Materials of an International Seminar
Civil society and social development


Civil society plays an increasingly important role in armed conflicts. It employs various techniques, with resistance to violence being one of them. The 20th century has witnessed peoples resort to acts of resistance 'without weapons' as a means to achieve positive results.

Such was the case with Germany. In 1923, French and Belgian forces occupied the entire Ruhr industrial region. Officially, the Ruhr region was used as guarantee of Germany’s paying the reparations provided for by the 1918 Agreement. As a matter of fact, the Allies tried to prevent Germany from restoring its might by separating the Ruhr from the rest of the country. The population protested the occupation of the Ruhr and began fighting against the occupiers, with all the events taking place against the background of a severe economic recession. Attempts were made to disrupt the deliveries of coal, steel and other products, which interfered with the occupiers’ activities. Trade unions and the government bolstered the strategy and took an active role in organising a broad resistance movement. This sponsored numerous acts of sabotage, refusals to collaborate and mass civil disobedience. The railroads, mines and factories ground to a halt. Mined coal went to ‘the wrong shop’ or was not shipped at all. Railroad tracks were taken up. The occupiers could not buy goods they needed in the shops. Oversight, inadvertence and negligence tended to dominate.  Leaflets, posters and forbidden newspapers called for resistance. Riots and demonstrations never ceased. The police sided with the population. The occupiers were held up to mockery.

The occupational troops, in their turn, responded with acts of violence, never-ending arrests, severe punishments and high fines. The administration introduced a great number of instructions and rules, enforced strict censorship and carried out all sorts of inspections. The occupational authorities issued a special order declaring a state of siege, imposing a curfew and restricting the freedom of movement. Courts and prisons were overcrowded. However, it was impossible to send everyone to prison. To solve the problem the authorities freed thieves and murderers. Grassing, feuding and libel became regular practice and made the region a place impossible to live in. There was a growing deficit in food. The region was torn by famine, inflation, unemployment, poverty and disease. In late September, the German government took a decision to put an end to the resistance movement. The French and Belgians condemned their military. As a result of painstaking negotiations, Germany’s debt was restructured and the occupiers began withdrawing their forces from the occupied region. There were no victors in the conflict. France’s aim to separate the Ruhr region from Germany was never achieved. It was a remarkable event for the Germans who, thus, regained their freedom from foreign control.

The 1988 Intifada in Israel is yet another example of civil resistance. As is common knowledge an intifada is an uprising, with skirmishes, clashes and rock throwing being the main forms of resistance. In actual fact, however, it is much more than that. An intifada has two major goals to achieve – resistance to occupation through civil disobedience and the establishment of power institutions of its own. For these goals to be attained, the Palestinians resorted to various forms of non-violent resistance, such as general strikes, demonstrations and marches, prayers and fast, collective refusals to pay taxes, boycotting Israeli goods, ceremonies of the colours, petitions, slogans, open violation of the curfew, expulsion of traitors and the like. Such conditions present, communal life turned out to be rather difficult to live. The Israelis responded with harsh reprisals, which backfired after all: every-day inspections on transport and at work stirred up profound anger and strengthened the Palestinians’ determination to continue fighting. They started seeking ways to avoid pressure on the part of the Israelis, which led to the development of the so-called home economy (gardening, farming, poultry breeding, bread-making, handicraft, etc.), which gave a sense of greater independence and freedom. Clubs, churches and mosques housed local schools, where children for the first time had an opportunity to sit at the desk. The whole of the educational system, as a basis of the new autonomy, was revised.

The above actions were well planned and had a strategy of their own. Before the acts of civil disobedience began, the world regarded the Palestinians as terrorists. Their bloody terrorist acts were bitterly condemned by the international community. Six years of civil resistance and bitter, if unarmed, struggle changed the situation and produced the Washington agreements in September 1993. Thus, the Palestinians certainly strengthened their position and could negotiate on better terms.

