The Colour Revolutions in the Rearview Mirror: Closer Than They Appear

Article excerpt


The so-called Bulldozer, Rose, Orange, and Tulip Revolutions have reminded us that as repressive as a regime may be, the real power ultimately belongs to the masses, especially when its forces are supported and channelled into non-violent action in pursuit of clear and concrete objectives. This article shows how the first of these events, the "Bulldozer Revolution," unfolded in Serbia resulting in the ouster of the dictator Milosevic. The lessons were then absorbed by Georgian activists who were similarly successful in replacing Shevardnadze with Saakashvili. In Ukraine, the election of Kuchma's protégé, Yanukovych, was foiled when the "Orange Revolution" installed Yushchenko instead. The author also chronicles the "Tulip Revolution" of Kyrgyzstan. A notable feature of this paper is that, in addition to analyzing these "successful" revolutions, it also looks at some clearly unsuccessful ones, namely those attempted in Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan, and Belarus. But the current global economic crisis could lead to more political changes in the former Soviet Union, whether in Belarus, the Caucasus, Central Asia, or even Russia itself. The article argues that the "colour revolutions" of 2000-2005 present a real danger to the authoritarian regime of Medvedev-Putin in Russia, and that their fear of them is hence thoroughly justified.

The current global economic crisis could lead to political changes in Russia. At least such a contention seems logical given the nature of the "power vertical" that has been in place since Vladimir Putin arrived at the Kremlin in 2000. However, this system was based primarily on a fuel economy of favours and was made possible by the high price of oil on the international market. When these prices collapsed in 2008, Russia entered a very difficult economic period, and some analysts predicted that it would persist for a very long time. The theory to this point is that if the Russian people had previously consented to give up certain civil rights in exchange for economic prosperity, now that the economy is struggling, it would be appropriate for the population to demand the return of its rights. To foreign observers, the economic crisis made Russia vulnerable to a "colour revolution." This prospect was frightening for the government of Dmitry Medvedev, as shown by the reaction to an article published in Vedomosti in late 2008. In the article the author develops a hypothetical scenario, in which a small industrial town, whose factories were forced to close because of the crisis, sees a demonstration by unemployed workers. The events snowball and cause a series of regional revolutions, depriving the Kremlin of the seat of power and causing a change in leadership at the federal level.1 The Kremlin responded to this by publishing a notice warning the journal of legal repercussions. Medvedev subsequently met with senior representatives of his security agencies to encourage them to pursue anyone who would use the pretext of economic crisis to try to destabilize the government.2 The Kremlin clearly fears "orange- style" revolutions. But what we learn from the colour revolutions is that as repressive as a regime may be, the real power ultimately belongs to the masses, especially when its forces are supported and channelled into non- violent action in pursuit of clear and concrete objectives. In this regard, it is certainly important to look back on the not-too-distant history of these revolutions.


Whether in Serbia or Russia, being a professional revolutionary in the nineteenth century meant being exclusively devoted to the overthrow of the government in power, employing limitless violence, but ultimately proportional to that exercised by the existing power.3 Bomb attacks against dignitaries were among the notable exploits of these revolutionaries, but their actions were not limited to these. Convoys and banks were also frequent targets. All revenue was converted into weapons and explosives; the revolutionaries lived only for their cause. …