Sri Lanka’s Colour Revolution?

“Colour Revolution refers to the strategy of mobilizing hundreds of thousands of citizens to flock to city centres demanding restoration of democracy and resignation of the government in power.”

By Nalin Swaris

"It's not the NGOs driving the government’s agenda; it's the US government driving the NGO agenda." - As Julie Mertus

(January 26, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) Various interest groups and individuals have become united for one purpose – not so much to make Sarath Fonseka win but to oust Mahinda Rajapakse. Is the scenario being prepared in Sri Lanka for what has come to be known as “a colour revolution”.

First, let us consider the meaning of the term.

Secondly, the evens that led up to General Sarath Fonseka nominating himself as a candidate for the Executive Presidency an office that would entitle him to be Head of State and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces.

Thirdly, let us consider the signs that a ‘colour revolution” for regime change is planned by Sarath Fonseka and leading opposition political figures. Chandrika Kumaratunga waited till the last day of the campaign to declare her support for Fonseka’s candidacy, in symbolic act signaling a return to Horagolla from Medamulana.

In the seventies the United States engineered military coups against democratically left wing governments especially in Latin America. Popular resistance against these regimes was intense and most of those countries which suffered under military regimes now have left wing governments. The US government and the World Bank began to advocate a ‘return to democracy’ from the mid eighties of the last century. Building up of ‘civil society’ became a principal condition for granting loans to Third World countries. Foreign funded NGOs with liberal agendas mushroomed in developing countries. Many of the NGOs functioning locally have their headquarters in Washington. These are referred to as QUANGOS ‘quasi non governmental organizations’ or GONGOS ‘government non governmental organization, like USAID. In Sri Lanka these Colombo based NGOs made ‘civil society’ a household word even in the vernacular Many use the tautological term ‘civil puravsiyan’ in Sinhala! The referent of ‘civil’ and ‘purvesi’ is ‘citizen’.

"What has been threatened during the election campaign and what Fonseka and opposition leaders have warned they would do if they lose the election indicate that the attempt at a ‘colour revolution’ is not as far fetched as one might think. In fact a Fonseka defeat is a prospect they seem to greatly desire to launch their colour revolution."

Colour Revolution refers to the strategy of mobilizing hundreds of thousands of citizens to flock to city centres demanding restoration of democracy and resignation of the government in power. The Clinton administration deployed this strategy to bring down communist block regimes in Eastern Europe. George W. Bush added to the trilogy of democracy, good governance and human rights, the fundamental civic right to spread Christianity, meaning conversion to the right wing fundamentalist evangelist variety. There is no indication that the Obama administration and the State department headed by Bill Clinton’s wife has made a ‘credible change’ with regard to this policy of regime change by ‘democratic’ means.

According to Wikpedia: “Colour revolutions is a term used to describe related movements that developed in several societies in the CIS (former USSR) and Balkan states during the early 2000s. Some observers have called the events a revolutionary wave.

“Participants in the colour revolutions have mostly used nonviolent resistance to protest against governments seen as corrupt and/or authoritarian, and to advocate democracy. These movements all adopted a specific colour or flower as their symbol. The colour revolutions are notable for the important role of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and particularly student activists in organising creative nonviolent resistance.”

“The precursor of colour revolutions was the ‘Velvet’ Revolution in Czechoslovakia in 1989. “Colour Revolutions have been successful in Serbia's ‘Bulldozer Revolution’ of 2000 thereafter there was Georgia's ‘Rose’ Revolution (2003); Ukraine's ‘Orange’ Revolution (2004). Each time massive street protests followed disputed elections and led to the resignation or overthrow of leaders considered by their opponents to be authoritarian.”

‘Blue Revolution’ was a term used by some Kuwaitis to refer to demonstrations in Kuwait in support of women's suffrage beginning in March 2005’. Since there was no call for regime change, this cannot be categorised as a true colour revolution.
‘Purple Revolution’ was a name first used by some hopeful commentators to describe the coming of democracy to Iraq following the 2005 Iraqi legislative election and was intentionally used to draw the parallel with the Orange and Rose revolutions. The name comes from the colour with which voters’ index fingers were stained to prevent fraudulent multiple voting.”

