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The recent upheaval in the Middle East has polarized the United States and the rest of the world. Protests in Tunisia, Yemen, Bahrain, Egypt, Morocco, and Libya have been a staple of the American news media diet lately, and if trend serves, the theme may continue for a while. Although a step (or leap) in the right direction, the rebellions may take some time to develop better conditions for the people. Radical change of this magnitude has not materialized in recent world history; however, a portrait of isolated movements does not bode well for the current revolutionaries.
Over the past thirty years, outliers have been few and far between when considering the fate of countries that have undergone political change similar to that of the current Middle Eastern climate. The only reference point close to what is happening now was the shift toward democracy in Eastern Europe following the fall of the Soviet Union. During a twenty-year span, the leaders of Romania, Serbia, and Turkmenistan were ousted by peoples uprising.
Romania suffered through Communist leadership for many years until the eventual overthrow and execution of despot Nicolae Ceausescu in 1989. In what was deemed a revolution, the Romanian people held a hasty two-hour televised trial to convict Ceausescu and his wife. Their execution followed soon thereafter. The country battled through a decade of economic decline, due in most part to a lack of an industrial base and little structural reform. Unemployment soared, inflation, and a stream of unsuccessful leadership bases. The nation made considerable steps in the right direction during the early part of the century, only to see many of them evaporate due to a hemorrhaging national budget. Issues related to infrastructure, education, and corruption continues to plague Romania.
In Turkmenistan, the rule of Saparmurat Niyazov crippled the nation’s political system. Although the country would hold elections, Niyazov would hand-pick the candidates to be running. In 1999, he had the parliament vote him President for Life. He also renamed the months of the year after members of his family. Niyzov’s draconian techniques flustered Western onlookers and finally pushed the Turkmenistanian people to the brink. An extensive propaganda campaign led to Niyazov’s eventual downfall and death in 2006. Now, despite holding the world’s fourth-largest natural gas reserve, Turkmenistanian leadership cannot manage to stabilize the economy.
Then there’s Serbia. The terror rained down by Slobadan Milosevic in the ‘90s remains in the memory of many Europeans. Milosevic and his followers organized genocide, attempting to eliminate Albanians from Kosovo in mass ethic slayings. The continued expungement included many of Milosevic’s political opponents, a strategy that allowed him to maintain his position of power for a decade. The ‘Bulldozer Revolution’ of 2000, brought upon by more election-related corruption, finally spelled the end for the Milosevic camp. He died six years later while on trial for crimes against humanity. In the years since, Serbia has struggled to find a political identity. Organized crime, corruption, unemployment, and the assassinations of significant politicos have slowed the advancement of the world’s leading frozen food exporter.
Revolutions revolutionize, and sometime revolutionizing takes time. Will these three countries ever reach the potential sought after by the activists that led to the drastic changes? Sure, the jury remains out on Serbia, Turkmenistan, and Romania. But the world too, much like many of us in the United States, strives for the “American Dream.” First expressed by James Adams in 1931, the maxim states that “life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement” regardless of social class or circumstances of birth. The idea of Democracy, better conditions for the people, and a chance for a better future…
Only time will tell for the people of the Middle East. One day, one step at a time.