Sunday, November 21, 2004

Ukraine: Polarization and Democracy

And they say the U.S. is polarized...

From "Ukraine's Democratic Strengths", by Stephen Sestanovich:

In last month's first round, two-thirds of Ukraine's 27 regions preferred one of the two finalists to the other by a margin exceeding 3 to 1. Yushchenko, strongest in western Ukraine, won 10 of these lopsided contests; Yanukovych, an easterner, won eight. In five regions, the gap was more than 10 to 1 -- and in some places it approached 30 to 1.

Yet Ukraine's very dividedness has turned out to be a crucial ingredient of its emergent democratic success. To be sure, after every election (no matter who wins) a large portion of the public feels deeply estranged from its leaders. That may be bad for national identity and civic consciousness, but it has so far been good for democracy. In Ukraine, merely winning an election doesn't enable you to put your opponents out of business -- something that, across the former Soviet Union, incumbents have had no trouble doing. The country's divisions give losers a political base that can't be taken away.


Ukraine is sometimes treated as a "halfway" country of Eastern Europe -- less burdened by Soviet legacies than Russia, but not able to throw off the past as easily as countries that were never part of the U.S.S.R. There is much truth in this description, but it is wrong about one thing: popular attitudes. Perhaps because they are so divided, Ukrainians actually have more democratic views than almost any other post-communist country.

When pollsters from Pew Research Center's 2003 Global Attitudes Project asked people in Ukraine, Poland, Bulgaria and Russia their view of a series of democratic norms, they found that Ukrainians came in first in their support for fair elections, a fair judiciary, freedom of the press and free speech.

By the way, President Bush's greatest margins were 45 points in Utah (2.7 to 1) and 40 points in Wyoming (2.4 to 1). Kerry's were 81 points in DC (10 to 1) and 25 points in Massachusetts (1.7 to 1).

Update, Nov. 23: Ukrainian Leader Calls for Talks to Avert Violence:

KIEV, Ukraine — Outgoing President Leonid Kuchma called for negotiations in Ukraine's spiraling political crisis Tuesday, hours after the leader of the opposition declared himself the winner of a disputed presidential election to the approval of tens of thousands of protesters....

Update, Nov. 24: U.S. Rejects Ukraine Vote Outcome.

Update, Nov. 29: Behind the Scenes at Kiev's Rally.

Update, Dec. 4: Ukraine Prepares for New Election.

Update, Dec. 7: Doctors at the Austrian Clinic That Treated Ukraine’s Opposition Leader Confirm There Was a Plot to Kill Him.

Update, Dec. 26: Yushchenko Declares Victory.

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