Category Archives: Ukraine

civilian resistance in Ukraine, revisited

In February and March I posted about prospects for nonviolent resistance in Ukraine and in Russia and then about what I called “civilian resistance,” where the latter category includes violent as well as nonviolent actions by people who aren’t organized in military units. Well before the war, I had met many Ukrainian activists for democracy who had demonstrated exceptionally strong expertise and networks for civilian resistance. Besides, I am a proponent of nonviolence, which is the focus of the last third of my new book.

However, at that time, I accepted the conventional wisdom about the military situation, which has proven wrong. I assumed that Russia would quickly occupy substantial portions of Ukraine, perhaps all the way to the Dnipro. I thought that Russia’s challenge would then be to maintain control at relatively low cost and with some degree of perceived legitimacy–at least as perceived by Russians. Russia would use violence, but I guessed that the occupiers would want to win hearts and minds to some extent. Those factors would make the occupied territories a promising location for civilian resistance.

Instead, Russia seems to have occupied not much more than the ground where their troops are currently stationed. They have taken many more casualties than expected and committed more atrocities. Their losses in no way excuse the massacres of civilians, but they may help to explain them. Discipline has broken down; Russian troops may be looking for revenge. Russia has lost the contest for legitimacy among Ukrainians, Europeans, and many others, which means they don’t benefit from exercising restraint. Inside Russia, “amid a growing police crackdown, public expressions of opposition to the war have slowed to a trickle — singular acts of defiance amid a wider silence.” Meanwhile, the Ukrainian military has accomplished far more than I, for one, expected.

For these reasons, civilian resistance looks less relevant, more dangerous, and less necessary than I had thought. Yet it remains a worthy topic, for two reasons.

First, the war could play out as Katherine Lawlor and Mason Clark predict:

Russian President Vladimir Putin likely intends to annex occupied southern and eastern Ukraine directly into the Russian Federation in the coming months. He will likely then state, directly or obliquely, that Russian doctrine permitting the use of nuclear weapons to defend Russian territory applies to those newly annexed territories. Such actions would threaten Ukraine and its partners with nuclear attack if Ukrainian counteroffensives to liberate Russian-occupied territory continue. 

This is by no means inevitable, but if it happens, then a combination of an armed partisan insurgency plus civilian resistance inside the occupied portions of Donetsk and Luhansk might be Ukraine’s best option.

Second, civilian resistance has been important to the war effort so far. For instance, Sergey Mohov offers an excellent thread on “a hyper-informal cross-continental network of volunteers” that has been delivering specific items (“from food to tourniquets to UAVs to cars and ambulances”) to front-line Ukrainian military units. This is one of many decentralized, self-help efforts that support the official military effort. They are not completely new. When I was in Lviv in 2015, I saw civilians collecting boots for soldiers in Donbas, who were suffering (in part) from the Ukrainian’s government corruption. Ukrainians have a lot of experience organizing around their own state, which comes in handy when their government is well led and well motivated but overstretched.

It’s important not to draw sharp lines between violence and nonviolence or civilian and governmental actions. Consider these examples: A Russian military unit refuses orders, not out of idealism but in fear. Ukrainians willingly line up to enlist in the army. A small Ukrainian military unit acts effectively without receiving orders. Residents of eastern Donetsk and Luhansk protest forced mobilizations. Pro-Russian military bloggers circulate strongly critical assessments of the campaign that undercut official propaganda, albeit with a nationalistic flavor. A Russian citizen relocates to a decent job in a foreign country out of disgust with Putin. A Russian citizen goes into exile without a job, for political reasons. Ukrainians in the diaspora send ammunition to the front. Ukrainians in the diaspora send bandages to the front. The Ukrainian government uses facial recognition software to identify dead Russian soldiers and notifies their next of kin. Ukrainians in EU countries advocate for banning oil purchases. Non-Ukrainians in EU countries advocate for boycotts. Chinese companies cancel Russian contracts out of concern for EU relationships.

