On Sunday, voters in Ukraine elected Viktor Yanukovych as their new president, marking an end to the Orange Revolution. Yanukovych, for those who don’t remember, was the pro-Russian former prime minister who was ousted by the mass nonviolent movement after a rigged vote in 2004.
While I’m not one of the conspiracy theorists who see the “color revolutions” as orchestrated by the US, the election of Yushchenko was undoubtedly in the interest of the West, as was the Rose Revolution in Georgia the previous year.
Yushchenko had long been an advocate of economic “liberalisation,” according to an interesting piece by Niall Green, and oversaw the privatization of state-owned assets in the 1990s while he was head of Ukraine’s central bank.
His continued pursuit of these “free market” policies as president – including pushing for the country’s ascension to the World Trade Organization and turning to the International Monetary Fund for a massive $16.5 billion emergency loan (with all the usual strings attached) in 2008 – led to worse conditions for Ukrainian workers and a serious decline in the standard of living for the majority of the population during his tenure.
While some believe that Yanukovych has come around on these neoliberal economic policies in recent years, everyone seems to be arguing that he will also reorient Ukraine back towards Russia.
This story of dashed hopes after nonviolent movements or the leaders they install embrace toxic economic reforms – sometimes with little or no input from the public – is unfortunately not new. A tale similar to Ukraine’s could be told about South Africa after Mandela’s election, Georgia after the 2003 Rose Revolution, and Poland following Solidarity’s victory at the polls in 1989, as I document here.
Some responded to my article very critically, saying that we shouldn’t expect these movements to right every wrong. And I completely agree. Every movement is human and will make mistakes. But that doesn’t mean that we should remain silent about where nonviolent movements fall short. That is the only way we will avoid repeating the same mistakes in the future.
Therefore, when a nonviolent revolution pushes more people into poverty, which Martin Luther King wrote is a form of violence that “hurts as intensely as the violence of the club,” we shouldn’t shy away from critiquing them.
As K-pop fans and Black organizers and artists are demonstrating, joyful, powerful movements draw more people in and reflect the kind of world we want to live in.
If soldiers train for armed combat, why wouldn’t activists train for toppling the political-economic structure that’s killing our chance for a just future? The stakes are just as high.
Uganda’s COVID-19 experience underscores the seemingly universal opportunism of authoritarians amidst crisis, as well as opportunities for resistance.