Ukraine: ‘democracy is not a free gift’



Following Ukraine’s Orange Revolution in 2004/ 2005 and the Euromaidan demonstrations that began in November 2013, Ukraine’s path towards democracy and European integration finally appeared to be a smooth one. Almost three years later, however, the initial euphoria has given way to frustration. The Ukrainian government is constantly accused of delaying its fight against corruption and of enforcing reforms. What, then, is lacking when it comes to democracy in Ukraine? Deutsche Welle asked two leading protagonists:

Kiev-based Svitlana Zalishchuk [above right] originally worked as a journalist and was head of the anti-corruption NGO “Center UA”. Since 2016, the prominent critic of the former president, Viktor Yanukovych, sits as one of the heads of the new “Demallianz” (The Democratic Alliance Party) in the Ukrainian parliament.

Anatoliy Amelin [above left] is from Donetsk, a city in eastern Ukraine. He is an expert on economic and political issues and held several senior positions under former president Yanukovich, including as head of the National Commission on Securities and Stock Market of Ukraine. He took part in the Maidan protests. Amelin has since left the public service but remains a committed political analyst and civil society activist.

The spirit of Maidan, which ushered in the present moment in Ukraine’s turbulent history, continues to inspire Ukrainians to do the seemingly impossible: effect a major economic and political transition while fending off military aggression, notes George Weigel (right), the Distinguished Senior Fellow of the Ethics and Public Policy Center, and a board member of the National Endowment for Democracy. That may have something to do with three distinctive features of the Maidan revolution — three keys to its success — that will have a lot to do with whether the promise of a free and prosperous Ukraine is realized in the next 25 years, he writes for The National Review:

  • In a world in which the word “populism” is typically misused, or used in so many different ways as to become virtually meaningless, the Maidan revolution of dignity was a genuinely populist phenomenon: It was a people’s revolt, in which brave men and women asserted their dignity and rights as citizens, not subjects. And in doing so, they took a giant first step toward exorcising the demon of Homo sovieticus — the thwarted and stunted human personality created by Communism — and putting it behind them. As one brave Ukrainian said during those freezing days in Kyiv when he and thousands of others faced down Russian snipers, “We came to the Maidan looking for Europe” — protesting their government’s decision to back off from an agreement to accelerate accession to the European Union — “and we found Ukraine.” Meaning, I think, that he and tens of thousands of others found themselves as free and responsible agents, protagonists of their own history and destiny, rather than subjects, and often victims, of authoritarian government. That sense of dignity was crucial to the success of the Maidan, and it will be crucial to Ukraine’s future.
  • Second, in a country too often riven by inter-faith conflict, the Maidan revolution was genuinely ecumenical and inter-religious. People who previously could not imagine themselves working in harness found a new solidarity in living in the truth, and in putting their lives on the line for the truth about their rights as citizens. And out of this may come something of real consequence for the future of those parts of Europe where the Orthodox theological heritage dominates the religious landscape. …
  • And third, at a moment when the fantastic propaganda apparatus of Vladimir Putin’s Russia was rewriting the history of the eastern Slavs in order to advance a Russian neo-imperial agenda (or, if you prefer, a revanchist KGB agenda), the Maidan asserted the truth of Ukraine’s distinctive cultural heritage, inserted that heritage into the idea of “Europe” in a powerful way that resonated with people of conscience throughout the West, and thereby falsified a Russian expropriation of the entire history of the eastern Slavs: a mythology that has a lot to do with Russians’ own demons, which have been used by Putin in a cynical and sinister way.



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