Diffusion of Civil Resistance

With each victory—and failure—popular resisters learn from experiences of their own as well as those of others while international institutions, scholars, and trainers have transnationalized the knowledge of strategic nonviolent conflict through publications, workshops, and other educational initiatives. The role and impact of these international actors is important, though it bears mention that it has always been the inventiveness and resourcefulness of the population itself that has driven civil resistance. Dissemination of the knowledge of nonviolent resistance, combined with its skillful application to indigenous conditions, has been historically notable as a factor in the proliferation of civil resistance movements and subsequent academic studies and research. Gandhi learned, among others, from the Hungarian civil resistance of the 1850s–1860s and the Russian Revolution of 1905. Also the Hungarian nonviolent struggle was an inspiration for Arthur Griffith, the leader of the Irish nationalist movement Sinn Féin, and the Finnish constitutionalists who resisted czarist Russia. The Russian revolution of 1905 created ripple effects of largely nonviolent popular uprisings in Russia’s near and far abroad. As described in Chapter 8, at the end of 1905, unarmed Iranians took to the streets and built citizens’ committees to press for constitutional changes, including a democratically elected parliament. At the same time, as highlighted in Chapter on Poland, the Russian part of partitioned country, awakened by the events in Russia proper, was soon engulfed in waves of workers’ and school strikes, demonstrations, and citizens’ antiregime activities that came with rising demands for social, political, and national rights, including the use of the Polish language in schools and public offices.


The process of transnationalization of civil resistance practice and knowledge has continued during decolonization struggles in Africa where, among others, Ghanaian and Zambian leaders read Gandhi’s work and drew lessons from the Indian resistance against the British, including Gandhi’s idea to devise and lead their own independence campaigns. Decades later, sharing civil resistance experience across borders has been especially visible, first with the so-called color revolutions (Serbia, 2000; Georgia, 2003; Ukraine, 2004) and later with the Arab Spring. The transnational diffusion of civil resistance has also included specific methods adopted from the tactical repertoire of past victorious nonviolent struggles in other, more contemporary, conflicts with the goal toward emulating earlier successes. In November 2011, for example, the Palestinian freedom riders, without required permits, boarded an Israeli public bus headed to Jerusalem and were subsequently arrested before being able to reach the city.18 By establishing a transnational and timeless linkage between their struggle and the famous freedom riders’ campaigns of the US civil rights movement against segregated buses, Palestinians sought to dramatize the discriminatory policies they face on a daily basis. Through the adoption of what are now considered legendary tactics from another historical struggle, Palestinians attempted to appeal to the conscience of the American public and strike an emotional chord with potential supporters in the United States, Israel, and other countries.