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People Who Hate Freedom

As Susan points out, though reformist Yushchenko is clearly the favorite of most Ukranians, this should not obscure the fact that "There is indeed a solid base of genuine support for Yanukovych, and most of this is based on the sense that a Yushchenko presidency would marginalize the Russian-speaking east that has very strong economic and social ties to Russia." This is an important point to understand, not just for Ukraine, but for Iraq, Afghanistan, and other cases of attempted democracy-building. Lots of people, be they Russian-speaking Ukranians or whomever can find themselves opposing movement toward democracy in the state in which they happen to live. This isn't because people "hate freedom" or democracy or whatever, but because democracy is a concept that's tied up with notions of political community that are often hard to negotiate.

Most everyone around the world accepts that democracy would be the best way to govern a political community that they regard as illegitimate. But if you think the legitimacy of the state in which you reside is suspect, then the desirability of democracy sort of goes out the window. Kurds want to live in a democracy, but that means a democratic Kurdistan. In a context where democracy may well mean "we do what the majority of Arabs want" democracy doesn't look like such a got offer. One doubts that the people of Eastern Ukraine really have some principled objection to majoritarian decision-making. They just think they'll be left out of a regime dominated by Western-oriented people from other regions. The United States itself has not been above having a violent dispute over a related issue. Did "democracy" for the Old South mean following the will of the majority of (white, male) Americans or following the will of the majority of (white, male) Southern Americans? There isn't really a correct answer to such questions. That one of the key points in the dispute was that the will of the southern majority was to continue enslaving people makes the Dixie point-of-view look unsympathetic (and rightly so) to northern ears, but the general shape of the problem is genuinely difficult. Why should democracy be imposed on Kurds, Russian-speakers, or whomever else, when democracy means their marginalization from the halls of power?

The alternative -- let everyone seceed -- isn't viable either, of course. These problems call for some kind of political power-sharing, federalism, checks and balances, and other such things. But it's very hard for outsiders to force people to come to reasonable agreements about these issues if they're not already inclined to make them. And if they are so inclined, they can probably make them without outside help.

November 27, 2004 | Permalink

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» democracy is hard from riting on the wall
matt yglesias brings up the issue of the assent of the minority to be governed by the majority in the context of the ukraine (and kurdistan.) the first comment on the thread pretty well sums up my snap reaction: Duh. Posted by: abb1 | November 27, 2004... [Read More]

Tracked on Nov 28, 2004 5:52:24 AM

Comments

Duh.

Posted by: abb1 | Nov 27, 2004 5:50:33 PM

In a context where democracy may well mean "we do what the majority of Arabs want" democracy doesn't look like such a got offer.

OK, now that's not even a homophone problem. You're just smoking crack.

Posted by: bobo brooks | Nov 27, 2004 5:51:41 PM

Or he needs to get a new keyboard. I get the same effect occasionally from this one; Mt. Dew and electronics don't mix well. ;)

I don't really see the point here; Sure, Yanukovych has some supporters. Democracy isn't the same as unanimity. But I suspect it's no accident that his base of support is located in a part of the country which, until VERY recently, (As in, after the election.) has had a tightly controlled press shilling for the Kremlin's candidate.

Democracy might not require unanimity, but it does kind of call for some degree of press freedom; Control what the voters hear, and you largely control how they vote, even without stuffing the ballot box. Though Yanukovych had to do that, too, in order to "win" the election.

Posted by: Brett Bellmore | Nov 27, 2004 6:08:05 PM

"Sure, Yanukovych has some supporters. Democracy isn't the same as unanimity"

His mother and two guys he went to school with? How did we get from what looks to me like at best a 55/45 country with a history of conflict going back at least to the Revolution to "Free the oppressed peoples of East Ukraine?" Oh, that's right Peerless Leader took a side, for reasons that probably have nothing to do with oil. Where were these Republican freedom lovers during the last few years of oligarchy? Wandering the wilderness without talking points.

"Democracy is not unanimity" Majority rule, 51% or quasi-legal legitimacy gives you absolute power to enact your agenda and ignore the concerns of the 49% completely.

That is not democracy. Democracy is the consent of the minority to be governed by the majority. The losers in an election or the passage of legislation are the ones that can grant or take away the legitimacy of the results or the process. We are seeing in the Ukraine what I wish to God we were seeing in the United States.

Matt is dead on. In a democracy or free society, there is no law outside of the will of the people, expressed effectively. Any minority above perhaps even 10% has the power to break the system down, and must be respected.

