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    BRAMA News and Community Press

    BRAMA, Dec 3, 2004, 12:00 pm ET

    Op-Ed

    Will We Pass the Democracy Test in Ukraine?
    By Timothy Snyder

    President Bush has stressed that his foreign policy is to spread democracy around the world. When future historians write their accounts of this policy, they will likely begin not in the sands of Iraq, but in the steppes of Ukraine. As President Bush prepares a new foreign policy team for his second term, the chances of democracy in Iraq are ever more distant, while the opportunity for a democracy in Ukraine is before us, today and in the days to come. A democratic reformer has won Ukraine's presidential elections. The results were falsified by his authoritarian opponent. It is up to Washington to act.

    Ukraine is a strategically important European country, between NATO and Russia, with a population of fifty million, Europe's fastest rate of economic growth, and endless economic potential. Ukraine's "orange revolution," the protest of millions of Ukrainians against the electoral fraud, has revealed a vibrant civil society. A democratic Ukraine supported by this civil society would bring stability to Europe's frontiers, and provide an example for civil society in Russia. It would represent the continuation of the democratic revolution that begin in 1989. An authoritarian Ukraine would be a disaster. Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovitch, the head of the authoritarian camp, personifies what has gone wrong in post-Soviet Europe. He represents economic clans, not the population. His camp controls the media, and has used this control to present a disgustingly biased image of his opponents -- and of the United States, and of President Bush personally. His electoral campaign connected his democratic opponent Viktor Yushchenko to Bush. He has linked reformers in Ukraine to the United States, and both to Nazi Germany. He assumes that Americans will not notice that they are being associated with Nazis, since the propaganda is in Ukrainian. We should notice.

    Russian advisors hired by Yanukovitch's campaign designed these images, and others just as revolting. Russia's President Putin has intervened massively in the electoral process, visiting Kiev twice to endorse Yanukovitch. Russian and Ukrainian media are reporting that Moscow spent hundreds of millions of dollars to support Yanukovitch. Even as it became clear that Yanukovitch's government had stuffed the ballot boxes to insure an obviously fraudulent victory, Putin called in his congratulations. If this kind of Russian policy succeeds, Moscow will believe that it can throttle democratic movements in Europe with impunity. The vast majority of Ukrainians, regardless of how they cast their votes, do not wish for Ukraine to be a Russian colony. Over the long run, Russia cannot control events in Ukraine without the use of military force. Russian soldiers shooting Ukrainian civilians in Ukraine would be a disaster for Russia. It would isolate Russia from the West, and doom Russia to authoritarianism for the foreseeable future. It is in Russia's own interest to allow democracy in Ukraine. Any freely elected Ukrainian president will have to maintain good relations with Russia, in the interests of the Ukrainians he will represent.

    The actual winner of the Ukrainian presidential elections, Viktor Yushchenko, has excellent credentials. He is the former head of the Ukrainian central bank, and was the only reformist prime minister in the history of independent Ukraine. He has been the most popular Ukrainian politician for the past several years. Himself from eastern Ukraine, he is enthusiastically supported in central and western Ukraine. In a multicultural country, he speaks both Ukrainian and Russian perfectly. He has promised good relations with both west and east, and there is every reason to believe him.

    Yushchenko is virtually unknown in America, because the Ukrainian struggle for democracy has been overshadowed by war in the middle east.

    Unfortunately, the logic of the war on terror has drawn Washington closer to opponents of democracy in eastern Europe. President Putin, an ally in the war on terror, supports authoritarianism in Ukraine. Prime Minister Yanukovitch, the Ukrainian authoritarian he supports, has cynically offered to keep Ukrainian troops in Iraq. After running a viciously anti-American electoral campaign, he believes that U.S. support can be bought at such a price. One must hope that our principles are dearer than that.

    As a result of Ukraine's "Orange Revolution," new elections will probably be held in December. This time, the US and its European partners must protect the democratic process. Observing elections in Ukraine will be a challenge, but surely one that we and our friends can meet. A democratic Ukraine would be the greatest gain for world democracy during Bush's presidency. It is also an outcome that would be good for Russia, and good for stability in Europe. Since Europeans and Americans alike endorse democracy in Ukraine, this is also a chance to heal the transatlantic divide. Most importantly, it is a test for the values of the United States. If we believe in supporting democracy, here is our chance.

    Timothy Snyder is associate professor of history at Yale University. His most recent book is The Reconstruction of Nations: Poland, Ukraine, Lithuania, Belarus, 1569-1999, Yale University Press, 2003.



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