When Popovic asked the Burmese what they hoped to learn from the week, their answers focused on two issues: mobilizing people and overcoming fear. "We are afraid of what we are doing," said a tall man. "We have the 'there is nothing we can do' syndrome. We have never tasted freedom." One young woman pointed out that the government considers any meeting of more than five people to be illegal. "Nonviolent struggle is very risky," she said.
The Burmese were exhibiting the most formidable challenge facing CANVAS in countries without a history of effective opposition: the passivity, fatalism, and fear of their citizens. CANVAS's most useful lesson is how to dismantle this barrier. "At each workshop, someone comes to me and says, 'Our case is totally different,'" Djinovic told the Burmese. There was nervous laughter. But the Burmese had a point: Anyone demented enough to roll a barrel with Than Shwe's picture on it for the citizens of Rangoon to whack would be risking not a few hours in jail, but dozens of years. What could the Serbs possibly talk about?
A lot, it turned out. Some of the students said they had thought nonviolence meant passivity -- morally superior, perhaps, but naive. Popovic framed the task in terms of Sun Tzu: "I want you to see nonviolent conflict as a form of warfare -- the only difference is you don't use arms," he told them. This was new. He argued that whether nonviolence was moral or not was irrelevant: It was strategically necessary. Violence, of course, is every dictator's home court. The Otpor founders also knew they could never win wide support with violence -- every democracy struggle eventually needs to capture the middle class and at least neutralize the security forces.
Over and over again, Djinovic and Popovic hammered at another myth: that nonviolent struggle is synonymous with amassing large concentrations of people. The Serbs cautioned that marches and demonstrations should be saved for when you finally have majority support. Marches are risky -- if your turnout is poor, the movement's credibility is destroyed. And at marches, people get arrested, beaten, and shot. The authorities will try to provoke violence. One bad march can destroy a movement. Here was a point that had people nodding. "Any gathering in Rangoon is lunacy," Djinovic said.
But if not marches, then what? The Serbs showed the participants excerpts from A Force More Powerful, a documentary series about nonviolent struggles: Gandhi's Salt March, the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa, and the lunch-counter sit-ins and bus boycotts of the American civil rights movement. Popovic pointed out the planning involved in these actions, and made the group list the tactics they saw: leaflets, banners, sit-ins, boycotts, picketing, music. "South Africa and Burma have a similarity: zero free media," he said. "So how do you spread the message?"
"Songs," said a man with a mustache. "Prayers and funerals," said a middle-aged woman, the oldest in the group, a stern woman the others took to calling Auntie. Popovic pounced. "So what's interesting about using funerals?" "It's the only place people can meet," a young man said.
"Funerals are a dilemma for your opponent," said Popovic. In Zimbabwe, a gathering of five people was banned, but what if I have 5,000 people at a funeral? Whenever anyone related to the movement dies, they will gather and sing songs -- and the police will not interfere! It's a real problem to tear-gas a funeral."
The next idea was one the Serbs had learned from the American academic Gene Sharp, the author of From Dictatorship to Democracy (a book originally published in 1993 in Thailand for Burmese dissidents), who has been called the Clausewitz of nonviolence. Popovic was first introduced to Sharp's ideas in the spring of 2000 by Robert Helvey, a former U.S. Army colonel who had served as defense attaché at the U.S. Embassy in Burma in the 1980s before becoming disillusioned with armed struggle. When the Otpor members met Helvey, the movement already had 20,000 active members and a formidable reputation. But the group had hit a wall -- the movement was growing, but its leaders couldn't see how Otpor could turn that growth into the fall of Milosevic.