Dead Men Left

Monday, December 20, 2004

Eastern Europe and the CIA: delivering democracy?

The Apostate Windbag has made a temporary reappearance during his Christmas holidays to write an excellent post on the US's export of "democratic revolutions" to Eastern Europe, and a neat summary of events over the last few years.

He manages, also, to steer a careful course between both the uncritical fawning that left-liberals descend to over here, as well as the (slightly) post-Stalinist carping that Otpor, Pora, etc, are simply CIA fronts.

However, what this narrative of either nefarious or noble (depending on the given commentator’s inclination toward the US) meddling as the wizard behind the curtain for these movements misses, is that in each of these cases, the regimes were indubitably already hated by large sections of the people. The US funding of these student groups would have achieved nothing if there were not already extant reservoirs of anti-government feeling in each of the countries...

In Yugoslavia, while student organising played its part, the event that broke the back of the Milosevic regime and delivered Vojislav Kostunica to power was the general strike of October 2000, led by workers at the Kostolac and Kolubara mines serving the republic's two biggest thermal power plants, who had disrupted power supplies throughout the country. There is far more to national revolutions than the local US consulate renting a sound system and a pair of Jumbotron TVs for a demo in the piazza.

It should also be pointed out that the model for these groups, Otpor, said at the time of its early successes against Milosevic that many of its activists had been inspired by the Teamsters and Turtles of Seattle, who had taken on the WTO a year before the Yugoslav revolution, an event which itself took place against a background of ongoing mass anti-globalisation demonstrations around the world, just as Ukraine’s Orange Revolution today takes place against a background of ongoing mass anti-war demonstrations around the world. In Albania, Mjaft’s leader claims the tactics of Michael Moore as inspiration, organising publicity stunts outside the home of the country’s minister of public order, resulting in his resignation, and successfully forcing the government to increase its education budget. Veliaj calls these media-friendly tactics ‘civic blackmail’

There is a grave danger for the US in all this that although the flow of financial and political resources can enable a degree of control to be exterted over events, mass movements have a habit of running away with themselves. However carefully the likes of Timothy Garton Ash may draw up "rules" for such operations, both the objective circumstances of mass revolt - disgust with corruption, economic collapse - and the subjective processes - the mass meetings, the marches, the strikes - combine to produce a situation largely beyond control "from above". The demands raised, and the tactics adopted, are often liable to extend far beyond the neat boundaries of limited democractic reform and market liberalisation the State Department would like to enforce.

Mass movements are developed only from below, beyond the immediate reach of centralised forces like the mass media, foreign embassies, and the State itself: this gives them their dynamic, but means they cannot simply be steered. Only those who are of the movement, have come themselves "from below" are able to truly determine - by argument and by persuasion - its course. That the revolutions in Eastern Europe have largely operated with the equation of (some) liberal democracy+free market=freedom+prosperity says much about the weakness of alternatives in the movement itself; and, in particular, the catastrophic degradation the socialist movement and socialist ideas suffered as a result of Stalinism: of distrust of Parliamentary leaders, of distrust of the unfettered free market, arguments against racism, arguments for democratic organisation. This historical weakness is a factor of far greater importance than the meddlings of the CIA.