Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Lessons for toppling dictators

Jan. 11, 2012
A. Gaffar Peang-Meth
Popovic tells us we need analytical skills in "unity, planning, and nonviolent discipline" to succeed in a revolution. He tells us of the working of the dynamics of enthusiasm and humor vs. fear and apathy: As enthusiasm and humor go up, fear and apathy go down, and vice versa. And he tells us to select strategy and tactics: Start small and pick the battle one can win.
I ended 2011 with a column on Lord Buddha's teachings from 2,500 years ago about man as an activist, an "actionist," and a maker of the world. As 95 percent of Cambodia's 14 million people identify themselves as Buddhist, I deduced that Cambodians are activists and "actionists" who can transform autocratic Cambodia into a Buddhist country of civil rights, justice, and compassion.

The people profess to want those changes. Yet change has not happened.

After my column, I received an email from a former Khmer monk, Bouawat Sithi, a graduate of Thailand's Djittabhawan College, which was founded to provide opportunities to students from poor families to pursue higher education. He affirmed that my interpretation of Buddhism is what he learned as a monk and still practices daily -- that Buddha never taught man to believe in fate, but "to believe in our own action (karma)." He lamented Buddhism is not taught or understood correctly and "egoism, anger, greed, delusion, desire, craving, hate and aversion" overwhelm many Cambodians.

Heng Sreang, Royal University of Phnom Penh professor, sent an article, "The Scope and Limitations of Political Participation by Buddhist Monks," that contains his belief that Khmer Buddhist monks "should play not only a legitimizing but also a critical role" as a "constructive force for the improvement and reconstruction of the social well-being and political life of the country."

Sreang argued it would be to Cambodia's great benefit "if monks were allowed to enjoy" their "rights and roles," not limited to religious affairs and isolated from secular affairs. "By virtue of their religious status and leadership potential, they could be powerful instruments" to keep citizens informed socially, politically and economically, and to repair what another former monk, Monychenda, called a declining "moral order" through teaching the correct application of Buddhist dhamma to daily lives.

With 4,000-plus monasteries and 50,000-plus Buddhist monks in Cambodia, there is capacity to build the correct understanding and application of Buddha's teachings among Khmers in order to bring positive change to Cambodia.

Toppling a dictator

Last month's issue of Foreign Policy Magazine was devoted to those identified as the 100 top global thinkers. I was pleased to see the list included American political scientist Gene Sharp, now 83, and a onetime marine biology student turned Serbian revolutionary, Srdja Popovic, now 42, for writing the "how-to" manuals for the revolutions that occurred in 2011.

Sharp's "The Politics of Nonviolent Action," in three parts -- "Power and Struggle"; "The Methods of Nonviolent Action, Political Jiu-Jitsu at Work"; and "The Dynamics of Nonviolent Action" -- is a classic used by protesters from Burma to Zimbabwe, by those engaged in Europe's "color revolutions" and by the April 6 Youth Movement, which helped end Egypt's Hosni Mubarak's rule.

Henry David Thoreau and Mahatma Gandhi influenced Sharp's work on nonviolent action that has become a blueprint for the world's activists, including Popovic and his resistance group Otpor ("Resistance" in Serbian), that helped bring down the dictator Slobodan Milosevic in 2000.

I would like to urge readers to spare a few minutes to view Popovic's remarks at an independent event organized by Tedx in Krakow. The talk is available at, the website of a nonprofit organization dedicated to sharing "ideas worth spreading." Popovic's remarks were "How to Topple a Dictator." Popovic, a native of Belgrade, tells us that people power is a tool to change the world, that nonviolent struggle works, that people power is not new -- Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr. and the Afghans have used people power successfully -- and that what's new is a set of "rules and skills which can be learned and taught."

Popovic tells us we need analytical skills in "unity, planning, and nonviolent discipline" to succeed in a revolution. He tells us of the working of the dynamics of enthusiasm and humor vs. fear and apathy: As enthusiasm and humor go up, fear and apathy go down, and vice versa. And he tells us to select strategy and tactics: Start small and pick the battle one can win.

