Ever since the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, there has been a seemingly endless flow of self-congratulatory comment in the West about how former communist countries — and even some which have remained communist — are gradually westernising and learning the ropes in the capitalist jungle. Very often, these countries’ so-called progress is in fact cultural decline: the advent of bars for transsexuals in Havana, for instance, has been adduced as evidence of Cuba’s ‘liberalisation’. But the equal and opposite movement nearly always goes unnoticed — the way in which the West has itself adopted many of the old nostrums of communism, and especially the twin doctrines of revolution and internationalism.
Revolution has now become a completely positive word in the Western political lexicon. Fifteen years ago it still carried — at least for conservatives — the negative connotations of ‘Bolshevik’, ‘sexual’ and ‘French’. Not any more. The myth of revolution now wields such a strong hold over our collective consciousness that, with the compulsiveness of children who beg to be retold the same story, we regularly accept at face value fairy tales about revolutions in a faraway country of which we know nothing. Being tabula rasa for us, these countries are the perfect backdrop on which to project our own fantasies: these tales invariably follow the same formulaic sequence, in which a dishonest or authoritarian or brutal regime is overthrown by ‘people power’, and everyone lives happily ever after.
Recent years have seen a spate of such ‘revolutions’. The overthrow of Slobodan Milosevic on 5 October 2000 in Belgrade; the overthrow of the Georgian president, Eduard Shevardnadze, in the ‘rose revolution’ of November 2003; the ‘orange revolution’ in Ukraine last Christmas; the violent overthrow of the president of Kyrgyzstan in March; the uprising in the Uzbek city of Andijan in May — all these are presented as spontaneous outbursts of righteous popular indignation.