Pavel K Baev
Peace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO)
Revolutions never cease to evolve and to fascinate. Ongoing mass protests in Belarus have similarities to as well as differences from uprisings that brought down authoritarian regimes in Eastern Europe in 1989. This thoroughly researched work by a prominent British historian not only brings back to our current analysis the incredible chain of events 30 years ago but also informs our disappointment in the inability of the European Union to support brave women in Belarus who persist with peaceful resistance against brutal police repression. The author's archival work has yielded rich insights into the agonizing search by leaders of key Western states and the USSR for answers to the unexpected public mobilization that rejected the commonsense prescriptions for gradual evolution. Their answers were instinctively conservative as they tried to make only minimal adjustments to existing institutions 'for the sake of stability and predictability' (p. 586). That conservatism worked reasonably well for preventing explosions of violent unrest (with the important exception of Yugoslavia) but it also condemned the European institutions to paralysis, which is only too obvious in the futile attempts of the European Union to produce a common foreign and security policy. What adds particular value to Spohr's examination is the carefully drawn parallel between the successful uprisings in Eastern Europe and the suppression of pro-democracy movement in China. The forceful reassertions of rigid control of the Communist party over the fast-changing country appeared to signify a major setback for reforms; instead, it secured an acceleration of China's development, which has now produced a major geopolitical as well as ideological challenge for the West.