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My Recent Maxims on Civil Resistance Compiled

1 Nov

Here is a compilation of my twit-length, pithy sayings, mostly about civil resistance. Their aim is to stimulate creative thinking about tenacity of nonviolent struggle and nature of political conflicts in general.

  • Dictators are boring & humorless. Another reason to rebel against them.
  • People that eventually won against oppression waged struggle equally with unjust rule as with themselves. They stopped acting like victims.
  • Nonviolent struggle is not sprint but marathon. The last thing we want is a burnt-out movement 10 years before ultimate victory.
  • Civil resistance draws out violence & shows that people’s obedience is no longer voluntary. No regime can survive without obedience.
  • How to know civic activism is alive & well? When u hear: “We do not have money. We have something more valuable: our hands & minds.”
  • Nonviolent struggle is about unique grassroots power. It cannot be exported or foreign born. It is in minds & hearts of the oppressed.
  • Dictatorship has stronger players but successful movement prevails because its team has better strategies & discipline
  • Successful nonviolent struggles are led NOT by protest movements BUT welfare movements capable of building networks of mutual trust & civic solidarity
  • Mastering resilience in civil resistance? Millions develop supreme confidence in positive outcome of nonviolent struggle even though it does not seem likely in their lifetime.
  • Inner voice ‘I have no choice.’ Alter voice ‘Choice is there. Imaging it craves for ur intellect or courage or both.’
  • Power of authoritarians is inversely proportional to self-organization, mutual solidarity & mobilization of ordinary people.
  • How to convince authoritarian brute that cost of repressing people is higher than cost of accommodation? Make him face organized society.
  • Regimes often say that peaceful protests & civil disobedience are illegal. True, civil resistance breaks law to uphold rule of law. (inspired by Michael Davis)
  • Nonviolent struggle is like long distance swim. Need to pace speed, regulate moves & improve technique to minimize risk going under water
  • Nonviolence is not running from wrong instead it is fighting wrong with right. (inspired by Rev. James Lawson)
  • Those ordered to repress activists should ask for WRITTEN orders from superiors. Nothing concerns tyrants more like evidence of their crimes
  • Tactician credo: If anything can go wrong it will. Strategist credo: In the process of ‘going wrong’ there are opportunities for victories.
  • Often cited as a reason for taking up arms against brutal adversary is revenge. This is shortcut to failure not strategy for success.
  • How to move from spontaneous to organized civil resistance? Build networks & collaborations among different segments of society
  • What is civil resistance? Self-organized, resilient, disciplined, mobilized, agile, diffused but united biopower of citizens.
  • Liberating & transforming society without challenging oppressor directly. Essence of stealth civic struggle
  • Civil resistance is driven by a voluntary commitment of many. Authenticity of nonviolent movements comes from that force
  • Autocrats spend huge resources on trying to make civil resistance violent. Understanding why is step to victory for nv activists
  • True power rests in people’s minds & thoughts
  • Saying fundamental HRs are culturally bounded is like accepting different global standards for plagiarism & its permissibility
  • Havel wrote about disturbing peace. Diplomats know little about it. They only practice making peace.
  • Nonviolent struggle is not sprint but marathon. The last thing we want is a burnt-out movement 10 years before ultimate victory.
  • How to be more effective nonviolent trouble maker? For start, let’s imagine our rebellion & check how it fits with society we want to build.
  • Nonviolent resistance wins the day not because it mobilizes masses but because it imposes prohibitive costs on regime’s pillars of support.
  • Nonviolent resisters succeeded in the past because they down there believed that failure was impossible.
  • In civil resistance solidarity is more important than heroism. It is primacy of strategy over emotions. Victory comes from former not latter.
  • Rule of law’ occludes the fact that without people’s consent no laws, institutions, elites can rule. Call for new lingua of people power.
  • Gandhi, Havel, Walesa, Mandela agreed on this point: idea of political violence to overthrow dictatorial regimes is NOT radical enough.
  • Resistance is about preeminence of action. Inaction is less effective than violent action. Violence is less effective than nonviolent action
  • Movmts cannot transform society without doing it one breath at a time. Short goals and small victories are crucial to propel transformation.
  • For every insurmountable condition that hampers civil resistance there is a skill that overcomes that condition
  • People revolutions are unpredictable because they are driven by human creativity, ingenuity & imagination that defy known rules.
  • Peacemaking is far too often about pacification. What is needed instead is to energize suppressed society
  • Civil resistance is iterative & protracted process of collective mobilization & organizing not merely media grabbing protests
  • Saying fundamental HRs are culturally bounded is like accepting different global standards for plagiarism & its permissibility
  • People know social/political problems they face. They now need alternative possibilities and knowledge of how to implement them.
  • What movements do: alert, educate, serve, mobilize. If you say you have a movement, how do you do in each of these areas? (inspired by Hardy Merriman)
  • Insubordination is easy to punish. Incompetence is not. Good Soldier Shvejk knew that. Anti-dictatorship activists could use his example. (inspired by Ivan Marovic)
  • If I am being asked to die for a cause I say I prefer to live for it. (inspired by Kumi Naidoo)
  • People activise after & only when their own rights are violated. People must act prior to their rights being violated & fight 4 rights of others (inspired by HR defender from Kazakhstan).
  • In the era of junk food Gandhi’s wisdom “your food must be just enough to keep your mind and body in good order. Men becomes what he eats.”

