One Reason the Ukrainian Revolution May Yet Succeed

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Ukraine is in crisis. There are reasons to question the staying power of its revolution: the lives and infrastructure lost in the process, the legitimacy and savvy of the interim leadership, the hobbling economy, Crimea's separatist movement, and most recently Russia's invasion.

What could keep the nation on a path toward a stable, democratic governance? "A revolution of the mind," says Oksana Romaniuk, the executive director of a free speech and media-focused NGO. She departed from Ukraine earlier this week to attend a human rights conference in California, and spoke with Reason about the situation in her home country.

Romaniuk contrasts the current Euromaidan revolution with the nation's last "revolution" in 2004. "The Orange Revolution was easy. People came out to the streets, stood out for a month, and everything was solved in court. The problem was that people left the streets and there was a big credit of trust to the Yushchenko administration," which promised to turn toward western, liberal policies. But, the public and the press "didn't check his activities. The first criticisms of Yushchenko came maybe eight months after his appointment. It was wrong," she says, and real change never materialized. 

The Orange Revolution failed to change what Romaniuk describes as Ukraine's "paternalistic society," but "now we understand that everything depends on us and we are ready to take responsibility. The biggest difference is that we put demands to the new government from the very beginning." She suggests that the current leadership is subject to much skepticism from constituents. Even as Russia geared up for invasion, the Kyiv Post found time to criticize Ukraine's opposition installed-leadership.

Romaniuk highlighted the case of former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko. Although she aligns herself with the opposition and receives sympathy for having been a political prisoner, Tymoshenko "didn't pass through that transformation with us. She doesn't understand that the situation has changed and we won't fall for emotions." A recent polls shows Tymoshenko would receive only 10 percent of the vote if the presidential elections were held now.

As one protester told Reason in January, "People support the opposition leaders," but "no one among the leaders can control Maidan, because… the people control their leaders."

Although seriously constrained leadership may be a handicap while Russia flexes its military might, Ukraine's revolutionary mindset may be key to resisting foreign rule.

"It's a mistake to say the Russian speaking community is happy with Putin. They do not want him," believes Romaniuk. "We just got rid of our own corrupt government" and aren't looking to submit to another one.  

Indeed, a recent poll "found there is not a single region in Ukraine where there is a majority in favour of unification with the Russian Federation. In Crimea, where pro-Russian sentiments are the strongest, 41 percent were in favour of unification with Russia," notes former Reason contributor Guy Bentley at City A.M.

Read more Reason coverage of Ukraine here.

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    1. Those are some pretty eerie pics. A shame how much labor & materials are just rotting away.

  1. “There was a big credit of trust to the Yushchenko administration,” which promised to turn toward western, liberal policies….Real change never materialized.”

    There are certain realities to contend with no matter who is in charge of Ukraine or how pure his or her intentions. It’s sort of like drug addicts, who go through rehab, come home, and still finds themselves in the same situation that made them want to take drugs in the first place. Yeah, now they’re not using narcotics to deal with their problems anymore, but the problems haven’t gone away or gotten any better.

    In addition to a slightly better attitude, Ukraine needs more and better economic opportunities–than can be offered by cozy ties with Russia. We (the West) should be offering Ukraine all sorts of free trade right now. Unfortunately, the political leadership both in the United States and in most of Europe doesn’t seem to be the kind that understands or appreciates what free trade and commerce can do for a place like Ukraine.

    Looking at Obama’s record on trade, anyway, he only seems to see trade agreements as a means to wedge his favorite unions into favorable positions they could never achieve by themselves otherwise. It isn’t just the Ukrainians that need better leadership and a transformation in the way they think. I suppose the biggest reason I’m rooting for the Ukrainians is because they’ve actually done twice what we really need to do–and only wish we could.

    1. Free trade generally means giving up some kind of power, which is why politicians rarely favor it. Unless, like you said, they have some way of getting their buddies paid; which, of course, defeats the whole point of “free trade.”

    2. Free trade generally means giving up some kind of power, which is why politicians rarely favor it. Unless, like you said, they have some way of getting their buddies paid; which, of course, defeats the whole point of “free trade.”

      1. damned squirrels.

    3. Yes, today’s paper has a guest column by a “peace movement” leader advocating billions and billions in Western economic aid so Ukraine turns towards the West and not Russia. Like making Ukraine an economic client/puppet of the West will deter the Russians. What is needed is close free market ties with Western and global businesses which invest in Ukraine, not more handouts from a financially-strapped West.

  2. “””””What could keep the nation on a path toward a stable, democratic governance?””

    How about if don’t overthrow democratically elected governments just because of an association agreement with other countries and wait until the next election to vote them out if they don’t like what they are doing?

    1. Democratic elections, held once ever few years, are hardly the only basis for legitimacy. It’s possible for unelected leaders to have a lot of legitimacy, and it’s possible for democratically elected leaders to lose their legitimacy, too.

      Some of the ways that democratically elected leaders can lose their legitimacy is by widespread government corruption, the abuse of power, and the violation of human rights–all of which happened in Ukraine.

      At one point, Viktor Yanukovych tried to effectively dissolve the legislature–with a voice vote! All in favor say “aye”?

      If Barack Obama did in America what Yanukovych did in Ukraine, I’d like to think we’d have the temerity to do what the Ukrainians did.

      1. I had that wrong; it was a show of hands.

        “On paper, Ukraine is now a dictatorship. President Viktor Yanukovych, in having the deputies of his Party of Regions endorse an extraordinary packet of legislation, has arrogated decisive political power to himself. After hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians spent weeks in the cold demonstrating for basic human rights and a stronger association with Europe, the president has responded with a violation of human rights and a rather sad imitation of Russia.

        In procedure and in content the laws “passed” by the Ukrainian parliament in mid-January contravene the most basic rights of modern constitutional democracies: to speech, assembly, and representation. Although they concern the most fundamental aspects of political life and transform the constitutional structure of the Ukrainian state, these measures were not subjected to even the barest of parliamentary procedures. There were no public hearings, there was no debate in parliament, and there was no actual vote. There was a show of hands in parliament and an estimate of how many hands were raised. Photographic evidence indicates that rather few deputies actually raised their hands. The standard electronic voting system, which creates an official record, was not used at all.”…..tatorship/

        They were supposed to wait until the next election?!

        How do you know Yanukovych was going to hold another election?

        1. DJF has been pretty firm in his support of Russia in this matter.

        2. Yes, we’re forgetting that all this got started because Yanukovych basically banned free speech and peaceful assembly.

          Then he shot protestors in the street.

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