27/05/2011

Post Revolutions: Georgia and the Arab Spring

I just missed the riots in Tbilisi Wednesday evening, having left the capital of Georgia for Baku late the same morning. The nature of the protests, the harsh police crackdown and the discontent with the government were not surprising. For quite a while now, a large percentage of the Georgian population has been dissatisfied with President Saakashvili. The disastrous results of the 2008 war, the loss of S.Ossetia and Abkhazia as well as the mixed results of the economy have resulted in a situation far removed from the euphoria of the Rose Revolution of 2004. George W. Bush's declaration on May 10, 2005 in Freedom Square in downtown Tbilisi that Georgia was a "beacon of liberty" and an example for other revolutions in the region now seems far removed from the perception of the protesters and other Georgians six years later. The rose has indeed lost its bloom.

At the same time protesters were in the streets of Tbilisi, there were protests in Yemen, Syria, Spain and Greece, among other places. Is there any relation between the protests? Yes in the sense that people have taken to the streets to voice their demands; protests in and of themselves are part of collection action to force those in power to change their behavior. Street protests are a form of activism and we are seeing more and more of them.

But, there are considerable differences between the protests. First, as far as Spain and Greece are concerned, these are economic protests concerning unemployment and austerity measures in democratic societies that are part of Western Europe, if not mature democracies. As for Syria and Yemen, these are protests that are part of the Arab Spring movements against autocratic rulers. Protesters in the Arab world are yearning for democracy and dignity.

What makes the protests in Georgia so instructive is that they represent an intermediary situation between the overthrow of an autocratic Soviet system and representative democracy. The people of Georgia truly believed in 2004 that their revolution would lead to free market capitalism, democracy, and eventually membership in NATO and the European Union. The current situation in Georgia is far from the euphoria of that period. And, the lesson for the protesters in Syria and Yemen from Georgia, as seen in Egypt already, is that protesting against something is easier than operationalizing reform. As physics teaches us, for every action there is a reaction, and revolutions can lead to counter-revolutions. The euphoria of May 1968 in the US was followed by Richard Nixon, and eventually Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush. For those of my generation, the United States today is certainly not we envisaged when way back then in the streets and levitating the Pentagon.

The rose has certainly lost its bloom in Georgia after only 6 years. We can only hope that the Arab spring will not be followed by the cold and darkness of winter.

 

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