If there is a phrase that characterizes recent parliamentary and presidential elections in former Soviet Republics it’s “colored revolution.” If I keep harping on the point that that the “revolutions” in Ukraine, Georgia, and Kyrgyzstan have sent political shockwaves through the CIS, it’s because the actions of ruling governments continue to use it as an excuse for repression. The latest country this colored specter haunts is Kazakhstan, which holds presidential elections on Sunday. The government has already issued a warning to opposition parties that if they even attempt to erect a tent in a city square, they will be severely dealt with. Then a prominent opposition member, Zamanbek Nurkadilov, was found murdered, um . . . I mean committed “suicide” just before he was to release information about the current president, and election front runner Nursultan Nazarbayev’s corruption. I wonder if the channeling of $84 million in bribes to leading Kazakh officials, with Nazarbayev being one of them, by oil consultant James Giffen in exchange for oil rights to Mobil Oil and Texaco is the big corruption news? At any rate, the “suicide” is rightly being challenged by Nurkadilov’s family. And if that wasn’t enough, apparently relatives of oppositions are being beaten, detained, and in one case kidnapped.
It all makes you wonder what the Kazakh government will do next. They have the proverbial warnings, beatings, assassinations, and paranoia covered. What is an authoritarian state to do next? I know! How about detain and expel some foreign journalists and human rights activists because you suspect that they are trying to export “colored revolution”? This is what Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty is reporting.
Thus far the government has detained and looks to expel two Ukrainian journalists who were invited by the youth group Youth Information Service of Kazakhstan to cover the elections. This isn’t the first foreign expulsions. Over the last few weeks the government has expelled hundreds of Kyrgyz, Uzbeks, and Tajiks as well as Chinese and Turks. In addition around 500 people have been detained in Almaty, which is a center for the opposition. The government states that the expulsions were a result of a sweep for illegal immigrants. Others think it’s to prevent oppositionists from hiring immigrants to attend anti-government protests. All I have to say is who the hell knows. I know one thing, even without out all the repression to prevent colored revolution, I doubt there will be one anyway. But I guess we will have to wait until Sunday to be sure of that.
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By Sean — 12 years ago
Demonstrations versus demonstrations. Who can mobilize the most people to their side? Such is the current situation following Sunday’s parliamentary elections in Azerbaijan. Yesterday opposition parties called out their supporters to Qalaba (Victory) Square in Baku for a three hour protest. The organizers peacefully dispersed the crowd despite calls for the erection of tents in the square. Crowd estimates numbered around 15,000. The opposition, as well as international observers charge that the election results were rigged. So far the Azerbaijani Electoral Commission has annulled electoral results in the districts of Sumgait and Binaqadi. Further, President Aliyev sacked two governors of the districts of Suraxani and Sabirabad and detained four election officials for electoral fraud. This comes as the European Union charges that the Azeri elections didn’t meet European standards.
Things do seem to be heating up in Azerbaijan. And it seems the media is hoping and praying for the next chapter of “colored revolutions” in the former Soviet Republics. The fact that the opposition was able to even have a protest shows that they are not only riding a wave of discontent, but taking advantage of an atmosphere of protest against electoral fraud that has engulfed the region. I am cautious of whether the Azeri situation will become anything. But with the world watching, President Aliyev certainly has his hands tied as to the level of force he could use against the protests.
One option is to battle the opposition’s supporters with your own. So now the ruling Yeni Party has also called its supporters to Qalaba Square to show its numbers. The government claims that over 40,000 supporters came out, though estimates number more around 15,000. Thus the one-upmanship and numbers game starts. The Opposition brings out its people and the ruling party brings out there’s.
All this rhetoric of possible “revolution” in Azerbaijan should be tempered by EurasiaNet.org special reporting and evaluation of Georgia’s 2003 Rose Revolution. The series looks at how all nine regions have fared since 2003. It seems that while there were immediate hope, gratification and promises for a better life, those in many cases have not been fulfilled. Take, for example, this passage from the story on the region of Ajaria:
“It all comes down to autonomy. The Georgian government promised that Ajaria would retain its autonomous status, and they have been true to their word. But limitations placed on that autonomy have sparked tensions that refuse to die.
According to the July 5, 2004 law that established Ajaria’s status as an autonomous republic, the Georgian president retains the right to nominate Ajaria’s prime minister – officially known as “chairman of the Ajarian Autonomous Republic” — and disband the region’s legislature, the Supreme Council, as well as its cabinet. Fiscal policy falls to the Ajarian government, but Tbilisi holds responsibility for security and defense. The prime minister can also veto decisions made by the Supreme Council – a provision criticized as favoring Tbilisi rather than Batumi.”