International recognition of nonviolent movements

  • International community gives awards to single pro-democracy activists. It is yet to recognize pro-democracy movements. We see towering trees but not majestic forests.
  • Time to change it: No multilateral document recognizing contribution of nonviolent movements to democratization processes.
  • Right to civil resistance has not yet been raised to the level of a universal human right. Can this be done & how?

China/Hong KongIMG_3210

  • Perfect dilemma for Chinese censors? Democratic movement in China adopts & reclaims ‘Xi’ & ‘Jinping’: 习 or 近 or 平 or combinationIMG_3211
  • Umbrella movement activists reclaim President Xi Jinping for their struggle. Chinese censors in tough spot, need to censor their boss.
  • NPR: ‘Protest became violent in Hong Kong’ & all I then hear is about police violence. Media must say: protest is peaceful, police is violent
  • @OCLPHK would benefit from knowing who their potential allies in Chinese regime & security forces are & how to help their moderate stand
  • Drone- tool in civil resistance. This shows how large protest in HongKong was. No state censorship can deny it
  • #‎HongKong‬ govn’t lets protests & hopes it discredits itself. Counterstrategy is to self-organize HK society so it runs without govern’t.
  • Protesters in ‪#‎HongKong‬ must lead two struggles: for hearts & minds of HongKongers & sympathy & support of mainland Chinese.


  • #‎Putin‬ is truly afraid of his own society not western militaries. Assistance must go to civic mobilization & movements
  • Creativity of defiance- Russian environmental NGO must identify on its publications ‘a foreign agent’ but adds ‘not’ before & ‘even frogs know it’ after
  • Russian NGOs that receive foreign funds need to register as foreign agents. Russian regime receives more foreign funds through loans and payments from abroad than all Russian NGOs combined. According to its own definition Kremlin is the MAIN FOREIGN AGENT in Russia.
  • How to defeat ‪#‎Putin‬? Work on humanitarian aid to Russian schools hospitals libraries & service organizations to create human solidarityUntitled
  • How to take on Putin? Challenge him in the way he will not know how to react. Like on this picture:


  • Ukrainians must work out strategies of reaching out to such Russian activists and helping them grow- without undermining them.
  • In US Congress ‪#‎Poroshenko‬ rephrased Kennedy to say “I am a Crimean Tatar.” In fact, our call must be “We Are All Crimean Tatars now!”
  • #‎Ukraine‬ must keep ceasefire & build bufferzone around occupied parts of Donbas. Rebels-Russia will get into quagmire of costly occupation.
  • Ukraine risked its democratic transition when it opted for war in Donbas. Never was there a country that successfully democratized when at the same time it waged a violent conflict no matter how just its cause was.
  • The Ukrainian Maidan was violent for a total of 5 days. The real revolution happened during the remaining 88 days
  • Embassies of democracies in Kyiv -open your doors to Ukrainians for medical emergencies. Bring your embassy doctors to help (during Euromaidan revolution)
  • Diplomats of democracies in Kyiv- GO to hospitals, document crimes against civilians & protect them from arrests! (during Euromaidan revolution)


  • Bombing ISIS gave it opportunity to shift blame on outside aggressors for all that is wrong on the territories they control, enhanced ISIS credentials and increased effectiveness of its recruitment propaganda
  • Military chiefs from more than 30 countries meet at Andrews air force base to discuss a campaign against ISIS while all agree that there is no military solution to the ISIS problem. Am I missing something here?
  • ISIS survival depends on credibility among locals. Military campaign may contain ISIS. Only political organizing can defeat it.


