The Thai revolution is not taking place


You know, I looked at the events in Thailand and I thought of Ukraine.

I’m thinking in particular of Andrew Wilson’s book Virtual Politics, which is an interesting overview of the concept of managed democracy in the post-Soviet states and well worth a look if only to get clued up on the sort of skulduggery that goes on out there. Wilson, who’s a Ukrainian expert, is very sharp at telling the difference between what is and what seems, in particular the existence of political parties that exist merely as Kremlin sock puppets or as fronts for particular groups of oligarchs. He knows his stuff and gives you plenty of useful facts.

But there’s quite a striking mote and beam alert here. Although Wilson is good as far as he goes – that is, he’s good at assailing Putin and Lukashenka – he’s an outspoken enthusiast for colour revolutions, which are a virtuality unto themselves. He also tends to allow rather too much slack to politicians who’ll strike a pose as “pro-Western”, a group that includes a rather high proportion of spivs hoping that the Empire will help them into power.

The template, I suppose, is the October 2000 coup in Serbia, an event that could have slotted neatly into Baudrillard’s The Gulf War Did Not Take Place. At street level, yeah, you had popular discontent. As I can testify from personal experience, the Serbian populace is almost certainly the most boisterous and unruly in the region when confronted with official abuse of power, which by itself should give the lie to the racist stereotypes still bandied about on the Anglo-American liberal left. That’s your raw material, because you can’t have a colour revolution without a stage army, and it’s what convinced people who should have known better that the Oktobarska Evolucija was a genuine revolutionary upsurge.

But it’s when we depart from the street level to the level of high politics that we get Baudrillardian. In essence, you’re talking about a pseudo-revolution where the pseudo-socialists were ousted by pseudo-democrats. One clue should have been the swift sidelining of the more bolshy and unpredictable types like Vojislav Koštunica or Velja Ilić in favour of retreads from the old Serbian League of Communists now resident (and dominant) in the Democratic Party. To be more precise, the conservative Stalinist faction who’d been defeated in 1987 by Milošević’s perestroika faction, and who in the meantime had ditched whatever socialism they once had, indeed had no programme except for normalnost defined in Euro-Atlantic terms, but still had quite a broad Stalinist streak. The neo-Jacobin dictatorship instituted after the Djindjić assassination, with the full approval of Brussels and Washington, demonstrated vividly the limits of colour revolution democracy.

And so it has played out as the brand has been exported, complete with identikit democratic media, identikit human rights NGOs, identikit revolutionary youth movements and the same subbing from the NED, the Soros foundation and the various EU slush funds. In Ukraine you have state power being contested by different subsets of corrupt oligarchs, with the “pro-Western” or “pro-Russian” labels functioning as brands to attract the broad masses. In Georgia the hapless Shevy makes way for the disastrous Saakashvili. Even if we leave out the geopolitics – and in the last analysis it’s all about the geopolitics – the punters don’t seem to gain very much from a process that’s supposed to be for their benefit.

That’s why Thailand is so refreshing. You know the way, when the Tories used to cut benefits, they’d be hard-nosed and say it was all for the good of business? What really winds me up about New Labour is that James Purnell will assault the poor and then claim it’s for their own good. And what you have in Thailand is not some popular happening designed to have the Grauniad left in raptures, but an explicitly anti-democratic colour revolution. You have the well-heeled sectors of Bangkok society attempting to bring down a government that’s too responsive to the demands of the plebs, and restore the country’s traditional monarchy-and-military order of power. Basically, Bangkok’s answer to the Countryside Alliance.

There are a lot of people knocking around academia and the high end of the punditocracy who’ve made a lot out of democracy promotion since Berlin. I’d love to hear what they make of this, if they can tear themselves away from agitating for regime change in Venezuela.

Rud eile: I notice Brussels is once again treating Bulgaria as a coconut colony. Sergei, my man, when will you learn that the only way to go is to be as combative as the Czechs? Old Václav Klaus wouldn’t have let himself get into this humiliating position.


  1. Madam Miaow said,

    November 26, 2008 at 10:36 pm

    They sound vile and look fat ‘n’ indulged from the photo I saw in the Evening Standard. Whereas I expect my revolutionaries to look slim and romantic and ethereal. More like Aung San Suu Kyi or Peter O’Toole. Not these burger faced fatsoes and their bad complexions.

    Ho dare they do this to our British holidaymakers?

  2. charliemarks said,

    November 27, 2008 at 12:36 am

    If the protesters were suggesting that it’s against the interests of the rural poor to vote for a billionaire like Shinawatra and co., you’d have to agree – but some of the protestors want an *appointed* parliament rather than one elected by the population…

  3. Andy Newman said,

    November 27, 2008 at 9:21 am

    Interesting that you mention Germasny right at the end here, beaczue I am always struck by how much these colour revolutions have drawn from the template Helmut Kohl engineered for destabilising the DDR, and delegitimising the social base of support for the SED, using a combination of blackmail, promisies in blatent bad faith, and street protests.

    The result of which was that people voted to destroy their own economy and welfare state without any safeguards. To take one example, unemployment among women leapt from 5% in 1989 to atround 90% just over two years later; and women who were on between one year (first child) and three years (third or subsequent child) full paid maternity leave found themselves suddenly on the dole.

  4. skidmarx said,

    November 27, 2008 at 10:24 am

    Isn’t it better that the question of state power is up in the air (even if air traffic control won’t let it land), than to live in a sclerotic society in which it seems nothing will ever change, even if Western socialists don’t like the current choices?

    I saw the BBC’s Richard Galpin do a report from Georgia recently, where he tried to claim that the Georgian people generally blamed their own country for the war. Yet even one critic who did say that the important thing was the mistakes made by Georgia still said that Russia started the war, but this part of his analysis didn’t fit in with Galpin’s thesis, which has been widespread in the Western media (Russia may have been heavy-handed, but it was Saakashvili’s fault).

    And one of those storming the Serbian parliament was wearing an Arsenal shirt, so they can’t be all bad.

  5. ejh said,

    November 27, 2008 at 11:52 am

    A symbol of their oppression, one assumes?

  6. skidmarx said,

    November 27, 2008 at 1:19 pm

    I think arsenal may have been the first English loanword in the Russian language, one assumes rather a symbol of their cultural identity.

  7. babeuf said,

    November 27, 2008 at 6:35 pm

    C’mon, Splinty. Waiting to hear your wit and wisdom on the sacking of Rees and his impending knighthood.

  8. skidmarx said,

    November 28, 2008 at 10:43 am

    I was hoping for some comment on the irony of Camelot, the national lottery operator, refusing to sell tickets through Woolworth’s, presumably on the grounds that it is too much of a gamble.

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