Monday, November 29, 2004


I've got a horrible feeling that the Ukrainian poll crisis is shaping up to be the next international issue that the various factions in the broad church of the centre-left will tear itself apart over. The most recent arena for this has, of course, been the Iraq war where both antiwar and prowar commentators have been firing the epithet "fascist" at each other across the blogsphere, amongst other places.

The reason, it seems, is revenge for Fallujah - or to be more precise, revenge for the jibes directed at the prowar left from their antiwar comrades for their relative silence during the recent American assault there. Now, the prowar left clearly sees in the Ukrainian crisis an example of what they've been accusing their counterparts of over Iraq : failing to support a democratic movement simply because it is backed by the Americans. At Harry's Place, for example, someone in the comments boxes (sorry, can't provide a link) suggested that we should all wear orange scarves as a show of solidarity - coupled with some jibes about the antiwar left's relative silence over this issue. (I wouldn't be doing this, I explained, because I'm from Glasgow and things like orange scarves tend to be misinterpreted here).

Now, as far as I understand the situation, there isn't much doubt that this election was "pure shady" in the extreme - and even if it wasn't, the fact that about half the country and now a majority of the Ukrainian parliament think it was means that enforcing the result as it stands wouldn't bode well for the future of constitutional democracy in that country. And even if this dispute can be reduced to a simple American vs. Russian imperialism - I know who I'd rather be colonized by.

But despite putting my sympathies largely with the pro-US and pro-EU opposition, I don't think matters are quite so simple, as David Aaronovitch reminds us in Sunday's Observer. For one thing, the Ukraine has had a history of being divided between the Hapsburg Empire and Russia - and this has left a legacy which includes differences in language, religion and, most importantly, allegiance.

In these circumstances, a support for democracy shouldn't blind one to the fact that "winner-takes-all" elections are not really the best model for divided societies (assuming you don't want them to pull apart, that is) and one would hope that out of this, a more "consociational" model might develop.

Also, there is the Russian problem. I'm not suggesting that a fixed election should be ignored simply to placate Russian feelings of insecurity - but on the other hand, break open a history book and then tell me that Russian insecurity - especially when it regards her neighbours - is nothing to worry about.

In short, I'm arguing this should be handled sensitively.

And we can rely on Bush and Putin to do that, can't we?

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