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Wednesday, December 01, 2004


That evil 'Western support'

Looks like everyone got the memo. The Russian state press agency RIA-Novosti has taken up the theme that PORA is a Western creation:

Like in the above three countries, students became the main striking force of the opposition in Ukraine. The only difference is the names of the youth organizations: Otpor in Yugoslavia, Kmara in Georgia, Zubr in Belarus, and Pora in Ukraine. The common element is that all of these student organizations were set up with the money of Western sponsors. The same instructors trained the post-Soviet young people in the art of controlling the crowd, storming buildings, and erecting barricades.

So, these are not public outrages proper. The public was simply attracted to the orchestrated revolutions as extras. The conclusion is that Western political experts are turning civil disobedience into a method of ensuring victory at elections in foreign countries.

(This article also claims the elections were fair, citing the British Helsinki Human Rights group -- an organisation represented by none other than John Laughland.)

Reason.com responds to these allegations:

There's a bit of truth to this story, but only a drop. The resistance movements are indeed interrelated, and American money did help nudge them forward. But there's no evidence that they're a creation, let alone a catspaw, of the United States. "The whole U.S. assistance thing is way overplayed," argues Jack DuVall, president of the International Center on Nonviolent Conflict and co-author of A Force More Powerful, a history of "people power" revolutions. "It's an aspect of Washington-centrism that if the United States thinks favorably about something, or someone inside the Beltway thinks favorably about something, that must mean that person is responsible for it having occurred. Which of course is absurd." For one thing, DuVall points out, the offices in Washington that have assisted these groups are not exactly close to the Bush administration. For another, the U.S. government is hardly the only institution that has aided the uprisings. (When Otpor was fighting Milosevic, it posted all its donors on its website, in real time, to demonstrate the international breadth of its support. The diverse list undermined the claim that it was a tool of a foreign power.)

Most important, says DuVall, "You can't simply parachute Karl Rove into a country and manufacture a revolution." You need, he explains, a mass movement that's rooted in civil society, tuned to local conditions, and willing to take risks.

Outside aid can be helpful. It can hurt the cause, too, by opening the rebels to charges of foreign manipulation or by fostering a dependence on grants. But in a successful insurrection, it plays a marginal role; change has to be built on the ground, not abroad. Otherwise, you get a dud like Zubr, the Otpor clone in Belarus that, as the Institute for Democracy in Eastern Europe put it in a 2003 report, "was [an] artificially created organization built by Western donors around a romantic appeal and relying on paid activists to distribute materials. In the end...it was unsupportable because it lacked a true base." That wasn't the case in Serbia and Georgia, and it doesn't seem to be the case in Ukraine.

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