Was the Euromaidan a ‘Colour Revolution’? Liberal Revanchism in the post Pax Americana

September 9, 2015 at 5:21 pm (tWP) (, , , , , , , )

Marten's_Poltava

Battle of Poltava – powers foreign to Eurasia have always elicited the help of locals against Russia. In the Great Northern War, it was Sweden enlisting Poles and Cossacks. Today it is the Anglosphere doing the same.

The Colour Revolutions of the early 2000s, styled to be Eastern Europe’s logical succession to Central Europe’s Velvet Revolutions of the 1990s, were the response of Eurasia’s Liberal elites to the narrative of the ‘end of History’. The Orange Revolution in Ukraine, the Rose Revolution in Georgia, and others around Russia’s periphery, were meant to replace leaderships and regimes still populated by CPSU cadres and Kremlin apparatchiks. The hope was, that just like it had occurred in the Visegrad countries, this would lead to closer ties to the Washington Consensus, renewed Western investment, the West’s military umbrella and more accountability and transparency from the new leaders.

The problem inherent to all of this is the belief that post-communist Europe was fundamentally transformed by the Washington Consensus. It was not: free markets of course bring more prosperity but Bulgaria and Romania still lag behind Poland and the Czech Republic, slavic countries are still more corrupt. Culture doesn’t change that easily.

The fall of the Milosevic regime in Serbia was the proto Colour Revolution. It was led by youth movements, inspired by Western values, and finally led to an EU path for Serbia. As with Ukraine, the EU path came at territorial cost: Belgrade was forced to abdicate its more than pristine claim to Kosovo, just as Ukraine’s Liberals compromised the country’s territorial cohesion by forcing an alignment with the West and a destruction of the neutrality consensus.

The problem is not the existence of Liberal movements in Eastern Europe since the proximity of the great Western capitals would have always led to some soft power and ideological influence in its periphery. The problem is the artificial expansion of the elites dependent on the Liberal narrative, through private and public Western funds flowing to societies  where the natural  Liberal instinct is small. Had it not been for the think-tanks, scholarships, NGOs and an elite dependent on Western funding for social and political relevance, the Colour Revolutions would have ended up in the same place as the Arab Spring.

Indeed, as soon as Moscpaintedmaidan003-10ow decided to match Western efforts and act as a spoiler to Western soft power in its near abroad, most Colour Revolutions either collapsed or burnt themselves out. The Orange Revolution, originating in the Liberal pro-Western intelligentsia of Kiev and Lviv, lost momentum and Moscow was even able to sponsor Viktor Yanukovych into the Presidency. The Tulip Revolution in Kyrgyzstan lost steam and the Rose Revolution in Georgia achieved so little, other than in symbolic terms (new flag, Bush avenue) that Saakashvili decided  to escalate politically by trying the military path, hoping for a quick victory and a rally-to-the-flag wave. The war turned to blunder and soon the hero of the revolution was ousted from power and is today on the run from Georgian judicial authorities.

Unlike what Russian propaganda will seek to infer, the revolution was not planned by the White House or the Pentagon. Most liberal democracies have no capability to think strategically or plan long-term and if some did, the incompetence of politicians would guarantee the planning went nowhere. It was most certainly not the European Union to arrange it as utopian Brussels has no notion of what ‘national interest’ actually means. What the West contributed, it did without planning and out of ideological obsession and cultural arrogance or condescension. 

The Euromaidan Revolution was a different animal but was it a Colour Revolution? There is a case to be made that it was not.

If on one hand, the revolution brought little in the way of a change of paradigm, it cannot be denied that the ruling regime has fundamentally changed. Ukraine was largely a free-market economy and a liberal democratic system before the revolution, and remained so after the revolution. What changed was its foreign policy and geopolitical alignment. The approach to the EU may yet bear fruit in terms of increased democratic transparency and less economic protectionism but for the time being, the oligarchic cliques are still in power and corruption did not magically disappear. Russia’s economic war on the country can keep it impoverished resulting in continued corruption levels. Moreover, the artificial attempt to homogenize a territory that was never autonomous or cohesive will either result in Russophones becoming second class citizens or renewed conflict. Nonetheless, the structural impediments to a more prosperous economy, will not go away with EU para-membership, just as they did not in the Balkan countries which joined the EU.  

Finally, there is the issue of external agency. If in the case of the Arab Spring and the Colour Revolutions, the West was not active in the process of regime substitution, that was certainly the case with Euromaidan where the West quickly endorsed the demonstrations and then the new regime. Similarly, Libya and Syria are not the best examples of the Arab Spring because the West intervened. These two along with Ukraine, should instead be regarded as a new phase of Liberal Revanchism after Iraq. 2003 Iraq, 2011 Libya and 2014 Ukraine belong in a separate category of conflicts and regime-changes with active Western agency, which is motivated by a perceived distinct failure of the Liberal model in the casein question. In Iraq, the ‘rogue regime’ had not been overturned by its shia and Kurdish rebellions, in Libya the rebellion was faltering and in Ukraine, Russia had actually seized the opportunity to kowtow Yanukovych into joining the Eurasian Economic Union.

artist's rendering of a fictional Ukrainian (Euromaidan regime) conquest of Donetsk

artist’s rendering of a fictional Ukrainian (Euromaidan regime) conquest of Donetsk

Liberal Revanchism is a particular type of revisionism which translates an inability to cope with the failure of the ‘end of History’ narrative. Coping would require pragmatism and ideological concessions which elites in Washington D.C. and Brussels find too distasteful and inconvenient, for their own agenda and personal standing.

