organized, well-trained, and well-equipped army was if that army was demoralized. And the only way to achieve such a situation was to have that army weakened by another army. These concepts of war and revolution have since been central to the Marxist tradition. For Marx and Engels, the combination of war and revolution became more and more problematic in later years, and they became more hostile to war as such. They tried without success to come up with other solutions. Other socialists’ ideas about general strikes and refusing to serve in the military were seen by Marx and Engels as impossible to carry out.[5] For Lenin, the revolution should always be organized through the party, and the means should always be war. The majority of revolutionary Marxist/socialist movements today continue in the Lenin tradition. It is therefore difficult to separate the concept of war from the concept of revolution. Revolution is widely regarded as a specific type of war. Other means are not seen as an option. This is, however, a very limited and simplified view of revolutionary processes. War will always be just one part of the overall process. Arms, as we have seen, have never been the only means used to reach revolutionary goals.

In this text, revolution means a process of changing the leadership of a country; this is a typical political revolution that does not necessarily include significant social change. The process is relatively quick, and, as mentioned above, it is not part of a constitutional process. The changes at the top of the pyramid may influence the rest of society; the possible changes may be intentional or not. And they may come as an immediate result of the new leadership or as a delayed consequence.


Revolutionary conflicts are of course extremely complex.[6] The number of factors influencing their outcome is very high. Some factors and actors are external, while others are internal. Some factors are necessary, while others are not that important to the outcome. Probably none of them are sufficient by themselves for a change to occur. J. Grix discusses different factors and their importance in his book The Role of the Masses in the Collapse of the GDR (Grix, 2000), and his analyses of East Germany has a general relevance for similar cases. He discusses the collapse of the GDR, and categorizes different to change in five broad interlinked groups :

  • Foreign policy-based approach/external factors
  • Economic/systemic approach
  • Elite intransigence approach
  • Revolution or no revolution?
  • Legitimacy deficit/opposition

Each of these approaches produces a distinct set of questions. The one called “Revolution or no revolution?” has the most relevance for this article. But, for a fuller picture of the revolutionary process and to understand the entire process and its results, each of these approaches is important. Together these approaches may produce a more comprehensive picture of the complete process of political change.

The use of massive nonviolence is certainly one aspect that plays an important role in these cases. In some cases, that may be the only factor that was sufficient for a regime change to take place. If that is the case, then one must examine the reasons that masses of people were willing to mobilize. In other words, there is a need to explain why large groups of people take to the streets with common demands and goals. Here the answers will be almost as complex as the revolutions themselves.

K.-D. Opp presents a number of important questions for our evaluation of “how it could happen?”[7]

  • Why did a relatively large portion of the population take part in the protests?
  • Why did the citizens protest peacefully?
  • Why didn’t state sanctions hinder the protests?

The answers to these three questions are essential to explain how nonviolent revolutions can take place. Only a few studies have been carried out thus far with a focus on these questions. There is a need to do more case studies in order to find good answers to these essential questions.

In addition to the issues involved in these three questions, there are a number of other issues that will determine the likelihood for nonviolent revolutions to succeed. Issues that influence the likelihood for revolutions to take place include economic conditions, international diplomacy, cultural heritage, religious factors, the media situation, and the opportunity for different sociopolitical classes to join their forces. In addition, there must exist a common factor of dissatisfaction that many people agree on. In many cases, we have seen that suspicion of election fraud is one such common factor.

Even when a large proportion of a population is unsatisfied with its present leadership, the people need more than their unhappy situation in order to act. They must be willing to take risks without knowing the actual consequences of their activities. Police brutality, fines, and imprisonment are known factors when people rebel. Extreme cases such as the massacres as in Amritsar,[8] Sharpsville,[9] and Tiananmen Square[10] are relatively well-known. No guarantees are given when people take to the streets and confront their governments. Their belief that they can improve their situation must be stronger than their fear of violent consequences.

There is also the need to know how to act. This can be theoretical knowledge based on books, but there is probably a greater need for convincing arguments than for theories. For every successful case, the evidence that it is possible to win will increase. Media coverage of success stories is also an important factor. The international media are rightly criticized for being shallow in their coverage of large-scale conflicts in general, and nonviolent ones get even more one-dimensional reporting. But despite trivial coverage, the events in Eastern Europe from 1989-1991 definitely inspired people to take to the streets. Much of the information about what happened in neighboring countries came from the international media. The local and national media in those countries, still under old-style communist control, were not very keen to inform their viewers, listeners, and readers about what had happened in the spectacular revolutions “next door.”

A. O. Hirschman (Hirschman, 1970) describes three alternatives for people dissatisfied with their situation:

  • exit
  • voice
  • loyalty.

Despite being based on experiences in businesses and other organizations, these three options are also relevant for countries. “Exit” means to leave the country or conflict area; this was done to a large extent in the GDR. People left by the thousands when trains to Hungary were available. The leadership in GDR saw this as a way to get rid of the worst troublemakers. But the fact that some left was just regarded as a source of inspiration for many more to take part in demonstrations and other oppositional activities. “Voice” in this context means the use of public space to make your opinion known. Large masses of people demonstrating is the best-known example of the voice option. But it can also be the use of symbols. Symbols have a long tradition in most oppositional movements. They can be figures, flags, or colors. Yellow was the symbol of Corazon Aquino in the Philippines, and orange was used in Ukraine. J Kubik has described the use of symbols in the Polish revolution, but it is also relevant for many other revolutionary movements (Kubik, 1994). “Loyalty” is the alternative for those who, for different reasons, accept the situation and don’t actively support the opposition. All three alternatives can be seen in a number of revolutionary situations. What makes people choose one and not another is unclear in most cases. More research is needed to understand the motives for people to choose among the three.

Even in the most spontaneous revolution there is usually some form of coordinating body. This can be an organization or coalition of organizations with a history of opposition, or it can be a newly formed body. Their function of the coordinating body can differ depending on the level of organizing and the support of large groups of people. For many people to take part, there must be a widespread belief in the possibility of success. Some knowledge of different means and agreement on which means to use are also essential for such a movement to gain momentum. We have seen indications in the recent nonviolent revolutions in Serbia, Georgia, Ukraine, Kyrgyzstan, and Lebanon that there are links connecting them. People interviewed on the streets by the media talk about recent events in other countries; in addition people who participated in earlier revolutions have been active as resource people in more recent cases. In the nonviolent revolutions in Francophone Africa in the eighties and nineties inspirations came from the students demonstrations at Tiananmen Square in Beijing as well as from the French revolutions two hundreds years ago (Manning, 1998).

Among the many books and studies on the end of the GDR, hardly anyone excludes the importance of external events and actors. I argue that in all large-scale nonviolent changes of regimes, the external factors must be included and regarded as essential to the outcome. Most of the external events and actors must be regarded as important factors for revolutionary processes. Identifying the external events and actors is not always easy, and discovering their activities and agendas is even more difficult. A number of them have hidden agendas, and many have a diffuse influence. It is probable that none of them will have their goals completely fulfilled. The actual outcome will be a compromise, where no single actor or factor is dominant enough to get all the credit for the outcome.

USA and its secret services as well as a number of foundations have been identified as actors in many of the cases covered in this article. They have supported oppositional movements, parties, candidates, and organizations financially and with practical training, literature, and information gathered through intelligence agencies, and have given them moral and diplomatic support. This is nothing unique for nonviolent movements. The U.S. carries on such activities worldwide, and also supports a number of armed movements. The Taliban in Afghanistan, Contras in Nicaragua, AUC[11] in Colombia and the military junta in Chile are just the tip of the iceberg. An overview is given by former State Department employee William Blum in his book Rouge State (Blum, 2000) and Noam Chomsky in Deterring Democracy (Chomsky, 1992). It is not unusual that support is given to different actors in the same conflict. The aim is to have good relations with the winners, whoever they will be. When the result is obvious, the U.S. often stops supporting the losers and gives the probable winners all of its support. The U.S. has a long tradition of relatively pragmatic positions when it comes to supporting groups and countries. The goal in the long run is to install a Washington-friendly government. Even if the rhetoric focuses on promoting democracy, freedom, and respect for human rights, we see that the support goes to many dubious groups and countries as long as they support, or at least do not oppose, the present foreign policy of Washington, D.C. Good relations with the military dictatorship in Pakistan and a number of undemocratic and human rights-violating Arabic states show this. Support to right-wing governments and paramilitary groups has a long and tragic history in U.S. foreign policy.

