Tjebbe van Tijen on Sat, 4 Dec 2004 23:23:34 +0100 (CET)

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[Nettime-nl] COUP >< REVOLUTION a false dichotomy (in reference to the UkraineOrange Revolution)

Today (4-12-2004) an article with the following header was posted by  
Johannes van der Spek on nettime-NL:

"The "Orange Revolution": US-Engineered Coup or European Model of  
Peaceful Revolution?"

he did not write something himself just posted an article from The  
Weekly Bulletin of the Transatlantic Democracy Network

which had some critical remarks on some European commentators of the  
recent events in The Ukraine, who saw US involvement and support of   
democratization movements in Ukraine now, and  in Serbia and Georgia in  
the near past, as problematic, as a kind of imperialist democratization  
process. The full text you will find below my reaction, so I will not  
attempt to reproduce what is said. Just give my reaction which is  
mostly about the heading as shortened in the subject line of the  
Nettime-Nl mailing list:

Ukraine: US-Engineered Coup or European Revolution?

The sloganism of the header  irritated me* and it took me a while to  
find out for myself why so:

* tjebbe van tijen

COUP > < REVOLUTION a false dichotomy

The word 'revolution'  has as many meanings as the number of historical  
events denoted by it. Each historical moment which gets a name with   
the word 'revolution'  may be linked to  thousands of other moments  
with that same word, still all those revolutions will have settings in  
time, space and mood that are unique.

Jacquerie, riot, rebellion, insurrection, upheaval, rising, revolt,  
boycott, strike are some of the words closely related to the word  
'revolution', often seen as the first steps in a serious of events that  
culminate in a change of power relations, temporal or lasting. The  
words used for these first steps are mostly associated with actions of  
the oppressed, those who are not in power, lower classes, proletariat,  
'the people' , antipodes to rulers, oppressors, dictators and the like.  
Mostly but not exclusively, as  army officers can rebel, aristocrats  
revolt sometimes, magistrates may strike, soldiers may lie down their  

The other part of the dichotomy used in the article on the recent  
events in the Ukraine is 'coup', (full term coup d'etat) with a whole  
series of related terms: overthrow, putsch, power seizure, take over,  
palace revolution, conspiracy, cabal, plot, intrigue, treason,  
machination, scheme, frame-up. All these terms firstly associate with  
activities of those in power, government, military, political parties,  
church, ... Again not exclusively so, as workers do conspire, trade  
unionists or soldiers may seize power, activists plot, civil servants  

Coup and Revolution are often part of the same historical process.  
Social unrest may develop to such a point that an existing power  
relation gets unstable, creating a temporal power vacuum, which never  
fails to attract people who want to fill the void. Such a claim of  
power is mostly made in the name of others:  peasants, workers, the  
masses, 'the people'. Only in hindsight it will become clear that what  
was labeled  'people's power'  can not be much more then a constitution  
of a new ruling class that, maybe, will do better than the one before.  
Coup and revolution breed each other, an unwanted coup may lead to a  
revolution and a revolution necessitates a coup, someone, some group  
will take advantage of circumstances and establish a new power.

A 'new power' will, most often, proclaim its legitimacy by reference to  
the revolutionary events simultaneous with its rise. It does not mean  
that such a 'new power' has been  exclusively propelled into control by  
such revolutionary events, all kinds of other - outside - elements may  
also have been influential: secret deals with elements of the  old  
power, threats of foreign intervention, shifting of alliances within a  
power structure.

The term 'revolution' is of course problematic, we tend to know when it  
started but it is often difficult , sometimes impossible, to tell when  
it ended. Proclaiming the 'permanent revolution'  is nothing but empty  
words. Once "a revolution"  is claimed by a new power, its life span is  
certainly over; 'real practice'  will be transformed into symbolic  
representation; and it is surprising how much of an old system survives  
in a new one, how "new institutions"  breed old ideas.

The term 'revolution' - in its modern sense, as it was at first an  
astronomical term - is mostly used for a drastic an far reaching change  
often, but not exclusively so, in a short period of time. Another usage  
is for long periods of (slow) persistent change, like the 'industrial  
revolution'.  A society in a state of turmoil is like a storm, a  
violent weather condition that will calm down after a while.  
Revolutions are generally of such an order, they are momentary, so  
'revolutionary moment' instead of 'revolution'  tends to be a more  
precise term.

The term 'revolutionary moment'  implies a beginning and an end. It can  
be that such a historical moment finishes in its suppression by a  
challenged power, producing a failed revolution. In case it is  
successful - with the existing system shaken and about to fall -  
someone, some group will need to seize power, thus marking the moment  
after which the social storm will go down. Thus the shaking of power  
(revolution) is followed by the seizure or grabbing of power (coup).  
Shaking and grabbing are closely related, but not intentionally so.  
Those who do the shaking certainly want change, and, at a certain  
moment - be it at their own initiative or at the suggestion of someone  
else - they start to act. Once they act, they will need to devise their  
own methods; they will make decisions of how and with whom to  
associate; they will need to create their own social structures  
overnight; their social abilities will be challenged and enriched.  
These are the moments of real (revolutionary) practice, moments of  
personal empowerment for many.