These examples do not belong to two categories: nonviolent civil disobedience versus war. They fall along several continua, from violence to nonviolence, from decentralized to hierarchical, from idealistic to self-interested, and from pro-Ukrainian to Russian-centered. I presume that similar continua arise in all conflicts. My own value commitments are not simple. For instance, I am not a rigorous pacifist or a radical opponent of hierarchy, although I would make a case for nonviolence and self-help. Perhaps the best approach in a situation like this is a diverse mix of strategies.

don’t name things Western but call out imperialism

The word “Western” is often appended to ideas and institutions, sometimes to praise them and sometimes to bury them. I almost always find this terminology fuzzy and unhelpful. On the other hand, imperialism and colonialism are evils that are important to name and combat.

Two of the topics that I follow regularly these days are education and Ukraine. Both supply examples of problematic uses of the term “Western” and real examples of imperialism.

A manuscript that I read recently described the radical Brazilian educator Paolo Freire as a critic of “Western” approaches to education, meaning hierarchical and authoritarian pedagogies. When I searched Freire’s major works, I did not find the words “West ” or “Western” used in relevant ways, but I did find articles that concur in describing Freire’s pedagogy as an alternative “to the traditional Western ‘banking’ model of education in which an authority ‘deposits’ knowledge into a student” (Bhargava et al 2016). I also found some articles that decry the “North American and Western appropriations of Freire’s work and thought,” which ostensibly ignore Freire’s “anti-colonial and postcolonial” agenda (Giroux 1992). Finally, I encountered a burgeoning recent literature that criticizes Freire’s “Western assumptions” and argues that “the Freirian approach to empowerment is really a disguised form of colonization” (Bowers & Appfel-Marglin 2004, p. 2). In some of this literature, Freire is described explicitly and critically as a “Western” thinker.

There is a parallel debate about how to classify Freire’s influences. Sol Stern complains that “Freire isn’t interested in the Western tradition’s leading education thinkers—not Rousseau, not Piaget, not John Dewey, not Horace Mann, not Maria Montessori.” Douglas Kellner classifies Freire and Ivan Illich as “critics of classical Western education.” But many other analysts trace pervasive echoes of Rousseau and Dewey in Freire. Insofar as Freire was a Marxist–well, Karl Marx was a Western thinker.

Meanwhile, the Russian right-wing theorist, Alexander Dugin (who apparently inspires Putin) writes, “We need to unite all the forces that are opposed to Western norms. … Therefore, we must create strategic alliances to overthrow the present order of things, of which the core could be described as human rights, anti-hierarchy, and political correctness – everything that is the face of the Beast, the anti-Christ or, in other terms, Kali-Yuga.”

For Dugin, to oppose natural hierarchy in a classroom or elsewhere is “Western”–and that is a very bad thing. Dugin is willing to make alliances with Jihadists, Hindu nationalists, European neofascists, and anyone who will stand against the hegemonic liberal norms of “the West.” This a justification for the Russian war in Ukraine.

Note how “Western” is used as a token of appraisal (Stern) or condemnation (Dugin), and how many meanings it takes on.

What does it actually mean? Plato was “Western.” He lived in Europe; his name comes first on many syllabuses for “Western philosophy.” He advocated (possibly with irony) a radically authoritarian educational system. He proposed various dualisms and believed in objective truths. He has been at least as influential in Islam as in Christianity and Judaism, and therefore as influential in Tehran and Dakar as in New York and Moscow.

Dewey was also “Western.” He was a White man from Vermont. He opposed all dualisms, wanted to make education radically democratic, and saw truth as co-constructed. He had a fruitful sojourn in China.

Freire was born even further west than Dewey and wrote in Portuguese. His influences were mostly European writers. The three men share some vocabulary and had similar roles as teachers, writers, and political advisors, but many other people whom we could also classify as Western thinkers did not. The West has generated aesthetes, engineers, hermits, mystics, revolutionaries, and reactionaries. People who figure on canonical lists of Western thinkers have lived and written in places like Damascus and Alexandria, Rio and Mexico City, and Moscow and Kolkata as well as Paris and London. It is impossible to draw a border around the West on any map.

We should say what we’re for and against, and why. It rarely adds any value to append the adjective “Western” to these things. However, the concepts of anti-colonialism and anti-imperialism are much sharper, and they reflect the global trauma of European conquest after 1492. Colonialism has been a highly concrete, material experience, not a set of abstract ideas. Indeed, the colonizers have been intellectually diverse and have sometimes shared ideas with people who resist colonialism.

