Crossing the Rubicon
In 49 BC, Julius Caesar crossed the Rubicon, initiating a civil war that brought about the demise of the Roman republic and the start of a dictatorship. This past week, President Yanukovych, crossed his own virtual Rubicon, by engineering an illegitimate and farcical vote in Ukraine’s parliament, the Verkhovna Rada, that stripped Ukrainians of all rights to dissent and turned Ukraine into a de facto dictatorship. Ukraine has finally come to a long overdue turning point in its destiny, one that should have happened when Ukraine became “independent” in 1991.
Regrettably, from a political and economic point of view, very little changed back then. Most historians and political experts agree that the Soviet Union ceased to be an ideologically based political system many decades before it finally collapsed. In those latter years of the Soviet Empire, very few of the elite that governed this so-called “evil empire” actually believed in the idealistic Marxist principles that had spurred the original revolution and changed the course of history. The people in power were motivated strictly by their own self-interest and preserving their privileged positions on the backs of the unfortunate “Homo Sovieticus”. The idealists had morphed into oligarchs, and the Soviet system was one big sham, lacking any real moral, ethical or ideologically foundation.
When the whole sorry system collapsed in 1991, Ukraine had a golden opportunity to relegate its Soviet political and economic structures and mindset to the garbage bin, and start afresh to build a truly democratic state based on the principles of fairness, justice, human rights and respect for the individual. Many of the former Soviet controlled states did just that and are well on their way towards attaining those civilized standards that we in the west take for granted. Ukraine, for reasons that historians will be dissecting for decades to come, failed to do so.
Instead, all those well placed and corrupt bureaucrats and plutocrats, took the opportunity to superficially change their stripes and managed to retain their privileged and powerful positions, turning the country and its assets into their personal wealth generating machine. For over two decades, the country has been pillaged blind by these wily and self-serving oligarchs. They have used their money and power to manipulate public opinion and the electoral process. All the while, they have striven to maintain at least a pretense or semblance of democratic values and processes for domestic and foreign consumption. With the events of the past week, that pretense has come to an end.
The passing of those draconian laws last week strips away that last fig leaf of democracy from the true face of the Yanukovych regime. He has now overtly joined the ranks of Putin, Lukashenka and Kim Jong-un in choosing repression and dictatorship as the true governance model for Ukraine. Whether he is doing so on his own initiative or is being pressured by Putin is largely immaterial. He has crossed his own Rubicon and must now face the consequences.
Those consequences for both Yanukovych and for the Ukrainian nation will undoubtedly be drastic. He is gambling of course on the ability of his police forces to restore order and control by any means. In this, he has likely made a gross miscalculation. He can rely on no more than a few thousand Berkut special forces to carry out his repressive measures. Most of the regular “militsia” or police forces, as well as the armed forces proper, cannot be counted on to act against their own people. Should the protesters and demonstrators continue to marshal support in the hundreds of thousands and even million, any violent actions against them are doomed to fail. For the past two months, any attempts at using force by the authorities has backfired and increased the strength and commitment of the opposition.
If Yanukovych now chooses to confront the demonstrators with force, the situation will quickly get out of hand with a genuine risk of civil war. Should that happen, the Yanukovich regime will tumble like a house of cards, since its support is very shallow and only based on fear and intimidation. As soon as it becomes obvious that the regime is incapable of asserting its authority, it will be abandoned very quickly.
Of course, any such scenario carries huge risks for all sides. Revolutions by their very nature are very hard to control and their effects impossible to predict. In themselves, they also hold no guarantees that what ensues will be better than what went before. In these dangerous times, it is key that the leaders of the opposition remained disciplined, unified and maintain both their principles and composure. The time has come for the Ukrainian people to do what should have been done some two decades ago. It is time to bury the past and choose a new civilized and democratic future.