The fact that foundations close to the elite in Washington, D.C. support a movement should not per se be regarded as an argument against that movement. In discussing recent events in Southeast and Central Europe, Central Asia, and the Middle East, many have argued that the successful movements are not genuine and have no real support from the population. They argue that they are just “puppets” run by the U.S. This argument is too superficial. I would like to see serious studies done on the effect of financial support from external sources. The “money issue” is obviously important, but it is not necessarily the main factor. It is difficult to see how possible financial support in theory would give thousands of Ukrainian people the practical courage and strength to endure weeks of cold, miserable weather in hopes of free and fair elections, or that demonstrators in Kyrgyzstan dared to confront a brutal police force just because the U.S. gave them some dollars.

In the case of Serbia and Belgrade it was revealed that the U.S. had organized training camps in Budapest and other places outside Serbia. This was followed with much more nonviolent training inside Serbia. Sources of the training and training material can only partly be used as an argument against those who accepted these offers or against the final result. Gene Sharp of the U.S. Albert Einstein Institution was the main author of the majority of the literature used by the Serbian opposition. The student group Otpor[12] distributed translations of his texts. To what degree this literature influenced the outcome of the revolution that removed Slobodan Milosevic from power is open to discussion. Once more, the importance of this factor must be weighed. It was absolutely not sufficient, and was hardly necessary either, at least in a strict sense.[13] That is not to say that it was not important, but its influence must be judged. To the extent that it had an influence, it must be understood that it was not necessarily an influence with only good consequences. One of the early critiques of Sharp was formulated by Berit G. Holm in her 1978 Masters thesis.[14] Her critique can be summarized as saying that Sharp did not pay sufficient attention to the moral side of nonviolence, but placed too much emphasis on the technical aspects. The possibility of “misuse” is present; others have since criticized Sharp on these grounds. Analogies have been presented that make his techniques substitute for weapons. Just as a knife can be both a useful tool and a deadly weapon, so can the techniques Sharp advocates be used for very different purposes.

Discussions about the morality of nonviolent techniques are not new, but have gained new relevance in recent years. Most of the nonviolent revolutions that have taken place in the last twenty years have ended not only with a new political leadership, but also with the introduction of  a neoliberal economy. That means privatization, deregulation, and liberalization of the economic institutions and laws; in short, a move from political control of the economy to “letting the market decide.” When even basic needs like food, water, shelter, and medicine must be bought at a price decided by a market driven to maximize profits, billions of people cannot afford to buy what they need. This is what Galtung called structural violence (Galtung, 1969). Structural violence has increased since the introduction of the neoliberal market economy in most of the countries that have had successful nonviolent revolutions. Compared to direct violence, structural violence is much more widespread and takes more lives. Recent figures indicate that approximately 125,000 people daily face early death due to the fact that they cannot afford to buy their basic needs. There is no lack of food, water, shelter, or medicine in the world, but rather a lack of just distribution and the ability to buy these goods. How many of these people dying earlier than they could have can be found in countries that have gone through nonviolent revolutions is not known.

The question then arises of whether the means used in the revolutionary process are responsible for these consequences. Are these consequences intended by any of the actors? The neoliberal economy is not only making progress in countries that have recently gone through nonviolent revolution. This economic system is also “on the move” in most countries around the world. After military occupations as in Iraq, after military coups d’etat as in Pakistan, and in formal democracies, we see the same development of implementing privatization in areas formerly taken care of by the public welfare system. So why should the nonviolent techniques used in the revolutionary processes be responsible for the increase in structural violence? Is it not better to have a nonviolent revolution than a violent one, even if the long-term consequences are more structural violence? There is obviously a need to do more research on the consequences of nonviolent revolutions.

Financial Factors

External financing is one variable that adds to the complexity of conflicts. It is nothing new that foreign donors support oppositional movements of different kinds. Sweden was among the first to give support to several of the liberation movements in Southern Africa. From the late sixties and onwards ANC in South Africa, FRELIMO in Mozambique, ZANU and ZAPU in Zimbabwe, MPLA and Angola, PAIGC in Guinea-Bissau, and SWAPO in Namibia got financial support through SIDA. Large amounts of it were given secretly to avoid reactions from the governments in respective country. This was in addition to allocations for emergencies, cultural activities, information, research and other parts of the regular bilateral assistance programmes (Sellström, 2002). This was not seen with positive eyes from USA and several European countries. The World Council of Churches (WCC) and other international organisations was among a growing number of actors who spoke out in favour of giving support to these movements. The South African Prime Minister John Vorster accused WCC of being infiltrated by Communists and providing “terrorist organisations with funds for buying arms”. Similar views were expressed during the following years by many leading Western politicians and military strategists (Sellström, 2002).

This conflict was very similar to many of the present situations where states are accusing oppositional movements for being terrorists and getting support from foreign sources.

President Putin of Russia said, according to Reuters in July 2005: “I am categorically against the foreign financing of (NGOs’) political activities in Russia … We understand that he who pays the piper calls the tune,…  Not a single self-respecting country will allow that, and neither shall we. … Let us solve our internal problems ourselves.” [15] One of the new laws in Russia demands that all NGOs should re-register in order to keep their permission to be active, and a crucial questions in the process of re-registration is if they get foreign financial support. This is most probably a reaction after the successful nonviolent revolutions in Serbia, Georgia, Ukraine and Kirgizstan. Russia as well as Belarus was eager to criticise the NRMs in these countries for receiving financial support from foreign donors. The same was the case for those in power in the countries facing revolutionary situations. Milosevic, Shevardnadze, Yanukovych, and Akayev all labelled the opposition “terrorists” and used foreign donors as “evidence” of their unpatriotic and illegal activities.

In most cases those organizations, networks, and movements that have led large-scale nonviolent actions have received money from donors abroad. This has been used by several people as an argument against these movements. It is not clear in all cases that receiving money is “bad” just because the money comes from someone outside the movement itself. Many have argued that the taking of such money by student movements in Serbia, Georgia, Ukraine, and Kyrgyzstan should be used as an argument against the legitimacy of these movements. When critics use foreign financial support as an argument against a movement, it seems that they differentiate based on both who gives the money and who receives it. Not only social movements but also states receive financial support. As shown in Figure Three, we can imagine a number of different approaches here.





Foreign donors

Large private & “independent” donors from the country itself or foreign origin
The movement itself Other domestic supporters Civil society Development agencies A state or private organisations close to a state
“Switzerland” “USA”
Civil society

Figure 3

Both state and civil society organizations can be receivers of financial support, which can come from a number of different sources. Movements can collect money from their own ranks, in the form of “public begging,” or as a more-or-less voluntary informal taxation. Those who have left countries often provide large parts of such economic support. We have also seen movements manage their finances via illegal trade, robbery, or bribes. Other domestic sources can be rich individuals or organizations that donate money because they support the movement and its goals.

Foreign donors can be civil society organizations that collect money because they share a movement’s aim. Movements in the Balkans, for example, received financial support in the 1990s from sister organizations in other countries. Development agencies have a long tradition of supporting civil society organizations in other countries. The Swedish group SIDA gave millions to support several African liberation movements from 1970 onward, largely in secret to avoid reactions from the governments of the respective countries (Sellström, 2002). Even if development agencies rarely act in opposition to the present policies of their governments, direct financial support from governments is often regarded differently than what comes via development agencies. It will normally be seen as more politically motivated when it comes directly from a government. And it will be judged differently if the country in question is Switzerland than if it is U.S.–large countries with an active and belligerent foreign policy will be regarded with more mistrust than small countries with a long tradition of neutrality. On the international scene, we also find rich donors who act more or less independently of any governmental policy. George Soros is one famous example of such donors.