Or, take this excerpt from the story on the region of Guria:
“In his 2005 State of the Nation address, President Saakashvili tapped education and healthcare as among the priority sectors for government allocation of funds from Georgia’s ongoing privatization process. As of April, however, the Ministry of Labor, Healthcare and Social Protection had received just five percent of the new revenues available (or some $13.2 million), one of the lowest amounts of any ministry. The Education Ministry’s budget for 2005 stands at 69.3 million lari or about $38 million.
So far, the changes that have been made on the social welfare front focus largely on education – one of the Saakashvili administration’s official policy priorities. Teachers in Guria report that they now receive their salaries regularly, and are hopeful that the government will deliver on promises to increase their monthly pay. Salaries in Ozurgeti reportedly have reportedly already been increased by 40 percent to 140 lari per month (about $77) . . .
Nonetheless, familiar problems continue. While monthly salary payments are usually made on time, they are also made in steadily decreasing amounts, educators said. In Guria, as elsewhere in Georgia, schoolchildren often sit in schools with no glass in the windows; in winter, to make up for the lack of heat, they bring in firewood for a stove. Or stay at home for months at a time.”
Not only do the situations in Ajaria and Guria speak to the ubiquitous problem of infrastructure, government funding, and ethnic tensions and autonomy throughout the Caucuses, it also points to the problem of “revolution” itself.
For sure, revolutions rarely yield immediate results. Sometimes they don’t yield any at all. That being said, I have a few questions about these “colored revolutions”. First, can they be classified as revolutions? Second, does our idea of “revolution” in that region have so many assumptions about “democracy” that we thoroughly misread the political situation?
It seems to me the application of the term “revolution” was more a manufacture of the opposition and Western media than anything else. The situation in the Ukraine, Georgia, and Kyrgyzstan, and now perhaps in Azerbaijan seemed more about two already entrenched political forces fighting for power. There wasn’t any real surge from below as found in most revolutions, nor was there the uncontrollable chaos that comes with that. Nor were there any fundamental changes in the political, economic or social structure of the countries. Rather these “revolutions” appear all too managed and formulaic. Let me break down the formula. 1) Elections. 2) Elections declared fraudulent. 3) Opposition gets Western support. 4) Opposition parties mobilize supporters. 5) Opposition puts pressure on ruling government. 6) Ruling government compromises. But does this constitute a revolution? Or is it the means in which political change now occurs in the region?
Granted there is something wonderful about seeing thousands of people flooding the streets to protest fraudulent elections; as it is to see that such protests have an effect in the politics of the country. I am not trying to minimize the significance of events there. I don’t think we can say that similar protests would ever have the same effect in the so-called archetype for democracy, the United States. What troubles me, however, is that our Western imagination about “democracy” in the former Soviet Union is so much about us, rather than it is about them. We assume that since their democracy isn’t like ours and their countries are so repressive, protests against election fraud constitutes a revolution in and of itself. We assume that with these “revolutions” all the problems of the region will be solved in one swoop. Essentially, I think many of us in the West get mesmerized by “oppositionism”, which is basically the notion that the “opposition” is automatically better, more legitimate, and more democratic than the ruling party. And if the “opposition” doesn’t win, it’s because the ruling party has “rigged” the entire election. We have the assumption that the “opposition” is outside of politics rather than being a player already in it. We should never forget that when it comes to the CIS, most politicians were former players in their indigenous Communist governments or Communist Parties. And all of them gained their current power through transforming their power and influence under those systems into what they have now. It is because of this that I think that in these electoral duels, what we are really seeing are two or more entrenched political forces trying to gain power over the other. This is why I personally think that neither side has a monopoly on the “rigging” of elections. Be sure when the newly implanted “opposition” is faced with elections, they too will rig them.
Moreover, I’m quite skeptical of the so-called “opposition” as I am the ruling parties in these regions because in all the Western news reports I’ve read and cited, rarely have I been told what the “opposition” stands for. All I read are calls for “freedom” and “fair elections.” Calls that are so neatly packaged to give the impression that a revolution is indeed brewing, and that it will be nothing but a “democratic” (read: pro-Western) one. As the situation in Georgia and Ukraine shows, the “revolution” has done little to lessen corruption or radically improve the average person’s life. What they have done is simply place another political faction in power.
