The Problem of Lasting Change: Civil Society and the Colored Revolutions in Georgia and Ukraine

By Laverty, Nicklaus | Demokratizatsiya, Spring 2008 | Go to article overview
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The Problem of Lasting Change: Civil Society and the Colored Revolutions in Georgia and Ukraine


Laverty, Nicklaus, Demokratizatsiya


Abstract: Civil society played a vital role in the colored revolutions of Georgia and Ukraine, exemplified by the activism of the youth groups Kmara and Pora. As democratic reform has stalled, however, these groups have found themselves increasingly marginalized because of the reemergence of authoritarian practices and elites. Only the renewed inclusion of civil society can restore the democratization process.

Keywords: civil society, colored revolutions, democratization, protest, public sphere, social movements

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Since the collape of the Soviet Union, popular mobilization has played a key part in effecting change in the post-Soviet states. The first instances were seen during the collapse of Soviet power in Eastern Europe, epitomized by the activism of Solidarity in Poland, but as post-Soviet states disappointed expectations of democratic change, such activism has been redirected at the successor regimes, often to great effect. The most recent events that fit this description have been generally referred to as the "colored revolutions," arguably inaugurated with the electoral revolutions in Bulgaria (1996-97), Slovakia and Croatia (1998-99), and the nonviolent ouster of Slobodan Milosevic in Serbia in 2000. (1) Partly inspired by the Serbian example, nonviolent regime changes occurred in Georgia in 2003 (the Rose Revolution), Ukraine in 2004-05 (the Orange Revolution), and Kyrgyzstan in 2005 (the Tulip Revolution). There were also unsuccessful attempts in Uzbekistan and Belarus in 2005 and 2006. These events have captured the attention and imagination of many international observers, who have speculated that the colored revolutions might represent the beginning of a new wave of democratization.

This article's purpose is twofold. First, I examine the role of social movements and civil society in sparking the colored revolutions in Georgia and Ukraine, focusing specifically on the activities of the youth groups Kmara ("Enough") and Pora ("It's Time"). Most conventional accounts of the two revolutions focus primarily on the proximate causes (fraud, corruption, etc.) or the nature of the organized political opposition, spending less time on the strategies and tactics employed by civil society and social-movement actors. I will use new social movement theory to explore how these groups took advantage of political opportunities, acquired and used repertoires of contention, and interacted with conventional actors and the media. This requires examining how the post-Soviet period shaped the revolutions' political context.

Second, I look at each revolution's aftermath to determine how successful each has been in promoting effective change. Both Georgia and Ukraine experienced problems with democratization because of the new regime's actions while in office (Georgia) or the resurgence of the previous authoritarian elites (Ukraine). It is important to account for these difficulties, and determine what role (if any) civil society has played in the post-colored revolution political environment. If accounts of the revolutions rely too heavily on analysis of the regime and the opposition, this interpretation is even more prevalent in postrevolution political developments. Does this empirical silence mean civil society is no longer seeking an active role in the political process or does it mean that the state is actively excluding civil society from playing such a role? Could it indicate that the revolutionary governments have effectively coopted civil society, absorbing it into political society? I aim to answer these questions to create a more complex picture of the type of change that has resulted from the colored revolutions.

Theoretical Framework

This article, and the theoretical framework that undergirds it, is divided into two parts--prerevolution and postrevolution. Examining the prerevolution situations in Georgia and Ukraine, I use the new social movement theory, as characterized by Sidney Tarrow's book Power in Movement, to provide a framework for understanding popular and political mobilization and how such mobilization can effect political change.

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