Header Ads

 New website available at www.slguardian.org

A Failed Colour Revolution?

By Nalin Swaris

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

(March 03, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) When a presidential election was prematurely called, many citizens were united by a single resolve: to defeat Mahinda Rajapaksa than to make Sarath Fonseka win and let the devil take the hindmost. But not all may have been aware of the external ramifications of a Fonseka victory. Is there reason to suspect that the stage had been set for what has come to be known as ‘Colour Revolutions’? If so, the attempt may have been foiled by loyalist soldiers and commandos encircling Cinnamon Lakeside. In other precautionary measures: a) army units, strategically located by the former Army Chief, before he was dispatched upstairs to a harmless CDS function, were replaced by soldiers loyal to new Army Chief, Jagath Jayasuriya. b) By early morning of the 27th, along a wide perimeter all access points to the city were guarded by police and armed forces units under officers whose loyalty was beyond doubt. They were instructed to stop any mass insurge to the city to avoid any ‘civil disturbance’.

Somawansa Amerasinghe vowed JVP-ers will surround (and eventually taken over?) ITN studios. It did not happen. Ranil Wickremesinghe threatened that if elections were rigged to defeat Sarath Fonseka, - dahas ganang – ‘thousands’ of opposition supporters would crowd the city centre, demanding that Mahinda Rajapaksa step down and give way to real winner, Sarath Fonseka. That threat too evaporated.

I suspect that by early morning of the 27th, Ranil Wickremesinghe must have sensed that the JVP might use him and the UNP as a front for its anti-Rajapaksa agitation, just as it attempted in 1987, when it tried to use Prime Minister Premadasa and opposition leader Mrs. Bandaranaike as fronts for its violent anti-Indo Lanka Accord insurrection. Later that day, the politically astute Wickremesinghe foreclosed possible JVP agitation against elections results by declaring that the elections were "on the whole fair". "In every election, we must accept that there are winners and losers", he told reporters.

Colour Revolutions

In the seventies, the United States (CIA) engineered military coups against democratically elected left wing governments, were the order of the day, especially in Latin America. (Agents have been/are, handpicked ‘fixer’ ambassadors, CIA agents working as local embassy attaches, expert World Bank consultants, etc. (See John Perkins, Confessions of an Economic Hit Man, 2004, and its sequel, The Secret History of the American Empire: Economic Hit Men, Jackals, and the Truth about Global Corruption, 2007).

Sustained popular resistance ended the era of military dictatorships. Most of the Latin American countries, which suffered under military regimes now have left wing or centre-left governments. From the mid eighties of the last century fearing a democratic drift towards the Left, the US government, World Bank and ‘Washington Consensus’ Institutes shifted gear. They adopted the, "If you can’t beat them join them" tactic, and began to advocate the more ‘respectable’ ‘return to democracy’ policy. Building up ‘civil society’ became a sine qua non for granting loans or aid to developing countries. Seemingly, non State agencies became a strategic tool. Local ‘builders’, foreign funded NGOs with liberal agendas, mushroomed epidemy-like, throughout developing countries. Many of the INGOs (International NGOS functioning locally, like Transparency International, have their headquarters in Washington. INGOS, like Frederick Neumann Stiftung, Frederick Ebert Stiftung, Berghof Foundation are actually ‘QUANGOS’ - quasi government – because they invariably receive state subsidies. They promote liberal policies advocated by their governments, in much the same way as GONGOS ‘government non governmental organizations, like NORAD and USAID. Foreign funded, Colombo based NGOs have made ‘civil society’ – civil samajaya - a household word even in the vernacular. For the new elite fraternity and sorority of ‘Cyberian’ ‘international civil society’, Times of India coined the term netizens. When necessary, politicized netizen networks can be activated to mobilize public opinion world wide.

‘Colour Revolution’

This refers to the strategy of mobilizing hundreds of thousands of citizens to amass in city centres, especially after a closely fought election, alleging fraud and vote rigging to demand the resignation of the government in power. The Bill Clinton administration deployed this strategy to bring down communist regimes in Eastern Europe. George W. Bush added to the trilogy of democracy, good governance and civil rights, the fundamental right to spread Christianity, meaning conversion to the right wing fundamentalist evangelical variety. There is no indication that the Obama administration and the State department headed by Bill’s wife have made a ‘credible change’ with regard to this policy of regime change by ‘democratic’ means.

"Colour Revolutions was 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 NGOs in organising 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."

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 with protesters using the colours pink and yellow"

"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 opposition presidential candidate Mir-Hossein Mousavi. It also came to be known as the "Twitter" and the "Facebook" Revolution, because the websites Twitter and Facebook, were used to organize many of the protests" (Wikpedia).

Other tactics used were dispatching mobile phone videos and massive Email and SMS campaigns. (By comparison, the New Year Subha Anagathayak SMS, was more unethical than conspiratorial, because the SMS was unsolicited and annoyingly obtrusive. Perhaps it was also gratis ‘courtesy Telecom’).

Democratisation, NGOs and ‘Colour Revolutions’

In a research paper with 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 (‘QUANGOS’ and ‘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-five-year-long "third wave"." Hence the relevance of quotation from Julie Mertus given at the beginning of this article.

