In These New Times

A new paradigm for a post-imperial world

Historical Facts: Orange, Rose, and Green uprisings failed to live up to their promise

Posted by seumasach on February 13, 2010

Paul Robinson

Ottawa Citizen

12th February, 2010

While many will no doubt see it as a source of consternation, the election of Viktor Yanukovych as president of Ukraine is really a cause for celebration. The defeat of the leaders of the Orange Revolution, Viktor Yushchenko and Yulia Tymoshenko, is actually good news.


In 2004, Yanukovych briefly triumphed on the back of electoral fraud. In 2010, he has beaten his opponents honestly in an election deemed by international observers to be free and fair. This alone amounts to a significant political change for the better.
For Ukrainians, the constant squabbling of the Yushchenko-Tymoshenko years will finally come to an end. For the West, the Ukrainian election offers a welcome opportunity to reassess the nature of the “colour revolutions” of the early 2000s.
The Orange revolution in Ukraine, the Rose revolution in Georgia, and the Cedar Revolution in Lebanon gave rise to a myth of democratization in which the “masses” were rising up against corrupt elites. The ongoing protests in Iran have similarly encouraged some to believe that a Green revolution is also in the offing there. But the colour revolutions were never quite what they seemed.
In Ukraine, for instance, the “revolutionary” leaders, Yushchenko and Tymoshenko, were high-ranking members of the existing system. Furthermore, even in the final election that defeated him in 2004, Viktor Yanukovych still managed to gain more than 40 per cent of the vote. The Orange revolution was decidedly not an uprising of the entire Ukrainian people against its government, but rather a temporary victory by one party in a political struggle within a deeply divided nation.
The Orange revolutionaries proved to be incompetent rulers. The same goes for their colleagues elsewhere. In Georgia, for instance, Mikheil Saakashvili’s government has proven disastrous, provoking war with Russia and what is almost certainly the permanent loss of two of the country’s provinces.
As for Iran, research released last week by the World Public Opinion organization, based on an analysis of numerous pre- and post-election surveys, shows that whatever electoral fraud took place during the presidential election did not alter the result. Even if the official results might have exaggerated Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s lead, the Iranian president almost certainly did win more than 50 per cent of the vote. The vast majority of Iranians consider his election legitimate. The regime remains secure in power, and its president represents the will of its people far more than his opponents do.
In our enthusiasm to find others who appear to share our goals, we have allowed ourselves to be fooled into believing that anybody we dislike is by necessity illegitimate, that our enemy’s enemy is our friend, and that anybody who talks the talk of democracy is a democrat. Our interests have suffered as a result, and so have those of our alleged allies.
The most notable example is the hope extended to both Ukraine and Georgia that they might someday join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. In the case of Ukraine this was always a foolish idea, since the vast majority of Ukrainians oppose NATO membership. By promoting the concept, the West merely accentuated divisions within the country, while undermining the credibility of the government it claimed to be supporting.

If that was not bad enough, in the Georgian case the belief that he enjoyed NATO support seems to have played a crucial role in encouraging Saakashvili to launch his ill-judged war against Russia.
In the meantime, the mistaken belief that the Green revolution will soon bring the Iranian regime to its knees is encouraging many in the U.S. Congress to ramp up sanctions against Iran. With the regime about to fall, now is not the time to relax the pressure, the logic goes. The result, sadly, will be further diplomatic stalemate. The regime will most likely not fall, and any chance of serious engagement will be lost for a long time.
The result of the Ukrainian election gives us the chance to put these errors right, to recognize that the world is more nuanced than we have chosen to admit, and to stem our arrogant pride that history is marching inevitably in our direction. Given the revolutionary origin of their country, Americans might be excused for swallowing the myth of the colour revolutions. Given the more conservative and anti-revolutionary origins of our own, we Canadians ought to be more cautious.
Paul Robinson is a professor in the graduate school of public and international affairs at the University of Ottawa.

One Response to “Historical Facts: Orange, Rose, and Green uprisings failed to live up to their promise”

  1. J. A. Calhoun said

    The most interesting thing about the election of Viktor Yanukovych in the Ukraine is how its a major NON-news event down here.
    Five years ago Orange revolutionaries Viktor Yushenko & Yulia Tymoshenko were the darlings of the U.S. mainstream press 24/7. Now they are NON-persons big time.
    World leaders from both East & West are almost tripping over eachother to congratulate Yanuchovich on what international observers have deemed a free & fair election.
    Putin is happy. Obama’s happy. NATO’s happy. The EU is happy.
    So why did Yushenko & the Tymoshenko fall from grace on both sides of the political sphere?
    The explanation for Russia and the East is not hard to explain. Yushenko & Tymoshenko were ardently anti-Russian and very pro-West which translated through the media here as being pro-democracy & pro-U.S.. They were an easy sell by the corporate media for sympathy from the American public.
    So what went wrong in five brief years?
    Why is the IMF even relieved that the former “devil incarnate” “pro-Russian” “pro-authoritarian” Yanukovich won the presidency in a mainly free & fair election?
    And more interesting on psychological propaganda vein— why is the U.S. media so embarassed by the events in the Ukraine in the past five years that there’s a virtual black out on the Orange revolution and the recent elections in the Ukraine?
    What have Yushenko & the blonded braided Tymoshenko done to have been so awful as to be thrown off the proverbial bus? The U.S. alternative media here won’t even touch it.
    One more question is who in the West is ill advising Tymoshenko to pursue a suit to challenge the election results and remain Prime Minister — thus raising the potential of keeping the Ukraine in political & economic turmoil?

    J. A. Calhoun — former Green Party candidate for Congress
    Colorado USA

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