I’ve got a piece in today’s Crikey comparing the anti-government protests in Ukraine and Thailand (it’s probably behind the paywall). The similarities are quite uncanny, not least among them the way that in each case it seems as if deadly violence is only just being averted:
Neither is a case of “mob” violence, of the poor and dispossessed rising up against their rulers. In each case the protesters come from a broadly “liberal” political tradition, representing the educated middle class — and for that reason seem to get a better run from Western media than most protesters do.
Not surprisingly, both cases show a major difference of perspective between government and opposition. The government in each case sees itself as the defender of order and legality, besieged by fundamentally anti-democratic forces. The opposition, by contrast, sees itself as the authentic voice of the people standing against corruption and oligarchy.
In neither case is there a reason to question the sincerity with which those views are held.
In each case, the embattled government – neither of which comes from a political color I have much time for – is so far playing its cards well. Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych has asked the European Union to receive a Ukrainian delegation that would reopen talks on some aspects of the proposed free trade and association agreement. He has also appealed for calm with the slightly gnomic comment that “Any bad peace is better than a good war.”
In Thailand, the government has defused some tension, at least for the time being, by removing barricades around police headquarters. Prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra has also appealed to the people over the heads of the opposition leaders, saying in a televised address yesterday that “If there’s anything I can do to bring peace back to the Thai people I am happy to do it … If a House dissolution or my resignation can make the demonstrators return all the government offices and end their protests, I’m willing to do it.”
Tonight the Ukrainian opposition will propose a vote of no confidence in parliament, hoping to force fresh parliamentary and even presidential elections. But the Thai opposition still shows no faith in elections; it wants power handed to an unelected “people’s council”, which in effect would undo the result of the 2011 election.
As Karl Marx would say, “Men make their own history, but they do not make it as they please; they do not make it under self-selected circumstances, but under circumstances existing already, given and transmitted from the past.” (Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte.) Or as I put it today:
Each protest movement operates in a historical context, hoping to repeat a prior success. The inspiration for the Kiev protesters is the “Orange Revolution” of 2004, when Yanukovych was prevented from taking office following a rigged election. Thailand’s opposition looks to the “yellow shirt” protests of 2006, which eventually led to the removal of Thaksin’s government by a military coup.
After all the similarities, that’s the big difference. Ukraine’s opposition still looks to a fundamentally constitutional process, but a victory for the Thai opposition would signal an uncategorical defeat for constitutionalism.