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challenge to nonviolence




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Michael Randle (Ed.) Challenge to Nonviolence Department of Peace Studies
University of Bradford.

This book arose from presentations and discussions in a seminar which met periodically between 1994 to 1999 to re-examine major conceptual approaches to nonviolent action at the Department of Peace Studies at Bradford University. Many of the papers are by people known to Peace Matters readers: Michael Randle, Andrew Rigby, Bob Overy, April Carter, Howard Clark. In one sense, they have said before what they say here and often make references to familiar writings, in particular Gene Sharp’s studies of nonviolent protests and his Gandhi as a Political Strategist.

However, one of the important aspects of the book is the record of the discussions which follow each presentation. The discussions took place against the background of the conflicts in former Yugoslavia and of the failure both of violent and nonviolent means to create a just outcome. The book begins with an exchange between Lynne Jones and Michael Randle on “Military Intervention in Bosnia” and is followed by Howard Clark’s “Nonviolent Struggle in Kosovo”. Pluto Press later published Howard Clark’s Civil Resistance in Kosovo where he goes in greater detail into the strengths and weaknesses of the nonviolent actions and creation of social structures in Kosovo.

In many ways, as the exchange between Lynne Jones and Michael Randle shows, the violence associated with the breakup of Yugoslavia was one of those “defining moments” in the evolution of non-governmental efforts at conflict resolution. I think that for each of us, there have been such key struggles that opened a door to awareness. For me it was the Nigeria-Biafra war. The parallels between the two conflicts in federal States are striking: In Nigeria-Biafra 1) Propositions for modifying the federal structure of Nigeria were rejected prior to the start of the war. The modification from a three-states to an over-30 states federation took place afterwards. 2) Propositions for political compromises during the fighting proposed by NGOs and toward the end by Third Party governments were rejected. The war ended with a complete “victory” of the Federal Nigerian forces. 3)French doctors who had worked for Red Cross organizations during the war then created Medecins sans Frontiers so as not to be limited by prior government agreement and political restraint which are the marks of the Red Cross.

Likewise in former Yugoslavia: 1) Propositions for modifying the federal structure of Yugoslavia were rejected prior to the start of the war. 2) Propositions for political compromises during the fighting were rejected until some were imposed by external forces in Bosnia and Kosovo. 3) The need for structures of dialogue and for training in conflict resolution and nonviolent approaches were highlighted. Useful initiatives were undertaken. We still have to see how they will be followed up, and if the international nonviolent movement has the resources and endurance to continue efforts in former Yugoslavia.

As Tim Wallis writes ‘However difficult it may be for us in the peace movement to accept, we may have to admit that we cannot stop the bloodshed in Bosnia, or in Somalia, or in Angola. The best we can do is to support those Bosnians, Somalis, or Angolans who may be resisting or who would resist if they could, the war and violence around them.’

Michael Randle goes in the same direction with what could be the general theme of the book in his concluding observations on military intervention in Bosnia “ The strategic successes of nonviolent action over the last ten or fifteen years are not to be brushed aside. While there may be little scope for nonviolent action in the height of a war, or against a genocidal regime, its use at an early stage can sometimes determine whether a situation deteriorates to such extremes. In Burma and Nigeria today, civil resistance offers the one slim hope of avoiding all-out civil war and new killing fields. It is praxis, in these critical situations, carefully analysed to draw out its implications, that will in the end convince or fail to convince people about nonviolent action and determine the limits of its effectiveness.”

Other presentations are informative but stir less passions among the participants than Yugoslavia. Bela Phatia, who did a PhD thesis at Cambridge on the Indian Naxalite insurgencies presents a good paper on “The Naxalite Movement in Central Bihar.” An interesting discussion on violent -nonviolent approaches follows as Bihar was an area in which nonviolent reform efforts of J.P. Narayan - building on Vinoba Bhave and the Gandhian movement -had been active. Unfortunately, no comparison to the current insurgencies in Nepal was made, although the “Maoists” in Nepal are more influenced by the Naxalites than by the Chinese.

For those readers with a less geographically-specific interest in nonviolent intervention, the best presentation is that of Andrew Rigby “Nonviolent Third Party Action: Towards a New Realism” which could be usefully reproduced as an introductory paper for seminars and trainings.

Rene Wadlow




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