In The Grim Shadow Of A ‘Revolution’: Why Ukraine’s People Are Not So Ecstatic

Posted on March 6, 2014 in GlobeScope, Politics

By Srishti Malaviya:

“For though they obtain a Victory by their unanimous endeavor against a foreign enemy; yet afterwards when either they have no common enemy, or he by one part is held for an enemy, is by another part held for a friend, they must needs by the difference of their interests dissolve, and fall again into a War amongst themselves.” – Thomas Hobbes


Revolution is a myth. I am at pains to forsake a belief in great change. Yet, considering the recent Ukrainian chronicles of revolution, the despairing continuity of the old order — stark in its nakedness — becomes hard to turn away from. It is infinitely disparaging that even as wounds from the revolution are still fresh and protesters continue to languish in the ‘Maidan’, yawning gaps have already emerged in the movement’s leaders’ rhetoric and intentions; factions appear inevitable and the inefficiencies of the corrupt system continue to fester even as the threat of a war now looms large. Given the stronghold that structures command upon human existence, is it then completely misplaced to cast aspersions on the capacity of a revolution’s tenets and gains to endure? Is the promise of ‘progress’ and ‘change’, serving as the bedrock of a revolution, too mendacious to be invested with faith? The political situation now emanating out of post-revolution Ukraine seems to affirm the worst.

“It is never a bad idea to be pessimistic about Ukraine”, writes George Friedman for a very prestigious magazine. The three month long uprising that witnessed protestors camping it out in the heart of the city notwithstanding the bitter cold, and over 80 protestors forfeiting their lives to bullets issued from rooftop snipers seeking to pulverize the rebellion, culminated last week in the ouster of the tyrant Yanukovych. Although the revolution achieved what it primarily demanded — cause the fall of the vastly corrupt and ruinous regime of Yanukovych — what comes to fore, in what is essentially the closure of the First Act of the revolution, is a serious vacuum in terms of leadership and political will to foster substantive change. While the bodies of the dead from the revolution may still be cold, underhanded deals and horse-trading for parliamentary seats have already been reported. And even as the country sits precariously on the edge of a great economic upheaval, the sight of luxury cars chauffeuring leaders of the interim government to the Rada is commonplace.

The road from an interim government to a new freely elected progressive government seems to be a treacherous terrain. For now the Parliament has bestowed Turchynov, the speaker of the parliament, with expanded powers of an interim president. However, even as people vie for early presidential and parliamentary elections, there is no consensus among who should be the legitimate voice of the movement. Now that the common enemy — Yanukovych — stands vanquished, the three opposition leaders all appear keen to seize this moment to further their personal political ambitions. The reentry of former Prime Minister Tymoshenko — the face of the 2004 Orange Revolution who failed to live up to the promises of the same — on this stage of unfolding political tragedy further vitiates the revolution’s hopes of throwing up genuine leadership alternatives. The Ukrainian’s have made it absolutely clear that old faces are not welcome anymore, even as the opposition leaders continue to shore up support for acquiring power and the privileges that come with it. Clearly, quest for power has gained precedence over the actual agenda of rectification of the country’s political and economic malaise.

The brutal truth is that even though the excessively corrupt and ruinous regime of Yanukovych may have been displaced, the structures that sustained it remain intact. Ukrainian society today finds itself paying for the vicious greed of the oligarchs who are virtually in control of the country. That Ukrainian economy lies irredeemably tattered today is the consequence of the sustained pillage that the powerful have indulged in ever since the country’s independence in 1991. It is not just the country’s resources this class has exploited but also rank and political clout. The political aversion to change is not completely inexplicable then: power is little more than a means to obtain a virtual pass for continued plunder of the nation’s now empty treasury. While the teeming millions brace themselves for the storm of economic hardship brewing on the horizon, the autocrats scurry to preserve their repugnant riches. The continued domination of the autocracy, on one hand, and leaders’ political greed on the other, combine to present a very disconcerting picture for the future of Ukraine. Unless the structures and face of power undergo a thorough overhaul, the birth of a new Yanukovych is terrifyingly plausible.

The Ukrainians are all too wary of this, which is why the deposition of Yanukovych did not entail joyous celebrations for the victory of the revolution. On the contrary, the mood was somber as people converged in large numbers at the Maidan, for what was in effect a mass funeral, to pay tributes to those who laid down their lives. The country is faced with a multitude of grave crises, not the least of which is the fact that Ukraine now finds itself embroiled in an East-West power tussle and faces the twin possibility of war and secession. Putin, who was Yanukovych’s close ally in the latter’s embezzlement campaign, has seized this moment of instability to assert Russia’s dominance in the region. By playing up the ethnicity-nationalism-secession card, Russia has unleashed a military intervention in Crimea camouflaged under the guise of, what the Russian foreign minister Lavrov has termed as, “self-defense units created by the inhabitants of Crimea”. The West, on its part, has retaliated with rhetorical condemnations and threats of sanctions. While tensions of war were eased to an extent with Putin’s clarification that use of force would be Russia’s last resort, a diplomatic stand-off has nonetheless emerged between Russia and the West. Ukraine appears to be little more than a silent spectator as its destiny becomes subject to whatever course the games of the powerful chart out for it.

Given this grim scenario, is it not justified to lose faith in the very act of revolution? Is the pessimism about such manifest clamor for change unwarranted in face of the insatiable appetite for greater power that the powerful seem to perennially entertain? The drastic twist that has unfurled in the narrative of the Ukrainian revolution has taken away the focus from the Revolution’s original intentions of ushering in progressive changes in the country’s political system to that much devoured fodder of global politics and international media called ‘war’. The Ukrainians appear to have been initiated on to a ravaged road where the future is hardly discernible behind a dense mist of political uncertainty. One can only hope that further tragedy is not their lot.