The Diffusion of Revolutions: Comparing Recent Regime Turnovers in Five Post-Communist Countries

By Fenger, Menno | Demokratizatsiya, Winter 2007 | Go to article overview

The Diffusion of Revolutions: Comparing Recent Regime Turnovers in Five Post-Communist Countries


Fenger, Menno, Demokratizatsiya


Abstract: The recent revolutions or near-revolutions in Serbia, Georgia, Moldova, Kyrgyzstan, and Ukraine share the following characteristics: stolen elections triggered them, there were massive, nonviolent demonstrations, and the opposition united behind a single, often charismatic, leader. This article combines two theoretical perspectives on the recent revolutions in southeast Europe and Central Asia: a state failure perspective that focuses on the domestic characteristics that helps explain these events, and a diffusion perspective that focuses on the interrelatedness between these events by means of the interchange of financial resources, activists, and knowledge. It concludes that foreign interventions aimed at the democratization of unstable states might facilitate regime change by democratic or undemocratic means, but it is never a sufficient condition for regime change.

Keywords: democratization, policy diffusion, revolutions, state failure

Introduction

The latest wave of revolutions in southeast Europe and Central Asia illustrates the vulnerability of oppressive, authoritarian, and nondemocratic regimes. This wave started in Serbia in 2000, and ended in Kyrgyzstan in early 2005. (1) Almost all of these revolutions share the following characteristics: stolen elections triggered them, there were massive, nonviolent demonstrations, and the opposition united behind a single, often charismatic, leader. Revolutions are often linked to the concept of failing states. However, various sources cite the role of foreign nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) that help build and sustain a coalition of opposition parties, train volunteers in campaigning and monitoring election results, and even formulate and implement strategies to overthrow the regime. (2) Singh even speaks of franchised revolutions. (3)

This article combines two theoretical perspectives on the recent revolutions in southeast Europe and Central Asia: a state failure perspective that focuses on the domestic characteristics that helps explain these events and a diffusion perspective that focuses on the interrelatedness between these events by means of the interchange of financial resources, activists, and knowledge. This article contributes to the explanatory and--perhaps more important--predictive power of the state failure approach by taking into account the deliberate strategies of foreign actors to overthrow regimes. This analysis is based on a review of existing literature and databases, except for the Moldovan case, which is based on a series of interviews from March 2005.

The literature on revolutions is elaborate and does not provide a consensus on how to define a revolution. I follow Goodwin, (4) who defines a revolution as any and all instances in which a state or government is overthrown and thereby transformed by a popular movement in an irregular, extraconstitutional, or violent manner. However, whether an event is labeled a revolution is not a matter of a simple dichotomy. Following Yinger and Katz, (5) one could argue that there is a potential variety in the amount of "revolutioness" in a revolution. So while using Goodwin's broad definition, I emphasize the variety within individual revolutions.

The next section gives a brief overview of the state of the art of both state failure and policy diffusion literature and integrates them in an analytical framework. The following section has a description and analyses of Serbia's October Revolution, Georgia's Rose Revolution, Ukraine's Orange Revolution, Moldova's Silent Revolution, and Kyrgyzstan's Tulip Revolution. (6) Conclusions are then drawn from a comparative analysis of these five revolutions. The final section discusses the lessons that might be drawn regarding nonviolent action against nondemocratic regimes beyond the cases that are analyzed in this article.

Theoretical Approaches: State Failure and Policy Diffusion

The analytical framework that is used for analyzing the revolutions (and their interrelatedness) in Serbia, Georgia, Ukraine, Moldova, and Kyrgyzstan is described here. …

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