Ukraine and democracy

Facing the fires of protest.

Facing the fires of protest.

Democracy endowments or cultural base?

Article: Taras Matkovsky – Contributor

[dropcaps round=”no”]B[/dropcaps]eing someone who was born in Ukraine, I have often been asked what I think about the ongoing troubles there. These troubles should be of some concern to me as they are taking place in Kiev, my birthplace. My parents pay close attention to what is happening there. They have little love for the Yanukovich regime; I remember my mom proudly telling a café waitress that she supported the 2004 Orange Revolution when asked about the orange ribbon pinned to her coat. I have several relatives, including my only surviving grandparent, who currently live in Kiev. And yet despite all of this, I could not care less about the conflict there and have no desire for Canada to get “involved”, whatever that means.

From my studies of Russian history, I know that democracy is a form of government that has not enjoyed strong support in much of Eastern Europe. It wasn’t that nobody tried to set up a democratic form of governance in Russia. Rather, democracy has not flourished in this region because its proponents ended up being incapable of providing ordinary people a better lifestyle than the one they had before. This can be traced back to 1917, when the Tsar first abdicated in favour of a Provisional Government that continued his war against the wishes of the people; it was overthrown in October of that year by Lenin and his Bolsheviks. The pattern has repeated itself in modern Russia and Ukraine. Vladimir Putin came into and stayed in power because Russia’s first democratic president, Boris Yeltsin, proved unable or unwilling to right the social damages of post-Communism. Under his tenure, people lost their jobs due to privatization of industries, the profits from which landed in the pockets of oligarchs. In Ukraine, people came out in 2004 to support Viktor Yushchenko in the hopes that he would be different from the corrupt Leonid Kuchma regime and its candidate, Viktor Yanukovich. However, he squandered the goodwill of the people by firing his allies and shutting down Parliament twice. In an ironic twist, the man he fought against in 2004, Viktor Yanukovich, became first his prime minister in 2006 and then President in 2010. In both modern cases, initial enthusiasm for the removals of corrupt regimes gave way to cynicism and despair based on the actions of the newly elected leaders.

Given what I know, I am pessimistic about what will come out of the conflict. I doubt that the opposition leaders will be able to obtain power, much less govern for the benefit of Ukraine. It should also be noted that the current Ukrainian government is not siding with Russia just because Putin snapped his fingers; they were given a $15 billion gas deal. For Canada to accomplish anything in Ukraine, the ideal would be to support Ukrainian economic strength so that it could not only challenge Russia but also hold its own against Western nations. What Ukraine needs is not democracy endowments but the time to develop its own economic and cultural base. Unless Canada is willing to contribute to this, then I don’t think it would do any good in Ukraine. Democracy is useless without means of sustenance.

[button style=”e.g. solid, border” size=”e.g. small, medium, big” link=”” target=””]Image: Mstyslav Chernov[/button]

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