I have some friends going to the Euro Futbol <soccer> tournament in Ukraine and I just traded emails with a good friend who lives there and just sent an email to a pretty good agency in Kiev … well … all that mean is that Ukraine was on my mind.
Quick note. I love the capital of Ukraine – Kiev. To me it is one of the most charming cities in Europe. If you want to know about Kiev this is a nice straightforward site (and I liked it because they include popular music videos): http://www.ireneskiev.com/Ukraine_general_info.html.html
This isn’t about charming Kiev.
This is more about pointing out some uncharming things happening in Ukraine <which permits me to point out that there are other things happening in the world beyond Occupy Wall Street and the Middle East>.
This also permits me the opportunity to talk about how difficult it is to establish a “democracy” (a good lesson for us to ponder as the middle east has elections and the USofA battles its way through another set of brutal elections). Ukraine, twenty years after gaining independence from the Soviet Union, is still struggling to establish a democracy.
And it is still struggling despite the fact people want something other than a totalitarian/authoritative system (proof that just because you want something doesn’t mean you will get it).
Ok. Before you dismiss Ukraine as maybe the Rhode Island of Europe. Ukraine is landsizewise equal to France, has a population of 52 million, a location bordering both Europe and Asia, large agricultural and high-tech industries, and extensive natural resources.
Ukraine is key to the stability of that part of the world and uncertainty has repercussions throughout Europe. In addition, a successful independent, democratic, and reform-oriented Ukraine could provide a model for the establishment of other democracies.
So my next topic … change … matters.
Whenever I doubt countries can make massive change (good and bad) I look at Ukraine. It’s been about 13 years since I visited for the first time.
At that time you had to apply for a visa. Foreigners were often stopped by police for passports. I am not sure there was a supermarket (as we know one) there. There were 2 coffeehouses in the entire city of Kiev (tea is their thing). I believe the only two non Russian/Ukrainian stores downtown were puma and benneton (there were many other differences).
Change has not been easy. And it has been interesting to see the cultural shift between generations where older generations didn’t know anything but communism and found some comfort in it and younger generations seeking a ‘western way’.
As younger generations have a habit of doing … they had a desire <for democracy> but a lack of true understanding <what democracy really takes to be successful>.
So while there were non-free elections and free elections and then quasi free elections (in that order) it all created turmoil at a high level but it also created turmoil within generations.
And ultimately it means that Ukraine is currently in a turmoil.
Now. If you doubt that the turmoil is happening … watch this recent video from their parliament session.
Ukraine parliament brawls over language bill … violent scuffles broke out among deputies in Ukraine’s parliament during a debate over a bill to allow the official use of Russian. The brawl erupted between those loyal to President Viktor Yanukovych and legislators from pro-western opposition parties, who want to preserve Ukraine’s cultural and political independence from its powerful neighbor (the video):
Crazy stuff huh? Seems wild to americans but European parliaments are kind of known for their open craziness.
Turmoil, or chaos as I pointed out in an earlier post, creates opportunity. The opportunity for those in the West to help them thru transition, but also learn.
It would be silly of us to focus on the cultural differences (as a means of disregarding what is happening) but rather focus on the actions as they occur. Watch the stops and starts of a large productive country and how a democracy stubs its toe despite good intentions and a desire to do that which is right.
Here is a truth we should get in our heads.
The path to a productive democratic country is a long and winding road (despite the fact we all would like to believe it is straight and narrow) and the road can be rocky at times.
Ok. Back to Ukraine.
I was lucky enough to be in Kiev during the 2004 Orange Revolution and what I believe was a huge step politically and socially and economically for a great country.
It was exciting and you could feel the hope-like electricity among the people walking the streets.
But Victor Yuschenko (first real democratic president) squandered the opportunity.
But Yulia Tymoshenko (second democratic president) squandered the opportunity.
And now the Yanukovych government (which is debatable as a truly qualified democratic government) has squandered the opportunity to rebuild a country that has clearly lost its way.
<yikes … when I type that I begin thinking of the past three American governments>
It seems like Ukraine has been in constant turmoil since gaining its independence.
Today? The current president has failed to deliver on any of his campaign promises — economic reform, increased prosperity, and an end to corruption — and instead has rolled back democracy and the rule of law <the latter being really the only difference between this presidency and the other presidents>.
They appear to be going backwards.
All that has happened since the Orange revolution is a deepened political, regional, and linguistic division throughout the country (for those who believe other countries are always one culture/one voice … it is better to think of Ukraine as multi-faceted not unlike the United States).
former PM yulia tymoshenko
All three democratically elected presidents have only succeeded in creating a large gap between the population and the government. And, not unlike America’s lower middle class, the Ukrainian lower middle class is beginning to slightly yearn for “what was” (yesteryear).
Beyond the parliament video I shared there is also the recent display of government mismanagement of “abuse of power” of former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko (she is the extremely well liked and feisty female politician who almost won in 2010 and remains the principal political competition).