Posted by: bob mcmanus | Nov 27, 2004 6:46:30 PM

Surely one of the "notions of political community that are often hard to negotiate" which the concept of democracy is tied up with is the rule of law? Surely nowadays we understand that and democaracy, to be worthy of their names, must include e.g. equality before the law and protections for minorities? Popular sovereignty does not suffice for democracy except as expressed through legislation, tested in turn against some funadmental understanding, written or unwritten, of rights and liberties. "Doing what the majority wants" in a territory might defer to the majority's will in matters of policy or decision but fall short of democracy. Wasn't that the sense of the word until _Federalist_ rehabilatated it in the phrase "democratic republic" where the representative, Constitutional government integrated popular sovereignty and the rule of law, while ever since Plato democracy had meant popular rule without the rule of law, simple "majoritarian decision-making" (which has since been renamed ochlocracy, "mob rule")? Churchill's "worst form of government except all the others" is legally restrained from some forms of mischief, including some mischievious law-making.
As for democracy being " the best way to govern a political community that they regard as [legitimate],"there's an antonym, not a homonym, in the original.

Posted by: Dabodius | Nov 27, 2004 7:05:37 PM

Brett,
It's true that Yushchenko's lack of access to media outlets hurt his campaign in the east to a degree we can't measure, but those who overwhelmingly supported him in the west saw no more of him on the nightly news than those in the east. You seem to imply that there were tighter media controls in the east, which isn't the case. (I've learned to never underestimate the ability of the post-Soviet citizen to come up with alternative communication networks.)

Point being, more Yushchenko on the TV would not have translated into an enormous support base in the east for him. There are very legitimate and logical reasons why some of these people should support a Yanukovych, and it's not entirely a product of misinformation. Lots of people there have family working across the border in Russia, and they fear for their livelihoods because they believe, rightly or wrongly, that Yushchenko will damage ties with Russia.

Posted by: susan | Nov 27, 2004 7:10:35 PM

"These problems call for some kind of political power-sharing, federalism, checks and balances, and other such things."

So, I wonder what we 48% have in the way of power-sharing, checks and balances and other such things.

Posted by: masaccio | Nov 27, 2004 8:15:30 PM

surely you've heard that protections for minorities are usually considered a key feature of democracy.

Posted by: praktike | Nov 27, 2004 8:34:21 PM

"So, I wonder what we 48% have in the way of power-sharing, checks and balances and other such things."

Exactly as much as you hadn't successfully destroyed during the time YOU people ran the government, of course. That's justice of a sort, isn't it?

Posted by: Brett Bellmore | Nov 27, 2004 9:04:40 PM

surely you've heard that protections for minorities are usually considered a key feature of democracy.


Surely he has. But the obvious problem is that people of Ukraine (and Iraq and Afghanistan) do not have the same familiarity with minority rights as we do (we, after all, have 200+ years of experience with affording minority rights to some degree or another) and cannot feel assured that those in the minority will be afforded those rights. Those in the minority in those countries will be wondering whether they will really be protected by those right.

The question is, what can be done to make those minorities feel more comfortable that they will have an adequate degree of rights? Is Constitutional protection enough? I doubt it, since those countries also don't have the depth of respect for Constitutional authority that we do.

Posted by: Al | Nov 27, 2004 10:05:05 PM

we, after all, have 200+ years of experience with affording minority rights to some degree or another

African-Americans and Apaches agree with you.

Posted by: 2shoes | Nov 27, 2004 11:46:31 PM

"Exactly as much as you hadn't successfully destroyed during the time YOU people ran the government, of course. That's justice of a sort, isn't it?"

Who are "YOU people"? Seriously. And why do all of your arguments seem to ultimately stem from some kind of resentment over the New Deal, if not the Civil War? Maybe it's time to set those ancient hostilities aside and be a statesman. Republicans can be as unethical as they want because Dems did it in the past? Even if it were true it's first grader logic. Parents teach their kids every day that that argument doesn't hold water.

Posted by: faneuil | Nov 28, 2004 12:04:25 AM

I think that some of the comments here underestimate the degree of support for Yanukovich, who is genuinely pretty popular in the south-east of the country, particularly with the miners. Yushchenko isn't the only one with large numbers of supporters taking to the streets. I hope he wins out in the end because he seems like the less corrupt, more competent of the two candidates; and I certainly would like to see another, fairer election. But let's not ignore the fact that no matter who wins, the result is going to exacerbate deep splits that exist in Ukrainian society, and it's going to be bad for the country (civil war is a possibility, as is secession of the east, which, being the main source of energy for the country, would be rather bad. And Ukraine is heavily dependent on, and closely tied to, Russia, so simply doing without Russia isn't an option, and straining ties with Russia is unlikely to be very good for the Ukrainians).
So, while I do hope for a Yushchenko victory, I think we need to accept that the situation isn't simple, and that even what for many of us is the preferable outcome is going to have a lot of negative repercussions.

Posted by: josh | Nov 28, 2004 8:15:58 AM

Poison pill E. Ukraine?

I remember being surprised at the inclusion of Odessa/Crimea in Ukraine (rather than Russia) when it first became independent. Could this have been intentional on the part of Russian leaders who wanted to stunt Ukrainian nationalism?

Posted by: miriamsong | Nov 28, 2004 9:23:39 AM

miriamsong, in a word, yes.

in a couple more words, it's not even the worst of the stalin inspired border decisions.

