August 12, 2014


Ukraine Is Winning the War (CHRYSTIA FREELAND, August 11, 2014, Politico)

This is a young country swiftly uniting around the democratic idea in the face of foreign aggression. Ukraine's new leaders aren't angels. Their ranks include oligarchs with checkered biographies and politicians who were members of past, failed governments. But, after 23 years of chaotic post-Soviet independence, Ukraine now has a wired and educated civil society prepared to fight for democracy and a leadership that knows how the West works and wants to emulate it.

Which is why the right parallel when thinking about how the West should respond to this crisis isn't with the West's past decade of military misadventures in the Middle East, it is with Eastern Europe in the 1980s, where civil society overthrew communist regimes and produced leaders who were, albeit with plenty of mistakes and hardship along the way, able to build capitalist democracies in their place.

The first success is the consolidation, maturity and determination of Ukraine's civil society. Remember all of those warnings from Putin and other Russians about the dangerous power of the far right and the worries that the euphoria of the pro-Europe protesters who rallied in Kyiv's Maidan Square last winter would give way to rule by armed, brown-shirted militias?

The May 25 presidential election, in which Petro Poroshenko, a Russian-speaking centrist businessman from the south, won a strong majority on the first ballot in a field of 17 candidates, gave the lie to that putative threat. Ukraine's two far-right candidates polled less than 2 percent each, far less than the hard right polled in European Union parliamentary elections held on the same day.

Ukrainians didn't elect Poroshenko for his charisma or his barnstorming speeches. They voted for him because he backed the Maidan protesters from the start, he was the frontrunner, and he is competent. His most effective campaign slogan--which appeared with no photo or visual image, just words, on billboards across the country -- was "to stop the war, let's elect a president on the first ballot." Ukraine is normally a sort of Slavic Italy--a disputatious society that revels in political disagreement and debate. It is a measure of the gravity of the moment that Ukrainians accepted Poroshenko's argument and, for the first time since independence, chose a president on the first ballot and with strong backing from across the country.

Ukraine's second success is its unprecedented degree of national unity. That reality is obscured by the lazy shorthand that often frames the conflict in eastern Ukraine as a Yugoslav-style civil war, driven by ancient cultural, linguistic and religious divisions. In fact, the fight in Ukraine is almost entirely a political and even ideological struggle. This isn't about Russian speakers vs. Ukrainian speakers--an absurd idea in a country so at ease with its nearly universal bilingualism that everything from television interviews to jokes to parliamentary debates are conducted in an easy back-and-forth between Ukrainian and Russian.

The dividing line in what Ukrainians call their "dignity revolution" is instead the choice between Western liberal democracy and the Kremlin's neo-authoritarianism. What has been striking is how determinedly most of Ukraine has chosen democracy. For Ukrainians, this isn't about the reshaping of the world's geostrategic chessboard--who would chose to be a pawn in someone else's power play? But Ukrainians have now seen both Western democracy and Putin's post-Soviet kleptocracy up close. They have made the same choice all of us would, and they are proving they are willing to fight, and to die, for it.

Posted by at August 12, 2014 5:27 PM

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