Colorful RevolutionsNovember 7, 2011
by Hugh Rawson
The world has been blessed lately with a number of relatively nonviolent demonstrations by citizens of different nations that have led to the overthrow of authoritarian regimes. Some of these protests – in Tunisia and Egypt, for example – have amounted to revolutions. But this has created a problem for the media: The word “revolution” implies violent, usually bloody change. Therefore, reporters and pundits have cast around for ways to qualify, or soften, the violent word, often by using the names of colors and flowers.
The first of the recent series of popular uprisings came in Tunisia toward the end of 2010. Soon after President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali fled the country in January of 2011, the foreign press began referring to Tunisia’s jasmine revolution. The name seemed appropriate, at least to outside observers. Jasmine is Tunisia’s national flower. And the phrase had been used before. Mr Ben Ali came and went smelling of flowers: His original seizure of power in 1987 also was called a jasmine revolution.
The example of Tunisia inspired a wave of demonstrations in Egypt, Syria, Libya, Algeria, Bahrain, and other countries in the Middle East and North Africa. (Westerners initially called the protests that led to Egyptian president Hosni Murabak’s resignation in February of 2011 the lotus revolution after Egypt’s national flower.) These diverse events have since been lumped together by the foreign media as the Arab Awakening or, more commonly, the Arab Spring, even though many of the protesters are not Arabs and the uprisings have extended into the summer and beyond.
Other colorful revolutions of recent times include:
The blue revolution, Kuwait, 2005. The demonstrators, who gave this movement its name by carrying blue signs, did not aim to overthrow the government. Their objective was to win the right to vote for women, which they did.
The carnation revolution, Portugal, 1974. The protesters, who succeeded in forcing the resignation of the military junta then in power, demonstrated their solidarity by wearing white carnations as badges.
The cedar revolution, Lebanon, 2005. Peaceful protests following the assassination of opposition leader Rafik Hariri led Syria to pull out military units that had been in Lebanon for thirty years. Cedars have been associated with Lebanon since ancient times.
The green revolution, Iran, 2009. Name given to widespread but unsuccessful protests over the election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as president. Green was the color adopted by the party of the opposition candidate, Mir-Hossein Mousavi.
The orange revolution, the Ukraine, 2004. First called the chestnut revolution, after the trees along the main avenue in Kiev, the nation’s capital, the more vivid orange was adopted by backers of the opposition candidate, Viktor Yushchenko, who finally gained office after two run-off elections.
The purple revolution, Iraq, 2005. The name was popularized by President George W. Bush to describe the elections that took place after Saddam Hussein’s regime was overthrown. The purple referred to the use of ink to stain the forefingers of people who voted and thus prevent them from voting a second time.
The rose revolution, Georgia, 2003. Opposition leader Mikhail Saakashvili carried a rose into parliament when he demanded the resignation of President Eduard Shevardnadze and protesters in the streets gave long-stemmed roses to soldiers called out to stop them. The soldiers declined to respond with bullets and Mr Shevardnadze proceeded to resign.
The saffron revolution, Burma, 2007. Anti-government protests were led by Buddhist monks wearing saffron-colored robes.
The singing revolution, Estonia, 1989. The nation’s bid to gain freedom from Soviet domination was sparked by patriotic songs of defiance at a national song festival.
The tulip revolution, Kyrgyzstan, 2005. This revolution forced President Askar Akayev to flee the country after having served two terms longer than constitutionally permitted. More violent than the other uprisings, this one went through a series of names, with different groups of protesters referring to it variously as the pink revolution, lemon revolution, silk revolution, and daffodil revolution.
The velvet revolution, Czechoslovakia, 1989. Not a color or floral revolution, but immensely significant to peoples in other nations as an example of how nonviolent demonstrations – gentle and velvet-like – can lead to the replacement of an oppressive regime, in this case a Communist government with a democratic one.
The yellow revolution, the Philippines, 1986. Also called the People Power Revolution, it swept President Ferdinand Marcos out of office. Protesters showed their peaceful intentions to soldiers by offering flowers to them.
As gentle as most of these revolutions have been, the very names may naturally cause offense to governments that feel threatened by them. Thus, Chinese authorities reacted forcefully when the wave of protests that began in Tunisia reached their nation, with pro-democracy activists calling first online and then on Twitter for a “jasmine revolution.” Besides deploying extra police in major cities to prevent demonstrations, the government blocked online references to Tunisia’s jasmine revolution. Even the single word jasmine was censored in text messages and on search engines – a backhanded tribute to the power of language.