Popovic was 29 when he and friends from Belgrade University, influenced by Gandhi, King and Gene Sharp, formed "Otpor" in 1998 to mobilize the Serbian populace against Slobodan Milosevic, Serbian president (1989-1997) and Yugoslav president (1997-2000).

In October 2000, hundreds of thousands of Serbian protesters moved on the parliament and ended Milosevic's rule. Though Popovic served in the National Assembly for one term, in 2003 he and his Otpor comrades moved on to create the Center for Applied Nonviolent Action and Strategies, or CANVAS, and to work with democracy activists in more than 50 countries, including the April 6 Movement.

The most important teaching materials used by CANVAS include a one-hour documentary, "Bringing Down a Dictator," which features Otpor's strategies to topple Milosevic, and a manual, available on the Internet, "Nonviolent Struggle, 50 Crucial Points," which is available in 16 languages.

Popovic advises: "There are two things you need to avoid if you don't want your movement to be doomed: One is violence; the other is taking advice from foreigners."

Sharp and Popovic both offer lessons that Cambodians should heed.

A. Gaffar Peang-Meth, Ph.D., is retired from the University of Guam. Write him at


Anonymous said...

Dr. Peang-Meth,

Thank you so much for beginning a new year with such a good article with which I agree wholeheartedly without any reservation.

As always, I am one of your numerous fans when it comes to reading your articles. Please continue to write to share your ideas, especially the ones on Cambodia.

Hope you had a wonderful New Year celebration with your family.

Toppling a Cambodian dictator is possible, but can be much harder because of several reasons among which are the followings:

1. Too much race card about Vietnamese has been used that it becomes a routine phenomenon that kills interests among those who see things differently when it comes to dealing with Vietnam. You can't proceed with a firm goal of non-violent struggle against the dictatorship and hope that you will gain support from the international community and others when you demonstrate so much hatred and a possible violence against your own people and another races living in Cambodia. You do not need to worry about Vietnam at the current time. If you can take down Hun Sen and those considered to be his close inner circle, you can deal with Vietnam in a reasonable way later.

2. Cambodians are not quite informative with real knowledge of what is going on in their own country due to the lack of education and independent media. This alone makes it impossible for the average Cambodians to think logically and independently. The goal of educating average Cambodians of currents events in their country to raise their awareness and decrease their apathy can be started small and can be achieved. Other goal(s) can be at the same time or started later.

3. After the KR period which is zero on a scale of one to ten, most people now living on a scale of 1-3 are reluctant to risk another social instability and suffering by supporting such an idea as a revolution even though they know that the CPP government led by Hun Sen is not the type of government they want to see running Cambodia. This alone creates worry, uncertainty and thus apathy in itself.

Continued to 2nd page

Pissed off

Anonymous said...

4. Dictators in Cambodia maintains their grip on Cambodians using violence, fear, suppression of justice, false image of monarchy which, in itself, serves to divide the Cambodians, marriages among their own children, willing support from a neighbouring country whose ambition over Cambodia dates back for centuries, control of the justice system and most importantly with a new method of providing just enough or barely enough for the poor, so they won’t revolt, under their unfair policies of developments and investments by allowing unscrupulous foreign companies, especially from China and Vietnam to take more than their fair shares of profit at the expense of the Cambodian people. Don’t forget these Cambodian dictators also take a fair share of the profit through corruption in all forms and thus leaving the fallen small pieces of bread under the dining table for the workers without whose work the bread won’t even be on the table.
Look at the garment workers as an example. For them the message they have got is you either take the jobs or get lost at least it is better than the KR time!

4. Dictators in Cambodia would not consider education and its quality an important aspect of a nation building as the less educated the citizens can be, the easier it is to control them. A lot of the girls working in the factories are too young to be there and should be helped to be in school.

5. Potential Cambodian leaders who know that Hun Sen should go and really want him to go are like different streams that run fiercely toward the same goal, but cannot merge to reach that goal with a strong and full force. Perhaps the four rivers that merge in front Phnom Penh can serve as enlightenment for them to see.

