Ukrainians are clamouring for change—but the west is reluctant to helpby Chrystia Freeland / February 19, 2014 / Leave a comment
The Euromaidan in Kiev where “Ukrainians are proving to be willing to fight, be tortured and even die in defence of democracy” ©Getty Images
Here’s the irony of the struggle which began in Ukraine last November: the activists of the Euromaidan, as they have renamed Kiev’s central square, have shown that democracy remains an incredibly powerful domestic goal in countries that have never properly enjoyed it. But at the same time the fight has revealed how weak the world’s fully fledged democracies are when it comes to asserting their will beyond their own borders.
Democracy is being revealed as at once powerful at home, and feeble abroad. It is inspiring domestic protesters in a country where it has always been frail, and weakening the diplomats dispatched by nations where it has always been strong.
Let’s start with democracy in Ukraine. If ever there was a citizenry that had good reason to be cynical about democracy it is the people of Ukraine. The collapse of the “evil empire” brought Ukraine independence, and even relatively free presidential elections, but it also brought economic mismanagement, corruption and ultimately an effort, similar to Vladimir Putin’s in Russia a few years earlier, to bring back a more authoritarian form of government.
Ukrainians fought back, and with their Orange Revolution of 2004-5, they won. The aftermath of that precious victory was an even more powerful reason to become disillusioned. The democratic winners proved to be catastrophically ineffective rulers—so much so, that the the failed leader of the authoritarian revanche in 2004, Viktor Yanukovych, was elected president in 2010, in a relatively fair vote.
Yet when Yanukovych backtracked on a long-promised treaty with Europe last autumn, Ukrainians believed strongly enough in democracy—both as represented by Europe and as manifest in their own civil society—that they took to the streets. Strikingly, the unifying concern of the demonstrators is neither nationalist nor straight-forward economic self-interest.
This isn’t about Russian language and culture versus Ukrainian language and culture. It is about the authoritarian, clannish and corrupt form of government the Kremlin champions and represents versus the “normal” values of the rule of law and individual rights the European Union symbolises and demands. Looking across the border to Poland and beyond, Ukrainians are confident that in the long run, the European approach delivers a higher standard of living, as well as greater…