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Wondering about the Ukraine

The Ukraine faces a choice between living in Vladamir Putin’s shadow or living under the shadow of more locally sourced rascals. Yes, I wish the protestors well in their attempt to prevent Russia’s pet poodle Viktor Yanukovych from stealing an election but in truth I do not know enough about the alternatives to Yanukovych to get any real enthusiasm for what is going on.

The fact that anti-government people have a tendency to ‘disappear’ in the Ukraine is cause enough to want to see the end of Yanukovych and his supporting but the notion that ‘democracy’ is possibly being subverted is not any real cause for excitement to me per se, given that any alternative to Yanukovych (and the pretty strange Leonid Kuchma) will no doubt use democratic processes to turn the Ukraine into just another highly regulated EU-satellite ‘aid crack’ addicted state.

So sure, good luck guys, just try to make sure you are not changing Moscow’s iron handcuffs for locally made ones with a velvet lining imported from Brussels.

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19 comments to Wondering about the Ukraine

  • mike

    I’m a bit tired and a little drunk maybe, but I feel I should make a point here. The value of democracy is not just instrumental (from the partisan perspective of electing the least worst government), but a necessary condition of the open society (is it not?). Therefore its’ possible subversion in a former SU state (not mentioning other aspects of the Ukraine situation) gives good reason for anxiety/concern. The EU-leanings of Yuschenko shouldn’t blind us to that.

  • johny fever

    mike, seconded.

    BBC World did a program on this yesterday, and I was struck by how little they seemed to care about the legitimacy of the election, and how much the concern was about the “direction” the Ukraine might be taking.

  • Open societies developed in most countries that have them now with only a tiny proportion of the population having the vote until quite recently, so forgive me if I remain rather unexcited by the notion democracy is the key to liberty rather than just (ideally) a small component part.

  • veryretired

    Media shorthand aside—one side “good” and the other, Putin’s, side “bad”, there are a couple of interesting developments.

    The apparently unexpected decisions by the courts, media, and Parliament not to rubberstamp the election are signs of a fledgling independence vital to any future hope for representative government.

    The peaceful nature of the protest gathering is also hopeful. As Havel pointed out in one of his messages, it generates a moral status that random violence could never enjoy.

    And, having mentioned Havel, the support of such anti-authoritarians as Walesea and Havel has given the movement a standing that some of us who admire the courage of those willing to stand up to repression might not have extended otherwise. When one is unable to keep track of every nuance of a hundred different situatons around the world, it is helpful to have guidance from those whom one admires.

    As neither a proper nor an omniscient libertarian, as some here, but rather just a radical old scoundrel, its always good to have some pointers as to who’s who.

  • mike

    Well that’s the BBC for you isn’t it? Then again I’m concerned about the ‘direction’ Ukraine might be taking!
    I’d rather seem them ape the former Cszechoslovakia and split in two if need be, than have the whole country governed by Yanukovich. Romania seems to have had a disputed election as well…

    This might be a little glib (hey, it’s late, I’ve had a couple of drinks), but events in eastern europe and the middle east (and rumours about N.Korea) could make 2005 another very good year for democracy, 16 years on…

  • mike

    What veryretired said.

    “so forgive me if I remain rather unexcited by the notion democracy is the key to liberty rather than just (ideally) a small component part.”

    Democracy as a necessary condition, not a sufficient one. But what the demand for it may reflect is more interesting…

  • Some say “It’s the economy, stupid“. Anyway, as much as I sympathize with those protestors, maybe they should be careful what they wish for.

  • Jacob

    Thanks Alisa for the eye-opening article you linked to.
    I think, in general, given our limited knowledge of details about Ukraine (and many other place, like for instance – Romania), we should promote change.
    Kuchma & Yanukovitch were in power 10 years. That’s enough. It’s time for change, so let’s support the other guy. Regular turnover in the rulers, especially against their wish, is surely a small component of liberty.

  • Julian Morrison

    An advantage of getting EU-by-revolution is the practise. They’ll need it when they want back out again…

    Oh, and it can’t hurt to shake some of the the smugness out of the political leaders of the world. I’m sure Putin, Blair, etc etc are each thinking “there but for the grace of God”.