Most opposition movements around the world receive money from abroad, and in most cases, it is the states that argue against it. But we have seen an increasing number of cases where criticism has also come from civic organizations and the media. Since the 2000 revolution in Serbia, we have also seen a growing opposition to and discussion of the effect financial support has on social movements and opposition groups.

Especially since September 11, 2001, the transfer of money has been problematic. With the pretext of avoiding financial support to groups labeled terrorists, the states have created an atmosphere where all foreign support to political movements is treated with the utmost care.[16]

Of course, there is power in giving away money. There will always be a relationship of dependence when large sums are transferred. But this factor should not be exaggerated. The fact that someone gives money does not necessarily result in the contributor completely deciding and controlling the agenda of the beneficiary. The relationship is more complex than just one dominating the other. It is partly a question of the size of the sums – large sums from one or a few donors will create more dependency than many small sums from many donors. Money is important, but it is not the only factor deciding the agenda and activities of a movement. A movement should not be judged solely by who is funding it.

Media and Diplomatic Activities

When a conflict gets international attention, diplomatic actors intervene in different ways. Some have already been active for a long time, but when CNN and the BBC report on the conflict, diplomats definitely start to act and influence. Most of their activities are behind the scenes, but now and then we see them take the public stage. Even if most of the diplomatic activities cannot easily be seen, they do play important roles in most conflicts.

Diplomacy in cases like those described in this article can include moral and economic support as well as help with collecting information, setting up communication systems, monitoring elections, giving access to international bodies, and inviting representatives to meetings and other events outside their country.  But diplomacy can also be used to discredit movements. Public humiliation, withdrawal of support, intentionally misinforming, labeling them “terrorists,” and asking others to withdraw their support are examples of diplomacy used to damage the reputation of movements. Diplomats sometimes act directly and on their own; other times they get their message out through leaks to the media. This makes it difficult to judge the reliability of media coverage and to know for sure what media sources are. A number of studies have shown that the media are used to manipulate their audience in situations of conflicts. Most of these studies have looked at situations with a high level of violence, but there is no reason to believe that conflicts dominated by nonviolence are very different in this respect. Allen and Seaton have collected a number of illustrative case studies in part two of their book The Media of Conflict (1999). The International Press Institute has also published a study of the propaganda around the war in Kosovo in the late 1990s (Goff, Trionfi, et al., 1999), and Thussu and Freedman (2003) have edited a good collection of articles on how wars and conflicts are reported in the media.

The Wave of Nonviolence

The types of revolutions described and discussed here have grown in numbers in the last twenty-five years. Some of the cases have been in the headlines for days when the escalation of the conflicts has been at its peak, but most of them hardly get mentioned, and none are described in such a way that the reader, listener, or viewer of newspapers, radios, Web sites, or TV news can get more than a superficial understanding of what is going on. In some of these cases, good research is done and can be read in books and studies. Most of the cases, however, still have not been examined and studied systematically and methodically enough to get a good understanding of what happened. The main purpose of this section is to give a more comprehensive picture of the wave of nonviolent revolutions since the late 1970s. It is not a complete list, but gives a relatively good indication of the development of new ways to carry out revolutions.

Iran 1979

Iran does not have a long tradition of nonviolent movements, and few had predicted what happened in 1979. In a country where secularization had gone far beyond what was acceptable for the Shiite clergy, the decline in clerical students, mosque attendance, and donations to mosques created a weak, divided, and nonrevolutionary country (Parsa, 2000, p. 133). The socioeconomic context, including a land reform program, created a number of conflicts and is important to understand in order to explain what followed (Hooglund, 1982, pp. 100-152).

The many opposition movements had for decades been divided into too-small units, and had not been able to join their forces for a common cause (Foran, 1994). A good description of the background from around 1800 onward can be found in Roots of Revolution  (Keddie and Richard, 1981) and Iran Between Two Revolutions (Abrahamian, 1982).

When the shah of Iran was forced to leave the country in 1979, it was after a relatively short period of revolutionary uprising initiated by religious leaders. Coalitions were built with liberal academics, trade unions, farmers, workers, and armed resistance groups (Parsa, 2000, Part II; Nima, 1983; Foran, 1994). The most extraordinary thing about the process was not the extremely short period from the start to the time that the old leadership gave up, but the means used by those who demanded a change. Against the modern army, the secret police (SAVAK), and the well-equipped ordinary police force, the opposition had tried for many years to challenge the secular state with armed resistance and guerrilla warfare. Around 1977 the opposition started to organize a resistance movement centered around the Ayatollah Khomeini, who lived in exile. Khomeini sent tapes of instructions from France; these were copied, distributed, and played in mosques around the country. He provided explicit instructions, calling for strikes, boycotts, demonstrations, and noncooperation, all well-known nonviolent means used by other groups around the world, but not in a context like this nor with such rapid results. In the Iranian revolution, the overthrowing of the old regime happened relatively quickly, and with a result very close to the goals of those who demanded a change in the state system. The majority wanted a theocracy, and that was what they got. The fact that they were met by violence and arms did not prevent the demonstrators from going on with their nonviolent actions. The number of persons killed by police and military units are not known, but most estimates are at least several thousand. This is therefore a somewhat special case of nonviolent revolution. The explanation is that my working definition for nonviolent revolution is that those who want a change do not use weapons. And in the case of Iran in 1978-1979, those who wanted to get rid of the shah were mostly unarmed, a very pragmatic but effective use of nonviolent techniques. The few cases of armed struggle carried out by Marxist-Leninist guerrilla groups did not pose a major obstacle for the shah. Unarmed masses confronting soldiers and police, even when shot at, made it in the long run impossible to uphold the discipline in the army, and massive desertion was the result. This undermined the power base for the shah and made it impossible for him to retain his power.

Poland 1980-1989

In many ways, the Iranian revolution set a new trend for successful revolutions in the years to come. The next actor on the scene was Solidarity in Poland. After two centuries of armed uprising, Polish workers tried to fight the regime in 1980 with unarmed means (Garton Ash, 1991; Karpinski, 1982).

After the turmoil in 1956 in Poland and Hungary, the workers movement was just waiting for an opportunity to resurface. Jacek Kuron’s 1964 “Open Letter to the Members of the Polish United Workers Party” challenged the system and influenced underground discussions (Weber and Brust, 1989, pp. 57-90). In both December 1970 and June 1976, revolutionary attempts were made, but without the necessary momentum. The Committee in Defence of Workers (KOR) was one important result of the discussion following the letter and the imprisonment of its author (Blumsztajn, Michel, et al., 1986, pp. 73-91). What Jane Leftwich Curry calls “Poland’s permanent revolution”  changed strategy in 1980 (Curry and Fajfer, 1996). After many discussions, a network of groups and organizations became better structured. Maryjane Osa has described these networks and their organizational development in her 2003 book Solidarity and Contention: Networks of Polish Opposition. The Catholic Church and the Polish pope played crucial roles in inspiring individuals in the years ahead. The visit by the Pope to Poland in June 1979 mobilized some of the largest gatherings ever in Poland. None doubted the Pope’s view on communism. Rumors about a hidden agenda for the Catholic Church and activities behind the scene are still unconfirmed.

Solidarity was also famous for its use of symbols in its struggle. Not only the flag and the Catholic cross but also a number of monuments, historic dates, and well-known people were used to express Solidarity’s views in times of censorship. J. Kubik, in his 1994 book The Power of Symbols against the Symbols of Power, gives the reader an excellent and sophisticated cultural understanding of these nonviolent means.

