Saturday, April 10, 2010

Kyrgyzstan and Whom to "Root For"

Eugene Volokh asks, with respect to the recent protests in Kyrgyzstan, "whom in blazes am I suppos[ed] to be rooting for?"  I don't know enough about the merits of the incoming and departing governments to answer on the merits.  However, I'll confess (not surprisngly given my work on public expression) to a bias in favor of protesters in most cases.  Public protest is a messy and, in many countries (including our own) sometimes dangerous activity.  Given the inherent risks involved, I can't help but applaud the recent street demonstrations in places like Kyrgyzstan, Iran, and Thailand.  If public contention in these and other instances looks like an act of desperation, that's because it is often precisely that.  What is truly remarkable is that public demonstrations are sometimes successful means of forcing elections or removing a ruling party.

I don't want to romanticize public protest.  There are elements in every crowd that are bent on destruction rather than reform.  The violence that often accompanies public protests is regrettable.  As well, the opposition may not be of purer motive than the ruling party it seeks to displace.  In more mature democracies like the U.S., we may look upon these protests as unruly mobs.  But we forget our own history in doing so.  Our revolutions and populist uprisings have hardly been free of violence.  We can and should hope for more peaceful means of transferring power in countries like Kyrgyzstan, Thailand, and Iran.  Until that day comes, though, I think I'll root for the protesters.             

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