The Color Revolutions

The Color Revolutions

The Color Revolutions

The Color Revolutions


From late 2003 through mid-2005, a series of peaceful street protests toppled corrupt and undemocratic regimes in Georgia, Ukraine, and Kyrgyzstan and ushered in the election of new presidents in all three nations. These movements--collectively known as the Color Revolutions--were greeted in the West as democratic breakthroughs that might thoroughly reshape the political terrain of the former Soviet Union.

But as Lincoln A. Mitchell explains in The Color Revolutions, it has since become clear that these protests were as much reflections of continuity as they were moments of radical change. Not only did these movements do little to spur democratic change in other post-Soviet states, but their impact on Georgia, Ukraine, and Kyrgyzstan themselves was quite different from what was initially expected. In fact, Mitchell suggests, the Color Revolutions are best understood as phases in each nation's long post-Communist transition: significant events, to be sure, but far short of true revolutions.

The Color Revolutions explores the causes and consequences of all three Color Revolutions--the Rose Revolution in Georgia, the Orange Revolution in Ukraine, and the Tulip Revolution in Kyrgyzstan--identifying both common themes and national variations. Mitchell's analysis also addresses the role of American democracy promotion programs, the responses of nondemocratic regimes to the Color Revolutions, the impact of these events on U.S.-Russian relations, and the failed "revolutions" in Azerbaijan and Belarus in 2005 and 2006.

At a time when the Arab Spring has raised hopes for democratic development in the Middle East, Mitchell's account of the Color Revolutions serves as a valuable reminder of the dangers of confusing dramatic moments with lasting democratic breakthroughs.


Roughly fifteen years after crowds of peaceful demonstrators from Prague to Tbilisi brought down Communist regimes that had denied hundreds of millions of people their freedom for more than half a century, the excitement of the late 1980s and early 1990s had given way, at least in much of the former Soviet Union, to a grim reality: building free and prosperous countries was not easy. This was true even after toppling a Communist system that had become economically, spiritually, and politically bankrupt. From Kiev to Astana, former Soviet republics were defined by kleptocracy, fraudulent elections, widespread corruption, and, for many people, poverty and a declining quality of life.

Beginning in 2003, on Rustaveli Avenue in Tbilisi, Georgia, and spreading over the next two years to the Maidan in Kiev and the Kyrgyz capital of Bishkek, this began to change. Hope, a commodity that had been in short supply in the Caucasus, Central Asia, and the Slavic countries of the former Soviet Union, returned. Again it took the form of peaceful demonstrators demanding their rights and showing the world that they could only be pushed so far. These peaceful protests—labeled the Rose Revolution in Georgia, the Orange Revolution in Ukraine, and the Tulip Revolution in Kyrgyzstan—brought an end to governments that had tried to steal one too many elections and sought to replace them with freely elected leaders.

For about thirty months, from late 2003 to mid-2005, these protests— which collectively came to be known as the Color Revolutions—looked as if they might possibly reshape the political terrain of the former Soviet Union. All had their origins in attempts by corrupt post-Soviet governments to steal an election. All brought to power a new government that was, at least initially, viewed as pro-democracy and pro-Western in orientation. All were . . .

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