Merkel, Kai


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Resistance is Not Futile : Factors predicting Nonviolent Activism in the Nepalese Civil War

2022, Merkel, Kai

This PhD thesis investigates patterns of nonviolent activism in civil war contexts with the example of the Nepalese Civil War. The thesis is divided into three major parts. The first part offers a broad theoretical classification of nonviolent action research, while introducing the motivation and research contribution of the thesis. In the second part the three different contributions (papers) of this thesis are presented. In the third part, a summary and discussion of the findings concludes the thesis. The thesis contributes to civil war research by focusing on civilian actors and investigates how they can resist their civil war environment, being more than refugees or recruitment pools for armed factions. The thesis advances the study of nonviolent resistance in civil wars by introducing a novel dataset of nonviolent activism. The thesis further presents results of an empirical field research project which deals with questions regarding organization of nonviolent activism and third-party support of activists also prior to their nonviolent action events. In doing so the thesis combines different state of the art quantitative and qualitative methods and statistical tools to investigate novel research questions. For the first and second project of the thesis a new and unique disaggregated dataset on nonviolent activism on the event level was constructed to investigate patterns of nonviolent activism during the Nepalese Civil War in unprecedented detail. Utilizing this dataset, the first paper investigates a link between direct civil war violence as grievances and nonviolent activism in a spatial panel regression analysis. In the second quantitative contribution, a multilevel model tests different forms and kinds of nonviolent activism and activist group patterns during the civil war to predict a violent state reaction during the nonviolent event. An additional geographically weighted regression outlines spatial variation of the tested variables throughout the country and substantiates the results from the multilevel model. The third contribution uses qualitative expert interviews to investigate the involvement of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) to support and train activist groups during the Nepalese Civil War. This contribution utilizes data from an own field research study conducted in Nepal in 2018. The first paper presents a robust, significant relationship between civil war violence and nonviolent action across the Nepalese districts in the spatial panel regression on a yearly as well as monthly basis during the civil war. The paper therefore strongly argues for a linkage between direct civil war violence as grievances with subsequent nonviolent action by civilians. This relationship was already found for battle related violence between conflict factions, but according to this paper now also seems to true for direct violence against civilians. It might explain why we regularly find nonviolent action also far away from the current battlefields in civil wars. The findings of the second contribution show that a high likelihood of disturbance of the public order by nonviolent action events predicts a violent state reaction. Political orientation of activists or number of activist groups during an event also significantly predicted the likelihood of a violent state reaction, but to a lesser extent. The presence of journalists for example to document violence was not related to the likelihood of a violent state reaction. Results of the expert interviews in the third contribution showed in seven examples how nongovernmental organizations supported activist groups, which received counseling in goal formation and selection, and illuminate how conflict-affected parts of the population were supported to become activists step by step, using nonviolent tactics to receive compensation for war crimes and/or demand an end of the war. The findings of this thesis contribute fundamentally to theoretical motivations for nonviolent action during civil wars (direct civil war violence as grievances), and subsequent possible violent state reaction towards nonviolent action events. It extends our understanding of how the decision towards nonviolence and nonviolent action is made, what obstacles are to overcome, but it also outlines in examples how activist groups can receive a helping hand from third parties. In doing so the thesis greatly enhances our understanding of how nonviolent action is facilitated during civil wars, what motivates civilians to do it, what state reaction is to be expected, and what kind of support channels may exist.