My View: Beware of the tigers of spring
May 29, 2014
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 grassroots, 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.
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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.
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