On July 1, 1980, localized strikes broke out all over Poland due to a government decree that raised meat prices by almost 100 percent.[17] In August 1980, the Gdansk Strike Committee (MKS) formed and twenty-one demands were presented. By early September, agreements were signed in three cities giving workers the right to form trade unions and to strike (Persky, 1981, pp. 248-253).[18]

On September 21, the first Sunday Mass was on national radio for the first time since World War II. The autumn strikes and court cases were mixed with dialogue. A nationwide one-hour warning strike was held on October 3. The Supreme Court officially registered Solidarity on November 10. On December 5, Warsaw Pact members met for a summit in Moscow; four days later, the Soviets initiated military exercises all around Poland, and many feared that an invasion like the one in Hungary in 1956 or Prague in 1968 was approaching. A week later, leading cultural, religious, governmental, and Solidarity figures attended a dedication of a memorial in Gdansk commemorating workers martyred in the 1970 strike. By early February 1981, General Jaruzelski was named prime minister, and he asked for a three-month “ceasefire.” Industrial and general strikes occurred throughout 1981 in several part of the country. Starting in the shipyards in Gdansk, the strikes spread to many sectors and cities. The scope of the protests and the lack of violence created a situation in which the government was forced to start negotiations with the newly formed free trade unions. By the end of the fall, close to 10 million people of a total population of 35 million had joined the protests. The unions created a multitude of diverse forums for free expression of opinions. An Independent Student Union was also recognized, and farmers began to form independent organizations. The whole of 1981 continued with strikes and recognition of more organizations. The peak came on December 13, when Jaruzelski declared a state of war, and a number of Solidarity leaders and activists were arrested. In the spring of 1982, Solidarity started to organize underground and formed a Temporary Coordinating Commission (TKK). The following twelve months, a number of demonstrations took place, but without large numbers of participants. In October a new law dissolved independent self-governing trade unions, and by January 1983, martial law was suspended. The visit by the Pope in June 1983 resulted in the lifting of martial law, and in October Lech Walesa was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. The struggle continued, and Solidarity asked people to boycott the 1984 local government elections. In 1985, a major shift started in the Soviet Union with the election of Gorbachev as the General Secretary of the Communist Party. In 1989, Solidarity got 35 percent of the seats in Sejm[19] and 99 out of 100 seats in the new upper house, the Senate. It was without a doubt a good result after almost a decade of nonviolent action. That Walesa was elected president on December 9, 1999 can be seen as the end of the revolution, but hardly the end of problems in Poland.

This is not the place to write an extended history of the Solidarity movement; those who want to read more can easily find good literature on the subject (Sweezy, 1980; MacShane, 1981; Brumberg, 1983; Reiquam, Lorenz, et al., 1988; Weber and Brust, 1989; Cirtautas, 1997).

Bolivia 1982

Bolivia’s nonviolent mobilization began in 1977, when three women from the mining districts started a hunger strike in La Paz. The well-known woman Domitila Barrios de Chungara joined them, and soon many activities followed around the country (Viezzer and Barrios de Chungara, 1980). Bolivia has a different political and cultural context, but is similar in some ways to Poland. Bolivia was well-known for military coups and dictatorships, a cocaine mafia, and a brutal government. The infamous general Luis Garcia Meza led a bloody coup in 1980 (Karatnycky and Ackerman, 2005). The Committee for Defence of Democracy (CONADE) was established in the spring of 1980 and mobilized the political opposition. The Bolivian trade union Central Obrera Boliviana (COB) joined them, and organized for strikes in the mines and later general strikes. Since most of the Bolivian population was farmers, the opposition got new strength when the farmers’ union joined it. After five general strikes with increasing participation and a growing number of farmers in demonstrations, the generals stepped down in 1982 and gave power to those who won the 1980 elections (Nilsen and Bakke, 1987). Bolivia is not well-known for nonviolent resistance, but there are many interesting parallels to Poland. When Walesa won the Nobel Peace Prize, he invited representatives from the trade union COB. There were obviously links between Solidarity and COB, although to what degree they cooperated with and inspired each other is unknown. In both cases, the workers’ organizations cooperated with the farmers’ unions, and generated a strong coalition that used nonviolence. The armed tradition from Che Guevara turned out to be less effective and popular than strikes, demonstrations, and boycotts.

Uruguay 1985

After the coups d’etat in June 1973, none challenged the military in Uruguay, which was regarded as one of the most totalitarian and brutal regimes in South America. All forms of opposition were met with torture, murder, and kidnapping (McManus, 1991, p. 100).

In an effort to legitimize its power, the Uruguayan dictatorship in 1980 organized a referendum for a new constitution. The proposed constitution  would have institutionalized military rule over the country, but it was rejected  by 57 percent of the population.

In late August 1983, a small demonstration was organized in front of  the small office of Servicio Paz y Justicia (Serpaj) in Montevideo. Inside three people had been fasting for fifteen days, and more and more people gathered outside in solidarity. The authorities cut off the office’s light, water, and telephones. One night a new from of protest was born, caceroleada: banging on pots and other kitchen equipment to make sounds of protest. The sound was soon heard everywhere in the city. The police and military could not do much as long as people were inside their houses, and the sounds traveled through open windows.

Serpaj was declared illegal by the government soon after the first large caceroleada but it quickly grew to a major national human rights movement through these actions.

Labor and student organizations demonstrated separately in Montevideo on several occasions that fall, with the main demand being new elections. In early 1984, labor and civil strikes pressed the military into negotiations with the major opposition parties. A result of these discussions was the military’s agreement to hold national elections in November, from which the opposition Colorado Party’s Julio Maria Sanguinetti emerged victorious. He took office in March 1985 (Karatnycky and Ackerman, 2005).

The Philippines 1986

Asia was the next continent to experience a successful nonviolent revolution. Corazon Cojuangco Aquino studied in the U.S. and returned to the Philippines in 1983 for her husband’s wake and funeral. Her father, Benigno Aquino, had been assassinated on orders from President Marcos. Corazon Aquino immediately becomes the leader of the opposition toward Marcos. In the years following her husband’s death, she led numerous demonstrations, and in 1986 she stood against Marcos in the election. In February that year, popular uprisings took place at military camps in Quezon City, outside Manila, Marcos’ first serious opposition after thirteen years of martial law. He felt confident that he would win, and announced presidential elections. Aquino ran against him under the banner LABAN, an acronym for Lakas ng Bayan.[20] Marcos won fraudulently, and several of the government’s tabulators walked out in protest. The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines issued a document that was read from pulpits throughout the nation, declaring that the people had a duty to resist, nonviolently. One million took part in demonstrations at Lueta Park on February 4. Two weeks later, more than two million demonstrated there. Later parts of the armed forces declared Aquino the true winner of the elections, and massive demonstrations in yellow t-shirts began in Manila to support her. Yellow was used by Aquino as the symbol of her movement; whenever she was seen in public, she dressed in yellow, which was why she was nicknamed “the canary.” By the end of February, Marcos had fled the country and Aquino took her place as the Philippines’ legally elected president (Schirmer and Shalom, 1987).

Eastern Europe 1989

Eastern Europe saw a change in 1989. After the collapse of communism in Poland, much of the legitimacy for one-party systems disappeared. In country after country, people took to the streets and demanded regime changes. The most spectacular event was the fall of the Berlin wall, but quite a few other episodes worth mentioning took place in several countries east of the “Iron Curtain.” The following mentions just a few in order to show the trend of nonviolent revolutions that swept Eastern Europe. Michael Randle presents interviews with core people from these events in his book “People Power, The Building of a New European Home” (Randle, 1991).

By 1989, the communist regimes in five Eastern and Central Europe countries had been opposed by nonviolent movements that undermined their one-party system. Kenney (2002) and Brown (1991) did extensive research for their books on the wave of revolutions in 1989 in Hungary, East Germany (Urich, 2001; Bahrmann and Links, 1994; Bleiker, 1993), Czechoslovakia (Wheaton and Kavan, 1992), Bulgaria, and Romania (Cipkowski, 1991). During 1990, free multiparty elections were held throughout the region. Many similarities can be seen in these events. Popular movements used nonviolent means to put pressure on political leadership, and the Soviet Union hesitated to come to the aid of the communist governments. All of these governments found themselves in a difficult situation. The protesters’ lack of violence seems to have been something they had serious difficulty handling. They had trained their police and military troops to handle violent uprisings, but were not prepared for unarmed demonstrators. The “CNN-effect” had a great impact on their reluctance to use force. With international television cameras following almost every step, the political cost of hard repression became much higher than these governments could afford.

