Thursday, 8 May 2014

Democracy Blues in Ukraine

It's a funny thing; this business of democracy.

These days in Ukraine, everybody claims to be democratic. Everybody claims to represent the people. The acting government in Kiev can point to the fact that 77% of people in Ukraine have told pollsters from Pew Research that they want the borders of Ukraine to remain unchanged. Pro-Russian secessionists can point to the fact that 54% of Crimeans want regions to be able to secede from Ukraine; and that - in eastern Ukraine - the 27% of Russian-speakers who feel the same cannot simply be ignored. ( Pro-Russian secessionists can, of course, also point to the fact that Pew Research is based in Washington, DC (although, by that standard, what are we to think about Russia Today...)

...and a vast majority of people in Ukraine can point to the fact that they would like peace now, please, and could all those nice pollsters please go away.

Anyway, so much for the hoi polloi. All the statespeople want to be democratic, too, yes they do. That is why Petro Poroshenko and the West want that Ukrainian presidential election to take place on May 25 across the country - apart from in the nasty terrorist towns, of course ( And that is why Vladimir Putin was for the east Ukrainian secessionist referendum - until he was against it, of course. ( How fortunate for democracy that eastern Ukraine, as represented by those most illustriously non-elected militias, have decided to ignore Uncle Volodya and press ahead with their voting, nonetheless. (

Why is it, by the way, that Maria Lipman, Vladimir Solovyov and so many others seem to think Putin planned this snub of him from the start? ( OK - I get why Solovyov thinks so; as a Putinista he would have to do so. But hasn't it occurred to anybody that Putin has been a politician for a good fourteen years now. As all other politicians in the world, Putin has long since learned to make mistakes - and now he just looks like someone who can't control his troops.

Anyway, I digress from my digressions. Democracy, it's about DEMOCRACY (the word around which all statespeople of the world must unite!)!!! Democracy - C'est la lutte finale / Groupons-nous et demain...

Look, I get it that democracy is a lovely thing in many ways; least evil and all that... ( I'm all for the power of the demos. But can we please all start agreeing on a simple starting point:

Democracy is based on fiction!

This doesn't mean we should get rid of democracy, far from it. And it doesn't mean there is not qualitative difference between the lumpy porridge served in much of the West and the rancid meat of the Russian political system - because, my God, there is such a difference! ( But it does mean that all this search after a "truly democratic" election that will "save" Ukraine, or "save" Russians in Ukraine, is futile.

If the referendum on secession in (parts of) eastern Ukraine takes place this Sunday it will in itself provide no legitimacy to a region uncontrollable from Kiev (and from Moscow?). Just as the referendum, so-called, in Crimea provided no legitimacy, either, carried out as it was under the barrels of automatic weapons. And without legitimacy, on Crimea and in the rest of Ukraine, the status of the peninsula will remain uncertain. Similarly in eastern Ukraine - how can people vote in a free and fair manner with all sorts of armed bugbears running around? (and yes, there are bugbears on both sides of the divide).

Now as for that Ukrainian presidential election of May 25... William Hague, who has otherwise been sensible recently, states that the failure to hold this election would be very serious, because "Once postponed, who knows when they would be held." ( Very true - and once held, who knows when the new president will be accepted throughout Ukraine? Of course Poroshenko wants this election to take place - he's bloody in the lead! (outside Slavyansk, anyway) (

Neither the referendum, nor the presidential election will solve anything as such. Certainly, neither shall the "will of the people(s)." What will work? Well, to start with - there must be an agreed demos, a people on which all the goodies of democracy can centre (how the deuce do we do this? Well, might a "Truth and Reconciliation" committe be an idea - possibly supported by a Ukrainian government in which each minister represented a region in Ukraine?). That demos must be everyone resident within and holding the citizenship of Ukraine; a citizenship which should be straightforward to get. Yes - the demos includes people from Western Ukraine ("fascists" and all). It includes Crimeans. And yes - it includes, too, Mr Poroshenko's "terrorists" in Slavyansk. We can punish by law all wrongdoers, for sure, but until we know who "we" are, we can't do a thing - at least that must be the reality for everyone in Ukraine.

Yet, if we agree that crimes have been committed by those on both sides of the fighting in Ukraine (and I certainly agree - as much as I sympathise with the Ukrainian position, I watched the live, savage beating of a pro-Russian militaman in Odessa and almost vomited...) then why are the borders of Ukraine such a non-negotiable? Why can't regions of Ukraine become independent or join Russia if their populations so wish?

Well, because democracy and its purported legitimacy may be fictitious - but they are based in a more fundamental fiction, and that is called sovereignty and the international stability that this confers. If Crimea can secede based on the fact that a majority of Crimeans want to secede (assuming this referendum had been free and fair, which it most certainly wasn't) then why couldn't Chechnya become independent (Dzhokhar Dudayev arguably had a republican, if not nation-wide, majority for that)? Why can't the Basque Country and Catalonia become independent? And why does Kharkiv necessarily have to follow Slavyansk into Russia? What is "eastern Ukraine" anyway?

...oh, that's right, "eastern Ukraine" is a fiction, just like "western Ukraine," just like "Ukraine." But "Ukraine" is a fiction with twenty-two years history, at least, and that beats twenty-two days. History, in its crooked way, can slowly confer some sort of legitimacy and normality - that normality back to which all people in Ukraine must now seek. For their sake, for the sake of the Russian Federation (with its own twenty-two years of history), for the sake of us all.

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