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The Revolution Will Be Televised

The Revolution Will Be TelevisedTufts’ Peter Ackerman – an internationally-renowned expert on non-violent resistance – says Georgia’s recent uprising shares much in common with other movements he’s chronicled. Medford/Somerville, Mass.

Medford/Somerville, Mass. [12.09.03] Last month, a nonviolent resistance movement ousted President Eduard Shevardnadze of Georgia. According to Peter Ackerman -- Chair of the International Center on Nonviolent Conflict in Washington D.C. -- the Georgian uprising appears to have been largely modeled after the movement to remove Slobodan Milosevic from power in Yugoslavia in 2000. Both political movements, says the Tufts graduate - who documented Milosevic's oust in his film "Bringing Down a Dictator" - embraced the idea of nonviolent conflict, finding the approach not only provocative, but revolutionary.

"[Non-violent resistance] is a powerful illustration of an important point: that authoritarians have much less power than we think they do," Ackerman - who earned a M.A., M.A.L.D. and Ph.D. from The Fletcher School -- said in an interview on National Public Radio's Morning Edition. "A series of non violent tactics linked strategically can undermine the power of an authoritarian to such an extent that he's forced to leave."

The Fletcher School graduate said the opposition movements in Yugoslavia and Georgia shared not just their methods of nonviolence - they also struck at the same targets to effectively undermine their respective regimes.

"The most important factor was that [the Georgian opposition] understood that the real target was not Shevardnadze, it was the loyalty of the military and the police," Ackerman told NPR. "And once they could create hesitation on the part of the military and the police so that they would not be implementers of Shevardnadze's repression, as soon as that loyalty faded, he couldn't stay."

The Tufts graduate added, "That's exactly what happened with Milosevic."

That may not be a coincidence. Some suspect Ackerman's film "Bringing Down a Dictator" - which chronicles the final stages of Milosevic's overthrow - may have had a hand in shaping the Georgian uprising.

The hour-long documentary - directed by Steve York and narrated by Martin Sheen - was shown on independent television networks in the former Soviet republic of Georgia at least twice in the weeks leading up to the protests that ended Shevardnadze's presidency.

"You can put an idea on paper and it doesn't inspire," Ackerman told NPR. "Sometimes when you put an idea in a visual format and you do it well...then you excite people's imaginations and the idea becomes provocative because people relate to it and identify with it. We have found that the visual arts have been much more powerful in talking about these ideas and speaking to people about these ideas than the written word has."

Although the Georgian ousting tapped many of the methods from the movement to remove Milosevic, Ackerman stresses that the political factors in each case were different.

"The groundwork was not as dramatically and carefully laid in Georgia as it was in Serbia," Ackerman told NPR. "It seems what happened is that they were following more the pattern of the climax of the Serbian revolution than what happened in the months that proceeded."

As the Tufts graduate told NPR, "Every one of these movements unfolds in their unique way."

"Dictator" is the second collaboration between Ackerman and York -- the first was a film based on the Tufts graduate's 1994 book "Strategic Nonviolent Conflict." But Ackerman is careful to point-out that his films are not meant to be a "how-to" on overthrowing any leader. Instead, the Tufts graduate hopes that the nonviolent resistance portrayed in his films can be used to ensure democracy - not just in elections but in their aftermath.

"We have to be very careful to realize that an election is a necessary condition for democracy but not a sufficient one," Ackerman told NPR. "And there are many ways after an election you can erode democratic rights and freedoms. The rule of law can go by the wayside. And so many of these movements today are in response to democratic freedoms won but now being taken away by the same people who are elected."


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