Orange Revolution (2004)

The impact of the protesting mass and the simple and univocal message of a symbol, but only in Ukraine.

As the colour orange was associated with Yushchenko’s opposition party, it rallied and united the protesting ‘mass’ and conveyed the univocal message of resistance to the ruling party. Local people and international audiences could easily grasp its conventional and symbolic meaning and its connection with the protest against the ruling power.

However, as the colour orange does not convey the same meaning outside Ukraine, its use for similar actions elsewhere failed to capitalise on its strong protest symbolic power. Its success has either been insignificant like the Movimento Arancione (Orange Movement) in Italy (Ferrara 2013) , or its association with specific social issues remains limited or unknown (e.g. National Gun Violence Awareness Day and End Violence Against Women Campaign).

Scroll down to learn more about strenghts and limits of this action, or discover our analysis of the other three case studies.

Yushchenko and his wife

Flags of the opposition party. Kiev, UKRAINE - 2004 (Photo credit Sergei Supinski. AFP/Getty Images)

Two examples of actions using the color orange

Orange is one of the many colours associated with the fight against gender-based violence

Lesson Learned

A symbol of protest should unite into a protesting mass and convey a simple and univocal message.
However, it should also allow capitalising on its communicative strength and protest symbolic power to exploit its cumulative effect for similar public actions elsewhere.

 

Protests that erupted in the former Soviet Republics in the early 2000’s have been labelled  ‘Colour Revolutions’ for their common use of a colour or a flower as a symbol.

 

 

In November 2003 in Georgia, there was the ‘Rose Revolution’. The opposition carried roses to support its protest against the fraudulent elections. In December 2004 in Ukraine, there was the ‘Orange Revolution’. This colour was chosen for its association with Yushchenko’s opposition party and its resistance to the ruling power.

 

 

In March 2005 in Kyrgyzstan, there was the “Pink Revolution” also called the “Tulip Revolution”.

 

 

 

Mimicking the protest symbolic factor of these actions, the wide spreading discontent in Russia in 2011 rallied around a ‘white ribbon’. The colour white was chosen for its symbolic association with transparency and clarity. Displaying the white ribbon during their public actions, protesters demanded the same transparency and clarity in the upcoming elections. (Vassilieva 2011). (AP Photo/Ivan Sekretarev)

 

Strengths

These public actions show four main common strong factors. One, protesters rallied under these symbols became a ‘mass’ and projected the image of a “united and organised opposition” (McFaul 2010 p.178). Two, as flowers and colours are symbols easy to grasp they gathered fast support. Three, the message they transmitted was simple, univocal and easy to understand. Four, in line with the media known needs and predilections, these symbols offered eye-catching images, while the name of the revolution supplied an easy shorthand text. These factors facilitated the extensive media coverage, which in turn, contributed to make these actions very popular. “A modern revolutionary group heads for the television station” (Hoffman 1980 p.86).

Limits

The Colour Revolutions show a different grading of achievement/failure.

The colour and name of the ‘Orange Revolution’ were chosen to re-brand the former less inspiring and less catchy ‘Chestnut Revolution’. Its association with Yushchenko’s opposition party provided to the colour a strong protest symbolic power.

The conventional connection between the colour white and purity is widely recognised. By extension, the link between the ‘white ribbon’ and opposition’s demand for political transparency needed little explanation.

Symbols used for the ‘Rose’, ‘Pink’ and ‘Tulip’ Revolutions experienced deeper drawbacks. The link between these colours / flowers and the protest movements was not easy to grasp, especially for international audiences. These symbols needed additional layers of explanation first to understand their symbolic meaning, and then to establish their arbitrary connection with public actions. Although they inspired, rallied and unified protesters, their protest symbolic power was unconvincing. In turn, the strength of public actions they symbolised was weak.

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