Reviews

The present volume addresses the still unexplored phenomenon of ‘colour revolutions’. Though already approached from the viewpoint of its international diffusion (by such authors as Bunce & Wolchik, or Beissinger) and more extensively from the internal perspective of ‘successful revolutions,’ the phenomenon was much less investigated through cases of countries prone to political change but where incumbent regimes have been successful in suppressing it. The central question of the volume is: Which conditions have led to a ‘colour revolution’ in some post-communist states and not in other ones. Contributions can be divided into three sections. The first part of the volume discusses the ‘successful cases’ of Georgia, Ukraine, and Kyrgyzstan. The book goes on with exploring Armenia, Moldova, and Azerbaijan where similar conditions were gathered which failed to culminate into political change. A final section explores the “antidotes for the coloured virus and the de-escalating phase of the colour revolutions” (through the cases of Belarus, Russia, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan). The chapter on Georgia examines five protagonists of the “Rose Revolution”: the regime itself, the opposition, external forces, the civil society, and “the people.” The author insists on the fact that Shevardnadze’s unpopular regime had set up since 1999 conditions for discontent: a deep economic crisis, durable language issues, and a risky foreign policy. On the other hand, a strong civil society was preparing a new skilful generation of managers who showed capable of carrying out a revolution (Companjen Françoise J., “Georgia,” 13-29). In his analysis of Ukraine’s “Orange Revolution” Nathaniel Copsey underlines the unity of the Ukrainian opposition on the eve of the elections; their success in overthrowing the regime was also due to the fragmentation of the ruling elite dominated by concurrent oligarch networks, some of which shifted to the opposition, thus providing internal resources to youth movements and to the electoral campaign (Copsey Nathaniel, “Ukraine,” 30-44). For David Lewis, Kyrgyzstan’s “Tulip Revolution” was a product of widespread internal discontent among both the public and elites. This author underlines several factors that led to President Akaev’s ousting: the division of political elites along a peculiar south-north conflict and the shifts within the ruling elite. A third important factor was the mobilisation of the mid-level regional elites, who constituted a large work of mediation and news diffusion (Lewis David, “Kyrgyzstan,” 45-61).

The chapter on Moldova analyses why in a context that was to some extent similar, elections did not turn out to another ‘colour revolution’ in Kishinev: In fact, the winning Communist party was popular within the population for having carried out a steady economic growth since 2001, and a pro-Western foreign policy; by contrast, the Moldavian opposition was fragmented enough to challenge the PCRM’s popularity (Kennedy Ryan, “Moldova,” 62-82). In Armenia, the electoral competition was long accompanied by political violence and coercion, Mikayel Zolyan writes, and despite the opportunity offered by public protests to the opposition in the 2004 election campaign, the opposition’s highly non-unified, non-ideological and populist nature prevented it from challenging successfully the incumbent president (Zolyan Mikayel, “Armenia,” 83-100). According to Vicken Cheterian, the Azerbaijani opposition lost its chance to overthrow Heydar Aliyev’s regime in 2003 at the time when power was going to be transferred to the ruler’s son Ilham. Since then, repression against independent media, youth organisations and activists has increased, inhibiting major gatherings and generally speaking the expression of discontent (Cheterian Vicken, “Azerbaijan,” 101-17). In Belarus, Ustina Markus argues that ‘colour revolution’ prospects are hindered because of an enhanced level of repression against political opponents, independent media, the civil society and youth organisations, a peculiarity of Lukashenko’s regime that was not observed in the states with a ‘colour’ experience (Markus Ustina, “Belarus,” 118-35). The chapter on Russia discusses how the country’s government has successfully countered democratic trends after the wave of ‘colour revolutions’ — Putin’s administration employed varied strategies (from the repression of internal democratic potential to the redefinition of the concept of “sovereign democracy)” and undermined the democracies established after the revolutions while supporting authoritarian administrations (Ambrosio Thomas, “Russia,” 136-55).

The chapter on Uzbekistan critically engages with the very notion of ‘colour revolution,’ referring to McFaul’s and Beissinger’s models, and stressing the fact that the Andijan uprising of May 2005 can not be read as an attempted but failed colour revolution, but rather as “another instance of an outburst of frustration against the government” (Fumagalli Matteo, Tordjman Simon, “Uzbekistan,” 156-76). In Tajikistan, the absence of protests during the 2005 legislative elections, despite the immediacy of the “Tulip Revolution” in Kyrgyzstan and of the massacre in Andijon is explained by the government’s anti-revolution pre-emptive measures and by the legacy of the civil war, which inhibits citizens to protest and contributes to the status quo’s preservation (Kevlihan Robert, Sherzamonov Amri, “Tajikistan,” 177-95). As to Kazakhstan, the study concentrates on various legislative sanctions established by the Nazarbaev administration in order to tame media, public gatherings, NGOs’ and political parties’ activities. A weak opposition failed to coalesce against the regime during the fraudulent 2004 elections. At the same time, besides this agency the author also underlines Nazarbaev’s popularity, largely nourished by the redistribution of the material benefits of hydrocarbon extraction (Isaacs Rico, “Kazakhstan,” 196-216). In Turkmenistan, presidential elections were simply not held while the legislative ballot remains a mere façade. Besides annulling any competition for presidency, president Niyazov abolished NGOs and political parties on the country’s territory so that even in case of mass mobilisations there would be no organisations or leaders to provide with necessary framing (Ó Beacháin Donnacha, “Turkmenistan,” 217-36). The volume’s conclusion is that “it is clear that a relatively liberal political environment is necessary for civil society to develop and receive foreign assistance, for an independent media to emerge and to enable the opposition to organize and mobilize” ([Ó Beacháin Donnacha, Polese Abel], “Conclusion,” 237-44).

Introduced under such conditions, the concept of ‘colour revolution’ appears as a Western understanding of political change in the ‘developing’ world. None of the factors mentioned in the present studies showed decisive enough in the second ‘revolution’ in Kyrgyzstan in April 2010. This implies that political change should perhaps be understood beyond the frame of democratisation/non-democratisation trends, and rather be seen as one of the contentious culminations of the critical engagement (or of its absence) of the opposition and society against the existing regimes’ models of national development. Put in this way, there is also a need for a better theorisation of ‘colour’ itself. Aren’t the contributions of the media, of social networks like Facebook, of mobile telephony, of the NGOs and, consequently, of Western interest — all distinctive features of modernity — ‘natural’ components of any social movement, not only of ‘colour revolutions’? If the latter are not carriers of fundamental and lasting change, for all that do they remain a mere repertoire of contention? ‘Colour revolution’ seems to be a language vested of modern techniques and technologies spoken by authoritarian regimes and their oppositions while engaging with each other.

Asel Dooletkeldieva, University of Exeter
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