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The tactics and folly of the neo-liberal color revolutions

By Jemal Yasin
Tigrai Onlne - April 17, 2014

Since the end of the cold-war, several governments across the globe have been subjected to ideologically motivated criticisms and campaigns in a bid to force them into implementing a full-scale privatization, deregulation and liberalization of strategic economic sectors as per the neoliberal prescriptions, which is also known as the Washington Consensus.

Ethiopia was no different. However, the ideological driven onslaught intensified on Ethiopia especially after the mid-2000s when Ethiopia made it abundantly clear that it has embarked on the democratic developmental state paradigm. Despite the astonishing socio-economic achievements of Ethiopia's developmental model, the neoliberal forces at home and abroad saw it as a “bad example” that should be quashed at the earliest possible opportunity.

However, given Ethiopia's increasingly participatory political and economic system and her increasing capability to withstand aid reduction, the attempt to change government through a color revolution style violence in 2005 and the drastic aid reduction in 2005-2007 failed to deliver the intended results.

The experience was not the same for other victims of the neo-liberal campaign. Through the irresponsible and alien tactic of color revolution, the socio-economic condition and viability of several countries have been irreparably damaged.

The so-called color revolutions have been applied to a number of countries that resisted the neo-liberal global hegemony and its market fundamentalist prescriptions. These color revolutions have mostly adopted a specific color or flower as their symbol and have been masterminded by non-governmental organizations (NGOs). In most but not all cases, massive street protests followed disputed elections, or requests for fair elections, and led to the resignation or overthrow of the legitimate governments.

Opponents of the colour revolutions often accuse the Soros Foundation and/or the United States government of supporting and even planning the revolutions in order to serve Western geopolitical interests. It is noteworthy that after the Orange Revolution of Ukraine, several Central Asian nations took action against the Open Society Institute of George Soros with various means – Uzbekistan, for example, forced the shutting down of the OSI regional offices, while Tajikistan's state-controlled media have accused OSI-Tajikistan of corruption and nepotism. People who applauded the colour revolutions did so too.

Evidence suggesting U.S. government involvement includes that the USAID (and UNDP) supported Internet structures called  Freenet, which are known to compromise a major part of the Internet structure in at least one of the countries – Kyrgyzstan – in which one of the colour revolutions occurred. The Washington Post and the New York Times also reported substantial Western involvement in some of these events.

Activists in Ukraine have said that publications and training they received from Dr Gene Sharp, founder of the US-based Albert Einstein Institution and his staff has been instrumental in the formation of their strategies.

Several authors have highlighted how the methods described by Dr Sharp and used in several colour revolutions are based on exploiting the emotional reactions of masses, rather than political or economic analysis.

The use of the internet as a "communication backbone" for the protesters has been criticized for its intrinsic biases by authors such as  Evgeny Morozov. 

Almost all the neo-liberal sponsored color revolutions followed a similar script. A disputed election followed by protests by students, intellectuals and other "cool" guys and gals that lead to the overthrow of a legitimate government and an installation of westernized figures as leaders. Few years later, those western-sponsored leaders proved to be proxies of the neo-liberal camp, alien to the country they lead and more corrupt and undemocratic than their predecessors.

Take the so-called Tulip Revolution of Kyrgyzstan:

The Tulip revolution overthrew  President   Askar Akayev and his government after the 2005 parliamentary elections. The revolution was promoted under the pretext of an end to corruption and authoritarianism. Kurmanbek Bakiyev then became president. With the new neo-liberal-sponsored president, ethnic tensions increased involving ethnic Kyrgyz and Uzbeks in the south of the country, which escalated in June 2010.

A few years later the reverse happened. During the winter of 2009–2010, frequent   blackouts and cutoffs have been observed and the corrupt government of Kyrgyzstan proposed raising energy tariffs - heating costs to rise 400% and electricity by 170%. The citizens of Kyrgyzstan have been frustrated by the corruption and cronyism in the Bakiyev administration, as well as rise in utility rates. The sporadic and chaotic protests that took place in April 2010  ousted the corrupt despot President Kurmanbek Bakiyev.

The end-result of that neo-liberal sponsored regime-change and its effect on the citizens of Kyrgyzstan was eloquently explained by Leon T. Hadar - a specialist of foreign policy, international trade and expert of South and East Asia politics and author of the book “Sandstorm: Policy Failure in the Middle East”.

In his researched analysis entitled "The Fading Colors of Pseudo-Revolutions", that was published on April 9, 2010, he wrote:

The violent overthrow of Kyrgyzstan’s president Kurmanbek Bakiyev by opposition forces this week was just the latest sign that the political changes that had taken place in several countries in the former Soviet Union and the Middle East during the first decade of the twenty-first century — aka the color” or “velvet” revolutions” — were not part of a historic revolutionary wave that was going to do away with the old corrupt and authoritarian regimes and usher a new dawn of liberal democracy.

