Uncertain Democracy: U.S. Foreign Policy and Georgia's Rose Revolution

Uncertain Democracy: U.S. Foreign Policy and Georgia's Rose Revolution

Uncertain Democracy: U.S. Foreign Policy and Georgia's Rose Revolution

Uncertain Democracy: U.S. Foreign Policy and Georgia's Rose Revolution


In November of 2003, a stolen election in the former Soviet republic of Georgia led to protests and the eventual resignation of President Eduard Shevardnadze. Shevardnadze was replaced by a democratically elected government led by President Mikheil Saakashvili, who pledged to rebuild Georgia, orient it toward the West, and develop a European-style democracy. Known as the Rose Revolution, this early twenty-first-century democratic movement was only one of the so-called color revolutions (Orange in Ukraine, Tulip in Kyrgyzstan, and Cedar in Lebanon). What made democratic revolution in Georgia thrive when so many similar movements in the early part of the decade dissolved?

Lincoln A. Mitchell witnessed the Rose Revolution firsthand, even playing a role in its manifestation by working closely with key Georgian actors who brought about change. In Uncertain Democracy, Mitchell recounts the events that led to the overthrow of Shevardnadze and analyzes the factors that contributed to the staying power of the new regime. The book also explores the modest but indispensable role of the United States in contributing to the Rose Revolution and Georgia's failure to live up to its democratic promise.

Uncertain Democracy is the first scholarly examination of Georgia's recent political past. Drawing upon primary sources, secondary documents, and his own NGO experience, Mitchell presents a compelling case study of the effect of U.S. policy of promoting democracy abroad.


This book is called Uncertain Democracy for two reasons. First, years ago I promised myself that if I ever wrote a book about the Rose Revolution I would avoid a title with expressions or metaphors involving flowers or colors. Second, and probably of greater import, there remains an uncertain quality about Georgia’s Rose Revolution. It is still not clear whether democracy will develop in Georgia or to what extent the Rose Revolution was a democratic breakthrough.

Revolution or regime change was not the object of the years of democracy assistance programs funded by the United States in Georgia, nor was the Rose Revolution the product of years or even months of plotting by either Georgians or Americans. As I argue in this book, U.S.-funded democracy assistance programs had far more modest and ambiguous goals. This is not to say that these programs did not have an impact, but that the revolution, when it did come, surprised many. Fair elections, functioning political institutions, and a strong civil society were the stated goals of these programs, but it was thought these would come about gradually within the context of an evolving and democratizing political system in Georgia.

The Rose Revolution had something of an accidental quality for Georgian political activists, politicians, and others who led it. They sought to mobilize citizens to stop the 2003 parliamentary election from being stolen by moving quickly and decisively when an unforeseen opportunity arose after the fraudulent election of November 2003. Demanding President Eduard Shevardnadze’s resignation was the most powerful way they could accomplish this, but it was only after a few weeks of demonstrations following the election that the activist leadership began to think that this demand could become a reality and lead to the dramatic events of the Rose Revolution.

Ultimately, the collapse of the Shevardnadze regime was the result of a number of factors, including the strength of Georgian civil society, the strategic actions of the political opposition in November 2003, the impact of U.S. democracy assistance, and the weakness of the regime . . .

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