Melinda Haring and Michael Cecire write: The fate of the “color revolutions” — the symbolically-named series of peaceful uprisings in the former Soviet Union — have been terribly disappointing. In Georgia (“Rose,” 2003), Ukraine (“Orange,” 2004), and Kyrgyzstan (“Tulip,” 2005), popular uprisings against entrenched leaders brought to power reform-minded politicians who pledged to transform post-Soviet dens of corruption into modern states. But in all three places, those promises of far-reaching change never really materialized. Yet scholars and democracy promotion organizations continue to mine them for lessons that might apply to the Arab Spring transitions. Here’s why that’s a mistake.
In Georgia, where the endlessly energetic Mikheil Saakashvili embraced the West and free-market reforms with apparent gusto, elite corruption still continued apace. In Ukraine, Viktor Yushchenko’s public spats with one-time ally Yulia Tymoshenko were so vicious that Viktor Yanukovych — the villain of the Orange Revolution — managed to return to office as prime minister in 2006, and won election as president four short years later. In Kyrgyzstan, Tulip Revolution leader Kurmanbek Bakiyev quickly established himself as a political strongman and informally put his son Maksim in charge of all business transactions. After bloodshed erupted in 2010, when citizens refused to sit idly by, after a winter of power shortages and intense price shocks while the first family enriched itself, President Bakiyev fled to Minsk.
So much for the vaunted color revolutions, not one of which has produced a consolidated democracy.
Why did they fail? Quite simply, the rule of law never took root. Too often, the color revolution governments acted above or with little regard to the democratic legal standard to which they held their predecessors. For example, Georgia’s record of protecting property rights was abysmal, Ukraine was inescapably seized by vendetta politics, and Bakiyev presided over Kyrgyzstan as though it were his personal fiefdom. Though the governments all professed a commitment to democracy and the rule of law, the maladies that typified the preceding regimes quickly came to describe the new governments. Supporters made a key mistake: They took the revolutions themselves as the apogee of democracy rather than focusing on the hard, grinding work of institution-building. [Continue reading…]