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Velvet Revolution: The Prospects

November 21, 2009

Timothy Garton Ash in The New York Review of Books:

In the autumn of 1989, the term “velvet revolution” was coined to describe a peaceful, theatrical, negotiated regime change in a small Central European state that no longer exists. So far as I have been able to establish, the phrase was first used by Western journalists and subsequently taken up by Václav Havel and other Czech and Slovak opposition leaders.[1] This seductive label was then applied retrospectively, by writers including myself, to the cumulatively epochal events that had unfolded in Poland, Hungary, and East Germany, as in “the velvet revolutions of 1989.”

Twenty years later, in the summer of 2009, the Islamic Republic of Iran staged a show trial of political leaders and thinkers it accused of fomenting enghelab -e makhmali—that is, precisely, velvet revolution. Across the intervening years, dramatic events in places including Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, South Africa, Chile, Slovakia, Croatia, Serbia, Georgia, Ukraine, Belarus, Kyrgyzstan, Lebanon, and Burma were tagged with variants of adjective + revolution. Thus we have read about singing (Baltic states), peaceful, negotiated (South Africa, Chile), rose (Georgia), orange (Ukraine), color (widely used, post-orange), cedar (Lebanon), tulip (Kyrgyzstan), electoral (generic), saffron (Burma), and most recently, in Iran, green revolution. Often, as in the original Czechoslovak case, the catchy labeling has been popularized through the interplay of foreign journalists and political activists in the countries concerned.

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