  • Jacob: you are welcome. I have to add, though, that I have a feeling that the article downplays the nationalistic aspect of the struggle (by basically not mentioning it).

    In general, I tend to agree about change being good, especially when the current situation is not very good. Problem is, in this case it may not be much of a change. After all, Yushchenko served as a PM under the current president from 1999 to 2001, so it’s not as if he is a breath of fresh air or anything. Still, I guess even if it does not get better, maybe it will not get worse.

  • Ed

    Do you call it “The Ukraine” so that we will not be misled into thinking it was that other “Ukraine”?

  • I call it ‘The Ukraine’ because that is generally regarded as the corrrect form… much like the Netherlands is called The Netherlands rather than just ‘Netherlands’.

  • The name “Netherlands” was historically used to describe a region that now includes, in addition to Holland, Belgium and Luxemburg. (Netherland is an English word meaning “lower land”). Thus, the definite article was probably added to distinguish Holland from the rest of that region. There is nothing like that with regard to Ukraine. The word is Ukranian/Russian. The definite article does not even exist in Russian, and probably not in Ukranian either (I am not sure about that, since I only speak Russian, but the two languages are very closely related).

  • PowerUser

    the guy is correct, THE Ukraine is the usual form in English.

  • mike

    “it is a tragedy when the idea of democracy is used to promote a small group of oligarchs at the expense of the people who actually believe in the idea.”

    Quoted from the end of the Lavelle article Alisa links to. Yuschenko may be in bed with oligarchs too, but that last little word “too”, is quite the point. The in-power party are in bed with the oligarchs and have tried to distort the election – the other party is in bed with another set of oligarchs but has not tried to distort the election (so far as we know).

    If Lavelle is claiming that Yanukovych’s party “actually believe in the idea [of democracy]” then I cannot see how such a claim follows from the alledged fact
    that oligarchs have pumped money into Yuschenko’s campaign too. An obvious interpretation is that the various oligarchs are merely betting on who they think is going to win – leaving aside the naive possibility that they might actually agree with stuff the candidates have said they stand for.

    I think Lavelle’s article is a shoddy piece of commentary – he is the one who should do some research to support that odeous little claim.

  • I speak Ukrainian and live in Ukraine. The form prefered by Ukrainians is without the article because it doesn’t exist in Ukrainian and because it implies that it means “The Borderland”, which they don’t like. So maybe courtesy suggests that one should use “Ukraine”. Is democracy liberty or liberty democracy? Ukrainians in the main are happy to leave such issues until they’ve got rid of a criminal regime that kills its opponents.

  • Sorry, but I just realized that I sounded like I was still teaching American college students (don’t ask). Still, my point was saying “The Ukraine” is like saying “The England”. The fact that it is the usual form, does not necessarily make it the correct one.

    Mike: I have seen and heard plenty of allegations that there was election fraud on both sides. Western media likes to ignore this (surprise). Also, I have found nothing in the article suggesting that by “people who actually believe in the idea” Lavelle meant any specific party. I think he rather meant ordinary Ukranians, hopefully most of them. Lastly, not that I want to put all my eggs in Lavelle’s basket, but his “russian” credentials are far more impressive than most commentators I have read so far, including the blogs. Like I said above, he omits some important points, but the ones he makes are no less important.

  • Peter Melia

    For liberty to thrive, surely what is needed is democracy and a bill of rights. The bill of rights is necessary to protect any minority from a democratic majority. The current hunting ban is a case in point. We have no bill of rights, so who can protect the hunters, outvoted, as they are by democrats exercising their rights? Does the Ukraine have a bill of rights?

  • When Ukrainians start calling the UK, “the United Kingdom” I shall worry whether to call the Ukraine “Ukrainia” or whatever else they wish.

    The same applies to “Byelorussia”, “China”, “Germany”, “Greece”, “Japan” “Kossovo”, “Moldavia” and “Spain”.

    And last time I looked, it was still “the Kingdom of the Netherlands” or “the Netherlands”. Calling it Holland is a bit like referring to England for the UK.