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The president is gone, but Ukraine’s democracy hopes in tatters

Don’t think that Ukraine’s social unrest will usher in a golden era of social democracy. Unfortunately for the former Eastern bloc state, its future is likely to be more of the same.

The ouster of president Viktor Yanukovych has ended an era of heavy-handed political rule in Ukraine, but it has ushered in a period of considerable instability. It would be distinctly optimistic to believe that the ending of Yanukovych’s rule will lead to a Ukrainian liberal democracy.

Among the mobs that occupied Independence Square (pictured) and eventually turned the political tide against Yanukovych were liberals, libertarians and those who were just dismayed with the poverty and inequalities that have characterised Ukraine since the dismantling of the USSR more than two decades ago. But that mob also included neo-Nazis, chauvinist nationalists and others whose political credo does not include pluralism or tolerance.

The interim government is being run from the Parliament, in which a majority of members voted Yanukovych from power. That there remains doubt as to whether they had the constitutional power to do so is now beside the point, as the deposed president has fled, presumably to safety in the ethnic Russian-dominated south of the country, of which he is a native.

Historically divided between numerous competing ethnic groups, Ukraine again appears to be splitting along ethnic lines, with ethnic Russians in the south and east favouring Yanukovych and ethnic Ukrainians in the north and west favouring a range of parties and minor leaders. Wealth and industrialisation tend to be concentrated in the Russian-speaking areas.

Russia will want to ensure that ethnic Russians remain protected. If the Russian-dominated areas launch their own counter-coup against the Parliament, or attempt to split from the rest of the country, Russia can be expected to at least provide logistical support, an economic blockade and perhaps, as a final resort, military intervention.

Assuming Ukraine can remain geographically united, at least for the time being, the next question will be the formation of a new government, with a new president perhaps being appointed by the parliament. There has been sufficient unity in parliament to oust Yanukovych, but once the unity of the struggle and the euphoria of the victory recedes, parliament is likely to become more factionaised.

Somewhat like the “Arab Spring”, hopes for a stable post-Yanukovych liberal democracy would appear to be at odds with political reality. With numerous self-serving factional leaders positioning themselves for power, a composite parliamentary government is unlikely to be stable. This is especially so is there is a push for right-wing extremists to seize power.

One of the difficulties of an unconstitutional change of political leadership, too, is the established precedent of changing government through mob rule. No matter who consolidates in power now, objectors can simply go to the streets and occupy government buildings.

If a new government, facing such occupation, fires on the mobs, it will be as delegitimised as Yanokovych. Yet if a new government does not exercise authority it will lose control of state institutions and collapse. Ukraine is thus now entering uncharted political waters.

Watching closely is its large and long dominant neighbour, Russia. Ukraine has been within the Russian political orbit for two-and-a-half centuries. The ouster of Yanukovych has altered Ukraine’s political orientation, but it has not altered its geographic proximity.

*Professor Damien Kingsbury is director of the Centre for Citizenship, Development and Human Rights at Deakin University

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  • 1
    j.oneill
    Posted Wednesday, 26 February 2014 at 7:06 pm | Permalink

    It is surprising to read an article on the unrest in the Ukraine and for it not to mention the role of the US in fomenting that unrest. State Department functionary Victoria Nuland was memorably caught on tape decrying the lack of assistance from the EU, but thinking that the $5billion the US had spent was loose change if it enabled NATO to be able to extend their missile bases closer to the Russian border.

    This is a US/NATO destabilisation exercise par excellence as a number of commentators in the foreign media have pointed out.

    The always excellent Pepe Escobar put it this way:

    Here’s a very possible scenario. Eastern and southern Ukraine become part of Russia again; Moscow would arguably accept it. Western Ukraine is plundered, disaster capitalism style, by the Western corporate-financial mafia-while nobody gets s single EU passport. As for NATO, they get their bases, “annexing” Ukraine, but also get myriads of hyper-accurate Russian Iskander missiles locked on their new abode. So much for Washington’s ‘strategic advance’.”

    Escobar may well be right. It is certainly a more realistic and frank discussion of what is really going on.

  • 2
    j.oneill
    Posted Thursday, 27 February 2014 at 10:37 am | Permalink

    By way of follow-up. William Engdahl is interviewed on The Corbett Report on the developments in the Ukraine. He exposes the details of the Nuland telephone call that I referred to yesterday. He also puts the coup in its proper geopolitical context. Far more instructive really than Professor Kingsbury’s skirting around the real issues.

  • 3
    Liamj
    Posted Thursday, 27 February 2014 at 11:14 am | Permalink

    If i lived in W.Europe i’d be going long on longjohns. A quarter of the gas burnt there comes from Russia via Ukraine, and as 2009 showed, Russia is quite willing to turn the tap off when displeased. Now theres a country that knows how to use its energy resources, they must laugh at Australia’s trivial royalties and geostrategic cowardice.

    @ j.oneill - Pr Kingsbury never mentions US meddling in other nations affairs, maybe he takes it as a given and presumes we do too.

  • 4
    AR
    Posted Thursday, 27 February 2014 at 6:56 pm | Permalink

    I’ve always assumed that the author has a direct fax to Langley - his verbiage is indistinguishable from that of the alphabet soup agency.
    Wot the Hegemon wants, helots grovel to deliver.

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