Hungary 1989

Having been one of the most politically open members of the Warsaw Pact, Hungary had a less-organized opposition movement than did Poland and Czechoslovakia. During the violent uprising in 1956, an estimated 20,000 were killed, and many of the most politically active Hungarians left the country and stayed abroad. Those who left maintained strong contact with their relatives who still lived in Hungary, and the “dream” of the West was very much present in the population that remained.

From the early 1980s, Hungary saw the emergence of a strong peace movement. In the same way as many other capitals around the world had protests against the deployment of middle-range nuclear missiles, thousands gathered in the streets of Budapest. This created a new awareness and resulted in positive links with peace activists and critical academics from Western Europe. Organizations and networks such as the John Lennon Peace Group tested nonviolent actions as ways to express their views.

New civic groups and independent labor unions were inspired by the development in Poland and perestroika and glasnost in Russia. People from the bureaucracy and intellectuals more and more openly demanded change. Young liberals formed the Federation of Young Democrats (Fidesz); a core from the so-called Democratic Opposition formed the Association of Free Democrats (SZDSZ); and the national opposition established the Hungarian Democratic Forum (MDF). Civic activism intensified to a level not seen since the 1956 revolution.[21]

Within the Hungarian Socialist Party, a split between reformers and hard-liners resulted in a dialogue with civic opposition groups in late 1988. National unity culminated in June 1989 when the country reburied Imre Nagy,[22] his associates, and, symbolically, all other victims of the 1956 revolution. Two years later a nationwide petition movement in favor of direct elections led to the collapse of the ruling order and its replacement with a multiparty democracy (Karatnycky and Ackerman, 2005).

The GDR 1989

After the important changes in Poland, many opposition movements in other East European countries were energized and inspired in their struggles. East Germany was one of the first countries to see the opportunity for change. Opposition was not as well-known there as in other countries, but as Fricke, Steinbach, and Tuchel (Fricke, 1984), Raschka (Raschke, Kuhrt, et al., 2001),  Torpey  (1995), Herrmann (Herrmann and Petzold, 2002) and Neubert (1997) have shown, there was a long tradition of opposition, although it was less organized than in countries like Czechoslovakia and Hungary. For the events in East Germany in 1989, Opp, Voss, and Gern have done excellent research. Their 1995 book Origins of a Spontaneous Revolution is an exemplary study.

Many were involved in what happened in the fall of 1989 in East Germany, not all of them in public. Open files have made these events a little more transparent today, and the decisions to set up investigations and publicize material from these days have been important. The Enquete-Kommission has published internal discussions from many about how they reacted to the large-scale peaceful demonstrations (Enquete-Kommission, “Aufarbeitung von Geschichte und Folgen der SED-Diktatur in Deutschland,” 1999). The collection of internal documents from Germany in 1989-1990 edited by Küsters and Hofmann (1998) is also important in order to understand how the leaders in the U.S. and the Soviet Union reacted when the Berlin wall was removed. Maier (1997) has also written an excellent study on the crises of communism and the end of East Germany. For a good chronology of the background and events in East Germany, see Philipsen (1993)  and Childs (2001).

When the first people managed to get permission to leave East Germany by train via Czechoslovakia in 1989, the communist leadership thought that it would get rid of the “troublemakers.” But more and more people took the opportunity to leave. At the same time, protests grew in several cities around the country. In Leipzig, protests and other actions in 1989 were led by the Protestant church (Bartee, 2000; Bohse and Neues Forum Leipzig, 1990; Burgess, 1997).

I want to emphasize that it would be a great misinterpretation of what happened to focus only on civil resistance and nonviolence. These are important and necessary elements, but they are not sufficient to explain what happened, although the means used had an important impact on the process as well as on the outcome of the revolutions in Eastern and Central Europe. To what degree and in what way the means influenced how the revolutions took place and their outcomes is still to be investigated. In what way would the results have been different if people had used violent means?

Czechoslovakia 1989

After the removal of the Berlin wall, Czechoslovakians took to the streets, led by members of the old Charta-77 movement and university students. Large groups of activists came from the students’ section of the Democratic Initiative, the Movement for Civil Freedoms, and the Independent Peace Association. On November 17, more than 30,000 marched to Wenceslas Square in Central Prague. The date was not randomly chosen–it was the fiftieth anniversary of Jan Opletal’s death, and the same date that Hitler in 1939 unleashed his Special Action Prague, during which nine students were executed and 1200 university students were taken to a concentration camp. The march was met by such a brutal police force that it was later called “Black Friday.” In vain the protesters tried to show that they had peaceful intentions. They showed their empty hands, put candles on the ground, and sang songs. Despite giving flowers to the police, they were attacked, and several hundreds were wounded. The police arrested many, and authorities took a firm stand against the protesters. The Black Friday events are well documented and described by Wheaton and Kavan in their 1992 book The Velvet Revolution.

When the students went on strike and published political texts demanding freedom, they got support from actors, and theaters were used as meeting places for political debates.

Soon the opposition realized that it needed a new coordinating organization. The Civic Forum was the result, and the famous dissident and author Václav Havel was elected as spokesman. The first critique was against the brutal police forces that had attacked the peaceful protesters. Soon the opposition called for a general strike and demanded the resignation of some ministers.

When 200,000 met in Central Prague, and this time the police were ordered not to intervene. Every day the demonstrations grew in size, and the demands changed to free elections and democracy. The exiting days in Prague are described in an interview with Jan Kavan and others in Nonviolent Struggle and Social Defence (Anderson and Larmore, 1991, pp 36-42) and two chapters in A Carnival of Revolution (Kenny, 2002).

Before the end of the month, talks started between representatives from the Civic Forum and the government. From Slovakia, “People Against Violence” took part in the negotiations. Alexander Dubcek, a well-known leader from 1968, also took part in the demonstrations and spoke to the masses. People used their keys to make noise, and that action became a symbol for days to come. The message was clear: It was time for the communist dictatorship to end.

On November 27 1989, a two-hour general strike was added to the arsenal of nonviolent means. TV news covered the events without comment.

Prime Minister Adamec tried to calm the opposition by changing a significant part of his cabinet, but that was far from enough for the people in the streets. By the end of the month, Havel was named president, and Dubcek became the chairman of the Federal Assembly.

Bulgaria 1990

In November 1989, demonstrations on ecological issues were staged in Sofia, and these soon broadened into a general campaign for political reform.[23] Environmental and labor movements took the lead in the initial phases of an emerging popular civic coalition (the United Democratic Front) that pressed the country’s hard-line communist leadership to abandon its monopoly on power. At the same time that the Cold War’s most famed symbol–the Berlin wall–was literally being torn down, Bulgaria’s iron-fisted leader of thirty-five years, Todor Zhivkov, resigned from power on November 10, 1989.[24] Protests and strikes continued and finally led to multiparty elections in mid-1990. The ruling communist party changed its name to the Bulgarian Socialist Party and won the June 1990 elections. Following a period of social unrest and the passage of a new constitution, the first fully democratic parliamentary elections were held in 1991, and the United Democratic Front won. The first direct presidential elections were held the following year.[25]

Bangladesh 1990

In Bangladesh, the restoration of democracy began on December 6, 1990 when President Lt. General Hossain Mohammad Ershad, who had seized power in a 1982 military coup, abruptly resigned after weeks of escalating civilian protests against authoritarian rule. The movement against the Ershad government had become prominent in 1987, when the influential Awami League and the Bangladeshi Nationalist Party demanded the president’s resignation and free elections. The mass demonstrations, accompanied by some violence, were suppressed after a state of emergency was proclaimed (Karatnycky and Ackerman, 2005).

The final months of 1987 saw a strong anti-Ershad movement. On November 10, the Awami League observed “Dhaka Siege Day.” A worker of the Awami Jubo League, Noror Hossain, made himself a walking poster by having these slogans painted on his chest and back: “Let Democracy be Free” and “Down with Autocracy.” The police fatally shot him. The Ershad government was frightened by public anger, and the next day put the leader of the Awami League, Sheikh Hasina, under house arrest.