To win a war does not imply annihilating the opposing party, but achieving the goals set. That is exactly what happened as a result of the intifada. The Palestinians joined the negotiations process and were presented with an opportunity to participate in them from the position of strength. They even managed to attain more than that. The Palestinian people became aware of its unity and closed the ranks. This led to the establishment of unprecedented relations between the Palestinians living in the occupied territories and the Israeli Palestinians. This also put an end to the continuing annexation process and prompted the development of the Palestinian economic infrastructure. At the same time, Jordan had to give up attempts on its part to represent Palestine at negotiations. The role of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO), as a lawful representative of the Palestinian people, increased. It should also be noted that the events highlighted the violent nature of the actions undertaken by the Israelis, graphically illustrated the goals of the Palestinian side, which had been overshadowed by terrorism and war before, helped improve their image, and strengthened their determination to act.

As far as Kosovo is concerned, the nine years that preceded the 1999 war saw strong resistance on the part of the Kosovo Albanians. Few people know what actually caused the conflict. Having risen to power and seeking to ensure his legitimacy, Milosevic waved high the flag of Great Serbia, which certainly flattered the population. The government circles and mass media echoed the motto, which was forbidden during the Tito rule, and tried hard to promote it. In 1990, under the influence of the mass media the Serbian population was split into two polar groups. The Slovenians, Croats and Kosovans got scared and responded by fanning the flames of their own nationalism. This having led to mass protests, Milosevic had no scruples about dissolving the parliament and curbing the autonomy of the province. This, in turn, prompted non-violent resistance. The Serbs forbade to use the Albanian language at schools. Children stopped going to schools and had classes at home. The police mainly manned by the Serbs easily resorted to blackmail and intimidation and those participating in the resistance movement were threatened with dismissal. During this period, the Albanians accounting for 90 percent of Kosovo’s population were subjected to mass dismissals. Ibrahim Rugova having entered the political arena, resistance without violence still intensified. The Albanian deputies were forced to resign from their posts in the local authorities. Having fallen victim to blackmail and administrative cleansing and suffering arrests, torture and killings, the Albanian civil population maintained their dignity and reacted by establishing parallel structures and organising parallel actions whenever the Serbian administrations forced them to do so. Thus, though unofficially, an overwhelming majority of the Kosovo population elected Rugova their leader.

The Kosovo civil opposition did not have enough time to reach their goals as their armed counterparts (UCK) came over to them and launched an offensive in 1998. Since then, there has been no potential for a peaceful solution to the crisis and the violence has spread all over the region. However it was the peaceful opposition that manifested the evident fault of the Serbs in escalating the conflict, turning the tide towards the NATO invasion and Serbia’s backdown.

Civil society has seen several such periods of peaceful opposition. Researchers define about a hundred such periods, but we are going to dwell only on some of them: South Africa 1906-14; India  (Gandhi), 1915-47; Germany, 1920 – Kappa putsch; Europe, 1940-45, Guatemala, 1944; Salvador, 1944; the USA, 1955-68 (Martin Luther King); Hungary, 1956-57; South Africa, up to 1960; GDR, 1953; France, 1961; Czechoslovakia, 1968; the Argentine, 1977-92; Bolivia, 1978; Poland, 1980-81; Uruguay, 1981-85; Chile, 1983; the Philippines, 1986; China, 1989; the GDR, 1989; the USSR, 1991; Madagascar, 1991-93; Tibet, 1959…

Sometimes, the civil opposition protests were crowned with success, sometimes not. There were a plenty of researchers studying them. They analysed such facts including the roots of both the successes and defeats. They made a unanimous conclusion: peaceful civilians have all the potential to beat a strong, well-organised, well-armed enemy poised for action. They even can reach their main goal, which sometimes is quite easier, and start the settlement process.

It has worked in a range of countries with different systems and not only in the industrialised ones. The researchers, US Jean Sharp as an example, explained how this amazing process worked, the process that can effectively influence the authorities. In some instances, the process can be started when people of a certain country are in desperation, when they are set to act and the process seems to be the last resort in averting an armed conflict and inevitable violence escalation.

