11 August 2009

Further Reply to Al Giordano re "Toppling a Coup, Part I: Dilemmas for the Honduras Regime"

Mr Giordano's way over the top reaction to my original post got me wondering. I couldn't figure out what had upset him so much or why. He also gave no sources for his sweeping statements, which contradict much published material on Otpor.

I wrote to Diana Johnstone, author of Fool's Crusade , described by Ed Herman as 'the outstanding Left analyst of the Balkans'.

She graciously consented to me publishing the following comments:

"What is significant in all this confusion about Otpor is the distinction that needs to be made between means and ends. Getting out in the street in protest, or wearing provocative t-shirts, or pasting up posters with fist logos, etc., etc., are all means that can be used for a variety of ends. In themselves, they say nothing about the political quality of the ends pursued.
Much of the contemporary left, having lost any clear purpose of its own, is extremely gullible when it comes to mistaking supposedly revolutionary means for progressive revolutionary ends.
A significant point in the Washington Post article by Michael Dobbs (below) is that the Otpor strategy would not work in a totalitarian state. To go farther, the public relations methods used by Otpor (which were both suggested and, more significantly, financed by the US government) were designed to destabilize a government which was not totalitarian, and which was even, by the standards of post-communist transitional states, was democratic. That is, it was elected, it was based on pluralistic coalitions, it did not repress its opposition, the opposition press was free, and so on.
We should ask why, then, the Otpor strategy appealed to some part of Serbian youth, and what its real aims were.
The answer, in my view, is that in the contemporary world, the United States is universally dominant ideologically thanks in very large part to its entertainment industry. The youth of almost the entire world are particularly influenced by that entertainment industry, and want to be part of the world it portrays. I think it is significant that so many of Otpor militants were physical education majors – activists more than thinkers, susceptible to the physical attractiveness of the Americanized world which they felt they were being unjustly deprived of. This is a new kind of "oppression", which has nothing to do with the oppression of labor that was protested by the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers in 1891. But using the same logo as the IBEW seems to be enough to confuse certain leftists without a left (like rebels without a cause).
The "oppression" of the Otpor generation is that of being deprived of the fun of what they perceive to be modern Americanized society. They don’t like being bombed by NATO, but they would rather blame their own government than give up their aspiration to belong to "the world" as reflected in American entertainment culture.
The leftists without a left see the raised fist and fancy they are seeing a social rebellion that somehow carries on the traditions of the working class left. But the left has never been about strengthening the position of what Marxists used to call the comprador bourgeoisie – that segment of the middle class of various subjugated countries which identifies whole-heartedly with the imperialist powers dominating, or trying to dominate, their own countries.
-- Diana Johnstone"

She linked to the same WaPo article I quoted in my comment below. Also linked was the Wikipedia entry for Gene Sharp.

Ivan Marovic: Perhaps Mr Giordano ought to check up on him as I have done. You could, for a start, ask him where he was in April 2005.

The New York Sun (not exactly a "Trotksyite" blog), in an article published in March 2006 entitled: "Iran Launches a Crackdown On Democracy Activists", reported:

"With the Bush administration demanding $75 million to encourage opposition to Iran's ruling mullahs, the Tehran regime has already started cracking down on democracy activists in the country who have received aid from the West.

On February 13, just two days before Secretary of State Rice formally requested the opposition funds, Iran's Ministry of Intelligence and Security arrested Ali Afsahi, a former film critic and journalist who attended a human rights training seminar in Dubai last April.

The workshop was sponsored by the Iran Human Rights Documentation Center at Yale University, which was granted $1 million in 2004 by a smaller American government aid program intended for Iran's opposition inside the country.

Mr. Afsahi also attended a seminar held by the International Center for Nonviolent Conflict, an organization that receives no funding from any government or corporation but offered a session led by some of the Serb activists who helped organize the downfall of their country's dictator, Slobodan Milosevic, in 2000.

The organizers of last year's sessions said they believed the arrest in Dubai is an effort to poison the well and scare off other dissidents in Iran from participating in international conferences and events."

The NYS even mentioned Mr Marovic towards the end of the article:

"Mr. Ackerman, like Otpor, are adherents of the theory of Gene Sharp, the author of a series of books on nonviolent conflict who is generally credited with being the first person to study rigorously the techniques of mass civil disobedience and place them in the context of traditional military strategy. In 2004, Cuban dissidents were arrested in Havana for possessing video tapes of the documentary.

One of the Otpor trainers at last April's workshop in Dubai, Ivan Marovic, described his work as follows: "The content of the workshop consisted of explaining the principles of mobilizing the population in the situation where fear is high and there are tensions in the society, meaning they are facing a political crisis.

"We discussed how to overcome that crisis without destruction of property and loss of human life. These are nonviolent strategies of civic mobilization. This is a standard workshop based on the examples from Otpor, our fight against Slobodan Milosevic."