The charges against her are absurd, obviously political and the trial galvanized her support, despite her obvious flaws, and Ukraine looked idiotic to the West <all the while Russia lurks to one side seeking an opportunity for itself> all this political play taking place just as it has sought to move toward the West by signing a free-trade agreement with the European Union.
To be fair … I pulled an article from the Pravda to make a point: http://english.pravda.ru/world/ussr/17-02-2012/120541-tymoshenko-0/
My own point of view is skewed from what I like, and what I believe is “right” (which is certainly a Western world perspective).
It becomes easy to select Tymoshenko as ‘hope’ mostly because the array of alternatives appears quite limited these days.
In this there are some similarities to what we are currently seeing the US elections … at some points it seems like we are selecting the lesser evil (sorry … poor choice of words because no candidate is truly evil …) … ok … maybe better said … the least objectionable candidate.
And all that said.
Despite all the turmoil the Ukrainian economy grew by about 5%, up from 4.2% the previous year. And private consumption was one of the main drivers of growth as it expanded by about 14% over the first nine months of 2011. In addition thanks to a record high harvest of grains (56.7 million tons) and other crops, agricultural sector output was up by 17.5%. The record high harvest caused a decline in consumer price inflation to 4.6% at year-end, the lowest level in the last 9 years.
I share that information because it is a shame that the government couldn’t use some foundational growth success to solidify some positive initiatives. Instead, even with growth, there are concerns with internal management… which creates some stress because the growth makes the prize looks very shiny to the world and to the ‘political players’ in the country.
The scary part to me … Ukraine’s governmental bureaucratic crisis appears to be on a path to only deepen … and ultimately that translates into a more increasingly authoritarian, impoverished, polarized, and unstable country.
By the way … none of those words include ‘healthy’ or ‘democratic.’
I wrote this because Ukraine is one of my favorite countries (to visit and study historically).
But also because I have been writing some about imbalance and global unrest … and how unrest in one country can transition to another country.
Think about this.
With 50+ million people … situated in a strategically important space between the EU and Russia. Ukraine’s instability:
- undermines the normalization of relations between the West and Russia
- threatens Europe’s ongoing efforts at economic stabilization (Ukraine was considered the breadbasket of the Soviet Union has a massive agricultural output)
- <and maybe most scary> encourages Russia to consider some form of intervention.
#3. I typed ‘intervention’ (that can be defined in many ways).
None of those things are good … #3 is a massive domino of which if it falls tumbles into a variety of other disturbing dominoes.
This troubling governmental trend needs to be reversed … because democracy, or the hope of it, began well in 2004.
Ukraine needs to ‘refind’ the principles of the 2004 Orange Revolution and implement more effectively. Maybe they need to ask for assistance or maybe they need to be offered assistance.
I am not a government expert but some of the issues just seem silly … if not incredibly easy to resolve.
For example. The current government is setting up restrictions inhibiting the success of small and medium sized businesses (which seems incredibly silly because they are always the main growth engine of capitalistic democratic economies).
Here is an example of what is going on … in November 2010, up to 20,000 business owners <not left wing nutcases> staged a two-week rally in Kiev’s Independence Square <which was also the site of the Orange Revolution rallies>. Eventually, a delegation of business owners was invited to meet with the administration <let’s call that the ‘power of the people>. When the group asked one of Yanukovych’s advisers what the president thought about the code, they were told that he had not read it (excellent politics … imagine that in the good ole USofA).
The business protesters were then evicted from the square. Some minor changes were made … and … well … it has all led to the closure of many small and medium-sized businesses <let’s call that the ‘power of an authoritarian government just to bookend the original power of the people thought>.
I admit. When I see things like this I have to wonder who the hell is in charge (and what have they been smoking).
Unsurprisingly, social unrest has increased; 43% of those responding to a poll in April 2011 said that they were ready to join “legal protest actions” against inflation, 34% would do so to protest the nonpayment of wages, 22% would protest against the excesses of local authorities, and 15% would do so in support of human rights.
Unsurprisingly (just as in many other countries) people are taking positions of extreme.
Intellectuals, students, and Ukrainian-speaking democrats are already taking part in recurring protests against the anti-Ukrainian policies and the growing authoritarianism and pro-Russian tilt of the Yanukovych administration.
In addition, a self-styled “new left” has emerged, reminiscent of the student movements of United States and Western Europe in the 1960s, demanding the abolition of social inequality, capitalism, and oligarchic rule.
At the same time, a formerly insignificant Ukrainian right-wing nationalist movement has been galvanized by some anti-Ukrainian policies and now talks of revolution and Russian imperialism.
Entrepreneurs and business owners are vocal against economic stagnation and lack of business opportunities.
2012 is key.
The 20th anniversary of Ukraine’s independence is on August 24.
Up to a million foreign soccer fans are expected to visit the Ukrainian cities of Donetsk, Kharkiv, Kiev, and Lviv for the UEFA soccer tournament currently being played.
In addition parliamentary elections are held in October 2012.
With the popularity of the current government leaders falling there will be multiple reasons for Ukrainians to take to the streets.