Quite a few leaders and activists of the Awami League and its constituent organizations courted arrest in this new phase of movement against Ershad. When she was freed from house arrest, Sheikh Hasina addressed a public meeting in Chittagong on January 24, 1987. On the way, her truck was attacked by the police and the paramilitary forces, which fired indiscriminately and killed about 50 people. The main target of this infamous “January 24 Genocide” was Sheikh Hasina herself. The anti-Ershad movement rose to a crescendo during 1987. Ershad for his part attempted a new strategy to quell the popular uprising; he dissolved the parliament and unleashed a reign of terror on the opposition political parties. When he arranged for an election on March 3, 1988, almost all parties boycotted it. But he managed to get the “State Religion Bill” passed by the 8th Amendment of the Constitution in this “rubber-stamp” parliament. The Awami League protested the bill and organized demonstrations all Bangladesh.

When the concentrated efforts of various political parties, alliances, and professional organizations came to naught, Sheikh Hasina came forward with a plan for Ershad’s resignation in a mammoth meeting at Panthapath of Dhaka on November 6, 1990. She suggested that Ershad should quit after handing over power to a neutral nonpartisan person under articles 51 and 55 of the Constitution. Consequently, Ershad was finally forced to resign on December 4, 1990. On December 6, he handed power over to a neutral caretaker government headed by Justice Shahabuddin Ahmed, then Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. Thus the nine-year autocratic rule of Ershad came to an end.[26]

The Soviet Union

When the Soviet Union was dissolved, sixteen new countries was born, all with different histories, some “born again” after decades of occupation. The breakdown of the Soviet Empire was in itself a complex process, and the birth of the new countries all had different and complex processes. The examples mentioned below are those cases in which the birth of the new countries happened with the support of a strong and nonviolent civic influence. They all had in common help from the perestroika and glasnost implemented by Gorbachev, and they had all seen the developments in Poland. But they also each had their own uniqueness.

Moldova 1990

Moldova’s path to independence was driven by the Moldovan Popular Front (MPF). The front, formed in 1989, first pressed for cultural autonomy, later for statehood. The MPF derived its primary support from the Romanians, who comprised nearly two-thirds of the population (Karatnycky and Ackerman, 2005). In February 1990, the MPF organized a “Republic’s Voters Meeting” attended by more than 100,000 people. The first democratic elections were held for the Supreme Soviet of the Moldavian SSR. Runoff elections are held in March 1990. Mircea Snegur was elected the Chairman of the Supreme Soviet of Moldova.

In June 1990 the name of the Moldovian Soviet Socialist Republic was changed to the Soviet Socialist Republic of Moldova, and the Supreme Soviet of Moldova adopted a declaration of sovereignty. In May 1991, the Soviet Socialist Republic of Moldova was renamed the Republic of Moldova, and the Supreme Soviet changed its name to the Moldovan Parliament.[27]

Mongolia 1990

In the wake of the 1989 East European anti-communist revolutions, a group of Mongolian dissidents initiated public civic gatherings. On the morning of December 10, 1989, the first open pro-democracy demonstration met in front of the Youth Palace in Ulan Bator. As the crowd gathered, Elbegdorj Tsakhia, one of the organizers, announced the establishment of a Mongolian democratic movement.[28] This became the core of the nonviolent reform movement. These unofficial civil society meetings gave birth to several prominent political groups, including the Mongolian Democratic Union (MDU), which organized popular street protests and hunger strikes.

The MDU, which was labeled an “unauthorized organization” by the government-controlled media, held several rallies in Ulan Bator, first to voice support and Great Hural[29] documents on socioeconomic reconstruction, and later to demand democracy, government reform, and a multiparty system. It also advocated bringing Tsedenbal,[30] who had been living in Moscow since 1984, to trial for having allowed Mongolia to stagnate during his thirty-two-year regime. An early response from the Political Bureau was the announcement that it had rehabilitated people who had been illegally repressed in the 1930s and 1940s. Amid contradictory reports on whether or not the party and government had both granted official recognition to the union and banned public assemblies and demonstrations, the media criticized the MDU for making “ridiculous and contradictory statements” about the administration’s reform efforts. MDU members, believing that they were acting in defiance of the public assembly ban, continued to hold mass rallies and issue calls for action by the government. Despite the ambiguous status of the MDU, the government and party propelled the nation toward further reform and openness in the 1990s.[31]

Mongolia’s transition from Soviet satellite to democratic republic took a peaceful path partly due to fact that the Mongolian People’s Revolutionary Party (MPRP)[32] responded to growing civic protests by legalizing opposition parties and holding the country’s first multiparty elections in autumn 1990 (Karatnycky and Ackerman, 2005).

Lithuania 1990

In Lithuania the main oppositional movements in the late 1980s were Sajūdis[33] and the Lithuanian Freedom League. The League organized a demonstration in Vilnius on August 23, 1987, at which several hundred people protested the Molotov-Ribentrop Pact with its secret protocol on its 48th anniversary. That was the starting point for Lithuania’s long process to achieve complete independence.

Sajūdis was originally a place for intellectuals in Vilnius to discuss politics, but it soon developed into a citizens’ movement.  Three weeks after it was established in 1988, 50,000 demonstrated to support it. In July the underground Lithuanian Freedom League went public with a political program calling for independence. A few days later, 100,000 gathered in Vilnius’ Vingis Park to meet with the returning delegates from the 19th Communist Party Conference in Moscow. On August 23, Sajūdis sponsored a demonstration at which 200,000 people commemorated the loss of the country’s freedom due to the secret Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact.

Lithuania has a growing environmental movement, which has been exploring the use of nonviolent actions. Early in September 1988, tens of thousands formed a human chain along the Baltic shore to protest its pollution. Two weeks later, 10,000 formed a human chain around the Ignalina nuclear power plant, demanding international inspections.

Demonstrations and other nonviolent actions grew in the fall and winter of 1988-1989.[34] These remained nonviolent even when confronted with violent police and soldiers.

This most repressed of the republics started a “singing revolution,” defying decades of cultural repression by reviving Lithuanian folk songs, festivals, religious practices, and traditions. The movie Gandhi was shown nationwide on television, enhancing the nonviolent resistance of the people.[35]

Trying to halt the dissolution of the Union, Moscow retaliated with a crippling blockade. On January 13, 1991, Russian soldiers occupied the main publishing company in Vilnius. Three days later they took control of the TV tower. Many people gathered to defend the tower. Their only weapons were joined arms and songs, but thirteen innocent and unarmed people were killed and several hundred wounded when Soviet troops shot them and ran them down with tanks. Lithuania called on its citizens to “hold to principles of nonviolent resistance and political and social noncooperation.” They moved street signs to confuse the invaders, protected their parliament with unarmed civilians, and trained their volunteer militia in nonviolence.[36]

In the beginning, the goal of Sajūdis was to establish an autonomous Lithuanian republic and later an independent state. During the 1990 elections in the Lithuanian Soviet Republic, Sajūdis won an absolute majority, 101 out of 141 seats, which led to the declaration of independence on March 11, 1990. On that date, the Baltic state of Lithuania became the first Soviet republic to proclaim outright independence. On February 4, 1991, Iceland became the first country to recognize Lithuanian independence, and Sweden was the first country to open an embassy in Lithuania. The U.S. never recognized the USSR’s claim on Lithuania. The last Russian troops left Lithuania on August 31, 1993–even earlier than from East Germany.

Tajikistan 1991

Serious momentum for political change in the poorest Soviet republic began in 1990 under the newly formed national movement Rastokhez. Protests, some of them violently suppressed, focused on social and economic grievances (Karatnycky and Ackerman, 2005).

There was no serious challenge to the communist party’s grip on power until 1990, when police fired on a peaceful demonstration outside the Communist Party Central Committee Building in Dushanbe. This gave rise to the formation of organized political opposition groups in Tajikistan, whose leaders were very vocal in their demands for reform. Genuine political pluralism started to emerge in Tajikistan over the next two years as opposition parties staged dozens of peaceful demonstrations in Dushanbe, and forced the government to make occasional concessions. The four main opposition groups that began to lobby for changes in Tajikistan’s political system were the Rastokhez[37] movement, the Democratic Party of Tajikistan, the Islamic Renaissance Party, and the Lali Badakhshon.

