The Destiny of the Soldiers
4 September 2010

The Colour Revolutions in the Former Soviet Republics

The Colour Revolutions in the Former Soviet Republics: Successes and Failures

During the first decade of the 21st century, a remarkable phenomenon swept through the former Soviet Union changing the political, social and cultural landscape. Popularly known as the Colour Revolutions, these non-violent protests overthrew autocratic regimes in three post-soviet republics: the Georgian Rose Revolution (2003), the Ukrainian Orange Revolution (2004) and the Kyrgyzstani Tulip Revolution (2005). This book examines the significance of these regime-change processes for the post-soviet world in particular and for global politics in the 21st century.

Foreword to the book by the renowned authority on post-Soviet politics, Professor Stephen White, University of Glasgow

It would not be too much to say that the editors and contributors of this book have given us a firmer, more comprehensive and insightful body of analysis than we have so far had at our disposal in any language.

Professor Stephen White in the foreword


A wide range of scholars have contributed differently to make this book colourful … a good source of information with thrilling analysis … this insightful paperback can be highly recommended to researchers in the field of post-Soviet politics.

– Journal of Contemporary European Research 7/4 (Winter 2011) pp. 569-571.

One of the volume’s strengths is the conceptual unity of its various essays, which consider the same five factors in order to determine whether they played any role in the presence or absence of revolution in that country … By selecting these five factors for special focus and including all post-Soviet states except the Baltic countries, this work offers a clear framework for explaining the occurrence and absence of colour revolutions. Its comparative approach and regional expertise will benefit not only specialists in the various post-Soviet states, but also social scientists studying contentious politics and protest movements in other parts of the world.

İdil Tunçer Kılavuz, Marmara University, East European Politics, 28/4, December 2012, pp. 479-480

The book co-edited by Donnacha Ó Beacháin and Abel Polese presents yet another contribution to worldwide perspectives of political regime formation and consolidation using the example of post-Soviet Eurasia. The book has a double focus: it asks why and how colour revolutions took place in some of the former Soviet Republics but not in others … The logic of the book is very straightforward, making it easy to follow. The book successfully identifies factors which explain the success and failure of colour revolutions across post-Soviet states presented as ‘a mix of local political forces, civil society, common people and international actors’ (p. 239). Among the obstacles to colour revolution, the book distinguishes the manipulation of mass media, fear of authorities and little historical experience of democracy (pp. 239–40).

By the end, the book concludes that the role of external international factors in preparing for colour revolution through the mobilisation of civil society is indispensable, and asks the question as to whether the era of colour revolutions has come to an end. It states that authoritarian regimes adjusted to the events of colour revolutions and mimicked the strategy of political opposition. That is, they ‘adopted a myriad of repressive countermeasures—often mimicking oppositionist techniques’, for example through the creation of counter-NGOs that endorse and defend the ruling regime, sponsoring ‘clone civic initiatives and youth organizations to sow confusion’ (pp. 242–43). However, the book still states that other channels of international influence remain in force (such as the transfer of knowledge across borders) and that the lessons of colour revolutions still might be used in future.

Anastassia Obydenkova (Davis Center for Eurasian and Russian Studies, Harvard University), Europe-Asia Studies, Volume 64, Issue 6, 2012, pp. 1127-1133

The editors of this relatively slim volume set an ambitious task before themselves; it could hardly have been otherwise, given that the compilation relies on fourteen authors cumulatively charged with analyzing not only the so-called “colour revolutions” that took place in Georgia, Ukraine, and Kyrgyzstan during the first half of the previous decade, but also examining the countries of the former Soviet Union wherein regime change was not effected during a commensurate timeframe. Animated by the puzzle of why mass protests centred around alleged electoral malfeasance succeeded in bringing down governments in some contexts but not in others (or why they did not occur in the first place), The Colour Revolutions examines all the Soviet successor polities except for the Baltic states.

Ó Beacháin and Polese focus on the period 2003–2006, justifying bookending this project in such narrow fashion by arguing that these years represented the flowering of a hitherto unprecedented level of protest activity and transnational involvement throughout the region, the sheer density of events allowing for tracing not only the dissemination and evolution of protest repertoires, but also for concurrently examining elite learning effects. The explanation is not necessarily objectionable; scholarly work inevitably demands both practical and conceptual compromises … the introduction and conclusion do a commendable job of contextualizing case studies in a more diffuse frame.

Among the volume’s stated objectives is to examine not just domestic factors, but the transnational interconnections evinced between activists throughout the region. This represents but one characteristic of what is seen as a nascent form of protest movement, defined by its non-violent and mass-based nature, reliance on civil society organizations, exposure to outside donors and epistemic communities, and extensive utilization of new communicative technologies. Critically, Ó Beacháin and Polese highlight that opposition in this vein revolves around the opportunity structures presented by disputed national-level electoral contests, which they argue constitute junctures when domestic and foreign attention is heightened in its focus on the state.

A decided strength of this book is that it examines not only instances wherein electoral revolutions succeeded, but also those where mobilization efforts were quelled or failed to materialize altogether. Aside from side-stepping the hobgoblin of selecting on the dependent variable, this provides a more comprehensive backdrop against which to assess under what conditions diffusion and demonstration effects play a pivotal role versus when they are epiphenomenal or removed entirely from the causal chain. Encouraging crosscountry comparison, the editors formulate a five-point evaluative criteria (pp. 7–9) that aids in avoiding conceptual unruliness among cases and provides a metric by which to evaluate outcomes: 1) degree to which states and elites were hostile to liberal/democratic precepts prior to the commencement of protests; 2) size and unity of the opposition; 3) role of external actors and how domestic elites reacted to foreign overtures; 4) extent and influence of civil society; 5) willingness/ability of people to organize and protest.

Consequently, while grounded in the particularities of the former Soviet Union’s experiences, many of the issues grappled with herein have a direct bearing on general theoretical questions, addressing such perennial hot-topic issues as the effectiveness of exogenous democracy promotion, the power of learning by example, and the significance of mass-based protest strategies as opposed to elite pacting for enacting political transformations.

… a succinct overview of a very complicated series of events (and non-events) in the post-Soviet space, it is eminently readable and provides a much-needed summary of recent political developments.

George Soroka, Harvard University, Canadian Slavonic Papers, 2011, 53, 2/3/4, 617-619.

Authors: Donnacha Ó Beacháin and Abel Polese (eds.)
Routledge, 2010
Buy: RoutledgeAmazon