Yet Another Post on Ukraine and Democracy Promotion

Yes, I’m fully aware that my last three entries have all dwelled on the same topic, but I think that the following piece gives me good reason to continue the obsession. In Sunday’s Los Angeles Times, Matt Spence of the Truman National Security Project argued that not only is Ukrainian democracy threatened, but Western democracy promotion is, as well:

Stand By Ukraine’s Struggle (LAT)

At the precise moment when we are looking for success in promoting democracy, Ukraine has dealt us yet another blow. Certainly, Ukrainian democracy will suffer should President Leonid D. Kuchma’s handpicked successor take office despite widespread voter fraud and state interference. But last week’s events should not obscure the effect of Western assistance to Ukrainian democracy over the last decade.

Examples include contributing to the end of the temniki memorandums — censorship decrees — and the survival of one of Ukraine’s last independent newspapers; funding exit polls in the March 2002 parliamentary elections that helped ensure that the opposition could take the seats it actually won; and encouraging civic involvement in the policymaking process. The protests in Kiev’s streets last week attest to the vibrancy of Ukrainian civil society.

These victories of democracy do not attract the same attention as last Sunday’s election results. But democracy does not happen only on election day; it is based on broader change that includes a free press, civil society and rule of law.

Of course, Ukrainians deserve the bulk of the credit. No amount of Western assistance can substitute for people’s willingness to risk their lives for freedom. Yet, when the opposition has few resources and faces creeping government harassment, Western assistance can and has made the difference.

This support comes in many subtle forms that we must continue: sponsoring more exit polls to undermine the government’s attempts to falsify results; funding more nongovernmental organizations; and increasing attention from Western leaders to highlight the often life-threatening harassment of local journalists and civic activists.

Indeed, the international community’s response to this election will powerfully shape Ukraine’s trajectory for years. Western governments must continue to pressure the Ukrainian and Russian governments to accept only a full and fair accounting of the election results. This investment of diplomatic energy will create an environment for Western assistance to do more in the future.

But whatever occurs this week in Kiev, we must not forget what promoting democracy has achieved over the last decade. Americans are drawn to the idea that democracy is made with a dictator’s downfall or a free election four years later. But the way we imagine democracy as a series of Kodak moments must give way to the reality that democracy promotion is about slow and steady progress, with inevitable setbacks and struggles along the way.

Incidentally, Matt’s dissertation is on this very issue, so he writes with a degree of authority. Read the entire piece.

Robert Garcia Tagorda
About Robert Garcia Tagorda
Robert blogged prolifically at OTB from November 2004 to August 2005, when career demands took him in a different direction. He graduated summa cum laude from Claremont McKenna College with a Bachelor of Arts in Philosophy, Politics, and Economics and earned his Master in Public Policy from Harvard's Kennedy School of Government.