Often when people think of revolutions they are
thought of as violent uprisings. Indeed, it is interesting to note that those
revolutions best known by the country in which they took place – the American,
French, Russian, and Chinese for example – were all violent.
"Colourful Revolution" Macedonia 2016
But, revolution need not be violent. In fact, there are probably more examples of non-violent revolutions than there are of violent ones. Intriguingly, many of these non-violent revolutions are known by a colour. Consider these revolutions that have taken place over the past few years.
Yellow Revolution. This non-violent revolution took place in the Philippines in 1986 as an uprising against the dictatorial rule of Ferdinand Marcos. Protestors wore yellow ribbons, influenced by the 1973 hit song Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Old Oak Tree by Tony Orlando and Dawn.
Orange Revolution. Following the disputed 2004 Ukrainian presidential elections civil disobedience, sit-ins, and general strikes took place arguing that Viktor Yanukovych had rigged the election. Yanukovych’s opponent, Viktor Yushchenko had orange as his campaign colour – giving the name of the revolution.
Rose Revolution. Following another disputed election, this time in Georgia, saw the resignation of Eduard Shevardnadze and the end of Soviet leadership in the country. The name comes from the final days when protestors stormed parliament with red roses in their hands.
Purple Revolution. Although the term Purple Revolution did not gain widespread use in Iraq, it became known by this colour after the US President George W Bush used it. The colour refers to the colour of dye used to stain the index fingers of voters to prevent multipole voting.
Blue Revolution. This revolution, in 2005, began in Kuwait in support of women’s suffrage. The name comes from the colour of the signs that demonstrators carried. Eventually, the Kuwaiti government acceded to the demands and women were given the right to vote in the 2006 elections.
Saffron Revolution. Named for the colour of the robes worn by Buddhist monks who were the leaders in this non-violent protest. The protests were a series of economic and political ones that took place in Myanmar in late 2007.
Yellow Vest Revolution. Sparked initially by French motorists upset by increased fuel costs, this movement grew to incorporate a number of other grievances. So-called because many of the protestors wore the hi-vis yellow vests associated with construction workers.
Tulip (Pink) Revolution. This revolution in Kyrgyzstan in early 2005 became violent (the “exception that proves the rule.”) The revolution was sparked by a disputed parliamentary election and the name refers to the yellow and pink colours adopted by the protestors.
White Paper Movement. A fire in an Urumqi apartment building on 25 November 2022 killed at least 10 people. The apartment had been locked down as part of China’s covid response. The fire and the deaths sparked demonstrations, with many participants holding up blank white paper. As one protestor said, ‘The white paper represents everything we want to say but cannot say.’ The lock-down was subsequently lifted, but other grievances have re-kindled the White Paper Movement.
Colourful Revolution. This Macedonian revolution in the middle of 2016 got its name from the different coloured paintballs thrown by protestors at government buildings in the nation’s capital, Skopje. The revolution was in opposition to the country’s Prime Minister (Nikola Gruevski) for his part in wiretapping thousands of Macedonian citizens.
The names of other revolutions also had not colourful, but symbolic or metaphorical names. Think of the Kitchenware (Pots and Pans) Revolution in Iceland between 2009-11 protesting the handling of the financial crisis. In late 1989 the Velvet (Gentle) Revolution in Czechoslovakia ended the 41-year rule of the one-party Communist regime. Another revolution to stand up to Soviet rule was that of the Singing Revolution from 1987 to 1991 in Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. The three Baltic nations obtained their independence by almost literally singing for it.
All but one of the revolutions mentioned above (the Tulip Revolution) were inherently non-violent. Violence is not necessary for revolution. It could even be argued that violent revolution tends to simply bring in a different form of authoritarianism.
We might also observe something else from the naming of these revolutions. Symbols, colour, fun, and parody are significant features of non-violence. There is no fun in a violent revolution. But, I can be fairly certain that if I was to speak with a participant in the Baltic states Singing Revolution, they would tell me they had fun and that they felt a sense of communality with their revolutionary friends.