Friday, April 01, 2005

Overdue Change in the Former USSR

An article from Wednesday's Christian Science Monitor notes that the recent democratic revolution in Kyrgyzstan has produced reverberations throughout the former Soviet Union:

About 1,000 people rallied last Friday in the capital of Belarus, where President Alexander Lukashenko runs the last Soviet-style dictatorship in Europe, to demand his resignation. Police quickly dispersed the crowd and dispatched the ringleaders to prison.

Two Russian ethnic republics, Ingushetia and Bashkortostan, have seen mass street demonstrations this week directed against Kremlin-installed leaders. Even in remote Mongolia, the former USSR's Asian satellite, hundreds of protesters gathered last week to "congratulate our Kyrgyz brothers" and demand a rerun of last June's disputed parliamentary polls.

Some experts see a common thread among these upheavals that began 17 months ago when Georgians overthrew Eduard Shevardnadze in a peaceful revolt and continued with Ukraine's "Orange Revolution" late last year.

"Every situation is different, but a single process is unfolding," says Valentin Bogatyrov, a former Akayev adviser and director of the International Institute of Strategic Studies in Bishkek. "Kyrgyzstan is a kind of trigger that will spread this unrest to our neighbors, and beyond. We are witnessing the second breakup of the Soviet Union."

The fall of Soviet communism was a tremendous victory for the cause of human freedom. It brought about the end of the Cold War and the demise of the largest totalitarian empire in history. Unfortunately, the process of pluralist change soon stalled. Most of the former Soviet republics found themselves ruled by corrupt, authoritarian regimes. Only now, nearly 15 years after the USSR was relegated to the ash heap of history, is genuine democracy beginning to emerge.

As the experience of the former USSR shows, democratic change is usually neither rapid nor easy. In the words of Glenn Reynolds, building free societies is a process, not an event. This is a lesson that we will need to bear in mind as we foster the growth of democracy in the Middle East and elsewhere. We must be patient yet firm in supporting the development of open, pluralist societies.


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