Apr 8, 2010

Red Line Revolutions

"People should not be afraid of their governments, governments should be afraid of their people"

We've all been watching the events unfolding in Kyrgyzstan this week and many were surprised by the speed with which unrest broke out and spread. Early reports introduced comparisons to the "colored revolutions" in Eurasia during the 2000s, but this is a different beast altogether and, in my opinion, something other authoritarian regimes should be far more worried about.

The colored revolutions were catalyzed by protest of perceived (and actual) corruption in an election; electoral revolutions. Although many did have popular support, colored revolutions were often led by a unified opposition which had varying levels of popular presence on the streets during their protests. For me, the most convincing literature analyzing the colored revolutions highlights three key factors 1. use of violence (by protesters and the government) 2. internal instability of the regime in power and 3. unity among the opposition.

Reports suggest that the unrest in Kyrgyzstan was and is spontaneous and largely disorganized. Although the opposition (through a tv appearance by Omurbek Tekebayev) has come forward claiming to have seized the government, there are clear cleavages within the opposition and signs of an impending internal power struggle. Unlike the colored revolutions, both the ruling regime and the protesters have shown willingness to use violence, but unlike other cases the regime's violence has not deterred protesters. Instead, protesters overcame the police and reportedly beat Interior Minister Kongantivev and First Deputy Prime Minister Zhaparov.

Most importantly, these protests are not about electoral fraud, but are connected to economic conditions; a few weeks ago, the government suddenly raised the prices of gas, water and electricity.

Time will show how events will work out in Kyrgyzstan, but what will other authoritarian governments learn from these events (they undoubtedly took lessons from successful and failed colored revolutions)? I think they'll realize, if they hadn't already that even relatively apolitical populations have red lines that cannot be crossed...


Anonymous said...

I for one never bought the idea that Ukraine in 2004 fit into the same "color revolutions" model as Kyrgyzstan in 2005. As I recall, there was scattered violence during the "tulip revolution."

Certainly, there is scant evidence that Kyrgyzstan is some kind of counter-color revolution the same way that Yanukovych's victory was a "counter-orange revolution."

In order for the media (whether Western or Russian) to digest these developments, it is really easy to box them in as a broader trend. It is interesting, though, that Kyrgyzstan in 2010 looks a lot like Moldova last year.

Mrta said...

Here here! I am already highly annoyed at the "revolution" narrative going on in the media coverage in the U.S. We don't know what kind of political animal this is, and we won't for a while.

I'd like to see some more discussion of the sources of discontent. Unhappiness over utilities is very real, but does it lead to violence? I guess I'm also not sure about the sources of violence. Was it primarily police killing protesters, the other way around, general chaos? I think who killed who matters in this case.

And finally, who thinks that announcing to the Kyrgyz public to stay calm using Twitter is a good idea? Is this just for the foreign media? I mean, internet penetration in Kyrgyzstan is a joke. I mean, in Moldova it was efficient at organizing an urban student population, I'll hand you that, but Twitter in Kyrgyzstan???

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