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Warnings for Egypt from both sides of Ukraine’s Orange Revolution

Yesterday,  FP Editor in Chief Susan Glasser and I had the chance to sit down with visiting Ukrainian Foreign Minister Kostyantyn Gryshchenko. Like everyone else, he’s been closely watching the events in Egypt and cautions pro-democracy advocates there against irrational exhuberance. Gryshchenko is a member of President Viktor Yanukovych’s pro-Russian Party of Regions, which lost ...

SERGEI SUPINSKY/AFP/Getty Images
SERGEI SUPINSKY/AFP/Getty Images

Yesterday,  FP Editor in Chief Susan Glasser and I had the chance to sit down with visiting Ukrainian Foreign Minister Kostyantyn Gryshchenko. Like everyone else, he’s been closely watching the events in Egypt and cautions pro-democracy advocates there against irrational exhuberance. Gryshchenko is a member of President Viktor Yanukovych’s pro-Russian Party of Regions, which lost power after the 2004 Orange Revolution and regained it in 2010. His remarks reflect an unsurprising skepticism of mass movements: 

KG: In Ukraine, I think the lesson is very clear that the quality of political leadership needs to be appraised by the people themselves, and also by mass media and the major stakeholders in democratic process, so that democracy is not hijacked by the demagogues and by those who are simply unable to effectively pursue reforms.

FP: So is that what you think happened, that democracy was hijacked by the demagogues in Ukraine?

KG: I’m convinced of that. Over the years of so-called Orange rule, the chiefs of various factions of the Orange leadership promised everything: to return people’s money which was left in Soviet banks, to stop the draft, to raise pensions — which they did for a certain period of time but then inflation ate it up — to get into the European Union.

What they consistently did was essentially promise everything to everyone and then forget about it all. And then, they lost power through fair, free elections at the beginning of 2010. Not because there were anything specific done from outside. And not because we had a very flashy campaign — the flashy campaign was done on their side. But simply because people started to understand that they were being taken advantage of.

It’s interesting to contrast Gryshchenko’s statement with that of former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, the one-time revolutionary hero who is now under investigation as part of a corruption probe that many suspect is politically motivated. Coming from the other side of Ukraine’s political divide, Tymoshenko also has some words of warning for Egyptians in a widely republished editorial

The first of Ukraine’s lessons for Egyptian and Tunisian democrats is that elections do not a democracy make. After all, what if the enemies of freedom use elections to entrench their anti-democratic agendas? What if elements of the old regime, or the cadres of militant minorities, only pretend to embrace democratic norms in order to hijack the new democracy?

In Ukraine today, these are not abstract questions. Six years after our Orange Revolution, not only is my country’s democracy under threat – but the rule of law is being systematically perverted and our national independence bartered away. Indeed, the hybrid presidential/parliamentary system that Ukraine established as part of the settlement which brought a peaceful end to our revolution is being hollowed out in order to concentrate all political power in the hands of a supposedly democratically elected president.[…]

Moreover, democracy must be rooted in the rule of law. There must be accepted rules that are binding on everyone in politics, so that whoever does not accept or obey them is disqualified. Yanukovich’s naked attempt to hijack the election that precipitated the Orange Revolution should have caused him to be banned from running in future elections. Yet he was not.

Now, as president, Yanukovich’s crude instinct is to treat the law and constitution as Karl Marx thought of them: as a mixture of sentimentality, superstition – and the unconscious rationalisation of private interests. Stealing elections, suppressing the vote, and behaving in contempt of the rule of law are negations of democracy. Those who engage in them must be seen as democracy’s enemies – and treated as such.

A second lesson follows from this. The fact that a government has been democratically elected does not mean that the cause of freedom has prevailed. The rest of the world must not turn a blind eye to authoritarian backsliding. Yet today, not only are many of Ukraine’s neighbours silent about Yanukovich’s strangulation of Ukraine’s democracy – but some openly celebrate the supposed “stability” that his regime has imposed. For decades, Egyptians and Tunisians paid a high a price in freedom for the stability of others. They must never be asked, or forced, to pay it again.

Gryshchenko was also remarkably forthcoming about the Tymoshenko investigation in his FP interview describing it as part of a broad anticorruption campaign aimed at bringing Ukrainian legal standards up to a level where the country could be a serious candidate for EU membership. As he admitted, it’s not quite clear it’s being perceived that way in Brussels. 

 Twitter: @joshuakeating

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