Exporting revolution

Revolutionary fever has spread across the Middle East, but was what seemed like spontaneous uprisings actually a series of strategically planned events?

­Serbian revolutionaries are now helping to train activists all across the globe, exporting revolution advice to countries where the West has a clear interest. But in the game of regime change, the stakes are high and the consequences could be outright dangerous.

It is defined as a forcible overthrow of a government or social order for a new system: Revolution. Local tensions and issues may take years to ferment, simmering slowly until they explode in a fast moving revolutionary upheaval. But on television screens and in newsprint, these play out like spontaneous events where a people's desire for freedom and democracy suddenly overpowers and topples one long-time ruler or another.

The uprisings witnessed throughout the Middle East have lent new significance to the power of youth movements and nonviolent resistance. And young activists in these countries – as well as in Georgia, Ukraine and the sites of the Color Revolutions – didn't have to reinvent the wheel all alone. These young activists have benefited from the lessons of their contemporaries in post-Communist Europe who now travel the globe, spreading lessons in revolution and resistance.

A decade ago a Serb named Ivan Marovich helped launch the student movement that played a key role in ousting Slobodan Milosevic. The movement was called Otpor (''Resistance'') and bore the now-familiar symbol of the clenched fist. Otpor is now known as CANVAS (Centre for Applied Nonviolent Action and Strategies), but the symbolism it uses and many of the people behind it remain the same. CANVAS activists now run workshops for opposition groups around the world on how to bring down a dictator.

But news investigations have revealed that Otpor was no ramshackle students' group but a well-oiled movement backed by several million dollars from the United States. Behind the seeming spontaneity of the street uprising was a carefully researched strategy put together by Serbian democracy activists with the active assistance of advisers from the West. Serbia was the testing ground for a new type of U.S. strategy – an effort to unseat a foreign head of state, not through covert action of the kind the CIA once employed in Iran or Guatemala, but by modern election campaign techniques funded by US dollars.

Nebojsa Malic is a Balkans columnist who has chronicled the events in Serbia since 1999. He says that Otpor began as a genuine student movement that was later taken over and subverted.

“They were run by the NED, which very openly goes in and says our goal is to promote democracy," said Malic. "The objective is regime change. The objective is to install a government that will execute orders."

To replace the overt support for dictatorships, a new concept for regime change was born; one that sounds and looks better – democracy promotion. The concept of democracy promotion is simple; finance, train, and politically back local opposition forces around the world that support the American agenda.

Adds Malic: "The worst thing about all this is that its undermining a concept that enabled the united states to claim moral leadership in the world in the first place."

With Milosevic gone, Otpor's Ivan Marovic now spends his time advising activists on how to organize pro-democracy movements abroad.

"I’ve been travelling world and teaching people how to get rid of their pesky dictators," Marovic states in a humorous video made by students at the School of Authentic Journalism in Mexico for NarcoNewsTV. "I have come up with these three easy steps so you too can in on the actions and laugh your way to freedom.”

Marovic briefly taught at the School of Authentic Journalism. In an article, the school's founder, Al Giordano explains the rationale behind the spoof video: "Part of our response to some of the ideological cretins who still think that despot was worth propping up, and who will never forgive Ivan for his strategic mischief, was to create this video at last year's j-school: Ivan Marovich: Retired Revolutionary."

He has also helped develop a computer game called A Force More Powerful, which teaches players the strategy of nonviolent conflict. In the game, players can practice scenarios like battling corruption, fighting discrimination, or overthrowing dictators. Coincidentally the company that helped develop the video game – BreakAway Games – has also worked closely with the U.S. Department of Defense to create military training and war-game simulations.

Today Otpor is called CANVAS. And with the help of the internet, the group's methods and clenched fist symbol has been exported the world over: from the Color Revolutions, to Venezuela, to the Arab Spring uprisings in the Middle East.

F. William Engdahl has spent more than thirty years writing about Washington's secret geopolitics. And he is convinced that CANVAS is not acting alone.

"The instigators of those so-called ‘spontaneous’ protests, these Twitter revolts in Cairo and Tunisia and so forth have all been pre-organized insiduously," Engdahl tells RT. "And some of people, the leaders of the protests have been trained in Belgrade and Serbia by Otpor activists, financed by the US State Department. This thing has State Department and U.S. intelligence all over it.”

So has revolution become a commodity? A product that can be packaged, branded, mass produced and exported across the globe? While the "Retired Revolutionary" video was a joke, the game of regime change is quite real, and it's unintended consequences can be outright dangerous.

“It’s ultimately the american taxpayer who’s getting the short end of the bargain because they're bankrolling people who are going around the world, fermenting astroturf revolutions that are eventually backfiring,” said Nebojsa Malic. "And once the people find out who was behind this their anger turns to the american government and the american people."