For those of us who have an underlying belief in democracy, no matter how perverted or dysfunctional our own systems may be and regardless of the current and quite obvious disconnect between the people in many nations and their political leaders, most would still place democracy as an absolute priority in society above all other things when push comes to shove.
At least that is what we would like to think is the case.
You would therefore think that those who have only recently discovered and been subjected to democracy across the FSU would hold on to it as the most cherished legacy of the Soviet collapse. Almost all “western” minds would automatically make that assumption and indeed we base a lot of our foreign policy on exactly that assumption.
Yet, here is the latest Pew Research paper comparing attitudes of Ukrainians, Russians and Lithuanians on the subjects of democracy, economics and society and various priorities over the last 20 years since the sovereign states became independent of the USSR.
A very dismal read for those of us who believe democracy despite all its many faults is the system that all people should live under. What should give us further food for thought is that the respondents to surveys that provide the statistics have lived under dictatorship/authoritarian systems as well as 20 years of faltering democracy.
We may want to comfort ourselves that these nations have not actually lived under a “proper democracy” but Lithuania is an EU member and thus must live under a “proper democracy” to have met the Copenhagen and Maastricht criteria. It at the very least meets the EU standard of “democracy”.
For somebody living in Ukraine, it is even more concerning that Ukraine is by far the most pessimistic nation of the three compared in almost every category. It is almost as though it has some form of Stockholm Syndrome for the days of autocracy and planned economics, although even EU member Lithuanian should give the EU hierarchy cause for concern if the results are truly representative.
The door to NATO maybe open for Ukraine but according to the survey all that is going to enter is a cool breeze if public opinion has anything to do with it.
It is truly a grim read and since its publication, the EU has continued to mismanage its internal affairs and ever more opinion pieces are appearing in the Ukrainian press stating concern over joining, not because of the Eurozone single currency crisis issue, but over an EU that will be effectively run by a Franco/German tandem. Quotes such as “we declined the Customs Union so as not to be controlled by Russia and chose the EU, only to find we will be controlled by France and Germany in the EU” are becoming commonplace. (Maybe the journalists and commentators read the UK”s Daily Mail newspaper.)
Adding to this, issues such as Visa Free travel negotiations between Russia and the EU, despite Russia being no better (if not worse) when it comes to political persecution, human rights and all those other EU sensibilities that are supposed to, but seeming are not, guiding foreign policy being displayed to all citizens in Ukraine as follows:
Ukraine – Must stop political persecutions, impose rule of law, democratic values and human rights to obtain Visa Free travel.
Russia – Lend the EU an additional Euro 10 billion via the IMF and you can buy your citizens Visa Free without any reforms.
It is of course not like that in reality. Russia has no desire to join the EU or be tied to an AA agreement that Ukraine is negotiating. However, it will be presented to the Ukrainian public in terms of Russia can buy its citizens Visa Free from the EU by some political actors in very stark and misleading terms without doubt.
Any veneer of respectability, transparency and principles that the Ukrainian public may have seen the EU through is rapidly cracking in a society where actions and not words are seen as political currency.
The negative trends relating to the benefits of democracy to society I fear are likely to continue, ably aided and abetted by a very poor understanding from the EEAS and EU of Ukrainian public psyche and via poorly timed and thought out EU policy towards Ukraine’s neighbours.
Should Russia manage to get Visa Free travel for its citizens before Ukraine, despite its well known divergence from EU sensibilities over what is supposed to drive EU foreign policy, it may very well be the death toll for Ukrainian public opinion towards the EU and democracy itself.
Let us hope that if this happens, Ukraine will have Plato’s benevolent philosopher king rather than Vlad the Impaler sat upon the throne at the time.
Read the Pew Research report again. Depressing!