Article Archives — CANVAS

THE GUARDIAN
What really scares populists? Grassroots campaigning and humour

How can ideas that toppled a dictator be used today to defend democracy? In this latest article for The Guardian, Srdja Popovic speaks from his experiences with OTPOR! to explain how people can use laughter, unity, and nonviolence to defend their democratic institutions from destruction. Photo: An Otpor! rally in Belgrade, 2000. Radu Sigheti/Reuters. If you want a citizens’ movement to grow quickly, humour is a better strategy than anger. I was one of the founders of the Otpor! (Resistance!) grassroots movement in Serbia, which in 2000 helped topple Slobodan Miloševi?. With democracy in Europe today challenged by populism, perhaps some of the lessons we learned at the time are worth recalling. In Belgrade, our movement started with a prank: we took an oil barrel, painted a picture of Miloševi? on it, and set it up in the middle of Belgrade’s largest shopping district. Next to it we placed a baseball bat. Then we stood aside, inconspicuously. Before long, shoppers were standing in line to take a swing at the barrel and express their feelings for the president. The police arrived, but could do nothing but drag the Miloševi? barrel away. Pictures of the incident spread. Otpor! became a household name. Of course, pushing a warmongering autocrat out of power is different from defending democracy in places in which it is meant to have taken root but has come under threat. When seeking to put an end to dictatorship, the task is to erode the tools and institutions that serve the regime and its strongman – indeed, the goal is to shake up the status quo entirely. Defending democracy, however, means finding...

WASHINGTON POST
Gene Sharp has passed away — but his ideas will go on inspiring activists around the world

Srdja Popovic and Slobodan Djinovic, co-founders of CANVAS, reflect on the passing of visionary Gene Sharp. They remark on his legacy, as it affected their own movement past, and as it continues to shape the future.  Photo: Elise Amendola/AP Someone once said, “The greatness of a person is defined not only by their friends, but also by their enemies.” Gene Sharp, who passed away this week at age 90, had a truly remarkable list of enemies. The Iranian mullahs, the ex-KGB oligarchs in Moscow, Venezuela’s modern-day caudillos — all of them counted him among their mortal foes. In 1996, the military junta in Burma accused him of working with dissident leader Aung San Suu Kyi to overthrow the government. The Iranian regime issued an animated video depicting him as a plotter, along with Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and George Soros, of the 2009 popular uprising that came to be known as the Green Movement. In 2015, 13 young Angolan activists were arrested during a meeting in Luanda to discuss Sharp’s book “From Dictatorship to Democracy.” On the face of things, Sharp — a gentle old fellow who spent most of his time in a room full of books in a crumbling old building in South Boston — seemed an unlikely target for such paranoia. Yet these regimes were right to be afraid. They lived in terror of his fundamental insight: that people who live under authoritarian regimes are, in fact, far from powerless when confronting the “bad guys” who run their states. As one of the world’s leading thinkers on nonviolent action, Sharp inspired millions with his practical advice on organizing and sustaining people power movements. How well we remember the first time...

REAL CLEAR POLITICS
How Poland Can Be an Example Again, by Srdja Popovic and Greg Satell

Despite the fact that activists in Poland have already made some important strides, their efforts still fall short of creating sustainable change. For RealClearWorld, CANVAS’ executive director Srdja Popovic writes about the worrying direction of the Polish democratic movement. After two waves of democratic movement in the last four decades, we are now seeing that same democratic process moves in reverse. Poland sits at the epicenter of that worrying dynamic. “The painstaking work undertaken over the past quarter century to create a civil society with solid democratic institutions is now under siege from a populist movement that operates under the thin guise of what it calls traditional values.” In stopping their country to move towards authoritarianism, and protecting civil society, activists in Poland have already fought some important battles. Almost as soon as PiS assumed power, activists have been able to  mobilize civil society outside the sphere of party politics. They have extended the battlefield by strongly emphasizing the involvement of the international community, and effectively combined mass mobilization for street protests with concrete actions. Despite the progress that has been made, crucial elements for creating sustainable change are still missing. While the individual activist groups have been effective in their own way, there has been little effort to create a strong unity within collective action. Then, while the opposition forces in Poland have  mostly beendefending democratic institutions by reacting to government actions, they must go on offense to create sustainable change. Finally, while uniting and taking the offense, activists have to develop an affirmative vision for the future. In a society where PiS’s message of traditional values clearly has resonance, what positive alternatives can the opposition movement offer? This years’ developments in Poland cause both worries and hope. Can Poland become...

CNN
The force behind a ‘bad year for bad guys’ By Srdja Popovic

It’s been a bad year for bad guys. Twelve months ago, no one could have guessed that Libya’s Moammar Gadhafi, North Korea’s Kim Jong Il and al Qaeda’s Osama bin Laden would be dead; Egypt’s former president Hosni Mubarak and Tunisia’s former president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali prosecuted and former Bosnian Serb army commander Ratko Mladic in jail. Further, Yemeni president Ali Abdullah Saleh and Syria’s president Bashar al-Assad are under intense pressure both internationally and within their own countries. The Arab Spring, that led to the fall of so many of the region’s leaders, sent shockwaves around the world, leaving major powers struggling to make sense of the changing landscape — and ensure their interests are preserved. The dramatic events, followed by unrest in societies considered “dormant” in terms of traditional activism — including Spain and Russia — leave one curious to discover the “common denominator.” The obvious but unexpected answer is: People power, in all of these cases carried largely by non-partisan youth movements. Much has been written on the revolutions driven by people power youth movements in Tunisia and Egypt. Their unity, planning and nonviolent discipline has inspired the world and given more than 100 million people a chance to change from dictatorship to democracy. The revolutions inspired similar movements. Now leaders of Morocco, Jordan, and even Myanmar are promising reforms. The government of Algeria has emerged from its state of emergency after 19 years. Syrians have risked, and sacrificed, their lives in peaceful demonstrations for freedom and democracy. Let me also note my own country — Serbia. People power and nonviolent struggle driven by...

REAL CLEAR POLITICS
The Blueprint for Saving Venezuela by Srdja Popovic and Slobodan Djinovic

The Blueprint for Saving Venezuela, by Srdja Popovic and Slobodan Djinovic for Real Clear Politics. “Venezuela’s ongoing political crisis reached new heights at the end of March when a wave of anti-government protests erupted throughout the country after the Supreme Court took over legislative powers from the National Assembly. The opposition responded by launching a nationwide protest campaign against what they call a “coup on democracy,” and within the week the court overturned its decision. Weeks later, with protests escalating, the system seems to have been shaken for the first time in a decade. Meanwhile, numerous opposition representatives have been jailed, and at least three dozen civilians have been killed so far in protest-related violence. Venezuela has been hit with a severe economic crisis over the past few years, and the International Monetary Fund predicts that the inflation rate could easily reach 1,660 percent next year, which would be the highest in the world. The new normal in the country is one of skyrocketing crime and a lack of basic necessities in stores. Venezuela is a towering case study of how bad governance, corruption, and autocracy can turn a country with the world`s largest oil reserves and tremendous human capital into a disaster.” Read the whole piece here. Photo: AP Photo/Ariana...