November 10, 2017

Democracy in Ukraine?

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Speaking to a group of some 200 university students in Ukraine in 2016, former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice declared, “You have had three revolutions in 25 years: Independence, the Orange Revolution and the Maidan. It is time to stop having revolutions and to start governing.”

“The students burst into applause and onto to their feet,” writes Dr. Rice in her latest book, “Democracy: Stories from The Long Road to Freedom.” She adds, “The Ukrainians are tired of drama, I thought. Can’t their leaders see?”

Dr. Rice devotes the first chapter of her book to “The American Experience,” focusing on the Declaration of Independence: “We hold these truths to be self-evident – that all men are created equal.” She then reviews the intense debate that emerged during the writing and ratification of the American Constitution.

Fortunately for us, America’s founders understood human nature. “I never expect to see a perfect work from imperfect man,” wrote James Madison in the “Federalist Papers.” The greater good, not the perfect good, became their goal.

There were five key aspects of the founders’ institutional design, writes Secretary Rice: “balance between the federal government and the states…, a limit on the role of the armed forces…, the separation of church and state…, recognition of the role of civil society and the private sector…, a blueprint of constitutionalism for future generations to follow.”

Living up to the promises of the Declaration and the Constitution was difficult work that took many generations to accomplish. America experienced the Civil War, Jim Crow, the Ku Klux Klan, lynching, segregation, the assassination of Martin Luther King and other abominations until the Civil Rights Movement began to right our ship of state. Even today we have some who are not satisfied, taking a knee instead of standing for our national anthem.

A Russian-speaking history major in college, Dr. Rice served as national security adviser and secretary of state in the Bush administration.

Her academic credentials and foreign affairs experience are evident in her chapter on Russia. She recalls President George W. Bush supporting a NATO Membership Action Plan (MAP) for Ukraine and Georgia at a 2008 NATO summit. Germany said, “nein.” President Vladimir Putin attended the last day of the summit. “Ukraine is not even a country,” he declared. It was his historic duty, he argued, to protect ethnic Russians in the Baltic states, Poland, Kazakhstan, Ukraine and Georgia who had been “orphaned” by the collapse of the USSR. Today, Russia is once again an expansionist, authoritarian state with the Kremlin and the Orthodox Church (“a bulwark of reactionary views and political influence,” according to Dr. Rice) working as one.

Poland emphasized institutional reform during its development as an EU aspirant. “The EU accession process forced countries desiring membership to conform to European standards in 31 issue areas or chapters,” explains Dr. Rice. Invited to join in 1997, Poland became a full member in 2004. Poland is not out of the woods, but a free press and a vibrant civil society are minding the store. “The defense of democracy is never finished,” the author emphasizes..

After reviewing the difficult and often horrific history of Ukraine, Secretary Rice reminds us that 92 percent voted for independence in 1991 – 80 percent in eastern Ukraine and 54 percent in Crimea. Moscow declared that Ukraine’s borders were inviolate. It didn’t matter. A Russian friend told Dr. Rice that losing Ukraine was like “having an arm amputated, and the loss of Crimea as tearing out a piece of your heart.”

We are also reminded of Ukraine’s magnanimous gestures after the split: allowing Russia to become the “successor” state to the USSR, and eventually turning over its nuclear arsenal to Russia. Independence brought squabbling that continues until today. President Leonid Kravchuk was followed by Presidents Leonid Kuchma and Viktor Yushchenko, (who couldn’t get along with his own prime minister, Yulia Tymoshenko) and finally Viktor Yanukovych whose refusal to sign an Association Agreement with the European Union led to the Maidan, Ukraine’s third revolution. Mr. Yanukovych fled to Russia.

Addressing the current situation, Dr. Rice writes: “[President Petro] Poroshenko has tried to bring decent and talented people into his government. Ukraine is blessed to have a large and talented disapora…” including, among others, Natalie Jaresko. Corruption, a festering sore from Soviet times, still plagues Ukraine’s struggling democracy.

Before leaving Kyiv, Dr. Rice attended dinner with leading Ukrainian politicians who “were self-absorbed and focused on the political intrigue that seemed to consume them.” They still don’t get it!

Flying out of Ukraine, the author reflected: “The country wasn’t dealt a very good hand. It is dogged by questions about its identity as a nation; shadowed by a neighbor who poses an omnipresent threat; and subjected to leaders who constantly seem to confuse the personal with the political… Ukraine has thus far survived multiple crises and lived to fight another day. That means its leaders still have a chance to deliver a stable democracy to Ukraine – no matter their imperfections.” Pray for deliverance, dear reader.

Other nations struggling for Democracy are also considered by Dr. Rice in her edifying book: Kenya, Colombia, Iraq, Liberia, Egypt, Afghanistan and Tunisia among them. Of these, Liberia, Colombia and Tunisia seem to be the furthest along. India, a functioning democracy, and China, an authoritarian state, are both dealing with corruption. We are reminded that “It took the United States more than a hundred years to root out most corruption…”

America has a real interest in seeing the number of democracies grow. Our nation-building programs of the past, about 1 percent ($35 billion) of our total federal budget, have done much to help other nations that look to the United States as the North Star of their quest for democracy, Dr. Rice believes. “Giving a voice to the voiceless is a moral cause for a country – America – that is based on an idea: that human freedom is the source of human dignity and freedom, That cannot be true for us and not for them.”

In a time of “America First,” Dr. Rice has written a refreshing antidote.

 

Myron Kuropas’s e-mail address is kuropas@comcast.net.

 

Correction

The previous “Faces and Places” column (October 22) began with a quotation from Vladimir Lenin that should have been dated 1918 (not 1916). The correction has already been made in our online edition.

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