  • Voting age should be lowered to 16 like in Scotland. No healthier civic education for youths than political campaigning & ballot box.
  • US military – Jack of All Trades – will fight Ebola in Africa. If we invested as much resources in civilian side of life we would not need army to fight diseases now.
  • 70 years ago Warsaw fought Germans-200,000 died. Krakow did not take arms & people lived to fight battles they could win. Bravado vs wisdomBaltic Way 25 Google Doodle
  •  The Google way to celebrate the Baltic Way – the nonviolent struggle for freedom


Check also:

Maxims on Civil Resistance part III

Maxims on Civil Resistance part II

Maxims on Civil Resistance part I

Review of my edited book Recovering Nonviolent History

2 Aug

Review of my edited book Recovering Nonviolent History: Civil Resistance in Liberation Struggles by Erica Chenoweth in Journal of Peace Research, November 2013, vol. 50, 761.

Bartkowski, Maciej, ed. (2013) Recovering Nonviolent History: Civil Resistance in Liberation Struggles. Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner. xii + 436 pp. ISBN 9781588268952.

Political science and sociology have long regarded nbook_frontation-building as a fundamentally violent process. As Charles Tilly famously argued, ‘War makes the state, and the state makes war.’ This volume challenges this claim, arguing instead that popular nonviolent struggles have been equally influential in defining peoples, cultures, and borders. In Recovering Nonviolent History, Maciej Bartkowski has assembled a compelling set of research articles that describe the many ways that people power movements have actively confronted foreign occupation, colonial influence, and territorial domination in ways that have affected the current global landscape. Impressive in global and historical scope, the book’s main theoretical contribution is its conjecture that nonviolent resistance may have played an equally important role in the establishment of nations and states as violent struggle – a hypothesis that receives limited support in the case studies, though systematic testing is left to future researchers. Each of the chapters possesses originality, detailed research, and success at ‘recovering’ some novel national histories. Highlights include Conser’s chapter on civil resistance in the American colonies from 1765 to 1775, and Smithey’s chapter, which challenges the notion that collective action is always predetermined by pre-existing repertoires and argues that instead, opportunities and opponent moves can produce novel forms of collective action that can in turn reinforce existing values or even introduce new identities. The main weakness of the volume is the puzzle that remains – if nonviolent struggles have been so important in state and identity formation, then why have they been forgotten? Bartkowski’s concluding chapter offers some potential explanations – including the ‘cloaking’ of masculinity in the archetype of armed struggle, the influence of external actors taking credit for victorious struggles, and that civil resistance is just now an emerging field of study – but the volume leaves these as untested hypotheses. More research is required to understand the reasons why the history of nonviolent resistance needs recovering in the first place.

Erica Chenoweth


Beautiful, strategic, and realistic – the Ukrainian resistance against Russian aggression

17 Mar
Do not panic! Organize!

Do not panic! Organize!

During the last 17 days – from the date of the Russian military aggression in Crimea (Feb.27) to the referendum on the peninsula (Mar. 16) Ukrainians have launched one of the most impressive civil resistance campaigns in the history of unarmed struggles with foreign military invasions and occupation. The richness and creativity of the actions that Ukrainians undertook matched their strategic value as well as a realistic assessment of the military strengths of the Ukrainian army vis-à-vis its Russian counterpart. There is also a strategy of not responding to provocations and maintaining a remarkable posture of restraint even in the midst of escalating confrontation – all in order to not give the Russian regime what it wants: a bloody pretext that could be used to justify a deeper military incursion of the Russian army into Ukrainian territory.