Mr. Marovic sees some similarities between the plight of Mr. Asfahi and many of his comrades from the Milosevic era. "This whole thing is nothing new. In Serbia we were accused of being terrorists and mercenaries of the west. This just shows the nervousness of the regime in Iran."

You can also hear Mr Marovic's advice to the Iranian revolutionaries on this Radio Netherlands interview.

And for a full who's who of Marovic's friends you should also read this:

"A Force More Powerful: Promoting ‘Democracy’ through Civil Disobedience"

As you can see by the extensively documented article 'A Force More Powerful' Mr Marovic is involved "in the production of a progressive activist-orientated computer game (which was released in February 2006)...
The name of this new seemingly progressive game is A Force More Powerful: The Game of Nonviolent Strategy, which was based on the book A Force More Powerful: A Century of Nonviolent Conflict (New York: St. Martin's Press, 2000). The book was also preceded by the production of a two part documentary series, which was released in 1999, going by the same name, and aired on PBS the following year. Now assuming that the book, film, and game were historically accurate and were useful to progressive activists, does it then matter that the people involved in producing these resources are closely linked to the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) and much of the US-based ‘democracy promoting’ establishment? I would suggest that the answer to this question is yes, and that these links do matter a great deal...

'The concept of serious games for educational purposes is much older than we see. It was actually in the military that they used educational games for years… [I]t was just a matter of time before these concepts would pull out of the military and be embraced by the rest of the world, and I’m glad that we were among the first dozen outside of the military who started using games this way.' [50]

The above quote taken from the Social Policy article, illustrates that Ivan Marovic, considers A Force More Powerful’s transition from book to computer game to be following in the steps of military strategists. However, what isn’t made clear in the article is that many of the computer game’s producers are essentially ex-military strategists, and that ironically the game was co-produced by BreakAway Games (alongside ICNC and York Zimmerman), a company that specialises in producing simulation games for the military.

BreakAway openly admits that it has “strategic relationships” with a number of leading military contractors including “AAI, Boeing, Booz-Allen & Hamilton, GMA Industries, and General Dynamics among others” and in their CEO’s own words they obtain around 75% of their business from “Uncle Sam.” [51] Recent Federal Projects carried out through BreakAway Federal Systems include Virtual Convoy Trainer which “places Armed Forces in a Middle Eastern environment and enables them to quickly identify and respond to ambush tactics in urban terrain and during convoy operations”, and Incident Commander which prepares its gamers “for multiple scenarios including terrorist attacks, school shootings, and natural disasters.” [52] It is therefore no surprise that Deborah Tillett, the president of BreakAway, “sees no paradox in producing games that enable both warmakers and peaceful resisters.” In fact, she has even said that the “basic tenets of the ICNC are that using a strict doctrine of military strategy and applying it to your nonviolent resistance movement only gives you power.” [53]

Finally it is interesting to note that the three main architects of the film, A Force More Powerful, were also the key people involved in creating the computer game: Steve York was the Senior Producer; Mirriam Zimmerman was the Design Associate; and Peter Ackerman was the game’s Senior Advisor. To complete the ‘democratic’ line-up, Colonel Robert Helvey, who was responsible for running workshops in Budapest to train Otpor activists, was brought in as a consultant, and the leader of Otpor, Ivan Marovic, also worked with Mirriam Zimmerman as the computer game’s Design Associate. [54]"

But that's not all, the article traces the connections of Marovic's associates and backers back to the NED and friends such as the International Center on Nonviolent Conflict (ICNC) and their backers and associates.

Also check out this article at the CSM for more on The Serious Games Initiative at the Woodrow Wilson Centre...

And this ZMag article:

"Low-Intensity Democracy": The Case of Serbia"

Mr Marovic also co-wrote the Centre for Applied NonViolent Action and Strategies'
'Student Handbook' (PDF file). This centre has co-operated with the ICNC.

In no way is this meant to denigrate the popular movement in Honduras which I support, but it should serve as a warning to them to be a little careful who they choose to get into bed with. The tactics they are being shown are well-known to those opposed to popular movements, as the failure so far of such movements in Iran and Venezuela have shown.

The Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars has already thoroughly investigated Marovic's game, based remember on the Otpor experience which he lectures about all over the world, as the CSM article linked above shows.

"And the Woodrow Wilson Center for International Scholars in Washington, D.C. has founded the Serious Games Initiative to explore how key challenges facing governments and nonprofit groups can be addressed using game play."

What part of the Center? The Foresight and Governance Project:

"The Wilson Center's Foresight and Governance Project has launched a “Serious Games Initiative,” which seeks to encourage development of games simulating policy making and management."

Their blurb states:

"The Foresight and Governance Project focuses on long-term issues facing government and supports anticipatory thinking and planning in the public sector. Through both internal and collaborative research, the project works to identify critical future issues and make key findings easily accessible to policy makers and other interested parties. The Project also works to support public sector foresight efforts through the building of networks of scholars and practitioners and the provision of information resources."

To be continued...

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