Importantly, Russia was a major participant in European imperialism and exploitation, not a victim of it.

Sources: Bhargava, Rahul, Ricardo Kadouaki, Emily Bhargava, Guilherme Castro, and Catherine D’Ignazio. “Data murals: Using the arts to build data literacy.” The Journal of Community Informatics, 12, no. 3 (2016); Giroux, Henry A. “Paulo Freire and the politics of postcolonialism.” Journal of Advanced Composition (1992): 15-26. Bowers, Chet A. & Appfel-Marglin, F. (eds) Re-thinking Freire: Globalization and the environmental crisis. Routledge, 2004. See also: to whom do the ancient Greeks belong?Jesus was a person of coloravoiding the labels of East and Westwhen East and West were oneon modernity and the distinction between East and West; who says that binary thinking is Western?; two cheers for the West; etc.

Institute of Civic Studies and Learning for Democracy

Call for Applications

(open for applications from USA, Germany and Ukraine)

We are happy to invite you to participate in the Institute of Civic Studies and Learning (ICSLD) for Democracy that will take place in Augsburg, Germany, from August 19 – 28, 2022. The ICSLD is organized by a team from North Carolina State University (Prof. Chad Hoggan), the University of Augsburg (Dr. habil. Tetyana Hoggan-Kloubert), with the support by Tufts University (Prof. Peter Levine) und University of Maryland (Prof. Karol Soltan).

Objectives and topics

The Institute of Civic Studies and Learning for Democracy is an intensive, ten-day, seminar and residential retreat—bringing together practitioners, graduate students, and faculty from the U.S., Germany, and Ukraine, and from diverse professions and fields of study. Participants will be staying in the same hotel and participating in workshops, planning sessions, and social events all day and evening throughout the ten days. Costs for hotel and meals will be covered by ICSLD.

The ICSLD deals with issues related to the development of civil society, the role of the individual/citizen in society, the role of education in promoting democracy, the role of institutions in the development of a civil society, and questions related to the ethical foundation of civic issues in a (democratic) society. These topics will be examined in international and comparative perspectives, considering European (especially German und Ukrainian) and U.S.-American civic traditions.

The ICSLD engages participants in challenging discussions such as:

  • What kinds of citizens (if any) do good regimes need?
  • What should such citizens know, believe, and do?
  • What practices and institutional structures promote the right kinds of citizenship?
  • What ought to be the relationships among empirical evidence, ethics, and strategy?

The Institute of Civic Studies and Learning for Democracy is a continuation of the Summer Institute of Civic Studies, which was organized annually by Peter Levine, Karol Soltan, and Tetyana Hoggan-Kloubert from 2015-2019 (and at Tufts University since 2009).

How to apply

All application materials must be submitted in English. The application must include the following:

  • A cover letter telling us why you want to participate in the ICSLD and how the seminar will help you promote civic capacities and engagement in the area in which you live (currently or in the future) (maximum 2 pages)
  • A curriculum vitae
  • All application material can be sent as an email attachment in DOC or PDF format to

Decisions will be announced before the end of May 2022. The total number of participants will be limited to 20 (approximately 5 from the U.S., 10 from Germany, and 5 from Ukraine. We are interested in applicants who have a long-term interest in developing the civic potential in their respective countries.

The working language of the Summer Institute will be English. Your mastery of the English language must be sufficient to read and understand complex texts from multiple disciplines, and to take part in a lively discussion.


For best consideration apply by May 20, 2022.


Selected participants will be provided with accommodation, meals, and full event access. (In cases of urgent need, reimbursement for travel costs may be possible.)