Posted by: Michael Farris | Nov 28, 2004 10:03:01 AM

Faneuil, first grader logic is something you build on to get to high school logic, then college logic. It's as simple as "One person cuts, the other picks the piece."; Don't give the government more power than you want your enemies to be able to exercise over you.

That's a priciple Democrats spent decades blythely ignoring, and now that choice has come back to bite you in the rear. Expect a lot of laughter when you complain about it.

Republicans should strictly respect federalism, and not use any of the powers Democrats usurped when they were in control? I agree, but you had to be pretty stupid to expect them to be that moral. Or is it that you were simply expecting that Democrats would always control the government?

Either way, I don't expect this new found appreciation for limited government and federalism to survive one second past the moment Democrats get their hands on the levers of power again. You haven't learned anything yet, you're just pissed off that YOU aren't the ones abusing power anymore.

Posted by: Brett Bellmore | Nov 28, 2004 11:52:30 AM

Brett Bellmore: Either way, I don't expect this new found appreciation for limited government and federalism to survive one second past the moment Democrats get their hands on the levers of power again.

Or isolationism, for that matter.

Nor should they. It's all been just a bunch of reactionary handwringing.

However, the one supposedly conservative position that will probably survive when the Dems regain control (actually, it probably depends which wing of the Dems regain the White House), because it was put in place before that Bush administration, is some semblance of fiscal responsibility and deficit hawkishness.

Frankly, I don't know how Republicans can stand Bush's economic performance, or believe his political bullshit excuses about "wars being expensive," for driving up our debt - unless they are truly machiavellian and believe he's doing it to bankrupt social security and medicare and they sympathize with those goals.

Posted by: SoCalJustice | Nov 28, 2004 12:01:54 PM

MY is thinking himself into a moral pretzel. Everything he says is correct, and yet the fundamental difference between the minority that would turn the country into a KGB state, and the majority that seeks victory through multiparty elections and European integration, is the far more important distinction.

Obviously a minority has the right to seek guarantees for itself. That's also a part of democracy. But that's NOT the issue here. The issue here is that a pro-Putin minority is trying to fix an election.

Can we drop the equivocations and simply acknowledge that?

Posted by: Jonathan Dworkin | Nov 28, 2004 12:04:40 PM

Crimea was included in the Ukraine in 1964, when Khruschev was in power, not Stalin (and Khruschev was Ukrainian). I doubt it was intended to serve russian interests: it's kind of rare, to put it mildly, for nations to give territory they consider theirs for purposes of aggrandizement. Especially a region such as Crimea, quite a valuable piece of real estate.

Posted by: Danny | Nov 28, 2004 12:58:04 PM

"Can we drop the equivocations and simply acknowledge that?"

The problem is that the guy who would have won if the vote weren't rigged is supported by Bush. And for a lot of Democrats, that's enough to irredeemably taint him, never mind that his opponent is a Kremlin puppet who stole the election.

The level of bile in Democratic circles is seriously distorting a lot of people's judgement.

Posted by: Brett Bellmore | Nov 28, 2004 1:56:58 PM

Brett, I love how you just make up facts to support anything you're saying. I don't know any Democrats who want the Kremlin stooge in power, for any reason. In fact, most Democrats I talk to sympathize with the candidate who's up against election fraud. Gee, I WONDER WHY?

Posted by: ScrewyRabbit | Nov 28, 2004 2:23:31 PM

Well, it's obvious why some Democrats might be sympathetic to a victim of ballot fraud. Delusions effect one's attitudes every bit as much as sane beliefs, after all.

Posted by: Brett Bellmore | Nov 28, 2004 3:07:25 PM

Perhaps Brett Bellmore would like to enlighten all of us as the the horrors wreaked on democracy under the Democrats. He could start by listing all of the statutes passsed without any participation by the minority party, the large number of filibusters conducted by the Republicans to stop extremist judges nominated by the Democrats, the number of times the clock was stopped by the Dems to enable them to twist arms, the number of times that the Dems passed goofy laws under the cover of the ominbus budget bills, or allowed their legislative staffers to insert provisions into bills, or any other list of evils he can find on a freeper site.

Posted by: masaccio | Nov 28, 2004 3:56:26 PM

Brett, that is a little silly. I mean, Yushchenko is also supported by the EU, so by your logic, that should be enough to irredeemably taint him in the minds of Republicans. But come on now.

Plenty of us on both sides are capable of viewing global events outside of the prism of pro- or anti- Bush. People generally seem aware that there's more at stake than scoring cheap political points. Thankfully, I haven't seen any commentary that fits your description of democrats, or my hypothetical description of republicans. No need to get riled up over problems that don't seem to really exist.

Posted by: susan | Nov 28, 2004 3:58:16 PM

I guess it's a mark of the times that a thread about election fraud in the Ukraine ends up becoming a shriek contest between embittered Democrats and self-satisfied Republicans in the US.

Really pathetic, guys. And the people taking risks to steer that country away from Putinism deserve better.

Posted by: Jonathan Dworkin | Nov 28, 2004 4:01:29 PM

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