Thursday, March 29, 2007

An Orphaned Democracy

KIEV, Ukraine -- The news from Ukraine continues to depress. The power struggles between the president, the parliament, the cabinet, and the opposition gets worse by the day.


Reading the headlines from Ukraine is like reading the Phillies’ box scores – one depressing defeat after the next.

It’s all too familiar – sackings of opposition figures, police investigations of questionable motivation, outright banditry on international investors, mysterious deaths, powerless protests, and judicial impotence. Ukraine’s Constitution looks as insecure as New Orleans’ levees.

Beyond the problems described above, there’s one major issue with democracy’s decline in Ukraine – nobody seems to care.

After marching in the millions during the Orange Revolution, Ukrainians have quickly adjusted to the complacency and apathy common among more mature democracies.

Like Americans’ disdain for anything originating from within the beltway, Ukrainians have already stopped watching the soap opera of Ukrainian politics.

Polling suggests that if early elections were to take place, about 50 percent of the voters would bother showing up (off the usual mark of 70-80 percent).

Meanwhile, Western policymakers seem distracted and sometimes contradict themselves.

While the US government welcomed the once ostracized Party of Regions’ parliamentary victory and peaceful transfer of power as a victory for democracy, it remains strangely silent as democratic institutions have eroded afterwards.

Even more confusing, some US leaders still seem to be basking in the glow of the long extinguished Orange Revolution, as if they stopped paying attention after December 2004.

On the other side of the ocean, Europe’s dependence on Russian energy supplies helps mute any response to continued allegations of the Kremlin’s meddling in Ukrainian politics.

In the US, when one party grabs too much power and starts making bad decisions, people get upset enough to throw them out.

The media, the political parties, the courts, and the blogosphere have kept the government in check. Ukrainians might consider our level of accountability something out of a fairytale.

Even with one party in charge here in the US, a well-connected lobbyist gets jail time, ruling party officials are indicted for corruption, and a top advisor to the vice president is eventually found guilty of a federal crime.

Americans were so upset that the ruling party was thrashed in the next general election.

However, in Ukraine, the very institutions that prevent one party from controlling everything – and for people to control the parties – are under threat.

The press – although relatively free from state interference – is still subject to the whims of well-connected masters.

Advocacy organizations can’t get traction on even the most basic of issues.

The courts provide decisions a la carte to the highest bidder.

Political parties can even kick out sitting legislators who won’t toe the party line.

It’s up to the Ukrainians to decide how the saga will continue, but I urge them to act before it’s too late.

If they care about their rights to participate in a democratic country, they should hurry to find the right catalysis – issues of common concern and people to help push those issues.

If the institutions of democracy deteriorate beyond recognition, then even if people do start caring, very little could be done.

Source: Kyiv Post

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