Strategic Nonviolent Struggle Spreads

By Rene Wadlow.

In the face of felt oppression;  strategic nonviolent struggle can become a viable alternative both to violence and also to passive submission.  You have to learn as much about nonviolent struggle as possible; know your own situation as well as possible; and know your opponent’s objectives, needs, and weaknesses as well as possible – and then make a plan. 

Work out a plan that will weaken your opponent; but also strengthen your people and give them the capacity to carry on the struggle – to achieve the next objective.  Planning and implementation of effective action to lift oppression is always extremely difficult.  However;  strategically planned nonviolent struggle appears to be a serious option in efforts to achieve a more democratic, free and just society.”
— Gene Sharp

Gene Sharp  may be looking down from  Heaven as four nonviolent struggles go on at the same time in different political-cultural settings: Hong Kong, Thailand, Belarus, and Libya.

It is difficult to know from the outside;  how much these struggles are the result of strategic planning or a spontaneous reaction to events.  What is sure;  is that the impact of nonviolent struggle has been strongly highlighted;  and the examples are likely to spread.


Umbrellas – Colors – Yellow.

The protests in Hong Kong;  are most likely the closest to what  Gene Sharp advocated as strategic planning.  The current protests against the new oppressive legislation;  builds on earlier mass protests in 2014 and 2016;  with the use of symbols – umbrellas – colors – yellow – and well articulated demands for reforms and protection of existing autonomy.

The protests in Hong Kong with the use of symbols – umbrellas – colors – yellow.

Writings on nonviolence are known in the university circles;  which provided much of the leadership of the protests.  The reaction of the police stressed by the media  made the protests well known;  both in Hong Kong;  and to a lesser extent on the mainland through the internet.

The Hong Kong efforts have contacts with nonviolent advocacy groups;  outside of China and with Chinese students living outside China. Thus;  knowledge of the efforts is spreading;  even if there may be fewer visible actions.

Dynastic Name is Rama X.

In Thailand;  the strategic nonviolent efforts are also largely led by university students.  They are aware that the earlier protest movements in 1973, 1976, 1992, and 2010 had been brutally put down by the military and the police.

The demands of the student-led movement are clear: the resignation of the Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-o-cha, a former military leader,  and the creation of a new constitution.  What is new in Thai politics is the open demand;  that the King’s role be modified to more ceremonial functions.  The current king;  whose dynastic name is Rama X;  came to power in 2016.

Protest in Thailand.

He spends much of his time in Germany;  and has not developed the sort of mystic bond with the majority of the population;  that had earlier kings.  Criticism of the king was forbidden and heavily punished.  That the current king is directly a target of criticism is new and is, no doubt;  the result  of discussions among the protest planners.  The choice of opposition targets;  is a crucial part of strategic planning.

Color Revolutions.

Current protests in Belarus have had time to be planned well;   in advance since President Alexandre Lukashenko has been in power since 1994.  However, it seems likely that the movement was rather spontaneous;  related to the 9 August 2020 elections and the brutality of the police and security forces against the first protesters.

Color Revolutions.
Color Revolutions.

The earlier “color revolutions” in Georgia and Ukraine;  had made nonviolent efforts leading to political change;  well known in the area.  The policies and weight of Russia will play a role.  For the moment;  it is difficult to predict the future.  However;  certainly strategic planning is going on with women playing a crucial role.

Armed Conflicts.

The civilian-led nonviolent protests in Libya;  are the most unexpected.  They have probably been set off by the ever-more difficult standard of living. The conflicts in Libya have been armed conflicts led by military forces and tribal militias.  Tribal militias have played a role;  since independence at the end of World War II.

Armed Conflicts
Protest in Libya.

There is little tradition of nonviolent advocacy;  although there is a certain nonviolent ethic among the Sufi groups in Libya.  U.N. and European government discussions on a political compromise among the military factions are at a dead point.  It will be important  to watch to see;  if the nonviolent protests can change the atmosphere;  and lead to a more stable and less violent situation.

Strategic nonviolence has become increasingly used in societies;  which do not have a nonviolent religious culture. Its techniques of analysis and proposals for action;  may be increasingly used and thus;  merit close attention from peace builders.


René Wadlow,  President of the Association of World Citizens, an international peace organization with consultative status with ECOSOC, the United Nations organ facilitating international cooperation and problem-solving in economic and social issues. 

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