Speaker: Srdja Popovic, Centre for Applied Nonviolent Action and Strategies


There was this very popular narrative. It was launched in Russia, basically, after theOrange Revolution in Ukraine and the Revolution of Roses in Georgia. Chávez has actually done a lot to advertise this. He appeared on TV with this popular story of a few Serbs being armed with a lot of knowledge and 1 million bucks, and then you ship them into a country and, boom, you have the revolution.

I would be the luckiest person in the world if this is how easy it is to bring about democracy. I would easily fundraise for a few million bucks and then go from country to country and make them free. But unfortunately it doesn’t work this way.

Why is nonviolent revolution so different from violent revolution when it comes to international intervention? Numbers. You win a nonviolent revolution by gaining numbers. You could easily imagine a world in which you have 4,000 or 5,000 trained guerilla soldiers, with the cool Che Guevara guy at the top. They get into one banana republic. They seize the parliament, the airport, the radio station, the TV station, put a pistol to the head of Mr. President, make him concede the government to the Revolutionary Committee of X, whatever, and then pack their crowd in trucks and go to another banana republic.

Very much like that, in order to win the nonviolent struggle, it is numbers. People will need to really feel something about change in the country. Do you think it would be possible to take 1 million Egyptians and export them to Burma to do the revolution? They wouldn’t care about Burma. Half of them wouldn’t find Burma on the map. These revolutions are absolutely not exportable and importable.

But when it comes to foreign intervention, we were members of a very interesting event organized by Independent Diplomat on exploring intervention and its tools. It happened last year. We were talking about why the international community always thinks about "hamburger," which stands for foreign bombing and foreign military intervention, or “French fries,” which stands for sanctions. As somebody who has been exposed to sanctions and bombing as a democratic activist, I must tell you, they don’t work.

Shotgun sanctions, which hit the population, give the dictator an easy way out to deal with the economy, to push the whole population into the gray zone, to find an excuse for the lousy situation"It’s about these evil foreigners; they’re all in conspiracy against the Serbs." Then foreign bombings just bring people around the dictator.

When you look at George W. Bush's ratings, they were highest on September 12. This is normal. When you look at Milosevic's ratings, they were highest during the NATO bombing. If a bear is dancing in front of this door, we will find a way to reach a consensus, get rid of the bear, and then argue on whatever we are.

This is why foreign military interventions don't work.

When you look at the numbers, though, what do you want to achieve? If you are a knowledgable foreigner, like a guy sitting here in the Carnegie Council, and you really want to bring democracy, look at the numbers. The same study, Why Civil Resistance Works, looks at five years after the change, and if the change is achieved through violent means, you have about a 4 percent chance to end in democracy4 percent. If the change is achieved through a nonviolent struggle, you have about a 42 percent chance.

So not only is nonviolent struggle twice more likely to succeed, but it is 10 times more likely to proceed to democracy. Why? Again, let us go back to what the nonviolent movements are. They are groups of common people. They stand for the values for the future. They win their victories. By participating in a struggle, they become the shareholders of change, and then it’s very difficult to take this change away from them.

Unlike that, when you look at foreign military intervention, what happens? The cavalry comes in, they take the bad guy out, they hang him in front of the TV cameras, and when they leave, what’s there to be left? What’s there for the people to feel that they belong to this change?

Transcript of entire lecture