What Civil Resistance Can Achieve

by SeoHyun Choi, South Korea

Suppose there are two different groups of people on the street, protesting against the authoritarian government. One of them is armed and ready to take a violent action; the other is marching with no intention to harm the police. Which one would you believe to be more powerful to overthrow the government?

It may seem like violent actions can have direct and immediate impact to make changes. Nonviolence can be seen easily oppressed or ineffective to repressive regime. Surprisingly, however, nonviolent civil resistance has been more powerful than violence, according to the session given by Dr. Erica Chenoweth. Dr. Chenoweth pointed out a couple of reasons that make nonviolent civil resistance more successful than armed insurgency. They are based on the norm that the civil society is powerful by itself. Even though a regime can sustain for the time being without support from the people, it cannot be stable in the long term. The civil society is strong as the pillar of support, which has the power to support or not.

Nonviolence gains its effectiveness when it is combined with the strength of the people. Violence may provide the people with immediate or drastic results. It may be possible to gather the people all together within a short period. However, how long will it last? Does assassination of the authoritarian leader lead to stable transition? How many participants in violence will still be there to build a new society when they complete violent actions? Nonviolent civil resistance can give answers to these questions; the quantity and quality of participation in nonviolent movements outweigh violence. In other words, the strength of the people can strongly support nonviolence for relatively long time.

While listening to the session about nonviolent civil resistance, what had happened in my own country came across my mind. South Korea achieved democracy by decades of nonviolent civil resistance. There were several moments to be monumental, 4‧19 Revolution in 1960 and August 1987 can be good examples of nonviolence. Both of them succeeded in making authoritarian governments give in through voluntary participation of the people in nonviolent civil resistance. Furthermore, in both cases, violent reaction from the regime towards students backfired and caused even more people to come out to streets and demonstrate.

Nonviolent civil resistance throughout decades per se is democratization in South Korea. It was neither easy nor smooth. Democracy was achieved upon many people’s lives and decades of period. This may be the reason that South Korea appreciates their efforts and tries to improve more.

Let’s go back to the question above; which one would be your answer?