Fragile democracy

Posted in Other | 30-Nov-04 | Author: Dmitry Udalov

Today it is almost impossible to find a country that is more divided than Ukraine. When Ukraine's Central Elections Commission declared Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych the winner late Wednesday, opposition candidate Viktor Yushchenko and his supporters refused to back down and called for a national strike. Julia Tymoshenko, Yushchenko's key ally, said the opposition would surround all government buildings and block railways, airports and highways. The situation is burning and it could easily lead to civil war.

Should this happen, the involvement of Russia, the European Union and the US would obviously increase and could also lead to NATO and the Russian military becoming involved in the matter. In this case, damages and casualties would be tremendous. Control over a country such as Ukraine is a big temptation for any side to surrender before the battle. But is this goal worth fighting for?

President Kuchma was far from being a pro-Russian politician. His policy sometimes was regarded as the main obstacle to CIS integration in the late 1990s. He aimed to deeply engage Ukraine in European affairs; he was eager to introduce Ukraine’s agriculture, high-tech machinery and steel to European markets and to receive investments from the West. President Kuchma was always a strong supporter of NATO, and he once declared Ukraine’s membership in this organization to be one of his chief policy goals.

Russia has mainly been helpful to Kuchma due to its natural resources, as Ukraine totally depends on Russia’s wealth of natural gas. The present election and Kuchma’s desire to achieve his political goals are also reasons why Kuchma found Russia’s assistance essential. Many Russian politicians did not want Russia to support Kuchma’s administration. Thus about half of the public relations agencies in Russia also worked in support of Yushchenko. These facts reveal two myths: The myth that Yanukovych is totally on Russia’s side and the myth that Russia totally supports Yanukovych.

As the outcome of the election sparked a wave of protest, Ukraine is strictly divided into two parts. Most rallies are held in the western part of the country. Students and even schoolchildren took time off from learning to support Yushchenko. In the eastern provinces of Ukraine the situation is more stable, but there were some meetings to support Yanukovych. The point is that provinces that voted for Yanukovych produce about 80% of country’s GDP, and obviously the economic and social situation is better there. Although in Soviet times most of the western provinces of Ukraine were considered to be prestigious regions of the USSR, today they experience severe difficulties. This is because are far from the Russian market and at the same time they are not integrated in the European economy. This explains why Yushchenko’s plans for a serious shift towards Europe are very popular among citizens in the western Ukrainian provinces.

As the political crisis develops, some urgent measures should be taken to prevent bloodshed Firstly, President Leonid Kuchma should retain his post until the conflict concerning the presidential elections is settled. He has already described the protests by supporters of opposition candidate Viktor Yushchenko's as a coup attempt and called on all political forces to sit down at the negotiating table.

Secondly, there is no doubt that if both sides commit themselves to reaching an agreement the crisis can be solved. Neither side in this confrontation will surrender. Too much is at stake. Some politicians believe that the idea of a coalition government can be used to resolve the crisis. It is only a matter of detailed negotiations to determine the spheres that each party should control.

Kuchma has already assured he will not use military force. Yet there can always be provocations. Therefore, a peaceful outcome of the conflict depends equally upon the opposition and the actions of Ukrainian authorities.

In general, the crisis has again revealed to the world how much progress must still be made to achieve real democracy in post Soviet states. It has shown the world just how fragile, weak and inexperienced public rule is in this region. I don’t think that anyone could have expected post-election events to be like this after November 2 in the US, but unfortunately in Ukraine it looks like something natural.

Dmitry Udalov is WSN correspondent Moscow.