Once again, the forces who favor ties with the Western democracies are at war with the forces who favor a return to enslavement by Russia in the Urkaine.
Prime Minister (and convicted criminal) Victor Yanukovich (pictured, left), leader of the pro-Russia forces, has been obstructing the efforts of President (and attempted murder victim) Victor Yushchenko (pictured, right) to move Ukraine into NATO and the EU. In response, Yushchenko proposed settling the dispute by letting the people vote on it. Yanokovich, not suprisingly, had no interest in elections — so Yushchenko made a grandstand play and ordered the parliament disbanded. The move is quite similar to the one made in 1993 by Boris Yeltsin as the Communists tried to reassert control over the nation by means of the legislature. First Yeltsin won a national referendum, then the legislature tried and failed to impeach him (falling well short of the needed vote tally), whereupon Yeltsin ordered the parliament disbanded and new elections held. The parliament refused to submit to elections and holed themselves up in their office building, whereupon Yeltsin opened fire with tanks. New elections were held and the situation stabilized.
Yanokovich has responded by ordering his legions onto the main square in Kiev for a protest encampment. Yushchenko’s followers announced plans for a counter-protest. This comes on the heels of dueling protests over the weekend in which both groups mustered crowds of about 30,000. Yanukovich accuses Yushchenko of violating the constitution in seeking to call elections (Yeltsin’s action was similarly not supported by clear authorization in the constitution) and Yushcenko accuses Yanukovich of breaking the constitutional ban on personal voting blocks in the legislature.
At stake is Ukraine’s future, nothing less. It’s amazing that any clear-thinking Ukrainian could possibly favor handing over the nation’s sovereignty to Russia after so many decades of exploitation; but it’s even more amazing that those within Yushchenko’s coalition, including most importantly the firebrand Yulia Tymoschenko, cannot agree to set aside their personal differences for the good of the nation. Tymoshennko seems to be recovering her senses, and recently said that her forces and those of Yushchenko needed to march together as “as two democratic columns” in order to defeat their adversary and create a truly independent Urkaine.
Actions speak louder than words. Yushchenko has clearly placed himself on the side of allowing elections to settle basic questions of Ukraine’s destiny; Yanokovich obviously favors smoke-filled rooms. Unlike Russia, Ukraine has fostered two real political parties with two dramatically divergent visions for the country, and a struggle is playing out between them. Democracy is a messy business, but dictatorship like Russia has is far messier. Above all, it is necessary for the West to guard Urkaine against the encroachment of Russia so that the Ukrainian people can resolve this dispute themselves.