The sudden relevance of Gene Sharp by mattsteinglass
June 22, 2009, 9:23 am
Filed under: democracy, Iran, Vietnam

Andrew Sullivan (via Hilzoy) posts a hilarious Iranian 3D-animation propaganda video from last year that depicts the international conspiracy to promote Western liberal democracy holding a secret meeting in the White House. Present are “senior White House official” John McCain, George Soros, and…a guy named Gene Sharp whose name most Americans won’t recognize.

Gene Sharp is a political scientist who has written extensively on the dynamics of nonviolent protest movements. His writing isn’t just descriptive and analytical — it’s advocacy-oriented. Until last week, to my shame, I didn’t know who Sharp was either. Then Vietnamese police arrested lawyer Le Cong Dinh, who had defended some pro-democracy activists in Vietnam. And on the website of the official police newspaper Cong An Nhan Dan (“People’s Police”), they posted photos of the arrest, along with some images of things they’d discovered in Dinh’s office which they apparently considered evidence against him. Included was a photo of a Vietnamese-language translation of Gene Sharp’s book “From Dictatorship to Democracy”, originally written as a guide for Burmese exile activists in Thailand in 1993, and widely read by the Serbian “Otpor” activists who brought down Milosevic in 2000 and by subsequent “color revolution” organizers.

I continue to find it amazing that authoritarian regimes, faced over the past 20 years with the prospect of nonviolent movements to kick them out of power, have tried to demonize the concept of nonviolent political change as some kind of sinister conspiracy. How do you make Gandhi and Havel into badguys? How ridiculous do regimes sound when they mutter darkly of “peaceful evolution” and “velvet revolutions” and expect people to agree that these are bad things? Can they possibly not recognize that if their regime is vulnerable to a “velvet revolution”, that indicates that their regime sucks? There seems to be some characteristic turn of the phobic authoritarian mind that allows such people, once a force has been identified as “enemy”, to stop reasoning about why it’s an enemy. What kind of intelligence can look at a crowd of unarmed citizens holding signs facing a phalanx of kevlar-clad, truncheon- and gun-wielding security forces and conclude that the demonstrators are them and the people with the truncheons are us?


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Perhaps something to cleanse the palette of that hilarious video:

“Sar Oomad Zemestoon” (“The Winter Has Come to an End”)

This song, whose melody is apparently taken from a very old Armenian love song, was popularized during the 1979 Iranian revolution by the Fedayeen Khalgh (“The People’s Sacrifices”), a secular Marxist group. It was eventually appropriated by the revolution as a whole.

I bring it up, because the song has been resurrected by the contemporary Mousavi campaign (see below), an interesting fact in its own right. I don’t know what this says about him. Perhaps some of your readers could tell us.

But anyway, you simply must hear it, and share it with your readers. It’s just so achingly beautiful. Here’s the most moving, minimalistic rendition of the song I could find (complete with a haunting accordion accompaniment):

A translation of the Farsi lyrics (be sure to read them while you listen):

“The winter has come to an end, the spring has blossomed.
The red flower of the sun has risen once again, the night has escaped.
The mountains are covered with tulips, the tulips are awake.
They are planting sunshine in the moutains, flower by flower by flower.
In the mountains, his heart is awake, he is bringing flowers and bread and will defend
In his heart, he has a forest of stars.
His lips wear a smile of light.
His heart is filled with the flames of emotion.
His voice is like a spring.
His memory is like a deer in the forest of light.”

Here’s a slick (but somewhat shlocky) rendition of the song used by Mousavi in one of his campaign ads:

and here’s a rendition that backgrounds an amazing slide-show of photos from recent protest events in Iran:

Comment by Matt

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To be fair, I don’t think many people in Iran have refrained from protesting over all these years because of George Soros; they’ve refrained from protesting because they’d get sent to jail and the political apparatus would erase their existence. The whole conspiracy narrative doesn’t have to make sense, it just has to be rational enough to make people feel okay about the fact they aren’t protesting.

Admitting that you don’t protest your government because you’re afraid of them is shameful and miserable, but if you can tell people you’re doing it because “great satan cownoy uncle sam” (thanks Peggy) is threatening to take over your country, you can at least pretend to take pride in that. People listen to your ridiculous explanation, and realizing they’re in the same lot, echo it.

It’s the political equivalent everyone pretending their houses are worth much more than they are, and using all kinds of mental ruses to convince yourself of the truth of it, because admitting the alternative is unthinkable, and will cost you a lot of pain and money.

Comment by jamie

[…] Steinglass marvels at the authoritarian mindset: I continue to find it amazing that authoritarian regimes, faced over […]

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Yeah, yet if you read Charles Liu’s posts over at Foolsmountain ( that’s exactly the kind of spiel that you will see – that organisations like the National Endowment for Democracy (NED)are engaged in training pro-democracy activists in other countries in ‘guerilla warfare’ (AKA peaceful protest). Pro-democracy and human rights activists somehow become ‘spies’ when they accept money or support from the NED. Projects like Charter 88 become ‘conspiracies’ designed to “kill common people and end China’s future”, and “A righteous reckoning at the people’s guillotine is the best solution for them”.

This would be less surprising if a good number of people didn’t buy it hook, line, and sinker. There will always be a proportion of the populace who will go along with such things, and more who pretend to.

Comment by FOARP

Great to find a translation! I would make minor edits:
“Winter has come to an end, Spring has blossomed.
The red flower of the sun has come again, night has retreated.
The mountains are covered with tulips, the tulips are all awake.
In the mountains they are planting the sun, flower by flower by flower.
In the mountains, his heart is awake, he is bringing a gun and flowers and wheat.
In his chest–dear, dear, dear–he has a forest of stars.
His lips wear a smile of light.
His heart is filled with flames of emotion.
His voice is a spring (of water).
His memory, a deer in the forest of light.”

Comment by leili

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