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Readings in Nonviolence

‘Readings in Nonviolence’ features extracts from our favourite books, pamphlets, articles or other material on nonviolence, or reviews of important works in the field (suggestions and contributions welcome)n bringing together different sectors.

Introduced by Rob Fairmichael

Before the Arab Spring, the 1989 European Autumn...

There is the danger that we can write off the experience of other people because they are ‘different’. We do it automatically, unthinkingly and uncritically without stopping to analyse the reasons. While we might not have expected the largely nonviolent overthrow of regimes in Tunisia and Egypt, there is a tendency to think of people living under other kinds of regimes than our own as not having the same thoughts, desires and inclinations as ourselves. Thus people in Arab countries might be written off as politically subservient. If we might have had this tendency, hopefully recent history will have corrected our view.

The ‘Arab Spring’ of 2011 is still very much ‘work in progress’ with very mixed results in a variety of ways – the level of state violence, the situation of Libya where civil war broke out, Yemen where violence has escalated, and the incomplete nature of some revolutions as in Egypt where the army holds repressive sway. But one thing is sure. The world will not look at the countries of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) in quite the same way again. You cannot say things are changed utterly but they have changed. There is still a long road for these countries to travel and there are many regimes which are unwilling to recognise the reality of people power. With nonviolence the chances of lasting change are maximised but the path will still be a long and very difficult one.

At one time ‘we’ also thought, perhaps unconsciously, similar things about the people of Eastern Europe; despite them being ‘Europeans’, under communism they were ‘clearly’ second-class Europeans and probably incapable of the kind of political action ‘we’ got involved in. But, given half a chance, Eastern Europeans in the period around 1989 could have taught us a thing or two about popular nonviolence – and some had been practising it for years. In making these references to Eastern Europe in and around 1989 we are clearly not saying that European nonviolence was or is ‘better’ than anywhere else, nor that European or ‘western’ nonviolence is the only kind we can learn from or identify with. But Eastern European nonviolence at this time was an important example of popular uprising and the overthrow of despised ‘communist’ regimes – and examples in ‘our’ part of the world as well. The time that has elapsed has also allowed mature reflection on the proceedings, including some of the disappointments of multi-party democracy in the years since.

Of course the moment had to be right for such a massive change to happen, and with Russia no longer willing to impose its choice of regimes in most of the parts of Europe ‘it’ (or the communist regime within the USSR) had controlled, the stage was set for a massive shift. While what happened in the way it happened could not have done so without what had gone before in particular countries (e.g. Solidarity in Poland), it all happened very fast and soon the Berlin Wall ceased to be a feared obstacle or divide and became a collector’s item.

If you want a bibliography of this time it is easily accessible in “People Power and Protest Since 1945: A Bibliography of Nonviolent Action” compiled by April Carter, Howard Clark and Michael Randle, published by Housmans in 2006, ISBN 0 85283 262 1 (INNATE has a copy). It is strongly recommended as a resource both on this topic and other matters associated with the title. There is in fact a whole chapter devoted to “Campaigns for Rights and Democracy in Communist Regimes” which includes a brief introduction to different countries or areas at particular periods as well as an extensive list of materials. The chapter includes material on China and Tibet as well as Europe.

An enormous amount can be found on the web if you do a word search for the requisite terms, such as ‘nonviolence Eastern Europe 1989’ or ‘revolutions Eastern Europe 1989’. I am not going to do that much work for you! However a few references include a 1991 account of the Czechoslovak 1989 revolution on the War Resisters International siteand also from 1991 Adam Roberts’ “Civil Resistance in the East European and Soviet Revolutions” at and A Force More Powerful’s take on the Polish revolution.

There are also some references online to comparisons between the Arab Spring and Europe in 1989.

Happy revolutionary reading!

Copyright INNATE 2016