October 19, 2017 Print

Srdja Popović speaking at the 2017 Oslo Freedom Forum

“Illiberalism is on the rise, in fledgling and well-established democracies alike. At this turbulent time in global affairs, engaging communities in the protection of individual freedoms is critical,” says Alex Gladstein, the Human Rights Foundation's (HRF) chief strategy officer. In recognition of this reality, HRF and Atlas Network cosponsored a panel at the 2017 Oslo Freedom Forum entitled “How to Build a Movement Against Illiberalism.” The panel focused on the rise of populism and illiberalism in Western democracies and how civil society organizations can mobilize to respond to these threats more effectively.

Srdja Popović, the executive director of Centre for Applied Nonviolent Action and Strategies (CANVAS), was a keynote speaker at this panel and is no stranger to applying nonviolent action on a widespread, grassroots level. He has worked to promote the use of nonviolent resistance to achieve political reform ever since becoming a leader of the nonviolent resistance movement “Otpor!” that helped to topple the regime of Slobodan Milošević, a former president of Serbia a former president of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia.

Popović recently hosted an online session as a part of the Harvard Kennedy School Executive Education course titled “Defending Democracy through Social Movements.” His session, based off his presentation at the OFF panel, focused on the most effective ways for non-violent social movements to positively impact society. His keys for success included unity of the movement, proper planning, non-violent discipline, clear vision and demands, and targeting the right pillars of society where you have the most leverage. 

Popović communicated the importance of learning from past social movements. “Clever movements learn from their mistakes; stupid movements don’t,” he said in his online session.