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 will end." (The opposition promised that the GSP+ will be restored if the regime changed). "These conditions (blackmail, in straightforward language) embolden an incipient movement to overthrow the government, coalescing around the existing opposition. In addition direct interventions, are 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 manoevres to isolate the country internationally - these things together establish the conditions for the success of an engineered insurrection. At the same time, they convey the idea that color revolutions are pure, spontaneous, and grass-roots-organized - not contrived, nurtured or facilitated from without."

"But that doesn’t mean," Gowan asks, "we can’t learn from attempted and successful color revolutions? There are four important lessons to be learned:

= "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

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

= From this it can be concluded that for a genuine revolution to serve popular interests, its funding, unlike in the case of color revolutions (which have served Western corporate and military interests), must be popularly and locally sourced."

= The conventional political prejudice against unarmed, mass based popular struggle is based upon the assumption that if it is not controlled by a ‘party’, it will be ineffective. But history shows ordinary people can take non violent mass action and qualitatively change society." Think of the early Buddhist movement for the moral transformation of society; the Gandhian struggle and Martin Luther King Jnr’s civil rights movement, both of which were essentially inspired by the Buddha’s precept of ahimsa – non violence. No wonder Hindutva ideologues charge that Gandhi was a Buddhist, not a Hindu.

Towards a Civilised Civil Society

Critical political thinkers today realize that there is a need for a new type of ‘anti-political’ politics –politics of the heart, not of diktats – after the collapse of communist regimes in Eastern Europe. The political Right and the Left are obsessed with the capture of state power – that is to say - with monopoly control of the instruments of violence. We must remember that the nature of a state depends on the nature of its civil society. The rot begins in the much vaunted ‘civil society’ which throws up its politicians. The so called civil society NGOs are hardly paragons of democracy in their internal relations. These NGOs, like traditional left political parties, are generally dominated by what Latin Americans of the Old Left called - caudillos – flamboyant ‘authoritarian macho leaders’ who determine their organizations’ policy priorities, agendas and depending on the leader’s gender preference male or female favourites.

For society to be civilized, civil society must first be civilised. Qualitative social change cannot be brought about at the level of the state. As Marx argued against Hegel in The German Ideology, "Civil society [not the state] is the true focal point and theatre of all history." Today more than ever what we need are not political or economic vanguards but an ethical vanguard, not interested in capturing power but will give leadership to people-based social movements for the moral reform of society and "the democratization of every day life." Democratisation of political culture and the state apparatus will follow, as day the night.

The ‘convenient’ alliance which obviously was backed by foreign interests targeted gross abuses of power by the Rajapksa regime and little over four million citizens voted for the common opposition candidate. They cannot all be portrayed and penalized as traitors. The election provided a platform to ventilate peoples’ growing concerns about a government that many saw was "corrupt and authoritarian government,". Most genuinely wanted to see "democratic governance" established. Conditions which are invoked, as we saw above to launch colour revolutions – in the Lankan case: Swan White, Elephant and Tree Green, Bell Red, Mangala-CBK Peacock Blue and ITAK-Ganeshan Orange. Independent thinkers supported Rajapaksa, fearing the implications of a foreign backed opposition victory; nonetheless they acknowledge that the opposition charges were not entirely baseless.

Highhanded Governance

Foreign media flashes world-wide images of pro government thugs attacking ‘peaceful’ pro democracy and pro justice demonstrators, while anti-riot police watch indulgently. Such unchecked violence gives credibility to the charge that the government consciously promotes a culture of impunity. But the Rajapaksa regime has been unwilling or unable to keep its terriers on a leash and to learn from what has happened in other countries. The one sided 18x7 pro government, anti-opposition propaganda blitz on state electronic media, especially at election time, is a brazen abuse of public property. Government owned or controlled, state print and electronic media, are after all, maintained from direct and indirect taxes collected from the people, not all of whom are supporters of the ruling coalition. The results of the Presidential elections amply demonstrated that. Social equity demands that opposition voices be given proportionate - 4:6 - if not equal time and space. As things stand, for samabara thorathuru - ‘balanced information’ people are increasingly turning to private print and electronic media.

Ultimately, intolerance betrays a sense of insecurity and fear. On the other hand, tolerance of a plurality of views is a sign of strength and self-confidence. Intimidating private media or clamping down on internet news sites are panic reactions and grist to the rumour mill. If the government is as popular as it claims and, there is no basis for the criticisms, why is it so jittery? This siege mentality will only strengthen the growing belief, even among UPFA supporters, that the government is afraid of any publicity given to embarrassing news and critical views - a stupid attitude because people switch to private channels for alternate information. All it takes is to press a remote control button. Growing public cynicism and dissatisfaction will, in the long term, only swell the ranks of dissidents. Victims of violence win sympathy; martyrs homage. Will a new government reform itself? It’s up to the Sanvedhi Janathavage President to give the lead.

People will get fed up with nightly ‘circuses’, like narcogenic State TV tamashas, with tightly clad cavorting girls and ogling ministers. When they ask for bread but are offered cake sooner than later, they will pick up stones. Use of intoxicants – matha - could be curtailed by law but a peoples’ views - janatha mathaya - cannot be ignored or repressed forever.

(The writer can be reached at jnswaris@gmail.com)

No comments

Powered by Blogger.