For more information about the Institute of Civic Studies and Learning for Democracy, please contact We encourage you to share this message with your networks of people who might be interested in attending.

alerting people to their privilege

Two recent studies:

  • Skinner-Dorkenoo, Sarmal, Rogbeer, André, Patel & Cha find that showing White Americans information about “the persistent inequalities that produced COVID-19” resulted in respondents reporting lower fear of COVID-19, less “empathy for those vulnerable to COVID-19,” and less “support for safety precautions.” White people who were already more aware of racial disparities were already less concerned about COVID-19; giving them more information further reduced their concern. This study builds on previous findings that informing White people about racial disparities in the criminal justice system reduces their commitment to reform.
  • Julian E. Barnes and Edward Wong report in The New York Times that “a group of Ukrainian activists, government officials and think tanks, called the Information Strategies Council of Ukraine, has sent emails and social media messages to 15 million Russian men of draft age, between 18 and 27.” These activists find that “Russians tend to dismiss messages highlighting Russian war crimes as American propaganda …, and pictures of Russian casualties run the risk of inciting anger at Ukraine, rather than the Kremlin.” Instead, “The most successful posts [focus] on the incompetence and corruption of Russian military leaders,” which highlights the suffering of Russian soldiers.

On one hand, we must speak freely and frankly about injustice. We must be able to address the powerful with moral critiques. Otherwise, crucial issues will be absent from the public debate, moral growth will be near-impossible, truths will be hidden, and those who suffer will lose their voice.*

On the other hand, it is a pretty safe bet that telling human beings they have unfair advantages is a good way to alert them to privileges they will want to protect. I am hard pressed to think of examples of progress that resulted from telling people they held advantages–no matter how eloquently or cleverly.

I can think of fairly large groups of people who have demonstrated moral growth, but generally at a slow pace and without major cost to themselves. For instance, the Federal Republic of Germany now recalls its Nazi past responsibly, but that happened well after World War II. First, foreign nations destroyed the Nazi regime; then Germans gradually accomplished moral growth. “In Germany, despite Allied efforts at de-Nazification, many Germans in the immediate postwar era maintained strong prejudice against Jews, even as they denied all knowledge of Hitler’s crimes,” writes Robert S. Wistrich. It took another generation and favorable political and economic circumstances for opinions to shift.

This does not mean that radical and rapid change is impossible; it frequently occurs. There are alternatives to moral persuasion. Advantaged people can be forced to change (as in the WWII case), they can be paid off, or they can be persuaded that they will benefit from change.

For instance, in the current war, Ukrainians are not, for the most part, trying to persuade Russians of any moral case. Instead, they are trying to destroy Russian battalion tactical groups, aircraft, and ships in order to defeat the invasion. Meanwhile, if Russians can be persuaded that they are suffering unnecessarily at the hands of their own government, so much the better. That message may give the Kremlin some headaches. (And it is true, even though it is extremely selective.)

The great Bayard Rustin criticized people who

survey the American scene and find no forces prepared to move toward radical solutions. From this they conclude that the only viable strategy is shock; above all, the hypocrisy of white liberals must be exposed. These spokesmen are often described as the radicals of the movement, but they are really its moralists. They seek to change white hearts. … To believe this, of course, you must be convinced, even unconsciously, that at the core of the white man’s heart lies a buried affection for Negroes–a proposition one may be permitted to doubt. But in any case, hearts are not relevant to the issue; neither racial affinities nor racial hostilities are rooted there. It is institutions–social, political, and economic institutions–which are the ultimate molders of collective sentiments. Let those institutions be reconstructed today, and let the ineluctable gradualism of history govern the formation of a new psychology.

From Protest to Politics: The Future of the Civil Rights Movement” (Commentary, 2/39, Feb. 1965).

Both morality and politics matter. They are related but not identical. Morality demands speaking truth to power. But politics is about accomplishing beneficial change. Often, politics is more urgent; morality is better addressed in the wake of political success.

*To be sure, people sometimes make unfair or invalid critiques, but those should be aired, too, so they can be rebutted

Scholars at Risk opportunity at Tufts

I am very happy to serve on this committee and would be open to questions about it:

The Scholars at Risk (SAR) Program at Tufts is dedicated to helping scholars, artists, writers, and public intellectuals from around the world escape persecution and continue their work by providing ten-month-long academic fellowships at Tufts University. Tufts has been a member of the international Scholars at Risk (SAR) network, which is chaired by Tufts Trustee Lisa Anderson, since 2011. Tufts has hosted several scholars in the past in both Medford and Boston. These scholars have made positive contributions to our academic life and offered important perspectives to our students and faculty.

Details are here. There may also be opportunities to conduct funded research or to teach from Ukraine (or from other countries in crisis) without coming to Tufts, but that is still being considered.