As is probably evident from occasional Tweets or Facebook comments, I can get hot under the collar about the events in Ukraine. This is for several reasons, but for now the first and most important reason.
It should shock us all.
For the first time since the Second World War, we have seen the violent overthrow of a democratically elected government in Europe.
Let that sink in.
It does not matter whether you are pro-European or pro-Russian, left wing or right wing. In February we saw the overthrow of democracy in Europe.
That is shocking.
We have seen conflict in Europe before. The breakup of the Iron Curtain was largely peacefully, with just the the odd tank fire on the Russian Parliament, but that can be passed by as the final effects of totalitarian government. In Yugoslavia we saw a democratic state implode after the secession of part of its people, the violent reaction of central government and eventual ethnic cleansing.
We have seen democratic governments overthrown elsewhere: in Chile in the 1970s, in Egypt more recently. However, the first was during the Cold War days, when anything was acceptable to defend against communism (the CIA even made contingency plans to overthrow the Harold Wilson Labour government!), and in the latter case the Muslim Brotherhood government were arguably working to remove aspects of democracy.
But Ukraine was different. It is clearly a complex situation, and it is easy to be critical from a distance. The politics there is factional, rather like Northern Ireland, and clearly driven very strongly by the super-rich, not so unlike the US. So, whether the pre-February Government in Ukraine was a good or bad one is a matter of debate, but its election was not. The 2010 poll was operated by the previous pro-European administration, so there was no element of Gerrymandering, and, as far as any poll in the area could be, it was regarded as fair.
That is, there was no challenge to the fundamental democratic legitimacy of the pre-Feb 2014 government.
Yet, we watched and encouraged its violent downfall.
It is almost hard to recall now. Certainly the BBC tends to remind us of the events in Crimea and the rise of pro-Russin separatists as the start of the conflict, but of course these were the response not the start.
The start was the Maidan protests; the daily images of police lines with fire bombs raining down, the arming of the protestors, the eventual bloody clashes with large numbers of protesters and also many police left dead on the streets, and the ensuing decision of the president to give up power rather than bring the army onto the streets of Kiev.
I imagine this was Britain. Thatcher in 1990 and the Poll Tax riots; Blair in 2003 and the anti-Iraq War protests; Cameron in 2012 and the ‘Occupy’ movement. In all cases, my sympathy was with the demonstrators, in all cases I wished the government had listened more to them, just as I’m fairly sure most of the Ukrainians I know would have supported the original causes of Maidan. However, neither I nor anyone in the UK, whether they sided with the Poll Tax, Anti-War or Occupy protesters or with the government, would have wished for this to end with the overthrow of the government and the remaining parliament making decisions with the masked ex-protestors standing with automatic weapons at the doors of Westminster.
This is what happened in Ukraine.
And we in the West supported it, indeed encourage it. US senator John McCain visited the demonstrators early, while they were still a peaceful ‘occupy’-like movement. However, EU representatives were there after the far-right elements had armed.
The press dressed this as people power against autocratic government.
It never was, simply a democratic government that made a decision that a large minority of its people (often violently) disagreed with, and most fundamentally was not one that we in the west agreed with.
And for the majority of people in Ukraine, for those who voted a government they trusted, we taught them that democracy does not pay, that democracy is a sham, that democracy is only good if the government you elect does the ‘right’ things as judged by the western media.
We have witnessed the death of democracy.
And applauded it.