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.