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The Dynamics of Colour Revolutions in the Post-Communist World

Final Report Summary - COLOUR (The Dynamics of Colour Revolutions in the Post-Communist World)

This research project, funded through the European Union's (EU) Marie Curie schemes for internationally mobile researchers, analysed the significance of the'colour revolution'regime-change process in the post-Soviet region. The term'colour revolutions'is popular shorthand to describe as a single phenomenon a number of non-violent protests that succeeded in overthrowing post-communist authoritarian regimes (e. g. Georgia, 2003; Ukraine, 2004; Kyrgyzstan, 2005). This project identified common points for the changes that have occurred. Most accounts, based exclusively on individual colour revolutions or'successful'cases only, leave many questions unanswered. Why did states that met many or all of the criteria laid out by the authors not undergo a colour revolution? Was it because opposition plans were poorly conceived, badly executed, or perhaps unsustainable? It also remains unclear why political parties were able to unite so decisively at some junctures, whereas similar efforts to unify the opposition failed dismally. For this reason, this project encompassed all post-communist states in the region, not merely those where colour revolutions occurred.

The field research undertaken in the course of this fellowship was conducted between September 2008 and September 2011. During these 36 months, interviews were conducted in Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Ukraine, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan. The interviewees – over one hundred in number-are diverse and represent all levels of political society throughout the former USSR. These research trips also encompassed parliamentary elections in Kyrgyzstan (October 2010) and presidential elections in Belarus (December 2010). The results of the research shed light on the factors that contributed to the rise of successful opposition movements that dislodged the ruling regimes in some of these cases and also on the reasons for failure in others. In particular, the results challenge two popular views that, in turn, exaggerate the influence of foreign actors in the Rose and Tulip Revolutions, and over-estimate the unity of purpose among the main opposition parties.

The colour revolution phenomenon has the appearance of a chess match between regimes and opposition in the post-Soviet space CIS. Whilst the opposition has been perfecting its techniques to "organise a revolution", the regimes have also had to undergo a steep learning curve the better to formulate effect counter-strategies. In particular, post-soviet autocracies have absorbed several lessons from the colour revolutions. They could be summarised as follows: Don't allow youth organisations to develop; be wary of Western funded organisations; Divide the opposition; Ensure your own forces are united; ensure security forces are on side; do not allow large gatherings of protesters, particularly close to official buildings.

One tactic frequently employed by the ruling authorities has been the use of "clones" that is organisations established by the government that mimic inappearance existing opposition movements and are designed to confuse the public by parroting a pro-government agenda. Harsh attitudes and iron fists are certainly an asset for current regimes. Post-soviet governments in Central Asia have also generally relied on traditional conservatism and a widespread deference to authority and elders, all of which are presented asnational virtues. Opposition (as would be displayed in, say, a presidential debate) is equated with division and confrontation and is portrayed as foreign to the national character.

In most post-soviet countries the opposition have failed to mobilise people to the levelsnecessary to seriously undermine the government. Since the government monopolises coercive power, the opposition have no option but to fall back on the people, or certainly this was a lesson learnt from Georgia andUkraine. The people will, according to this view, be the vehicle to drive theopposition to power. Usually ignored between elections, the people are to be courtedinto the streets to act as the battering ram against the gates of power.

Whereas there is a temptation to view those leaders ranked against the existing autocratic government as purveyors of liberal and democratic values, this is often not the case. Opposition figures often have only a negative identity with little uniting them bar acollective will to dislodge the president. Lacking policies and unable to unite behind acommon platform they seem sometimes to offer a change of personalities not ofpolicies. Theirs is a struggle more for power than for democracy or social justice-more person change than regime change. External engagement with the opposition movements in the region needs to more strongly recognise their fragility and internal divisions

Western countries have been reluctant to support civil society orpolitical party development to the point where it jeopardises their energy supplies. Toleration for gas rich Turkmenistan and oil rich Kazakhstan can be contrasted withthe international isolation of energy poor Belarus. Thus, revolutionary impulses must be indigenous. External forces can facilitate, they can sometimes support, but theycannot manufacture a revolution. Western election observers have however played a role in the region. Their reports regularly berate, increasingly functionally, post-Soviet states for electoral fraud and for missing the opportunity to win the confidence of European public opinion, not realising perhaps that the objective is to win domesticpower not Western flattery. But as elections provided the catalyst for the Rose, Orange and Tulip Revolutions, Russia and other post-soviet autocracies have soughtto counteract the critical findings of the OSCE's election monitoring organisation ODIHR, whose damning reports were seisedupon by oppositions to justify their position. To this end CIS election missions composed of observers selected by post-soviet autocracies, have been dispatched tocounteract ODIHR, EUROPEAN UNION or independent election monitors. The CIS missions invariably give a clean bill of health and ignore even the most outrageous excesses of electoral manipulation.

Although the phenomenon of colour revolutions has not ended yet, two aspects should be highlighted. The first is the extent to which both post-soviet leadersand oppositions have learnt from these events. Rather than see the regime-changes as the result of autocratic deficiencies, there has been a tendency to attribute events to"political technologies" devised in the West and skilfully executed in a manner thatcamouflage its foreign roots. Oppositions, for their part, have demonstrable proof that mass mobilisation timed to coincide with a rigged election can sometimes dislodge unpopular autocrats. Secondly, non-violent protest movements have been a leitmotifof political protests in recent years. Although there is no conclusive evidence that what has happened in Rangoon, Kathmandu, Kuala Lumpur, Lhasa, or, indeed, in the Arab World since the spring of 2011, is directly connected with colour revolutions in the CIS, the intensity and regularity of the protests seem to confirm that a tendency to use civil disobedience is growing, although governments, at least in the post-Soviet space, seem to have found effective ways to minimise their effects.

The research concluded that while initially the colour revolution phenomenon appeared sporadic and casual, it rapidly developed into a major component of post Communist politics. External support complemented a network of NGOs and political activists ready to act in a non-traditional way. They challenged the authority of the regime and to think of the most effective ways to adapt imported theories of action to their particular situation. This political opportunity boosted civic activism and was the basis for national and international networks to challenge the authorities through domestic and global channels and set up a network of trainers in civil disobedience that are now operating worldwide in relative secrecy.

The research also demonstrated that the surprise factor could not be maintained. While the wave of colour revolutions created new links and political opportunities for domestic actors throughout the former Soviet Union by internationalising their struggle it also prompted local governments to employ similar strategies such as manufacturing pro-regime NGOs and training of activists to maintain the status quo. Potentially vulnerable post-Soviet presidents focussed on civil society as a political instrument and strove to limit its effects. Once familiar with the main features of a colour revolution, the regime's capacity to contain the "colour virus" could be seen as depending on the ability of the elite to identify its own potential weak points and to defend key institutions, people and groups from potential threats. This has led some states to become extremely colour-revolution-proof, thanks to an effective strategy of protecting the regime's vital organs with appropriate measures.

Project website: http://www.dcu. ie/~cis/research/project-details. php? ProjectID = 25 Researcher contact: donnacha. obeachain@dcu. ie