The incredible happened in Ukraine a few weeks ago. The former fraudulent presidential candidate ousted by the Orange revolution, Victor Yanukhovych, became the Prime Minister. Yesterday's criminals are today's political leaders. The President, someone's puppet. The people duped. Democracy undermined.
This hocus pocus was accompanied by noble talk. Poof! Parliament united under the Party of Regions is the right thing for Ukraine's national unity. Poof, poof!! It will avert a national crisis.
Don't believe it. This is smoke and mirrors in the best of the former USSR tradition. In democracies, unity in parliament is not a virtue. Parliament requires at least two strong players from opposing camps to bring up national differences and debate issues. Major democracies -- the United States, Britain, Germany, Canada -- are not monolithic. They are united despite major geographic, linguistic, religious and other polarizations. They balance different, often conflicting interests, on a daily basis. Their conflicts are no different from those in Ukraine. The difference between the successful democracies and today's Ukraine is the manner in which political issues get resolved.
Successful democracies resolve their issues in parliament. The post March election scenario in Ukraine was played outside its rules. Indeed, the manner in which President Victor Yushchenko called upon the current government to serve undermines parliament and is a dangerous step back towards dictatorship.
Let's recall what happened. The real winners of the March elections, Yulia Tymoshenko's Bloc and the Orange coalition which obtained a slight majority of seats, were stalled for four months from sitting in parliament by the President. This was shocking and offensive to democrats around the world. To temper the negative reaction, his inaction was given a seductive, but false spin: the President is deliberating what is best for national unity.
Hocus-pocus nonsense. The stalling was taking place because the voters made the "wrong" choice as far as the wealthy oligarchs were concerned. The people wanted Yulia Tymoshenko as their prime minister. The Party of Regions did not. Nor did it want to play according to democratic rules. It would not take the rightful place of the minority and become the opposition in parliament. It refused to recognize that it had received only 36% of the votes. It worked hocus-pocus magic to have the people's choice reversed. The President went along as if the elections did not matter. He did not press the rules of democratic behaviour: parliament must be constituted by creating the government side from those who have the majority; and on the opposition from those who received fewer votes. The democratic process was by passed for months. Then it was too late. The powerful few, not the people, got their way. It was a step backward in democracy.
The back-sliding continues. Ukraine's political leaders, including the President and his newly appointed Prime Minister, claim to want to resolve its differences -- east/west, pro Russia/pro West. This, to be done by creating a unified political force in parliament. Some of the President's Nasha Ukrajina members have already agreed to serve in the Yanukhovych cabinet. His last prime minister Yekhanurov is now parliament's deputy head, the strange Roman Zwarych, the Justice Minister.
Political forces that aim to "unite" Ukraine politically do not stray far from the Communist model. Today's situation in Ukraine is so déjà vu, so Soviet in style and execution: undermine freedom and democracy and confuse the situation by spinning pretty words and slogans. The reconstitution of parliament along the one unified team is nothing less than a reversal to the one party system of the former USSR. It is bad news for Ukraine. Of course the USSR's single Communist party kept the country united. It was done by terror, brute force, control of the press, and total obedience to the one-party system. This unity cost Ukrainians four famines, the biggest in 1933 taking a toll of some 10 million people. Plus, some seventy years of tyrannical unity where opposition was suppressed by death or the Gulag.
What is going on in Ukraine that after 15 years of millions upon millions of dollars heaped in training, re-educating, showing the Ukrainians how democracy works in the West, government exchanges, money spent on producing MA's in public administration, that allows such political perversions to happen? The situation in Ukraine is as much our shame as its own.
The events of the last four months underscore how meager the results are and how shallow the changes. Shallow in understanding what democracy is and how it works and shallow in the way its key players have evolved as democrats. And shameful. It is scandalous that today's Prime Minister is yesterday's cheating contender for the presidency. That his entourage comprises men like Renat Akhmetov who at thirty-six has acquired enough billions to be in Fortune magazine's list of the world's wealthiest men while an average Ukrainian lives in dire poverty with about two hundred dollars a month to sustain him. It is scandalous that President Yushchenko denied his people their choice for prime minister and succumbed to manipulations like the best of the world's puppet leaders. Even more so, now, he is mouthing that the Orange revolution is but a myth and a legend. The Prime Minister, in the meantime, boasts of having participated in it to build a just nation. Hocus-pocus.
It is scandalous that the West won the war against Communism, saw the Soviet empire crumble, supported Ukraine during its feisty Orange revolution, only to allow this ally in global democracy building slip so perilously close to the edge. Even more scandalous: the West may have orchestrated this in order to have good business relations with the oligarchs.
Things might have been different. The best case scenario for democracy would have been for the President to have stood with his people rather than betray them. Seeing their will disregarded, the people might have returned to the streets where they scored victory two years ago, to demand re-elections or his resignation. The West might have become furious and called in its ambassadors to exert pressure. And told its consulting firm that it is more in America's interest to have a democratic Ukraine, than to have it perverted in the name of doing business for a fee. ( How is this any different than having Germany's Gerhard Schröder's sellout to Russia's Gasprom?)
It did not happen. Democracy has had a set back. The only bright spot on Ukraine's political horizon now is Yulia Tymoshenko. She has declared that she will not join the Party of Regions et al to form a united front in parliament. She will lead the opposition and will deal with the real national crisis: the unbridled intention of the oligarchs to control all aspects of Ukraine's life.
When Ukraine got its independence in 1991, hope very quickly turned to the realization that in fact little had changed. The Communist gang that had ruled Ukraine was still at the helm. Hocus-pocus, it had wrapped itself in Ukraine's blue and yellow flag instead of the red one with the hammer and sickle, this, to amass great state wealth. Yet some hard fought gains were made -- free elections and greater freedoms, especially in the media. Now, it is feared, even that has been lost.
The fear is real. Restrictions have already begun. Freedom of speech and press have been attacked. Last month some journalists were beaten and several independent media outlets closed. In the Rada, there were moves last week to undermine the political checks and balances system by further restrictions of the President's powers. This, perhaps, in anticipation that the next one might be more difficult to control.
Today, more than ever, Ukraine needs a strong opposition. Yulia Tymoshenko has a huge job in front of her. The West must wake up. It must rally behind democracy and help her do a good job as the watch-dog of the people. All aid focus should be directed towards resuscitating democracy there. In turn, Ukraine's citizens need to monitor how she fights for their well being and help her. If she does well, they will reward her in the next election. And punish the hocus-pocus tricksters.
Oksana Bashuk Hepburn, President U*CAN a consulting firm, is writing a book about the current situation in Ukraine.