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Brain Drain, Soft Power & Orientalist Revolutions

February 6, 2012 at 12:37 am (tWP) (, , , , , , , , )

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There is a narrative at work. Man has evolved from a savage uncivilised species to a level of sophistication which is today best exemplified by the Western world. This view of history is linear, it allows only for Hegelian progress and it is also ethnocentric since it makes Europe and America the leaders of human progress. Huntington’s “Western civilization” concept reflects this view.

When large political upheavals take place, most of the commentariat resorts in a pavlovian fashion to this narrative to explain them. Thus is the case with all the series of revolutions since the fall of the Berlin Wall. The Velvet Revolutions, the Colour Revolutions and now the Arab Spring are all framed as being just one more step in the world’s adaptation to the Western concept of society and civilization. But are they?

If that were the case would they all happen to happen in Europe’s periphery? We have not seen dominos fall in sub-Saharan Africa, in South Asia or in the Far East.

The truth as British historian Timothy Garton Ash puts it is that:

“One might suggest that the best chances are to be found in semiauthoritarian states that depend to a significant degree, politically, economically and, so to speak, psychologically, on more democratic ones—and most especially when the foreign states with the most passive influence or active leverage on them are Western democracies”.

NATO states gave their best efforts to influence the elites of the Central and Eastern European states during the Cold War. Propaganda and subversion activities aside, even if very few of these intellectuals actually visited the West, Western books and culture were predominant in the world and therefore also to a degree, behind the Iron Curtain. It is no surprise that Western influence continued to be felt in spite of Soviet censure since that had always been the case prior to the Cold War. Russian, Polish or Serb elites had always drifted westwards in search of inspiration and that did not change with the old continent’s division in ideological blocs.

The same holds true for the colour revolutions in Russia’s “Near Abroad.”

What to make of the Arab Spring? Unfortunately the same. It is not just a matter of European neighbours being demographically bigger and economically stronger, it is also the fact that the international narrative is dominated by European encultured states and societies: Europeans have colonised most of the world and the cultural standard is today a socially liberal, free market economy oriented, democratically ruled nation state.

Phenomena such as brain drain and soft power only further emphasize this tendency. Where do the wealthiest and brightest Arabs study and obtain their entertainment if not in Europe and America? Sayyid Qutb sensed this very phenomenon and called it Jahiliyyah—referring to the prevalent “ignorance” prior to Islamic rule to categorise a contemporary corruption from within which hinders Islamic values.

What is important to understand is not that Western values are wrong but that they aren’t absolute. They may make sense to Westerners but not necessarily to other cultures and it is wrong to frame every political struggle as a conflict aiming at emulating the West. This has been done before by the Orientalists who analysed eastern cultures only by holding them to a Western standard.

The consequence of this narrative is a growing décalage between the perception of reality and reality itself. Al Jazeera is a perfect example of a corporate culture which is embedded with graduates of European and American universities and which covered the Arab Spring—and the terminology here is telling—as a struggle for democracy and liberalism, as if the values of the nonsecular protestors who prayed in Tahrir Square were reason for shame.

Russian aircraft carrier Kuznetsov was deployed to the Syrian port of Tartus during the Syrian Spring. According to Western pundits in order to dissuade any military intervention under the guise of R2P. Tartus and Latakia are the most Alawite districts in Syria.

The mishaps of this décalage are evident in all of these cycles of revolution with socially conservative and illiberal parties and politicians “surprisingly” emerging in Central and Eastern Europe and the Arab world. Who knew that the same people who toppled dictators were prejudiced against homosexuals and Jews? Antisemitism, euroscepticism, homophobia or misogeny are just some of the most depressing gifts that media such as Al Azhar magazine or the Polish Radio Maria, bring us from these revolutions.

The most direct effect is counterrevolution and reactionary movements which view Western intervention and influence as intrusion in domestic affairs and turn to Moscow or Beijing for investment, trade and strategic relations.

Liberal elites are frequently the vanguard of revolutions in the West’s periphery but the people these intellectuals claim to speak for and liberate don’t often identify themselves with their Washington Consensus agendas. The Arab revolts cannot be Twitter or Facebook revolutions when most Arabs don’t use the Internet, much less in English, and they should never have been portrayed as liberal democratic revolutions when those values are indigenous only to Europe and European colonised territories.

(originally published in the Atlantic Sentinel)

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