Wednesday, December 15, 2004

What Follows People Power

Mark Almond wrote a piece in the Guardian that is very sceptical about Eastern European peaceful revolutions, and attempts to put the common swiping about US and Western funding for organisers into a wider context: disillusionment and corruption that followed the previous revolutions. It gave me mixed feelings.

On one hand he is wrong to line up the recent examples of People Power with the 1989 velvet revolutions. The latter were marked in most places, maybe with the partial exception of Poland, by their unorganised-ness. The intellectuals who got Western support weren't organising masses like OTPOR et al in Serbia, they were dozens or at most hundreds of intellectuals who linked up, thousands more who only read their pamphlets, and millions more who merely heard of them. The mass turnouts and the fast and easy fall of the regimes, which had much more to do with Gorbachev's liberal policies than any Western meddling, took both these intellectuals and the West by surprise. (Comparisons with Venezuela now or Chile 1970-1973 or Iran 1953 are less easily dismissed.)

On the other hand, yes, there was much disillusionment in the population after 1989, when 'necessary' market reforms made a bad situation worse[*] - for most, but not the elites. And yes, I certainly did observe that many if not most of these onetime dissidents became part of or apologist for the new elite, an elite blinded by its own material success, and are both naive about and slavishly adherent to both neoliberal dogmas and Western elites.

Yes, Western elites, political, economical and media elites, whom they still view as role models rather than equals not above criticism. The few true Atlanticists can only be found among them, and what is striking to me is how uninformed and naive their arguments are (much more so than say that of British apologists for Bliar). They think reading something in elite papers like The Economist or NYT makes them informed. Michnik and his paper, despite Borislaw Geremek's protests, is case in point. Or on the wider issues, another example with his traffic policies and increasing common-people-alienatedness is Gábor Demszky, the major of Budapest (since 1990, but not after 2006 if current trends and scandals continue).

Yet on the third hand if I had one, naive atlanticism, elitism and adherence to neoliberal dogmas is far from being the sole property of ex-dissidents in post-peaceful-revolution countries. It permeates Western elites throughout - as well as ex-reformed-communist and formerly-not-active-as-dissident nationalist elites over here. Both of the latter are stronger and more influential than the politically active remains of the dissidents. (And then there are the populists, but they have other faults to replace the above.) For the former, it all was just a change of ideology and Big Brother to follow, the culture is the same. So no, the Soros stipendants do not carry the bulk of blame for what happened here after 1989.

[*] By eliminating public services most people never thought to be part of the bargain, by erroneously applying the consumption-cooling monetary weapon to inflation caused not by excessive consumption but freed prices, by ruining a lot of working state or newly privatised ex-state companies in the following credit-starved period, and by allowing investors to buy companies just to ruin and sell out them rather than demanding investitions. If you say there is growth now, I say it is less impressive if you consider its distribution, and its start-out basis - while the big fact is that it was neither necessary in that form, nor without alternatives.


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