For 70 years, the people of the Soviet Union were prevented from creating independent organizations; millions were imprisoned or killed for trying to organize. As a result, in the republics of the former Soviet Union, there is very little experience in organizing for change, facilitating meetings, empowering people for action, or making democracy work.
I've recently returned from three weeks in Moscow as part of a team sponsored by Nonviolence International doing nonviolence training with Living Ring, an organization of 10,000 people who had so courageously surrounded the Russian parliament building and nonviolently faced the tanks during last year's attempted coup. From their experience last August, they had learned about the power of nonviolence--and they wanted to learn more and better prepare themselves in case of another coup attempt.
Living Ring invited a team of nonviolence trainers to come to Moscow to give training in nonviolent civilian-based defense--a nonviolent way of defending against coups d'etat, dictatorship, or outside aggression. We also focused on how to develop nonviolent campaigns to help assure that food gets to the people in the cities and elsewhere who so desperately need it.
The problems in Russia and the other former republics today can seem overwhelming. Everything that held the society together and made it work is gone. Tens of thousands of soldiers and military officers are being laid off with no pension. People receive almost no pay for jobs: at the official rate of exchange, about $2 to $6 a month. There is very little to buy in the stores. People are faced with a severe lack of food, medical care, clothes, furniture, and services.
Signs of Hope