Next week, Ukraine will be celebrating the 30th anniversary of its independence which arose when the monstrous empire known as the Soviet Union finally collapsed. In contrast to previous failed attempts to gain independence, this was a peaceful and bloodless revolution engineered ironically enough by the same political leaders in Ukraine that had up to that time been part of the oppressive Communist regime that had kept Ukraine under the Soviet yoke for some seven decades.
Although we should be grateful for the fact that independence was achieved in such a relatively strife-free manner, it is probably because of this very fact that Ukraine has also had such a difficult time in subsequently achieving true democracy, freedom, justice and a civil society. Because the “revolution” was essentially led by former Communist party apparatchiks and power brokers, they were able to easily gain control of the subsequent supposedly democratic governments and use the country’s assets to enrich themselves and establish an oligarchic system of government that controls the political and economic structures of the country to this very day.
Although there are many aspects of life in Ukraine that are undoubtedly far better than they were in Soviet times, I think most Ukrainians as well as knowledgeable outside observers would agree that Ukraine still has a long way to go to reach the democratic and free enterprise standards enjoyed by most European and other Western countries. It will take many more years of political struggle before Ukrainians begin to enjoy the kind of rights, opportunities and benefits that we take for granted here in Canada, the U.S. or most of Europe.
This should not be either a surprise or a cause for pessimism as any true student of history will tell you. If one examines previous revolutions or struggles for independence in other countries, one will inevitably find that they very seldom lead to quick or successful transitions to the kind of freedom and beneficial results that they aimed to achieve.
The classic example of this, of course, is the French Revolution of 1789. If one examines what transpired in the thirty years following the overthrow of the despotic regime of King Louis XVI, one would see a period of extreme turmoil and violence, the imposition of a “Reign of Terror”, the rise and fall of numerous governments, the ascendancy of a military dictatorship under Napoleon, constant warfare with other European countries, and ultimately, an impoverished France that thirty years later in 1819 was once again back under a monarch’s (Louis XVIII) rule. The instability continued and led to another revolution in 1830.
In the century following, the best example of another failed revolution is of course the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917. It was a bloody affair that saw the overthrow of despotic Tsarist rule, only to be followed by an even more violent and oppressive Communist regime that was infinitely worse than the feudal system it replaced. Thirty years later, not only were Russia and Ukraine enslaved, but most of Eastern Europe as well was under the rule of a psychopathic tyrant by the name of Stalin. This epitome of a genocidal, sadistic dictator connived with an equally brutal German dictator by the name of Hitler to bring about a World War that caused death and destruction of an almost unimaginable scale.
There are many more examples one could cite, including the Cuban Revolution of 1958, the Chinese Revolution of 1959, the Iranian Revolution of 1978, the Nicaraguan Revolution of 1979, and the South African Revolution of 1991. All can be considered failures to some to degree or other, as most produced governments and conditions that were in most cases worse than what they had struggled to replace.
The obvious lesson we can draw from this is that it is easier to bring about a revolution than it is to create a stable, just and democratic system of governance in the aftermath. That is not to say that it is impossible, and we can look at the American Revolution of 1776 as a more positive example. But even in that case, it took more than a century and a civil war to produce a more stable and just system of government.
While it is true that Ukraine, thirty years after independence, is still struggling to establish itself as a free and democratic country, there are positive signs and much hope that it is on the right path. Its citizens are by and large free to travel, express their opinions openly, and vote in relatively fair elections. They have managed to stop their predatory neighbour Russia from forcibly taking over the eastern provinces. They are starting to curb the powers of the oligarchic elite and clean up a corrupt judiciary. A program to implement land sales has been finally put in place. A new generation of young Ukrainians is increasingly replacing the older generations of Soviet minded leaders that have dominated business and politics in recent decades. There is hope. What is required is continued dedication and a large degree of patience.