Colour revolutions: Are they what they claim to be?


Colour revolutions – blue, green, orange, velvet – are a part of the current political landscape but this modern phenomenon has received modest attention by political and economic analysts. How can we classify the modern phenomenon of “colour revolutions” or “flower revolutions” which are basically non-violent but highly disruptive street protests extending over several weeks or months that seek to paralyse governments and force them out of power? We had such revolutions in Czechoslovakia (1989 Velvet revolution), Serbia (2000), Georgia (2003 Rose revolution), Ukraine (2004 Orange revolution), Lebanon (2005 Cedar revolution), Kyrgyzstan (2005), Kuwait (2005 Blue revolution), Iraq (2005 Purple revolution) and now the current street protests in Bahrain, Ukraine and Thailand using their national flags as symbols. Essentially, these are urban street protests by privileged middle and higher income groups that seek to change leaders but not the system of government, often, but not always, where democratically elected parliaments already exist. The term “revolution” for these street protests that only want the transfer of power to another privileged group is Western media hype.


These are distinct from the from the North African revolts of 2011 where armed opposition groups supported initial street protests to violently overthrow authoritarian governments and install alternative authoritarian governments. These were backed by Western arms and armed interventions, except in the case of Egypt where the Egyptian military dictators are clients of the West. It is also different from the situation in Central Africa where heavily armed rebel factions battle governments for rich mining territory, with interested Western powers aiding either the rebels or the governments for their benefit.


The word “revolution” has been abused by political propagandists. In the original orthodox version, a revolution (an expression popularised by Karl Marx and his adherents) is a violent uprising by workers and peasants against an oppressive state controlled by a privileged minority who have dispossessed the majority. This was the French Revolution (1789), the Russian Revolution (1917) and the Chinese revolution (1933-1949). These were the dreaded “Red” revolutions that terrified the privileged classes of Europe and send shivers down the spine of American leaders to this date. That these revolutions led in turn to abusive governments and had to change again is another story. The so-called American Revolution was not a revolution but a successful anti-colonial struggle led by prosperous American landowners and businessmen against an imperial Britain.


Other large and even more prolonged street protests are never called revolutions by the Western media. For one and a half years the “Occupy Wall Street” protests (beginning September 2011) around America by several millions of protestors calling themselves the oppressed “99%” received minimum media cover. Instead, peaceful protestors were beaten by the police, pepper sprayed, spied on by infiltrating secret agents and imprisoned by the hundreds. But still worse, these were ignored by the authorities and the mainstream mass media. Similarly, street protests against failed economic systems that rewarded corrupt bankers and imposed unemployment and austerity on the masses are an ongoing feature for two years in Greece, Spain, Portugal, Italy, and UK but no one calls these revolutions. But Western governments cannot be overthrown by street protests unlike elsewhere. The governments are too organised and powerful and the protesters see no alternative besides calling upon their leaders, futilely, to change the economic policies that have led to their hardships.


Street protests are dominating the news media even today. In Thailand, a democratically elected government is challenged by affluent urban street mobs in Bangkok. In Ukraine, an elected democratic government is about to fall due to street demonstrations in Kiev by the affluent urban classes. Is this an acceptable instrument for political change in modern society? It is time for historians and political scientists to evaluate and record the complexities of this form of political process.


Unlike the orthodox Marxist revolutions by workers and peasants, the modern colour revolutions are the work of the urban middle and upper classes that see their dominant positions and class privileges eroded by elected governments. It is the work of a small minority for even hundred thousand protestors in a population of fifty million people is inconsequential. But since the chosen site is the capital city where the government is based, it makes a newsworthy picture. But its success is assured by careful planning and organisational skills using the international mass media, communication networks like Facebook and Twitter and financial and moral support from friendly Western governments that highlight their cause in the international forums and mass media. In contrast, the year long protests by legally under-privileged Bahraini Shiites who constitute 70% of the population, are ignored by the Western powers and their just cause has no chance of success because Bahraini royals are vital to US military and economic interests in the Middle East. The Shiite Bahrainis are not seeking a change of government but equal treatment as in the case of Martin Luther King’s protests in the USA in the 1960s.


Many, but not all, of the colour revolutions are not as spontaneous as they appear on first sight. Mega-corporate power has created special privileges for the billionaires and millionaires in the USA and the EU at the expense of the rest of the population which is analysed elsewhere. Transferring this political ideology under the cloak of exporting democracy has been a major foreign policy objective. This is the task of many Western funded NGOs that have flooded countries in Asia, Africa and South America by the tens of thousands. They create networks of likeminded locals, fund media reporters, highlight criticisms of governments in the Western-owned international media and create a conducive environment for anti-government protests. It is a much more sophisticated approach and less expensive than military interventions.


Thepanis Alwis


Sri Lanka

30 December 2013.