Monday, November 29, 2004

Democracy By Erosion

Peter Lavelle, UPI Russia analyst, gives us a rant on the world's misconceptions about what's going on in the Ukraine:

What is the point of this short rant? The public outcry to defend Ukraine's democracy is being used to protect and promote the 'oligarchic turf war' in Ukraine. The vast majority of Western commentary has no idea what the reality is on the ground in Ukraine. The vast majority is convinced that politics and the future of Ukraine's democracy, as well as the country's geopolitical orientation, are at stake. This is an illusion, with the West believing its own PR about democracy to reassure itself has nothing to do with the fate of the average Ukrainian.

Defending democracy is something most of us agree with. However, most commenting on Ukraine's democracy have little, if any, idea how the concept of democracy is being used to promote and protect the very specific and selfish financial interests of the few.

Lavelle makes some very good points here and elsewhere in his article. I do think, though, that the key point is a huge number of Ukrainian people are standing up for democracy. Viktor Yushchenko, the man being made out as the savior of Ukrainian democracy, has been accused of and probably is guilty of some level of corruption. Given this, it is easy to say that the Ukrainians have merely backed one corrupt politician over another, and then write the whole exercise off as propaganda.

In another article written a day later, Lavelle discounts the effect of the Ukrainian demonstrations, claiming the situation will be settled in backroom deals far from the people or international mediators.

All this may be true. Lavelle certainly knows a lot more about the area than I do. All the same, I'm throwing my two cents in.

¢ #1: Let's say Lavelle is right. What he does not address is the fact that the Ukrainian citizenry are finding their power, organizing, and creating communication networks. They are developing a brain and muscles. Regardless of where this particular issue is settled, the oligarchs have had to take the people into account. This is a step in the right direction, and with the increased coordination and will of the people, it may well lead to more improvements in the future.

¢ #2: No one has ever made it to democracy in one bound. Many democracies still fight corruption and the influence of small, usually financially powerful individuals and organizations. A corrupt democracy is better than dictatorship.

Democracy is achieved in waves. We look at the American Revolution and think it happened in a flash, that suddenly the US of A sprang forth fully formed from the head of tyranny, freedom and prosperity for all shining across the land. But really the Revolution was just another part of the gradual development of ideas and movements that eroded tyranny over the course of centuries. The people in some eras surged forward and claimed more of their natural rights, in other eras they rested on their laurels or even lost ground. Then a new generation surged forward again. The Revolution was simply the point where the waves running against the cliff of tyranny finally cracked it and broke into the open sea.

People now living under dictators or oligarchs have to go through the process as well. They may not make it to democracy in this generation, but the more of a voice the people have, the closer they get to breaking the chains. What is more, once they break the chains, their first shot at democracy will probably produce flawed systems unduly influenced by power groups outside the government, and by corruption. I look at the process of democratization, including what we are seeing in Ukraine, Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere, as a multi-generational one.

The United States came to democracy with slavery intact and women not allowed to vote for more than a century. I think the Ukrainians, when they make it, will have a better start than that.


(Mug tip to Alisa in the comments to this post at Silent Running.)

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