Ukraine - A True Revolution?
Firm hopes amidst unpredictable events.
As events unfold in Ukraine, we live through the drama of history being made. Many have suffered bitterly, yet people’s willingness to suffer itself underlines the overwhelming desire for change. As the mood is heightened, the search for comfortable prosperity which marks our daily politics looks shabby in comparison.
However political unheavals are rarely clear and never without ambiguity, and fear is realistic. The euphoric hopes of the ‘Arab spring’ seem (at this stage, which is not the final stage) to have borne poisoned fruit in the slaughter of Syria, which threatens the stability of neighbouring countries. The international community seems virtually paralysed, unable to decide whether it despises the ruling government more than it fears the triumph of certain elements among the rebels. How will this nebulous and vacillating ‘international community’ react to the crisis of Ukraine?
Yet the first reality is Ukraine itself. Events there are so remarkable that they should shape our perspective. Opposition to the venal rule of Victor Yanukovich has gathered force over months and years. It represents different generations, diverse religious and ethnic groups. This is not, as Russia has claimed, a ‘coup’. It is not organised by a disaffected military, funded by Western secret services, nor does it rely on sabotaging the economy or state institutions. It is a vast and relatively spontaneous social movement, which has proved principled, disciplined and restrained - owing, not least, to the churches which have been just as present to the Ukrainian demonstrators as in the shipyards of Gdansk in 1980. There has been no vicious attacks on minorities. Even the palaces of the corrupt regime have been guarded, not looted.
There remain ominous shadows that prevent any sense of easy triumph. It would be excessive to speak of ‘two Ukraines’, but a substantial part of the Russian-speaking population distrusts the new government. Second, the popular movement is not without a far-right and allegedly anti-Semitic presence, though it is hotly disputed how influential this may be. Third, if we think of ‘revolution’, we know that that the ‘Orange Revolution’ of 2004-05 (which also overthrew Mr Yanukovich) failed to achieve decisive change, since Yanukovich won an election - held to be broadly fair by international observers - in 2010. Now, again, he waits in the wings, ‘available’ to lead his country, though he may personally have been discounted even by Russia.
What may have changed decisively is the geopolitical context. Russia’s response, virtually occupying the semi-autonomous region of the Crimea, was deliberately provocative. But Russia confronts the determination not only of the USA but also of the EU, which has so far acted cautiously but spoken forcefully.
After the Summit of March 6th Mr Van Rompuy spoke in almost apocalyptic language, of ‘Ukraine’s fateful moment’ and of Russia’s ‘unprovoked violation of Ukrainian sovereignty’. He concluded, ‘The majority of the people of Ukraine made a decisive choice in favour of our European values… They refused to live any longer in the Yanukovich era of lies, bribes, manipulation, blackmail and poverty. Europe must and will support them on the courageous road they have chosen towards a better future.’
Crucially, since the enlargement of 2004 and 2007 the EU includes states which know well what it means to be subservient to Moscow. These states, above all, are likely to hold the EU to its promises.
Frank Turner SJ