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C H A P T E R 1 Introduction R oughly fifteen years after crowds of peaceful demonstrators from Prague to Tbilisi brought down Communist regimes that had denied hundreds of millions of people their freedom for more than half a century, the excitement of the late 1980s and early 1990s had given way, at least in much of the former Soviet Union, to a grim reality: building free and prosperous countries was not easy. This was true even after toppling a Communist system that had become economically, spiritually, and politically bankrupt. From Kiev to Astana, former Soviet republics were defined by kleptocracy, fraudulent elections, widespread corruption, and, for many people, poverty and a declining quality of life. Beginning in 2003, on Rustaveli Avenue in Tbilisi, Georgia, and spreading over the next two years to the Maidan in Kiev and the Kyrgyz capital of Bishkek, this began to change. Hope, a commodity that had been in short supply in the Caucasus, Central Asia, and the Slavic countries of the former Soviet Union, returned. Again it took the form of peaceful demonstrators demanding their rights and showing the world that they could only be pushed so far. These peaceful protests—labeled the Rose Revolution in Georgia, the Orange Revolution in Ukraine, and the Tulip Revolution in Kyrgyzstan—brought an end to governments that had tried to steal one too many elections and sought to replace them with freely elected leaders. For about thirty months, from late 2003 to mid-2005, these protests— which collectively came to be known as the Color Revolutions—looked as if they might possibly reshape the political terrain of the former Soviet Union. All had their origins in attempts by corrupt post-Soviet governments to steal an election. All brought to power a new government that was, at least initially, viewed as pro-democracy and pro-Western in orientation. All were 13333-The Color Revolutions_F1_Mitchell.indd 1 3/13/12 11:18 AM 2 Chapter 1 almost immediately hailed as victories for democracy and as changing the balance between Russia and the United States. By 2010, however, the democratic promise of the Rose Revolution had fizzled out in Georgia. That same promise disintegrated in Kyrgyzstan, when Tulip Revolution leader Kurambek Bakiev was forced to flee the country, and it suffered a setback in Ukraine with the election of Viktor Yanukovich as president—the same man who had sought to steal the 2004 election. These events raised fears that the democratic advances of the post-Orange Revolution period were being halted or even reversed. Today, the Color Revolutions are all but forgotten by people who do not follow the region closely. For many they are little more than a footnote to the complex politics of the former Soviet Union. The Color Revolutions were not the paradigm-shifting events they seemed to be at first. Instead, they turned out to be further chapters in the post-Communist evolution of Georgia, Ukraine, and Kyrgyzstan, whose overall impact—while not the same in each of these countries—was, in general, significantly less than first thought and, indeed, hoped. Yet relegating the Color Revolutions to footnote status is a mistake because there are valuable lessons, such as the dangers of conflating democratic breakthroughs with democratization, to be learned from these events. Additionally, the Color Revolutions had a significant impact on both U.S.-Russia relations and Russia’s relationships with the former Republics of the Soviet Union—perhaps more so than they did on democratic development in any of the countries where they occurred. By examining these events together it is possible to get a better sense of what the Color Revolutions were and what similarities they shared. This approach also allows us to place all these events in the broader context of political development in the former Soviet Union and the U.S. role in that development. The Color Revolutions also provide a valuable perspective on the events in the Middle East and North Africa that occurred in early 2011 and saw longtime authoritarian leaders such as El Abidine Ben Ali in Tunisia and Hosni Mubarak in Egypt leave office following large public demonstrations. These countries now face long and difficult roads ahead as they seek to move toward democracy. The failure of democracy in post Color Revolution Kyrgyzstan and Georgia and the substantial backsliding in Ukraine underscore both how the hard work begins when the authoritarian kleptocrat leaves power and the dangers of confusing dramatic moments with democracy. Observers of...


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