The Duck of Minerva

The Duck Quacks at Twilight

Truth Will Win

March 28, 2011

For those keeping score on where the revolutions in North Africa and the Middle East are headed and how to understand it all, it is worth noting that today marked the 30th anniversary of Solidarity’s first national warning strike. On March 27, 1981, more than 12 million Poles took to the streets in a peaceful protest action and in defiance of the Communist regime — a testimony of the power of non-violence. At the time, it was the largest protest action in the Soviet bloc history. The Poles did not have the internet, or Facebook, or Twitter — but they were still able to mobilize on an unprecedented scale. They had antiquated hand crank mimeograph machines (and red ink-stained hands) and an extensive informal network of laborers, students, and intellectuals that distributed posters throughout the country. This was the main poster plastered around the country on March 27, 1981 (the caption reads: “Truth Will Win”):

After the strike, the government never really did regain its footing — it moved back and forth over the next eight years from periods of excessive coercion (Martial Law) to accommodation looking for some recipe to reclaim popular support, revitalize a corrupt economic system, and restore its legitimacy. It couldn’t.

While coercion may keep the threatened regimes in the Middle East and North Africa in power in the short/medium term as happened in Poland (the Poles had to endure 19 months of Martial Law from Dec. 1981 to July 1983), I don’t see how these corrupt autocratic regimes will be able to reclaim public support, manage collapsing economies and restore legitimacy. OK, so 1989 probably is an oversimplified (and overused analogy) — I get it. But, I still think these regimes will eventually fall…

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Jon Western has spent the last fifteen years teaching IR in liberal arts colleges at Mount Holyoke College and the Five Colleges in western Massachusetts. He has an eclectic range of intellectual interests but often writes on international security, U.S. foreign policy, military intervention, and human rights. He occasionally shares his thoughts about professional life in liberal arts colleges. In his spare time he coaches middle school soccer, mentors the local high school robotics team, skis, and sails.