By Jean H Charles
Vladimir Putin is a macho man; he has made it clear to the West in no uncertain terms that he wants to bring back Ukraine into the bed of the reconstructed Soviet hegemony. Barack Obama is no macho man but he has sent enough signals through his Secretary of State John Kerry that he is interested in keeping Ukraine in the bed of the West where she has been since 1991 when the so-called era of democracy began to take form.
The decline of Ukraine as a breadbasket of Eastern Europe started then. It is so deep today that Ukraine is now a basket case that both the East and the West are volunteering with threats of war on one side and sanctions on the other side to bring a solution to.
Ukraine is a nation of some 48 million people sandwiched between Poland, Romania and Moldavia. With a rich and fertile land conducive to agriculture, in particular corn, beets and wheat, she was one of the most important satellites of the Soviet Empire.
Why Ukraine transformed into a failed state when she became a free and democratic republic is the story of almost all the nations (with the exception of Poland) that came out of the fall of the Berlin Wall. In a revealing story in Foreign Affairs, told by Jan-Werner Mueller titled Disappearing Democracy in the EU’s Newest Members, he shared the disturbing news that 25 years later “all the countries that joined the EU during the last decade are experiencing profound political crisis.”
This disturbing news is not confined to Eastern Europe, the tremors of the recent and fragile birthing of democracy in the Arab world is still producing convulsions that are felt at home and abroad.
My own country of Haiti in the Caribbean that enjoyed its entry into democracy at the same time in 1991 is still a basket case, albeit a less fragile one than before. The reason is as stipulated by Mueller: “those countries are experiencing a form of illiberal democracy in which political parties try to capture the state for either ideological purposes or more prosaically economic gain.”
They are practicing a form of democracy á la Putin, when the democratic dress and façade is maintained with all the institutional checks and balances dismantled so the leader continues to maintain his grip on power in spite of or because of the recurring elections.
Ukraine is that test case that will determine which one of the two sides will blink first. There is enough loss of expectations from the people of Eastern Europe in the magic of attaining the stature of belonging to the old boys club of Europe with true European values that the Vladimir Putin doctrine of doing it our way is developing credibility in the minds and the spirit of the people, in particular in the Ukrainian case.
It all started with the election of November 2013, when the president of Ukraine, Viktor Yanukovych, refused to sign the pre-negotiated agreements that would have sealed the deal to usher the country into the European Union. It was the drop that caused the water to overflow the glass. With pro and con demonstrators battling each other for months on the plaza in Kiev, the capital, a deal was brokered and all hell has been let loose since. Putin, Brussels and Obama are engaging in a boxing match where the only losers will be the people of Ukraine.
The story is the same as it has been the theme in most of my essays: how to build a sustainable nation that would benefit all the people living in that country. Is Ukraine ready to build its own nation in spite of or with the support of all three foreign parties, the United States, Europe and Russia?
Albeit not yet a member of EU, different degrees of sanctions have been imposed on either Moscow or its satellites in Ukraine. But those sanctions will be enforced with a robotic economic spirit in mind. Already, Germany is crying foul because those sanctions will negatively affect its economy.
Ukraine is playing the role of the femme fatale that displays its past beauty, believing that it can get away with flirting with foreign powers without putting her foot down in engaging in the difficult task of nation building.
Already three of the states, the Crimea, have held a referendum declaring them dissolved from the motherland of Ukraine, going the way of the former Yugoslavia that disintegrated into several countries. The specter of civil war is already hovering over the nation.
Ukraine’s destiny is in the hands of its own people, whether their affinity is with the Russian language and culture or with Poland, it has a rich land, a large population, educated and sophisticated. Making a nation out of Ukraine called for leaders who go beyond the venal needs of appropriating state resources for themselves and for their cronies.
Ukraine can follow the federalist model of Switzerland or of the United States to give enough self-rule to Crimea and to the eastern region without breaking up with the republic. The United States, Europe and Russia can play the adult role of accompanying Ukraine in becoming a nation-state where all its citizens enjoy the bliss of self-actualization.
Whether we are living in a mature world, where the entire constellation leads to problem solving instead of dispatching the war machine, Ukraine will lead the way, the crisis is real; the actors can listen to their better soul or the demon within them!