Fairbanks- Revolution Reconsidered.pdf

Date for the ukrainian presidency in 2004 became

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date for the Ukrainian presidency in 2004, became prime minister under Yushchenko in 2006. In Georgia, Saakashvili’s government was more successful than anyone anticipated in eliminating low-level corruption and collecting more revenue; this helped to strengthen considerably a very weak state. But Saakashvili’s reformers have not fully accepted the need for an opposition, and officials from the nongovernmental sector who know social science have happily labeled the new regime a “domi- nant-party system.” In Ukraine, where the state was stronger to begin with and opposition was almost inevitable given the size of the coun- try, its ethnohistorical diversity, and the existence of many power cen- ters during Soviet times, Yushchenko saw himself as an inspirational leader, not an administrator. In the first session of parliament after the revolution, Yushchenko submitted fewer draft laws than at any time since Ukraine became independent. Whether the “color revolutions” should be considered actual revolutions can be debated, but they clearly mark an unexpected return of revolutionary impulses that not long ago seemed to be dying out. There is, on the basis of the “color revolutions,” a case for revolu- tion. These “color revolutions” can be understood in terms of what anthropologists call “rites of passage,” which include weddings, pu- berty ceremonies, and funerals. These rites separate and symbolize two distinct periods, whereas the concept of “transition to democracy” has come to have a foggy indeterminacy. Particularly for postcolonial popu- lations, like many in the former Soviet Union, such rites can give people a sense of efficacy and the energy to solve problems. As the Azerbaijani democrat Leila Alieva says, social scientists somehow do not under- stand the need for celebration. Revolutions define new national heroes and villains and re-create national traditions. I was particularly struck, when doing interviews in Kyiv in November 2005, with the way in which democratic activists, even as they talked about all the problems (Yushchenko was not reform- ing, Tymoshenko was a demagogue, and so forth), nonetheless agreed that a return to the authoritarianism of the Kuchma years was impos- sible. Even with the disappointments that have followed it, the Orange Revolution remains a milestone. There is more diversity of opinion in other Ukrainian cities and among Georgian democrats, but middle-class Georgians, even while scolding the Saakashvili government, still trace to the revolution a new feeling that people can change things. Most of the objective problems that discourage democracy advocates looking at Armenia, Cambodia, Guinea, or even China today also existed in Ukraine, Georgia, and Kyrgyzstan. Yet there is a sense in Georgia and Ukraine that they can never go back. Perhaps the modern kind of non- violent revolution can function as a gate that opens only in one direc-
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Charles H. Fairbanks, Jr. 57 tion, giving people energy to open up a new stage of their national history while closing to them their undemocratic past.
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