There are a lot of reasons that can lead to a failure as regards civil society activities, but often it is inappropriate preparation, not thoroughly planned and extempore actions and lack of experience. As we have already seen, despite the non-violent nature of civil opposition, the process is a power game with all ensuing consequences. The rivals can respond by use of force sometimes tackling below the belt that can result in multiple deaths.

In the success list we can include the quality of the civil society structure, its dynamism, involvement of the state and/or lawful authority, which is sometimes of critical importance, expertise, good organisation, communications, educational level, support from the outside. It is of crucial importance also to maintain the non-violence status, which requires complete professionalism. The civil opposition is not a military organisation or process. However to face all threats and challenges it needs its own headquarters or a control body, reconnaissance, tactics, and assets. The major components of civil opposition strategy are to be aware of the enemy’s aims, undermine his power, having found what it is rooted from, oppose collaborators, ensure survivability of the civil population, be engaged in the creativity work, deliever information, etc.

Operations should be carried out though a series of small-scale actions reminiscent of a hornet's nest or an ant hill… To understand the basics of the civil opposition we often refer to the terms of the ‘war with the help of civil actions’ or ‘non-violent war’.

To our perspective, ‘civil actions’ are strikes, riots, sit-ins, the so-called ‘dead day’ etc. There are 200 types of civil actions defined, though we do not close the list.

‘Civil opposition’, as we see it, is a collective non-armed struggle, a combination of ‘civil actions’ with a common goal and conducted during a certain period of time. The civil opposition is usually a spontaneous and improperly prepared action.

We call the civil opposition prepared if it involves the state participation (or sometimes the actions are headed by the state) and a ‘defensive accompanied by civil actions’. If the civil opposition, some experts say, is a success without any particular preparation and the state support, it is doomed to success with a thorough preparation and the state backing.

The whole range of civil opposition strategies may also include some military components that can turn out to be absolutely necessary in some situations. Those cover not only duties to guard the borders of a country from the acts of aggression from abroad or to protect the country from a threat of domestic dictatorship, but also involvement into conflicts bearing no direct influence. In some instances, such conflicts need involvement from the outside. For example, we must recognise that the conflict in Bosnia was rooted in disinformation received by the population that resulted in international dissention. The conflict could have been easily averted by coordinated information efforts on the part of European organisations. Millions of radio receivers tuned to international stations and linked to satellites could have been dropped in the region. The strategy can be called ‘interference with the use of civil actions’. There are a good many potentials to employ such strategies: Kosovo, Timor, Tibet, etc. If used or at least properly studied, it would be possible to prevent a range of armed conflicts.

To get a better understanding of a peaceful civil opposition, it is necessary to appreciate the fact that mentality has greatly changed recently. Nowadays, if treated with aggression, society organises mass demonstrations. The political authorities are fully aware of the fact, and they ought to take the court of public opinion into consideration. The population should be properly informed, and the authorities must be interested in it as the population has a great potential. Civil society is able to tackle difficult issues and the political authorities need to take a closer look. The state cannot do without civil society assistance especially now, when the state faces new threats (various forms of extremism, corruption, terrorism, IT threats, biological and chemical threats etc.), global challenges, and the rapidly changing situation. This range of issues can be treated by the state only when backed by civil society, ensuring balance and unrestricted functioning. It is this point that accounts for the power of the modern society. But it is vital to know how to use it. It requires new expertise levels that already exist but need further development.

Our association ‘Civil Action and Defensive’ has made significant progress in France. The military are interested in our projects with the state reasonably participating in them. Efforts made by the association make it possible to understand when to intervene, with our specific approach pushing ahead with appropriate pragmatism and logicality.

Our association issues recommendations for the state authorities to develop the above areas. It is necessary to warn all the people and organisations concerned as well as to command full knowledge about them. It is the R&D effort that matters during preparatory work in peacetime.

I do not think it is possible to tell you about many other things to remain within the time limits. I would like to stress that the way we are going is a way of peace. However, it is not a kind of plaster for all sores, it is one of the many preventive approaches to conflicts. On the other hand, one must not ignore it, as a war is inevitable when all preventive efforts failed and negotiations are in a deadlock. The civil opposition approach appears to be the last resort here.