The leaders of these mostly non-violent and youthful movements that adopted certain colors (or flowers) as their symbols were expected to launch political and economic reforms and align their new governments with the values and interests of the west. If the collapse of the Soviet Union and the freeing of its satellites in Eastern and Central Europe, the Baltic and Central Asia could be described as the first act in a process of democratization and liberalization facilitated by the U.S.-led globalization, the color revolutions were seen in Washington as the second act in this historical epoch. Hence, the tendency among American political and intellectual elites to frame these developments in ideological terms that recall the binary terminology of the Cold War: the Good Guys versus the Bad Guys.

We were told that Bakiyev was the Good Guy. He took power in 2005 after what the media referred to as the Tulip Revolution (or the Pink Revolution), a series of protests by opponents of the regime which followed a disputed parliamentary election. But since then, the human rights situation has deteriorated under a repressive regime headed by Bakiyev who won another term as president last year in an election tainted by fraud. And Bakiyev refrained from aligning Kyrgyzstan with the Americans and allowed both the U.S. and neighboring Russia to maintain military bases in his country in exchange for generous financial assistance pocketed by members of the Bakiyev clan. The Good Guy was apparently not so goody good.


Take the Georgian Rose Revolution of 2003 and the Ukrainian Orange Revolution of 2005:

 The so-called Rose Revolution brought a regime-change in Georgia in November 2003, after widespread protests over the disputed parliamentary elections. As a result, President Eduard Shevardnadze was forced to resign on November 23, 2003. The pro-American neo-liberal agent Mikhail Saakashvili, who had studied and worked as a lawyer in New York; became the new President.

Similarly, the Orange Revolution was a series of protests and political events that took place in Ukraine following the presidential election which was claimed to be marred by massive corruption, voter intimidation and direct electoral fraud. Activists of the Orange Revolution were funded and trained in tactics of political organisation and nonviolent resistance by a coalition of Western pollsters and professional consultants who were funded by a range of Western government and non-government agencies.

According to reports from media sources, the foreign donors included the U.S. State Department and USAID along with the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs, the International Republican Institute, the NGO Freedom House and George Soros's Open Society Institute. The National Endowment for Democracy, a foundation supported by the U.S. government, has been funding neo-liberal campaigns under the pretext of "non-governmental democracy-building efforts" in Ukraine.

However, the newly installed neo-liberal forces had soon became exposed as corrupts and Yanukovych briefly returned to  power in 2006, when he became Prime Minister. Later, Viktor Yanukovych was elected President in 2010 with landslide vote.

As one political analyst observed, the color-revolution narrative reflected the same kind of very neat Manichean categories applied by American pop sociologists and journalists parachuting to this or that international “hot spot,” not to mention the global crusaders managing U.S. foreign policy. According to this interpretation, the Good Guys are usually referred to as “Westernized,” “modernized,” “reformist,” “secular,” and “democratic,” which also means that they are “pro-American.” And they are usually under attack by Evil, represented by those who can be identified by the antonyms of the aforementioned adjectives. This was the grand narrative of an America standing up to ideological monsters abroad by supporting people “like us” evolved during the 20th century under the influence of Wilsonian fantasies and against the backdrop of World War II and the Cold War.

It was a great storyline; too bad that it had nothing to do with reality. The American military adventure didn’t produce a democratic revolution. Indeed, the U.S.-led campaign to promote democracy in the former Soviet Bloc after the collapse of communism, and American encouragement of the color revolutions in Ukraine and Georgia, Iraq and Lebanon, were based on the assumption that the drive by individuals and groups in these nations and societies to oust their ruling elites was motivated primarily by universal ideals of democracy and liberalism and by the appeal of joining the West.

Hence, the Good Guys — Mikhail Saakashvili in Georgia, Viktor Yushchenko and Yulia Tymoshenko in Ukraine, and Kurmanbek Bakiyev in Kyrgyzstan proved to be to be as power hungry and greedy as their predecessors, disregarding democratic principles and employing ultra-nationalism and chauvinism in order to cling to power, and exploiting American diplomatic and economic support as part of effort to contain domestic and outside threats and win financial assistance.

The campaign is an American creation, funded and organized by the US government, deploying US consultancies, pollsters, diplomats, the two big American parties and US non-government organisations. A sophisticated and brilliantly conceived exercise in western branding and mass marketing that, in four countries in four years, has been used to try to salvage “rigged” elections and topple regimes.

The operation - engineering regime change through the ballot box and civil disobedience - is now so slick that the methods have matured into a template for winning other people's elections.

The usually fractious oppositions have to be united behind a single candidate if there is to be any chance of unseating the regime. The exit polls are seen as critical because they seize the initiative in the propaganda battle with the regime, invariably appearing first, receiving wide media coverage and putting the onus on the authorities to respond. The final stage in the US template concerns how to react when the incumbent tries to steal a lost election.

If these color revolutions succeed in installing neo-liberal groups, it is certain to try to repeat the exercise elsewhere. 

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