In December, 1989, with almost inconceivable suddenness, the dictator who had ruled Romania with an iron fist for 34 years, Nicolae Ceausescu, in the space of one week fell from emperor king to the wrong end of a firing squad. His was the last thugocracy government to collapse in the spectacular year of Revolution that was 1989. Despite the domino like collapse of other authoritarian governments in Eastern Europe that year, Ceausescu confidently left the country for a trip to Iran, not recognizing the match for revolution that was struck in the city of Timisoara on December 18th over the simple act of attempted eviction of a Hungarian priest by the government for “inciting” ethnic divisions. Quickly joined by Romanian students, a brutal effort to violently crush the demonstrations had exactly the opposite effect and within only two days had spiraled out of the government’s control. Ceausescu returned to find on December 21st a country he couldn’t possibly recognize, in full revolt and to his shock completely unafraid of him. His meager efforts to rally government support collapsed in hours and he was forced to flee, only to be turned over by police to a thrown together military tribunal that declared him an enemy of the people and executed him on December 25th, 1989. One week, from complete control, to complete collapse.
So it appears the latin phrase, Sic Semper Tyrannus, “thus always to Tyrants” has come to roost again in the year of Revolution 2011 in Libya. Following a similar pattern to Romania, the spark of revolution appears to have been the relatively innocuous event of the government preventing people from inhabiting a long promised but unfinished housing development, but the flame was clearly fired from the spectacular revolutionary forces that are shaking northern Africa and the Middle East, with despots in Tunisia in January and Egypt in February rapidly driven from power, and the governments of Bahrain and Iran shaken by unrest. Libya’s Ceausescu is Mu’ammar Quadaffi, a four decade dictator who has maintained rigid control over the oil rich country and has been a long standing supporter of radical Islamic groups and terrorists in other lands. In similar fashion to Ceausescu, Quadaffi seems to have completely misread recent events and his own vulnerable position, and by violently striking out against demonstrators, managed in a single week to explode his country and implode his dictatorial control. Reports suggest that he has had to flee Libya to avoid his own capture and that his sons are struggling to hold a losing position in the capital of Tripoli. If true, the historical evidence that dictatorial control, no matter how imperial, is a mile wide and an inch deep, and only needs the right push to force collapse, must have the governments of Syria, North Korea, and Iran nervously scanning their horizons for similar signs of trouble.
The year 2011 is proving to be a year of revolution on the epic level of 1989, but its outcome is considerably more murky in the advance of freedom. The dark forces of a different kind of totalitarianism, those of islamofasciist extremism, lay in waiting like foxes at the hen house, to these newly freed countries with little complementary institutional structure for individual rights. The Eastern European countries of 1989 succeeded at getting the tender sprouts of freedom to flower, but initially, it was quite unclear what would come out of the foment at that time. The difference was the example of a United States and Europe that was comfortable in the promotion of democracy for the sake of the formation of republican government and positively intervened to help determine the outcome. A much more unsure United States and Europe exists today, and it is unclear if an determined leadership is available that is able to recognize the opportunity for the promotion of individual human rights for the Arab world, and assure that the fragile flame for this beleaguered part of the world is not rapidly extinguished.
President Obama could take heed from a President that now appears visionary in his understanding of the forces of freedom at work in the Mid-East and beyond:
George W. Bush United Nations Speech September 21, 2004
“For too long, many nations, including my own, tolerated, even excused oppression in the Middle East in the name of stability. Oppression became common, but stability never arrived. We must take a different approach. We must help the reformers of the Middle East as they work for freedom, and strive to build a community of peaceful ,democratic nations.”
” The advance of liberty is the path to both a safer and better world”
“The desire for freedom resides in every human heart. And that desire can not be contained forever by prison walls, or martial laws, or secret police. Over time, and across the world, freedom will find a way.”
“We know that dictators are quick to choose aggression, while free nations strive to resolve differences in peace. We know that oppressive governments support terror, while free governments fight the terror in their midst. We know that free people embrace progress and life, instead of becoming recruits for murderous ideologies”