Perhaps I’m too skeptical. But I can’t help questioning what is happening in the CIS. The wave of “colored revolutions” has sent political shockwaves throughout the region. All governments now have to worry about how they conduct their elections. Now they know that carrying out mass fraud will not go unnoticed. And this is a good thing. But I can’t seem to share the enthusiasm that charges of electoral fraud, no matter how legitimate, automatically translate into democracy. Democracy is such a complex thing; a concept infused with universal principles as well as with indigenous understandings. So when we in the West look at what is happening in the CIS, we should ask ourselves not whether it looks like democracy to us, but if it looks like it to them.Post Views: 106
By Sean — 11 years ago
Friends at UCLA have been asking me about this interview with Perry Anderson what was published in Kommersant in October. The Russian version can be accessed here. I provided them a synopsis of it, but inquires continued to the point where I just decided to translate it. I provide it here for the rest of you non-Russian speakers to read. — Sean
The Future of One Illusion
31 October, 2006
Twenty years after the collapse of communism leftist ideology has neither lost its actuality nor its political perspective, argues Perry Anderson, a scholar of contemporary Western Marxism, professor at University of California, Los Angeles, and editor of the New Left Review, who was brought to Moscow as part of the “Russian Debates” project. Kommersant columnist Igor Fediukin spoke with Perry Anderson about Hugo Chavez’s regime, the “New Left” in China, and the political situation in Russia.
Do you think that there will be a future for Left ideology?
It is best to answer this question with a phrase from the well known French historian Fran?ois Furet, who died a few years ago. He was a communist in his youth but in his middle age became one the sharpest critics of both socialist ideology and the Soviet experience. Here, at the end of his last book, The Passing of an Illusion, he wrote that today it is difficult to imagine any other kind of social formation that is outside from which we all live, but it is simply impossible to imagine that democracy will remain congealed in its present form.
One often hears that the contemporary Left has been shattered and cannot propose a constructive program?
The slogan of the World Social Forum is “Another world is possible.” Twenty to thirty years ago this seemed obvious. But today this is sounds like heresy, the primary doctrine became the slogan “There is no alternative,” which Margaret Thatcher put forward at the time. So that to simply retain the possibility of a global system is a very radical form of opposition. That [the Left] seems crushed; there is nothing unusual here. In the 19th century, when the modern left movement was born many tendencies existed: they followed Marx, Proudhon, Saint Simon, Fourier, social democrats and anarchists. The Left movement has always been pluralistic, although in Russia this is less clear because of the long standing monopoly of one of them.
Do you consider the government in Venezuela leftist?
What is happening in Venezuela is certainly the development of left ideology, if only because there is the large scale redistribution of wealth in the country. To make a generalization from the example of Venezuela would be foolish because the situation there is a product of a very peculiar history and enormous oil wealth. The existence of such wealth does not necessarily signal its redistribution. The previous parliamentary system was utterly oligarchic; the wealth of the country was in the hands of the elite. Chavez’s government changed this situation and along with this there was no talk about dictatorship. Chavez regularly holds elections. This, of course, is democratic populism, but a political system that cannot be called closed: in Venezuela there are bitter debates on television, in the press, and the opposition if carrying out a difficult struggle. So it is certainly a fairly radical leftist government. One the other hand, we cannot make a conclusion on the basis of this model as to what the “Left of the 21st century” will be.
Does the European model truly present itself as some alternative to the American model?
Already beginning in 1947, the historical differences between the average European state and the United States were quite apparent: the European state was always more “social,” more disposed toward interference in the economy, more liberal in its outlook in that they abolished the death penalty, etc. However, today on the basis of these historical differences an extremely self-satisfied and self-confident ideology of European superiority over the United States has been created. We see this among the leading philosophers and intellectuals in the mass media. But behind it, there aren’t any serious differences between the two halves of the Atlantic world. The countries of Europe are all the more moving to the American model, reducing the programs of the “welfare state.” And even in the area of human rights, the Europeans have fewer reasons for pride than it seems to them. European governments have allowed the creation of secret CIA prisons in their territory.
What do you expect from the tremendous growth of Asia?
We already now see a change in the global balance of strength—this is certain and unavoidable. Another issue is whether the growth of Asia will lead toward the emergence of new rules to the game, new codes of conduct for states on the world stage and at home. I doubt this. The elites of “new Asia” separate Western norms and costs, and the differences here are small, it seems. Along with this, if China will grow further at such a tempo, the demonstration effect will be enormous and many countries in the Global South will begin to contemplate whether to choose such a model for their development. Strictly speaking, many prominent economists are already talking about this in Russia.