The strategic Ukrainian resistance consists of at least five types of actions:
– Building-up economic pressure on Russian companies
– Reaching out to the Russian civil society
– Unarmed defense pursued by the Ukrainian army
– Fostering unity among Ukrainian society in the face of a foreign invasion and relentless Russian propaganda
– Reforms of the state assisted by the mobilized Ukrainian society

The overall strategy of the unarmed engagement is based on the realistic (given the Russian military superiority), and often beautiful, nonviolent actions carried out by hundreds of thousands of Ukrainian citizens all over the country. In the last 17 days, these actions, among others, included:


  • There is a growing boycott of products made in Russia or imported from Russia into Ukraine. It is spearheaded by the same group of activists that led the boycott campaign against the financial and economic assets owned by the members of the Party of Region. Their Facebook page now has close to 60,000 members and they use their activist skills honed during the anti-Yanukovych campaign to lead the boycott campaign against Russia. One of the activists acknowledged that the boycott of Russian goods is much easier than the economic boycott of the Party of Regions – there is no need to convince people to do it and no one is worried about being fired. The activists-bloggers issued the call to boycott the Russian products and distributed the list of the Russian companies and goods, together with the Russian products’ bar code 046,  on the Ukrainian market. In Lviv, 7,000 “boycott flyers”‘ with the list of Russian products were distributed in front of the French supermarkets, Auchan. The flyers and activists warned that buying the Russian-made goods meant giving financial support to the occupant. The German supermarket chain, Billa in Ukraine, coincidentally began placing small national flags, including the Russian one, next to the price tags of the products on the shelves. Activists say this helps customers to quickly identify the countries where particular goods are from in order to help the boycott.  Flashmobs of “dead bodies” appear in the supermarkets to dramatize the need for the boycott of Russian goods so as not to “pay for the occupation and war.”  Some grocery stores are already reportedly offering discounts on the boycotted products, and there are still no customers willing to buy them.  Protesters on some roads in Ukraine encouraged drivers to boycott Russia’s second largest oil company, Lukoil and to stop using their gas stations. The passing drivers gave support to the picketing activists by pressing their car’s horns and flashing their car’s lights.

Reaching out to the Russian people and their rulers

  • An open letter from the Russian speaking Ukrainians and ethnic Russians living in Ukraine was sent to President Putin rejecting his military intervention and stating that their interests do not need to be protected by another state. More than 142,000 people have signed, and the number is still rising. Ordinary Russian-speaking individuals in Ukraine issued their own public pleas to the Russian government and President Putin to withdraw Russian troops from Ukraine and respect their country’s territorial integrity. Russian citizens in Ukraine said in the videopost that they do not need to be rescued by Russia. Ukrainian Jews (a majority of whom are Russian speakers) issued an open letter to Putin in which they say that they “do not wish to be defended” by the Russian state and strongly oppose “sundering Ukraine and annexing its territory.”
  • Open letters were written and signed by Ukrainians of various professions, addressed to their Russian counterparts. The letter of Ukrainian cinematographers to their Russian colleagues with the call for solidarity stipulated the latter’s public response to state their opposition to the Russian military intervention in Ukraine. Famous Russian rock singers called for peace and friendship between Russians and Ukrainians. Well-known Ukrainian actors and writers posted their video appeals to Russians.
  • Ukrainian scholars and academic institutions issued a public appeal to their colleagues in Russia after the Russian parliament approved the military invasion of Ukraine. They expressed their deep concerns about the propaganda that sows disinformation about the situation in Ukraine and particularly the Russian speakers in Ukraine  while emphasizing cultural and historical ties between the Ukrainian and Russian people. They emphasized that there was no conflict over the language or culture. The language of science and education is the language of peace and cooperation. And they called on their Russian counterparts to influence the Russian government and to do all they can to prevent war between the two brotherly nations. In response, the representatives of the Russian academic and education community  expressed their solidarity with their Ukrainian colleagues and offered their support to the Ukrainian people in their efforts to achieve “freedom, democracy and social justice.” They also called on all Russian scientists, scholars, students and teachers to sign the solidarity letter.
  • Ukrainian artists and intellectuals publicly appealed to Russian artists and people of culture who expressed their support for Putin and his military intervention in Ukraine. The appeal countered Putin’s propaganda about the violent Maidan, discrimination against the Russian speakers in Ukraine and legitimacy of the referendum in Crimea. The appeal ended with the comment that those who support the occupation lose the moral right to ever walk on Ukrainian soil.
  • Ukrainian retired and serving soldiers are reaching out to Russian army officers with the appeal to not support military intervention in Ukraine. A Ukrainian writer sent an open letter to his colleague and former classmate from the military college who is now general in the Russian intelligence directorate and asked him to influence the decisions of his bosses so the blood of “your and our children will not be spilled.” In the last part of the letter he offers his classmate the examples of heroic actions by other soldiers who saved civilian population in past conflicts even though they knew they would face the consequences for their disobedience.
  • Odessa residents called Putin to let him know that they are doing just fine as Russian speakers in Ukraine and do not need special protection from the Russian government.
  • Ukrainians have reached out to their family members, friends and colleagues in Russia to explain the Russian regime’s manipulation of information about Ukraine and the situation of the Russian-speaking population that is neither discriminated against nor asking to be rescued by any external military intervention.