If the 3 Samdachs are bound together only by the Vietnamese rope since Cambodians are famously not able to work together and unity is a rare commodity, can’t the potential leaders of Cambodia be bound together by their education and the common goal of saving and helping Cambodia and her people?

Pissed off

Anonymous said...

Dr. Peang-Meth,

To me, believing in Karma is the same as believing in fate. But according to your article, it is not. I'm completely at lost with your view.

Would you care to elaborate?

Anonymous said...

~The destiny of all men is depended upon what Israel does~

The world revolves around Israel. The rise and fall of nations hinged upon their relationship with the Jewish nation!

For out of Zion (Jerusalem) will come a deliver Yeshua, the Messiah. He will topple all authority and power of the kingdom in this world.

The Hope of nations rest upon the Second Coming of Yeshua HaMashiach, king of Israel.

By the time of his returns, there will be around one billion people who will be alive out of seven billion that exists on this earth now. His Judgments will preceed his returns that is the caused of earth being depopulated because of his wrath falling on a rebellious humanity. All foretold in the book of Revelation. God has told the End from the Beginning.

The Beginning, being the book of Genesis, the Ending, the book of Revelation. But the book of Genesis contains the code for the End of this Age in the account of Noah and the Flood. Revelation just gives more clearer details of the Judgments that will be unfold and are unfolding at this moment.

When it is all said and done by the people and nations, the fate of humanity will be at the hand of the God of Israel. He hath the power to give life and to destroy life. Because he is the Creator of life.

I'm warning you all, this world been heading on a collosion course against the God of heaven and earth, one is going to win against the other. The Potter has power over the clay. God is the Potter and we are the clay. Seek him while he may be found.

Khmer Israel

Anonymous said...

I guess Khmer Israel cannot preach in the churches or his church anymore because of his strange concept of Jesus so he is coming here to preach to unpreachable!

My clay is waiting for your potter and has been doing so for quite a while, but your god-damned potter never shows up!

Anonymous said...

Pissed Off,

Where do you live?

I am one of the coordinator for a local access Khmer language news television in Massachusetts. I want to put together a cross-fire type of debate between those who support January 7,1979 and those who are against it.

When we ran a show last week with limited debate and live calls, the phones flooded our station and jammed all incoming calls. We got tremendous responses.

Would you be interested? If so, please contact us via Email or go to our website:

Anonymous said...

Rattana Keo aun samlanh eui!
Mech kor aun sday ter Koh Tral ?
Aun kour sday PHNOM PENH,ANGKOR WAT, ning srok KHMER teang moul ,Yuon Vietcong vea yok batt tov heui !!!!!!
Nov Koh Tral dol na tiet?

Borng kor rit ter sday doch aun der...........sday loof jivit phot !

Anonymous said...

Alors, comme conclusion, il est dejà trop trop tard!

Comprenez-vous bien une chose, vos ignorants Khmèrs:

Nous, Viet-Khmer et grâce à Hun Sèn, nous sommes actuellement la majorité légale de la population Khmère!!!

Nous, Viet, nous allons viêtnamiser vos ignorants Khmers de la tête au pouce exactment comme nous avions fait aux Khmers Kroms!

Just to wrap it up, it's too late already you dumb Khmer!

We, Viet-Khmer and thanks to Hun Sen, are legally the majority of the current Viet-Khmer inhabitant of Viet-Cambodia already.

You dumb Khmer will be vietnamized from head to toes just like those dumb Khmer Kroms!!!

ដើម្បីបញ្ចប់ អាខ្មែរល្ងង់ខ្លៅ ត្រូវដឹងថា វាហួស

ជនយៀកណាម តាំងពីក្បាលដល់ចុងជើង

Just look at Theary Seng pic, isn't she one so sexy of ours (Viet-Khmer)!

Ms. Soap

Bouawat Sithi said...

Khamma in Pali or Kharma in Sanskrit means doing or action.

We, Cambodians generally misuse the word Kharma. We refer the word Kharma as a result of bad action.

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