It's Hard To Reform Corrupt Democracies

LONDON, England -- In the first week of the new year, in two very different parts of the globe, the citizens of two very different democracies were struggling with a very similar problem: how to reform a corrupt—but legitimately elected—political elite.

Protesters want Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych out, but haven't presented a clear alternative.

This isn’t a new problem, or an unfamiliar one.

It certainly isn’t limited to the developing world.

Voters in the United States and Europe have long grappled with flawed democracies and flawed democrats, as have voters from Mexico to Turkey to Brazil.

But in recent months, the fight for reform has taken particularly dramatic turns in India and Ukraine.

In Kiev opponents of the current government are hunkering down for what looks set to become an extended street revolution.

On New Year’s Eve, at the stroke of midnight, more than 100,000 Ukrainians gathered on the Maidan Nezalezhnosti, the capital’s central square, and sang their national anthem, “Ukraine Has Not Yet Perished.”

A smaller group of protesters has not left the square at all since the Ukrainian president, Viktor Yanukovych, abruptly refused to sign a trade treaty with the European Union in November.

The participants are for closer links to Europe, and against closer union with Russia.

They are also against the authoritarianism that Russia represents, as well as its echoes at home: their own corrupt, oligarchic economy, their own murky security police.

The latter beat up one particularly vocal Ukrainian activist on Christmas Day, and left her for dead.

But while all of these things are said openly every day on the Maidan, there isn’t much evidence that anyone in power is listening.

Yanukovych’s government gave up trying to clear the square by force—violence inspired more demonstrators—and now seems inclined to wait it out.

It’s cold in central Kiev; people have jobs and families.

It must be something to hear 100,000 people singing at midnight, but how does that change things?

The crowd wants Yanukovych out, but an alternative has not yet emerged.

Source: Slate Magazine