A New Wave of Democratic Revolutions

On May 18 a roundtable organized jointly by CDDRL and CREEES and chaired by SIIS Senior Fellow Gail W. Lapidus brought together visiting scholars Temuri Yakobashvili from Georgia, Volodymyr Kulyk from Ukraine, Uladzimir Rouda from Belarus, and Wall Street Journal reporter Steve LeVine to examine the dramatic wave of democratic revolutions and protest movements which have transformed the geopolitics of the post-Soviet region over the past 2 years.

The participants argued that although the "Rose Revolution"in Georgia in October 2003, the Ukrainian "Orange Revolution" of November-December 2004, and the more recent regime change in Kyrgyzstan were all precipitated by popular protest against fraudulent elections, they expressed a deeper dissatisfaction with the widespread corruption and failures of the three governments, combined with the emergence of an increasingly mature and organized political opposition. While international organizations and actors played a supportive role in delegitimizing electoral fraud and nurturing civil society, domestic factors were the decisive ones in bringing about peaceful regime change.

The panelists also concurred that the "easy"revolts were now over. They predicted that future upheavals in the region were inevitable, but were far less likely to go smoothly. In Belarus, although popular hostility to a tyrannical political regime is growing, inspired by the successful example of neighboring Ukraine and the attraction of Europe, the absence of a united and organized opposition remains a major barrier. In Uzbekistan, the repressive regime of President Karimov has demonstrated its willingness to resort to violence to put down opposition, and to forestall international criticism by stigmatizing opponents as Islamist terrorists.