Rastokhez began as a movement to promote the revival of Tajik culture and language during the Soviet period. Its leaders were Tajik intellectuals, and until 1990 it offered the only public forum for criticism of the communist party. The movement’s political program advocated civil liberties and peaceful relations among Tajikistan’s various nationalities. The leader of Rastokhez, Tohir Abdujabbor, even favored the preservation of a reformed Soviet Union.[38] Independence was declared in September 1991.

The demonstrations for political change faced even more brutal police violence when an internal state of emergency was proclaimed by the authorities. The struggle for state power played out more or less peacefully, albeit with frequent public demonstrations in Dushanbe. Nine presidential candidates contested the first multiparty elections, which were won by a former leader of the communist party. Yet a popular consensus on the legitimacy of his presidency remained elusive. Tension between supporters of the government and the opposition parties intensified to the point that different factions took up weapons. Less than a year after independence, Tajikistan was engulfed in civil war.[39]

Azerbaijan 1991

After the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, Azerbaijan declared independence on August 30 after 71 years of occupation by the Soviet Union. In the late 1980s a number of protests for independence took place in the capital, Baku. These were often met by violent armed police and military troops. In January 1990, Soviet troops killed at least 137 demonstrators[40]. An ongoing conflict with neighboring Armenia over the Nagorno-Karabakh region took place at the same time as that republic got its independence, and raised the level of violence in Azerbaijan.

The Azerbaijani Popular Front (APF) was founded 1992 as a result of the massive civic protests that on some occasions measured hundreds of thousands of marchers. Their aim was to gather many different oppositional organizations and groups that had for years demanded independence. Now the main aim was to democratize the new state. The nonviolent APF operated in an environment in which there were rival militant and violent groups. It was later divided, and one part of it continued as a party. At the elections in November 2000 and January 2001, the APF won 11.0  percent of the popular vote and 6 out of 125 seats in the Azerbaijan National Assembly.[41]

Belarus 1991

A broad-based nonviolent civic movement was led by the Belarusian Popular Front (BPF), which was established in 1988 and became a coalition pressing for autonomy and democratic rights. The BPF was both a political party and a cultural movement. Initially its orientation was pro-Western, in particular, pro-Polish and anti-Russian. Membership was open to all Belarusian citizens as well as any democratic organization. The BPF’s goals were democracy and independence through national rebirth and rebuilding The front united cultural groups, workers’ associations, and political movements, but its influence was largely confined to two major cities. Belarus declared independence on July 27, 1990.

On December 8, 1991, the leaders of the Russian (Boris Yeltsin), Ukrainian (Leonid Kravchuk), and Belarusian (Stanislav Shushkevich) republics met in Belarus to issue a declaration that the Soviet Union was dissolved and had been replaced by the Commonwealth of Independent States.[42]

The BPF is still a part of the opposition in Belarus, and in 1994 it formed a “shadow” cabinet consisting of 100 BPF intellectuals. Its first Prime Minister was Uladzimir Zablocki.

Estonia 1991

By 1988, the bloodless “Singing Revolution” was about to make history: a series of singing mass demonstrations eventually led to one that saw 300,000 Estonians (more than one-fifth of the population) in Tallinn to sing national songs played by rock musicians. And on August 23, 1989, about two million people from Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania stood on the Vilnius-Tallinn road holding hands. The unprecedented living chain measured nearly 600 kilometers.

The many oppositional meetings at the end of the 1980s are described in detail by Ignats in his 1989 book Estland: Den Sjungande Revolutionen. This period was the peak of a movement that got power during glasnost[43] and perestroika[44] in the Soviet Union under the liberalization led by Gorbachev. The Estonian Communist Party  (ECP) lost members as well as credibility, and several networks and organizations filled the vacuum that it left. The Estonian Popular Front was one major part of the new civil society. Created in 1988, it was joined by the dissident Estonian National Independence Party and the Green Party. By 1988, the Estonian Supreme Soviet was transformed into a regional lawmaking body, and soon afterward Estonia achieved economic independence from the Soviet Union and recognition of Estonian as the official language.

A grassroots Estonian Citizens’ Committees Movement was launched in 1989, with the objective of registering all prewar citizens of the Republic of Estonia and their descendants in order to convene a Congress. The ECCM’s emphasized the illegal nature of the Soviet system and the fact that hundreds of thousands of inhabitants of Estonia had not ceased to be citizens of the Estonian Republic, which still legally existed and was recognized by the majority of Western nations. Despite the hostility of the mainstream official press and intimidation by Soviet Estonian authorities, dozens of local citizens’ committees were elected by popular initiative nationwide. These quickly organized into a coordinated body, and by the beginning of 1990, more than 900,000 persons had registered themselves as citizens of the Republic of Estonia.

Two free elections and two alternative legislatures developed in Estonia in 1990. On February 24, 1990, the 464-member Congress of Estonia (including 35 delegates of refugee communities abroad) was elected by the registered citizens of the republic. The Congress of Estonia convened for the first time in Tallinn on March 11-12, 1990, passing 14 declarations and resolutions.[45]  This was a democratically elected but informal body without its base in the constitution or any other law. The Congress represented a broad array of civic groups, and functioned as an alternative to the formal structure.

Despite having 50,000 Soviet troops and a large percentage of Russian-speaking Soviet-era immigrants, Estonia managed to gain its independence without the violent incidents that occurred in its sister republics Latvia and Lithuania.

Sweden put a lot of energy into diplomatic efforts to support an independent Estonia and to gain international support for it. When Estonia declared its formal independence on August 20, 1991 a number of Western countries recognized it quickly, and the U.S. and the Soviet Union followed in early September.

Latvia 1991

After the guerilla warfare against the Soviet occupation ended in the late 1950s, all later oppositional work used nonviolent means. Similar to developments in Estonia, liberalization within the communist regime began in the mid-1980s in Latvia. Several mass sociopolitical organizations emerged, including Tautas Fronte,[46], Latvijas Nacionālās Neatkarības Kustība,[47] and Pilson¸u Kongress.[48] The same large-scale singing demonstrations mentioned in the section on Estonia also played a crucial role in Latvia. They were the symbol of a united wish for independence for all Baltic states.

Earlier, in 1986, several small-scale demonstrations were organized by Helsinki-86, a group created in Liepaja in June 1986 that focused on human rights. Soon its agenda expanded to nationalistic views and a demand for independence. The police did their best to prevent these demonstrations from multiplying and growing in size.

Several environmental groups also used massive nonviolence and civil disobedience in 1986. Protests to stop the construction of a hydroelectric dam on the Daugava and an environmentally disastrous plan for a Riga metro took place, and activists gained experience with nonviolent means.

In June 1987, a group of Helsinki-86 activists placed flowers at the Freedom Monument in Riga. In August, they protested against the Soviet occupation of Latvia, and on November 18 they publicly and illegally celebrated Latvian Independence Day.

In the first two days of June 1988, the Latvian Writers’ Union publicly revealed and protested the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact.[49]

In January 1991, troops shot at demonstrators at the TV tower in Vilnius. A few days later people began building barricades to protect the Parliament. After a week of high tension, special Soviet troops from the OMON branch[50] were ordered to remove the protestors. They killed five and injured 10 others when the protesters surrounded the Interior Ministry building. This event got a lot of attention in the international media. When several Soviet tanks entered the old town, there were some shootings, but the vast majority of the demonstrators remained nonviolent. People built barricades and spent days and nights guarding them while singing Latvian songs. The label “Singing Revolution” took its name from such events.

After a long summer of demonstrations and confrontations, the Popular Front of Latvia and the other movements achieved their main goal: Latvia was recognized as an independent state.