Nonviolent restraint of the Ukrainian army

  • Nonviolent defense is the official defense strategy of the Ukrainian government as far as its soldiers stationed in Crimea are concerned. According to Oleksandr Turchynov, the speaker of the Ukrainian parliament, the Ukrainian army in Crimea defends its military bases, equipment, and its ships without arms in order to not fall for provocations.
  • A Ukrainian army unit in Kerchi (in Crimea) organized an anti-war music concert. The Russian soldiers stationed nearby heard the concert. They said they liked the music. Fraternization “from a distance” between Russian and Ukrainian soldiers can also take on a more humorous quality like the encounter between a Ukrainian captain and a Russian vice-admiral. A Russian ship ordered the Ukrainian military frigate “Ternopil” to surrender. The response of the Ukrainian captain was,  “Russians do not capitulate.” When asked to explain, the captain said that he is ethnically Russian, but swore allegiance to defend the Ukrainian people and Ukraine, and he cannot break that oath. The Russian vice-admiral was reported to have said to his soldiers, “Learn [from this captain] how to serve with honor and dignity.”

The nonviolent restraint that the Ukrainian army and society have shown in the face of the armed invasion of Crimea, and the citizens’ campaign to reach out to their Russian counterparts and the general population have all paid off. Though the Russian population’s support for Putin remains very high — close to 70 percent – Russian society is not a monolith, and Ukrainians can seek potential allies there and rely on their support.

Civilians in Crimea loyal to Ukraine

  • Protests of 15,000 women and children all over Crimea were organized against Russian military intervention during a holiday that is popular  in both Ukraine and Russia – the March 8 ‘International Women’s Day’ (see the videos). The protesters created a human chain in protest against the Russian military intervention on the peninsula. At the same time on Maidan in Kyiv, women held a solidarity rally and wrote postcards with words of support for the Crimean women.

Referendum in Crimea- March 16

  • While the referendum in Crimea was taking place, a pro-Ukrainian protest in Dnipropetrovsk, on the east was organized in support of the Ukrainian people’s unity against the referendum.

National unity campaigns

  • At the beginning of March, the city councils of Odessa, Kharkiv, Kherson, Mykolaiv, Dnipropetrovsk condemned the Russian aggression. Solidarity and unity demonstrations were joined by several thousands of residents in Donetsk (10,000 protesters), and in Kharkiv and Odessa (20,000 protesters). These took place on March 2, March 4 and March 5 respectively. People sang patriotic songs and called for territorial integrity of Ukraine. Thirty one rectors of the universities in Kharkiv (the city traditionally close to Russia) publicly criticized the Russian military intervention. On March 9, 3000 Odessans crowded the famous Potemkin stairs in Odessa Port to support the territorial integrity of Ukraine and sang the Ukrainian national anthem

Protests against the Russian military invasion

  • Thirty Odessan activists hung spaghetti on the front fence of the Russian consulate in the city to “thank” the Russian government for the anti-Ukrainian propaganda and to protest the lies. Spaghetti on the fence illustrated the Russian proverb of hanging noodles on someone’s ear to show they have been lying. Automaidan – active during the revolution against Yanukovych – organized auto-actions in Odessa on March 8, in front of the Russian consulate to protest the Russian military invasion.

Mobilized Ukrainian society pressures the new government to deliver while it also confers legitimacy on it

  • Activists and the police serve in joint patrols throughout the city to maintain the security on the streets. Activists also maintain the Maidan barricades and pressure the politicians to move Ukraine closer to the EU and to begin implementing needed socio-economic reforms. Automonitor – that emerged from Automaidan – picketed Verkhovna Rada to force her to deliver on her promises of effective work.
  • The Maidan civic groups (Euromaidan Public Sector and “New Citizen”) launched the “Intensive Reforms Package” initiative that brings together 120 experts and activists to work on the blueprint for reforms.
  • Maidan activist, Yegor Sobolev, heads the newly established Lustration Committee.

Check the article on nonviolent victory of the Ukrainian Maidan that includes examples of nonviolent actions that Ukrainians used to fight the Yanukovych regime.

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