My View: Beware the tigers of Spring
June 5, 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 Springs have given birth to the tigers of unintended consequences, and this populist movement has spread beyond the Middle East. Most Spring revolts have fallen victim to the threat or breakout of civil war or renewed tyranny. These experiences should serve as lessons to leaders of future Springs.
Egypt relapsed into a military dictatorship with voter approval 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 it out. Libya is on the brink of a tribal civil war. Only Tunisia, after fitful starts, has moved to more western-style liberal democracy, but it benefitted from a homogeneous population not plagued by ethnic conflict.
What is playing out in Ukraine after the Maidan demonstrators successfully threw out a corrupt, Russian-leaning President is ending with success in spite of Russian meddling.
There is hope in the May election won by a European-leaning businessman and former foreign minister, especially after President Vladimir Putin said he would recognize the results and now seems to be standing by his word. Putin is withdrawing his intimidating troops from the border. Why? Was it fear of an out-of-his-control civil war as Ukrainian troops became more effective in hunting down violent separatists, and polls and the election showed public support from all parts of Ukraine for a unified country? Was it a Russian-Chinese oil and gas trade agreement signed suddenly in May after years of negotiation, which made Ukraine, the Russian petro pipeline conduit to European markets, a little less strategic to Russia?
Was it fear of more economic sanctions, diplomatic isolation and international disapproval and a US resolution to protect NATO's Baltic members from further Russian land grabs? If so, President Barack Obama deserves credit for leading that strategy.
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. 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. Reform must come from the grass roots. It will not come from those who have personally profited from corruption and pandering to ethnic interests.
There are some shoots of green sprouting from the grass roots. The Bosnian city of Tuzla has just thrown out its politically-appointed officials and replaced them with more neutral professionals. 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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