It is in the process of shaking that the mind awakens, solidarity is  
wrought, future seems to be in your own hands... Even when some agent,  
conspirator or schemer has provoked such a movement, the effects of  
'revolutionary practice' (or the more neutral notion of  
'self-organization') tend to go far beyond  the original impetus. The  
starting motive can be a local discomfort or some form of disagreement,  
the end result may be a challenging of the whole existing social  
system. Some time is needed for such an awareness to take root and most  
often the revolutionary process is aborted half way, by a seize of  
power local, regional or national.

Modern state interests are widely spread and deeply rooted in society.  
Heads of state can be made into disposable figureheads when it really  
comes to a crisis. The continuity of a state systems tends to come  
before personal or categorical interests. Sacrificing a reluctant ruler  
and some parts of the clique associated with him, is a logical and easy  
way out of a revolutionary situation. In the end a 'coup' is not  
something feared by the state but an essential element for its  
survival. When a social revolution, a movement with a wide popular  
participation, has evolved to the point that it starts to create  
alternative structures for those of the state challenged, these nascent  
state structures will be too limited in scope and can endanger the same  
society that seeks to free itself from violence and oppression. However  
paradoxical it may sound, some form of 'coup d'etat' must be made to  
prevent that from happening. The sudden erasure of social structures  
that took many decades, often centuries, to  evolve, creates an  
'unstable state', which is something to be feared by everyone.  
Compromise becomes  the most radical solution to keep most of the old  
structure, by allowing some changes to be made. The creation of a  
completely new order is out of the question ... or one should be  
willing to pay the price of massive bloodshed to arrive at a social  
system that will be soon even more abhored as the one originally  

What remains of the short periods of personal empowerment, the  
revolutionary moments, better remains in the consciousness of everybody  
involved, instead of being canonized in party slogans and discredited  
in hollow state symbolism. The new rulers will have some form of  
compliance, a temporal mandate, not to be abused; a feeling of  
dependency of something which can not be put in to laws, what is there  
nevertheless: the personal experience of many that they are able to  
organize themselves that they can challenge authority.

On 2004- Dec -04, at 10:10, jo van der spek wrote:

> December 3, 2004, Volume 1, Number 23
> The Weekly Bulletin of the Transatlantic Democracy Network
> ----------------------------------------------------------------------- 
> ---------
> The "Orange Revolution": US-Engineered Coup or European Model of  
> Peaceful
> Revolution?
> Yet the election has revealed a disturbing ambivalence towards  
> democratization
> on the part of some commentators, particularly in western Europe, as  
> reflected
> in allegations that democratizing efforts in Serbia, Georgia and now  
> Ukraine
> have been "funded and organised by the US government, deploying US
> consultancies, pollsters, diplomats, the two big American parties and  
> US
> non-government organizations." "For too long now we have gone along  
> with the
> idea that spreading democracy on our terms is all good," a former  
> British
> diplomat complains in The Independent newspaper, decrying European  
> complicity
> in democracy promotion.
> In one of the more distasteful contributions to the debate, Jonathan  
> Steele,
> chief foreign correspondent of the London-based Guardian, suggests that
> Ukraine's orange revolution is nothing more than a "postmodern coup  
> d'etat."
> Through tenuous and contentious associations, Steele hints that the
> pro-Yuschenko forces share nationalistic, secessionist and anti-semitic
> sentiments.
> As Timothy Garton Ash notes, observing events through a prism of
> anti-Americanism distorts one's perspective. "This is a version of our  
> European
> model of peaceful revolution, with the aim of rejoining Europe, not  
> America,"
> he argues, berating those who complain of US and EU support for  
> Ukraine's
> democrats.
> These conspiracy theories--by no means unique to Europe--reveal a  
> mechanistic
> approach to politics, suggesting that popular movements can be  
> artificially
> manufactured and that resources determine success. As the Washington  
> Post's
> Anne Applebaum notes, they not only overrate the influence of US money  
> and
> organizations, as the example of Belarus attests, but also neglect the
> countervailing forces of authoritarianism. Unlike any western  
> politicians,
> Russia's President visited Ukraine twice to campaign for "his"  
> candidate and
> deployed considerable resources of his own to counteract democratic  
> forces.
> Interventions by Western or any other agencies will only be effective  
> in
> mobilizing popular support for democratic change where and when they  
> reflect or
> feed into otherwise latent demands for change. "People have been  
> suppressed,
> manipulated, downtrodden for so long, that this is resulting in an  
> explosion of
> their best instincts," said Nadia Diuk, director for Europe and  
> Eurasia at the
> National Endowment for Democracy. "People are saying, 'We're not going  
> to take
> the manipulation of the media, and its control of the citizens,  
> anymore.'" Even
> the previously quiescent media have grown more assertive. The  
> Ukrainian TV
> channel 1 + 1 had been "very much in support of the government and the
> government's candidates," Diuk said. "But last week, news readers and  
> news
> anchors decided they were not going to read the news just as it was  
> handed down
> to them."
> ______________________________________________________
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Tjebbe van Tijen

Imaginary Museum Projects
dramatizing historical information
* Verspreid via nettime-nl. Commercieel gebruik niet
* toegestaan zonder toestemming. <nettime-nl> is een
* open en ongemodereerde mailinglist over net-kritiek.
* Meer info, archief & anderstalige edities:
* Contact: Menno Grootveld (