“Green Revolution was a term widely during the 2009 Iranian election protests. The 2009 Iranian protesters adopted the colour green because it had been the campaign colour of presidential candidate Mir-Hossein Mousavi. It is also being referred to as the "Twitter Revolution"and the "Facebook Revolution", in reference to the websites Twitter and Facebook, which have been used to organize many of the protests”.

The Tulip Revolution in Kyrgyzstan - also sometimes called the ‘Pink Revolution’ - was more violent than its predecessors and followed the disputed Kyrgyz parliamentary election, 2005. Since the protest was led by different political groups it was more fragmented than previous ‘colour’ revolutions in East Europe. Protesters used the colours pink and yellow.

Sri Lanka’s planned revolution is also multi-coloured: ‘Swan White’, ‘Red’, ‘Green’ and with the latest entrant, ‘Chandrika Peacock Blue’.

Democratisation, NGOs and "Colour Revolutions”

In a research paper published under the above title, Sreeram Chaulia, analyses the modern face of global democratic politics. Samuel Huntington, summarising the mix of primary causes for the "third wave" of democratization, listed a new but not decisive factor that had been absent in the preceding two waves: "Changes in the policies of external actors…a major shift in US policies toward the promotion of human rights and democracy in other countries…. American international NGOs ("INGOS") were prominent mechanisms through which this causal link between superpower foreign policy interests and regime change worked out in many transitions from authoritarian rule in the twenty-one-year-long "third wave".

In Learning from Color Revolutions. Stephen Gowans writes, “Western-assisted revolutions have also been aided by the efforts of Western governments to destabilize target countries through economic warfare. The West imposed sanctions, as destabilizing efforts are accompanied by signals to the besieged population. “Topple your government and the threats and sanctions end.” These conditions (blackmail, in straightforward language) give birth to an incipient movement to overthrow the government, coalescing around the existing opposition; grants to establish “independent” media to shape public opinion and further tilt public sentiment away from the local government, the hardships imposed by the West’s economic warfare, the training of activists in techniques of popular insurrection, diplomatic maneuvers to isolate the country internationally — these things together establish the conditions for the success of an engineered insurrection. At the same time, they challenge the idea that color revolutions are pure, spontaneous, and grass-roots-organized - not contrived, nurtured and facilitated from without.

But that doesn’t mean we can’t learn from attempted and successful color revolutions. There are two important lessons to be learned:

o Funding, and the organization that generous funding enormously facilitates, cannot be underestimated in its power to bring about disciplined mass mobilizations guided by clear and specific goals.

o Organizers serve the interests of those who provide the funding.

From this it can be concluded that for a revolution to serve popular interests, its funding, unlike that of color revolutions (which have served Western corporate and military interests), must be popularly and locally sourced. The prejudice against unarmed, mass based and popular struggle seems more based upon the assumption that as it is not controlled by the ‘party’ then someone else surely must be pulling the strings. Fortunately, ordinary people can take political action, even non violent political action, through their very own volition.”

Personal Note

I have repeatedly called for a new type of politics after the collapse of communist regimes in Eastern Europe. We have to give up the obsession on the political Right and the Left that one must capture State power – which means capture of the means of coercion through ‘legitimate’ control of the instruments of violence. I have argued that the political rot begins in the much eulogized ‘civil society which throws up our politicians. The so called civil society NGOs are hardly paragons of democracy in their internal relations, These NGOs like left political parties are generally dominated by what Latin Americans of the Old Left proudly called caudillos – flamboyant ‘great leaders’ who determine their organizations policy priorities and agendas. For society to be civilised civil society must first be civilised. What we need are not political vanguards but people based social movements for the moral reform of society and the democratization of every day life.

For further readings on “Color Revolutions’ see, External Link One; External Link Two
External Link Three

Application of the Colour Revolution scenario to Sri Lanka will be dealt with in a following article. All the signs of a projected colour revolution are visible in the selection of General Sarath Fonseka as the strong man to oust President Rajapakse and affect regime change. A group of Tamil professionals led by Dr. Devanesan Nesiah openly called for regime as the necessary condition for resolving the problems of the minorities.

What has been threatened during the election campaign and what Fonseka and opposition leaders have warned they would do if they lose the election indicate that the attempt at a ‘colour revolution’ is not as far fetched as one might think. In fact a Fonseka defeat is a prospect they seem to greatly desire to launch their colour revolution.