Russia 1991

The collapse of the Soviet Union left Russia the main political power in the region. Inside Russia, the struggle over power escalated in August 1991. A group calling itself the Emergency Committee arrested President Gorbachev on August 19 while he was on vacation. The arrest was covered up by reports that Gorbachev was ill. The coup makers were against perestroika and glasnost, but most of all opposed the process to give the republics independence. A treaty to make them independent in a federation with a common president, foreign policy, and military was to be signed on August 20. The plotters included the vice president, the defense minister, and the head of the KGB. They banned all forms of public demonstrations, protests, and strikes. Orders were given for military units to enter Moscow and protect vital buildings. The men behind the coup expected popular support for their actions, but the majority of the population in the capital turned against them. Many realized that the news about Gorbachev being sick was a ploy. Large crowds came to the “White House” to protest the coup. More people met at other central places in Moscow. Boris Yeltsin became famous when he climbed on a military vehicle and urged people to use civil disobedience against the coup makers. That event was shown on TV and resulted in many more citizens joining the protesters.

Other cities also held large-scale demonstrations, which included the intelligentsia, middle classes, and workers. In Leningrad more than 100,000 protested in Palace Square.

The new leadership realized that it could soon lose control, and ordered troops to prepare for actions against the crowds. On the second day, three people were killed in Manezch Square, which created great anger among the masses. Soldiers started to openly say that they would not shoot at civilians and that they sympathized with them. This was the end of the coup. By late morning August 21, the tanks that had been patrolling the Kremlin had been recalled (Martin and Varney, 2003, pp. 47-48).  President Gorbachev returned to Moscow the next day.

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.[51]

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.[52]

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.[53] 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.”[54] 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,[55] 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,[56] 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.[57] 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.[58] 

Georgia 2003

In 2003, Georgia’s “Rose Revolution” dethroned Eduard Shevardnadze. Here the student movement “Kmara”[59] 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.[60]

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 Pora[61] 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.[62]

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”[63] 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.[64]

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,”[65] 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.[66]

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), Zubr[67] (Belorus), Kahar[68] (Kazakhstan), and Yok[69] (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.” [70]


The above list of people and events that inspired activists on five continents proves that the trend of nonviolence has grown to a global wave with a force more powerful than most people can imagine. Countries in all parts of the world, with many different cultural, religious, and political backgrounds, have in the last several years changed leadership through massive, organized and nonviolent revolutions. These occurred outside the framework of constitutional rules, and were often a surprise to most of the involved parties. The only people who may have been less astonished were those actors who tried to prepare and plan for such events. As mentioned earlier, there are a number of actors who have taken on the responsibility for training and financing some of these new movements. Preparation is probably the most important ingredient in these processes.

Governments, politicians, dictators, and militaries worldwide are definitely faced with a new phenomenon. Will they be able to control these movements? If so, what sort of control will they achieve and by what means?  Will new movements learn from recent history? Inspirations are hardly enough if strong, independent, solid, strategic, and creative new movements are to be built. Serious studies of the cases we have witnessed so far are only the first steps for such developments to take place. It is clear, however, that despite neoliberal control and attempts at maintaining empire, new revolutionary movements­–ones strategically centered around nonviolent methods–are a crucial part of the contemporary political landscape.


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[1]   Information on coups d’etat is accessible from the KOSIMO dataset from Heidelberg University. See The main data up to 1995 are also presented in the book National and International Conflicts, 1945-95, New empirical and theoretical approaches, by R. Pfetsch and C. Rohloff.

[2]   The selection of these options is based on preliminary investigation of actual cases of nonviolent revolutions since 1975.

[3]   When I was teaching an MA course in Jerusalem with students from Palestine, Israel, and Europe some years ago, I gave the students the task to identify actors in the Middle East. They never came back after a 40-minute session of group work with fewer than forty actors.

[4]   More on the number of actors is discussed in the later section called “Complexity.”

[5]   Later they argue for  “total war” as the only way to achieve a revolution.

[6]   Few authors have dealt with the complexity of conflicts. Sandole, in his book Capturing the Complexity of Conflict, developed a multilevel theory for analyzing violent ethnic conflicts in postwar situations. Parts of his model are also useful for the types of conflicts we deal with in this article.

[7]   Opp describes the protests in the GDR in 1989, ending with the resignation of the communist leadership and the removal of the Berlin wall. He has in total seven questions, some only relevant for the GDR case. I have here picked the three with more general relevance.

[8]   The massacre in Amritsar happened when thousands of Indians protested in early 1919 against the Rowlatt Acts. These “black acts,” as they came to be called, were peacetime extensions of the wartime emergency measures passed in 1915. About 400 civilians were killed and some 1200 wounded. They were left without medical attention by the officer in charge, General Dyer, who hastily removed his troops to the camp.

[9]   The Sharpeville Massacre occurred on March 21, 1960, when South African police opened fire on a crowd of black protesters. The confrontation occurred in the township of Sharpeville. In a protest organized by the PAC on March 21, a group of between 5000 and 7000 people converged on the local police station, offering themselves up for arrest for not carrying their passbooks. Sixty-nine people were killed and more than 180 were injured.

[10]   On June 3 and 4, 1989, the People’s Liberation Army violently confronted pro-democracy supporters who had been demonstrating in Tiananmen Square in central Beijing since April 15. Estimates of civilian deaths vary: 400-800 (New York Times), 1,000 (National Security Agency), 2,600 (Chinese Red Cross). Student protesters maintain that more than 7.000 were killed.

[11] The paramilitary forces in Colombia. Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia in Spanish.

[12]   Otpor means “Resistance.”

[13]   Interviews I conducted in Belgrade in 2002 and 2004 give different views on the role of literature and training. Some said that they were accepted in order to receive money for more important things and that the training abroad was more like a short vacation than any real help.

[14]   The title in English is Technical Moralism in Theory for Nonviolent action and ‘Civilian Defense’: A Critical Analysis of the Nonviolent Theories of Gene Sharp.

[15] MOSCOW, July 20 (Reuters)

[16]   The new laws created in order to prevent support for terrorists have very broad, vague definitions of terror. Many civil society organizations worldwide are facing serious problems due to the lack of or very broad definitions of “terrorist organizations.”

[17]   One major reason for this price rise was the demand from Russia to send large quantities of meat to Moscow before the Olympics Games started. They wanted to prove false rumors” from the West that there was a lack of meat in Russia.

[18]   But it was also explicitly written that they had to acknowledge the directive role of the Communist Party.

[19]   That was the maximum agreed to in the Round Table discussions.

[20]   Lakas ng Bayan means  “Power of the People.”

[22]   Imre Nagy was prime minister in 1956. He abolished the one-party system, withdrew Hungary from the Warsaw Pact, and declared Hungary neutral. When Warsaw Pact troops invaded, he was arrested and he was executed two years later.

[29] Mongolian Parliament

[30]   Yumjaagiyn Tsedenbal (1916 – 1991) was the communist leader of Mongolia from the 1940s to the 1980s. During his political life, he served as prime minister, president, and general secretary of the Mongolian People’s Revolutionary Party.

[32]   This was the former Communist Party

[33]   Sa˛jūdis means “Unity”

[34]   A chronology of event can be found at

[37]   Rastokhez means “Rebirth.”

[40] Officially, 137 people were killed; unofficially, the figures swell to at least 300 and possibly more.

[41]   The main source for this information is Wikipedia and Karatnycky, A. and P.Ackerman (2005)

[43]   Glasnost means “openness.”

[44]   Perestroika means “reform.”

[46]   The Popular Front of Latvia.

[47]   The Movement for National Independence.

[48]   The Congress of Citizens of Latvia.

[49]   This was the pact under which the three Baltic states  Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania were given to the USSR.

[50]   OMON is an abbreviation for Otryad Militsii Osobogo Naznacheniya. These troops are routinely called “The Black Berets.”

[54]   The complete dissertation can be read here:

[55]   Forum Kota means “City Forum.”

[56]   Otpor means ”Resistance.”

[57]   Parts of the discussions in Otpor can be found at

[59]   Kmara means ”Enough.”

[61]   Pora means ”Times is out”.

[63]   Most international media use the term “The Cedar Revolution.” Participants and supporters called it “The Intifada of Independence.”

[65] Kelkel means “renaissance and shining of the good”

[67]  Zubr is a youth oppositional organization and means “It’s high time”.

[68] Kahar is an oppositional youth organization and the name means “protest”

[69] Yok is an oppositional organization and means “No”

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