Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Of Mousavi, security and negative capability

Always balanced, always informed, always worth reading: Gideon Rachman weighs the odds of successful revolution in Iran, adapting and expanding a checklist developed by Economist reporter Andrew Miller, "who witnessed the colour revolutions in Ukraine, Georgia and Kyrgystan."

The one factor missing so far: weak or divided security services.

Also worth reading: Andrew Miller's response to Rachman (unfortunately, neither links to the original Miller checklist):
The post-Soviet lesson is that the real or realised threat of serious violence is likely to prevent or at least forestall popular revolution—by inhibiting people from coming onto the streets or coming back again if they do.
And in an aside from Miller: an arresting formula for a successful leader of popular revolt:
Incidentally, a comment to my earlier post raised an interesting question about the leaders of revolutions, and whether they need to be more charismatic and galvanising than those in Iran seem to be. In fact the experience of Ukraine, at least, is that they don't. Viktor Yushchenko was positively boring throughout most of the orange revolution. His speeches in Independence Square in Kiev were keenly anticipated, but a few minutes after he began talking, after he had started rambling on about Seneca or bee-keeping or whatever, people generally began chatting among themselves. The point about Mr Yushchenko was that he was, or seemed, honest (much more so than some of his fellow revolutionaries, who subsequently joined him in government). On the basis of Ukraine the conclusion might be that a revolutionary leader needs to have what you might call "negative capability": a persona blank, clean and undivisive enough to command the trust of the diverse constituencies that it takes to bring about change; a persona onto which the various elements of the revolutionary coaltion can project their own goals and grievances.
Negative capability? Really? Aside from Yushchenko, how often does that work?

I guess Vaclav Havel had a negative capability of a different kind - the kind originally defined by Keats.

Incidentally, Miller's checklist is worth laying beside a more data-based but less empirical "extreme bounds analysis" study by ETH Switzerland and Georgetown University.

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