In your opinion, will this situation develop in Russia?
The most astounding fact in post-Soviet Russia in relative comparison is the political apathy of the population. Even in 1991, when the citizenry brought down blows of enormous power, strikes, protests, meetings were confined within the state, which felt a corresponding shock. By contrast, there is a completely different picture in China. There is an enormous number of people and groups in the country who poignantly feel injustice by the chosen model of development. What shape all of this will take is unclear at present, but the most significant intellectual tendencies in China of the last ten years are appearing as a “New Left” movement. In Russia there simply isn’t, but in China there is and the state apparatus and old intelligentsia are afraid of them.
There is another interesting difference between Russia and China. There is a high level of corruption in both countries, but the social discontent in Russia is far less. [Russian] society accepts it as an acceptable method of intercourse with the bureaucracy. In China the hostility toward corruption is very great; it provokes a general animosity in people. And in contradistinction from Russia, high level bureaucrats can pay for corruption with their head.
Is a Mexican model of dictatorship possible for Russia?
Many speak about the Mexican model in Russia, but you see, [in Mexico] the PRI (the Institutional Revolutionary Party, was a genuine party. For example, there were relatively very strict rules for sixty year period. The President could do what he wanted even to a larger degree that in Russia, but upon leaving the President could do nothing. The PRI was a very powerful party in this regard because it really was a party of revolution. It personified enormous changes in Mexican history. In China, appropriately, there is also a party in this sense, that there are internal debates, leaders consider each other.
How do you preserve your own beliefs despite the fact that history took a completely different direction?
My generation was formed in the 1960s, when a revolutionary tidal wave rolled all over the world—from the Cuban Revolution to the Cultural Revolution in the West. If you develop your personality at such a moment, you feel an attachment to a wider circle of people and ideas, and this brings you energy and confidence. But further, when this wave collapsed, it was still a question of personal temperament and intellectual progression. One person changes their opinion, another doesn’t. I will say this: Remember the French Enlightenment in the 18th Century—Diderot, Voltaire, and Rousseau. They after all lived in an epoch when absolutism was at an apogee. Not a single one of them lived to see a serious political change. But this did not hinder them, for example, from being persistent opponents to the Catholic Church. It is important to think historically. Life brings surprises to Rightists, Leftists and Centrists, and predictions and expectations often turn out to be mistaken.
Post Views: 141
By Sean — 12 years ago
I’m not sure how to take or what do to with yesterday’s Izvestia’s article (Mosnews has an English summary here) which reports that the slain leader of the Chechen nationalist movement, Alan Maskhadov believed Shamil Basaev was taking money from Boris Berezhovsky to wage war against Russia in the interests of the US and England. This information comes from statements from one “Maskhadovtsy” named Vakhit Murdashev and his lawyer Baiali El’murzaev. According to their statements, Maskhadov wanted reconcile with Moscow because he viewed that the US and England’s geopolitical interests in the Caucuses posed a more dangerous threat to Chechnya than the Kremlin. According to information Murdashev provided Izvestiia,
“Aslan Maskhadov feared that Shamil Basaev fell under the influence of Berezovskii, and worker for him for money, and could lose sight of the idea of independence and go under the sway of the West. If this was correct, [it could] work on tearing the Caucuses away from Russia. [Maskhadov and Basaev] had a fundemental disagreement over this, and in conversations with Murdashev, Maskhadov said that it was better to form an alliance with Russia than fall under the sway of the West.”
Potentially explosive stuff. However, some caution should be taken considering how some of the players are connected. Placing the exiled oligarch and major Kremlin critic Boris Berezhovsky as Basaev’s financier seems way to good to be true from the Kremlin’s perspective. Berezhovsky fled Russia to France to escape a fate similar to Mikhail Khordokovsky. The Berezhovsky-Basaev-US/Britian connection seems too conspiratorial and too easily explained as Russian concern about the US influence in the region. But what this story also presents is some bad news for the Kremlin. When Maskhadov was killed, many commentators quickly pointed out that Moscow now had no one to talk to on the Chechen side. According to other information released since his death, Maskhadov was trying to sue for peace with Russia. There are no such hopes with someone like Basaev. If the report in Izvestiia is true, it only shows further how Maskhadov’s death was a major and tragic mistake.Post Views: 98