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Turning to a consultant in the struggle for Syria

A vehicle drives past damaged buildings in the northern town of Atareb, 25 kms east of Syria's second largest city Aleppo, on July 31, 2012.

Jeff Horwich: The military fight for Syria is expanding in the country's largest city, Aleppo. Reports just out this morning say clashes have also kicked up again in the capital, Damascus.

The battle in Syria is not just for control of the country. There's also a battle within the resistance over how that victory should be achieved. Like other "Arab Spring" nations before them, Syrians are looking abroad for answers.

One person they're turning to is Srdja Popovic. He led the overthrow of Slobodon Milosevic in Serbia in 2000. He has since become essentially a nonviolent resistance consultant. His nonprofit Centre for Applied Nonviolent Action and Strategies has work with people in Egypt, the Occupy Wall Street movement, and now -- though he declines to name his contacts -- in Syria. Srdja Popovic is with me from Belgrade. Great to talk to you.

Srdja Popovic: Great to talk to you too.

Horwich: You always acknowledge your debt to Gandhi, Martin Luther King but how have you had to update the skills and the techniques of the people who came before you?

Popovic: Well, Gandhi and Martin Luther King are great inspiration but the non-violent struggle is an everlasting process. One of the things that we do by sharing knowledge and skills with activists throughout the world is that we also learn. So every single individual struggle brings something new whether this is the humor or various technological advances which we have seen all over the Arab Spring. So we’re doing it by constantly learning.

Horwich: You offered your insights to some parts of the Occupy movement, here in the U.S. Do you have an economic message?

Popovic: Well, I mean whether we are talking about the economic or democratic struggle, the basics of these struggle are all the same, because they have awakened the activism in countries where activism has been really really dormant for a number years. And they really came out to the right issue. Unequal distribution of the capital which hits most of the countries around the world – and I’m not talking only about the countries of liberal capitalism here. I mean, look at the dictatorships, in places like Syria the wealth is even more concentrated – we’re talking about only a few families not just a few percent. But this is the message of social justice which really appeals to everybody.

Horwich: Looking at Syria and also maybe Libya, I see, sort of, a new progression that you’re probably not so happy with: Where perhaps your ideas bring the tension to a head, force the dictatorial regime into an untenable position and then violence finishes the process. Are you worried about that?

Popovic: That’s the worst case scenario. And I mean if you look at the history of the violent and non-violent struggle in the last 106 years there are very very slim chances that if you win through the violent struggle you will end up in democracy. What really makes me disturbed is that the people around the globe, especially the journalists, they don’t draw this line, and they just look at these things – they look at the bad guy and say ‘Ok, Gadhafi’s down.’ But the thing is what’s next? And I mean, if there was not a popular movement with a clear political alternative these countries could easily slip into chaos.

Horwich: Srdja Popovic, now most associated with the Center for Applied Non-violent Action and Strategies, with me from Serbia. Thanks very much.

Popovic: Thank you.     

About the author

Jeff Horwich is the interim host of Marketplace Morning Report and a sometime-Marketplace reporter.

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