Monday, May 26, 2014

Beware the tigers of Spring. Lessons from the Arab Spring

Beware the tigers of Spring

 Long term fallout from the Arab Spring, the populist  revolt of the streets against tyranny, corruption, and the old way of doing things, is not yet known. However, in the short run, the Spring movements  have given birth to the tigers of unintended consequences. Most Spring revolts have fallen victim to the  fires of chaos, threat or  breakout of civil war,  and tyranny . These experiences  should serve as   lessons to leaders of future Springs.
Egypt has relapsed into a military dictatorship after the Muslim Brotherhood mistook a plurality of support  as  an opportunity to impose their ideology  and  ignore the interests of  others. Syria has an estimated 150,000 dead as Sunnis, Shia, and Alawites fight , each fearing victory by the other side would wipe them out.  Libya is on the brink of a tribal civil war made possible by a power vacuum.   Only Tunisia, after fitful starts, has moved to more western style liberal democracy and  benefitting from a homogeneous population that is not plagued by ethnic conflict.
What is playing  out in the Ukraine after the Maidan demonstrators successfully threw out a corrupt, Russian leaning President end with success in spite of Russian meddling. Initially, the new Kiev government erred, signaling  lack of respect the rights of their  Russian speaking minority by removing Russian as a recognized official language. That sparked separatist sentiments.  There was hope in Sunday’s election won by a European leaning chocolate tycoon, especially after Pres. Putin said he would recognize the results . However, Putin’s  actions mean far more than his words, lately.  Why his verbal shift? Was it  fear of an out of his control  civil war or more economic sanctions, diplomatic isolation and international disapproval, and a Russian-Chinese trade agreement signed this month?  Thanks to the Chinese-Russian trade agreement, Ukraine, the pipeline conduit to European markets, became a little less  important to Russia, whose economy had become too reliant on petro sales to Europe.
A Spring movement is  brewing in Bosnia.  The tiger of  Balkan ethnic conflict  of the 1990’s bloody  civil war could roar again .  All  factions share  anger with  corruption and  economic hard times caused by a government paralyzed by ethnic quarrels.
 To succeed, the populist reformists must keep their  eyes on the ball of shared  disgust  with current corrupt  governance. But common cause is not enough. Conflict resolution, reconciliation,  forgiveness, and  disregard for those who place ethnic loyalties above good for all are still sorely needed to avoid relapses to old conflicts.
 Change must come from the grass roots, not from those who have personally profited by corruption and pandering to ethnic interests. It will take savvy political leadership and organization to bring this about, though.

There are some shoots of green sprouting from local government and grass roots.  The Bosnian city  of Tuzla has just thrown out  its politically appointed officials and replaced them with more neutral professionals. The violent protests several months ago against government were focused on ending corruption and economic decline and all ethnic groups participated.  The recent catastrophic floods may even provide a platform on which to build, as Serbs, Catholics, and Muslim Bosniaks rushed to help their neighbors regardless of  ethnic affiliation.  

A version of this appeared in the May 30, 2014, on line edition and the June 6, 2014 print edition.

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