Monday, November 29, 2004

The real story of those Ukrainian demos

Something was annoying me about all this stuff of "US-guided branding strategies" that's coming out of the Grauniad, and I fortunately remembered what it was. All the features they spoke of as being invented by evil political consultants are actually part of a genuine European history of the recent past. "One-word branding"? Well, it's certainly true that the Ukrainians chose a one-word punch meaning "It's time!" just like the Georgians - and the Serbs - but then so did the Czechs of 1989. Rereading Tim Garton Ash's 1989 memoir, We the People, this continuity is very clear. In Prague in November, 1989, that was exactly - exactly - the slogan that the first demos on Wenceslas Square chanted. And the Otporniks were themselves recapping their previous attempt in 1996 (Zajedno - Together!). Looking even further back, though, there was another civil revolutionary movement that made use of the same tactics, indeed almost invented them - Solidarity.

What are those tactics? Not so much an assault on the regime, as desertion from the regime. Self-organisation in a parallel structure to the state. Mass non-violent demonstrations and strikes. Creating a samizdat media to discredit the official version of events. The crucial point was that by 1989, even the vastly more controlling regimes of communist Europe did not rule by force but by deceit and by the dead weight of incumbency. In a semi- or fake democracy like the Ukraine, the importance of rule by deceit is even greater - Milosevic didn't maintain his grip on (Serbian) Yugoslavia by force, but by propaganda and manipulation. Control of the media permits the rulers to get out their version and suppress anything else. Control of the economy permits them to divert scarce goods or services to those who support them. Control of the secret service provides surveillance, but only in extreme cases is it used to kill (although a little terror, as always, goes a long way). The answer - the supposed "US strategy" - is to tell the truth and organise outside it. It is necessary to get as broad a coalition as possible - this was very true of the Central European revolutions, and requires willingness to compromise from all sides.

It is not a new programme, and it was not invented out of whole cloth by Madeleine Albright in 1999 as some people seem to think. Exactly the same elements were in action in 1980 in Poland, in 1989 in Central Europe, in 2000 in Yugoslavia.

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