Along the Tracks

Thursday, April 07, 2005

The Rainbow Revolution well underway

From the April 2 Northwest Signal:

As I looked online at the New York Times Friday, I felt certain the Old Gray Lady was pulling an April Fool’s joke.

After all, the story on the Zimbabwean election claimed that country’s decrepit dictator, Robert Mugabe, appeared to be on his way to “victory.”


It reminded me of those days when I was a kid and I would play checkers against myself. Somehow, I always won. Apparently, I was just that good.

Maybe I’ve had Mugabe wrong all along. Maybe he’s just that good.

Okay, maybe not. After all, the butcher with the bones of hundreds of thousands hidden in his closets was really just playing a game with himself in this latest “election.” His challenge was not to win, it was to find new ways to win. His latest effort focused on withholding food from opposition parties and ethnic groups, keeping them on the edge of starvation across nearly four years.

Now all Zimbabweans understood what their “president” could do. Would this be enough to “persuade” them to vote the right way? Or would Mugabe have to go old school and simply scare potential opposition voters away from the polls?

According to the Times’ story, Mugabe played it both ways. It’s hard to say which side “won,” but whatever happened Thursday in Zimbabwe, it was not an election.

Depressing as the situation in that once strong African nation may appear, there is an almost palpable feeling of hope. The Zimbabwean opposition is debating mass protests to reclaim their country.

Sound familiar?

Differing opinions and passions over the War on Terrorism and its Iraq phase have shaken this nation’s, and the free world’s, once unified message of liberty, democracy and economic opportunity, but the past four years now rank with some of the great international transformations of history - the American and French revolutions, the Latin American revolutions, the wave of revolutions at the end of the First World War and the revolutions at the end of the Cold War which ended European communism.

The precipitating factor was clearly the liberation of Afghanistan and Iraq, coupled with the brave example of those peoples in reclaiming their governments through fair and open elections. In this short stretch of time, we have seen the elimination of tyrants in Liberia, Haiti, Georgia, Ukraine, Palestine and Kyrgyzstan. Democratic movements are growing in strength in Lebanon, Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and even Syria. The dualistic democracy/theocracy in Iran, long controlled by the mullahs, may well transform into a free society in the upcoming summer elections. Colonel Khadafi of Libya has even recognized the shift in winds.

There are two points to be made about these historic parallels.

First, we are clearly on the front edge of this present transformation. Momentum is building and spilling into unexpected places. Two weeks ago, most people had never heard of Kyrgyzstan, yet the Kyrgyzstanis had heard of us and fellow democrats in Afghanistan, Iraq, Georgia and Ukraine. They took power into their own hands and chased out the latest in a string of thugs in a matter of days. The Lebanese democracy movement threatens not only the puppets now controlling that unfortunate nation, but also the hand controlling the marionettes, Syria’s Bashir Assad. The proxy army of pro-Syrian Hezbollah attempted to intimidate the Lebanese opposition by marching out 500,000 of its supporters. The opposition answered with a million.
Don’t be surprised in the next few weeks when Zimbabweans, despite poverty, AIDS and hunger, march on Harare to take back their country as well.

Where will the next revolution of the rainbow awaken us with shock and hope? Venezuela? Vietnam? Tunisia? Cuba? North Korea?

This leads into the second parallel with historic transformations: Uncertainty.

These are hopeful, but dangerous times. There will be backlashes which horrify and test resolve. Remember, those early transformations were not uniform positives. The incredible success of the American revolution is placed in sobering perspective by the guillotine and rise of Napoleon Bonapart in France. Latin American peoples threw off the yoke of colonialism only to fall prey to dictators, thugs and aristocrats. The revolutions of the Great War gave us Soviet communism and 30 years of Chinese despotism, culminating in the rise of Mao and the death of millions. Even the change signaled by the fall of the Berlin Wall was not uniformly positive, as the Balkans fell into war and strongmen took over a number of the former Soviet republics. Today, even Russia is slipping back to its old form.

Haiti is still a complete mess, as the recent deaths of peacekeepers demonstrates. Liberia is fragile at best, surrounded by civil wars and criminal gangs with private armies. The Kyrgyz revolution came with looting and riots. Threatened tyrants in places like Syria and Iran could seek to hold power by lashing out at the ones who instigated this unwelcome move toward freedom: the United States. After all, American troops in Iraq and Afghanistan are within striking range of each.

The dangers are real, but the opportunity is rare. The United States and all freedom-loving people should stand united, not with particular movements or leaders or concepts, but with oppressed people everywhere. Those people are best placed and most able to decide their fate, and our vocal, political and economic support may be all that is necessary to see the wave of liberation roll on into unexpected places and a hopeful future.

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