The ongoing war is held up as a battle between democracy and autocracy, but Ukraine’s political history since independence in 1991 reveals a country where democracy has been hard to sow.
This is the first of a two-part series on the history of Ukrainian democracy since the country gained independence from the Soviet Union.
(CN) — Critical news outlets are banned, opposition parties outlawed, rival politicians prosecuted, journalists assassinated. Political corruption is endemic. Oligarchs control the media, the parliament and regional politics. Minorities suffer discrimination, the prisons are squalid, judges are corruptible and violence hangs over the politics and people of this impoverished post-Soviet society.
This isn’t just a description of Russia, but also of Ukraine.
The war in Ukraine is often described as a titanic struggle between democracy and autocracy – between good and evil – but in truth it is problematic to hold Ukraine up as a beacon of democracy because the country’s track record on human rights, political freedom and democratic values is very troubling.
Since the outbreak of a full-scale war over Ukraine, Western media, officialdom and intellectuals have glossed over or ignored many anti-democratic currents that have coursed through Ukraine’s politics since it gained independence in 1991, even accelerating in recent years under Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.
In the Western narrative, a “bad” Russia is spreading “Putinism” and autocracy around the world and threatening the foundations of a liberal world order with the invasion of its neighbor while a “good” West is defending Ukraine in a kind of crusade to uphold democracy and human rights.
The problem though with the West’s argument is that in many respects the disaster happening in Ukraine also is rooted in the country’s own troubled and undemocratic history since it was shorn from the Soviet grip.