Ukraine’s History with Democratisation
When Ukraine gained independence from the crumbling soviet Union in 1991, there was cautious optimism - both in Ukraine and in the West - that a fully liberal democracy could eventually emerge in lieu of the totalitarian system which preceded it (Karatnycky 1992; Zlenko 1992). Leonid Kravchuk (1991), the first ever elected president of Ukraine, stated in his inauguration speech on 1 December 1991:
I would like to congratulate all of you on the greatest event in the history of
our people - the birth of New Ukraine which has been created by the will of
her people, pursuing the highest standards of democracy.
Conversely, leaders from the West, arguably enchanted by the perceived ideological victory of Western values over Soviet ones with the end of the Cold War, expressed their own desire for a democratic Ukraine as part ofa wider post-Soviet wave of democratisation. George H. Bush (1991), in a speech which was later dubbed a ‘chicken Kiev’ by detractors because of its cautious treatment of Ukrainian statehood, emphasised that the United States would ‘support those who want to build democracy... and by democracy we mean a system of government in which people may vie openly for the hearts and yes, the votes of the public’.
However, severely hampered by pressing issues surrounding Ukraine’s flimsy sovereignty coupled with the stark realities of undertaking simultaneous social, economic and political transitions, Ukraine’s ‘democratic dream’ failed to materialise in its first decade of independence (Dobriansky 1994; Karatnycky 1995; Kubicek 1994; Kuzio 1994). Consequently, in the absence of a functioning democratic system, Ukraine was rendered a kind of illiberal democracy; a system that was neither purely democratic nor purely authoritarian (Beichelt 2004).2 Thus, Ukraine’s only real democratic gain in the first dozen years of independence was the establishment of relatively free and fair elections (Carothers 2002; Rose 2001). This was exemplified by the electoral defeat of Ukraine’s first president, Kravchuk, in the 1994 presidential election, the first post-Soviet leader to be defeated at the ballot box (Kuzio 1996). However, in the more substantive areas of democracy - namely, a vibrant civil society, protection of civil liberties and low levels of corruption - Ukraine made meagre advancement, thus, remaining something of an illiberal entity (Kubicek 2001).
It was not until the events of the Orange Revolution in late 2004, early 2005, that enthusiasm as to the democratic prospects of Ukraine returned to the fore. In a nutshell, the Orange Revolution came about after allegations of electoral violations against Viktor Yanukovych in the 2004 presidential election, who was running as the chosen successor of the incumbent Leonid Kuchma, which resulted in mass protests in Kiev (Karatnycky 2005). The protests lasted more than 2 months, eventually leading to a rerun of the election which ended with opposition candidate Viktor Yushchenko winning. The Orange Revolution, as part of the broader Colour Revolutions wave of the early 2000s, was expected by many to be the watershed moment that catapulted Ukraine towards a liberal democracy (Aslund 2009a; Christensen et al. 2005; McFaul 2007).
Like other countries that experienced Colour Revolutions - arguably the same can be said for the countries affected by the Arab Spring too - the Orange Revolution demonstrated genuine popular demand for more democratisation in Ukraine (Hale 2013). However, despite rhetoric from Yushchenko and other key Orange revolutionaries (e.g. Yulia
Fig. 9.1 Ukraine’s nations in transit ratings 2003-2015
Tymoshenko), by the end of their tenure in power in 2010, no substantial democratic gains had been achieved (Haran 2011). Indeed, two of the major democratic ratings indexes - Freedom House’s Nations in Transit ratings (Fig. 9.1) and Bertelsmann Stiftung’s Transformation Index ratings (Fig. 9.2) - chart, after an initial positive spike in the aftermath ofthe Orange Revolution, a gradual waning of Ukraine’s democratic rating over the past decade (Freedom House n.d.; Bertelsmann Stiftung n.d.).
Concerning the formal aspects of democracy - namely elections, rule of law and separation of powers - Ukraine arguably regressed in the 5 years of Orange rule. Despite some initial attempts to reform in all three areas, from 2007 onwards, Ukraine experienced notable failures. Certainly, the two parliamentary elections (2006 and 2007) and one presidential election (2010) that occurred in this period were considered free and fair by the major election observation monitors: the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), Council of Europe (CoE) and the EU (Katchanovski 2008; Casier2011). However, regarding rule of law and separation of powers, the Orange revolutionaries’ tabled constitutional and judicial reforms were delayed, altered and eventually ineffectively implemented (Kubicek 2009).
In the more substantive (or informal) areas of democracy - especially civil society, civil liberties and corruption - the Orange Revolution resulted in few advances. As promoting substantive democracy is arguably harder and requires a long-term focus, it would be unrealistic to expect significant improvement in Ukraine in such a short period of time (Casier 2011).
Fig. 9.2 Ukraine’s Transformation Index ratings 2003-2014
Consequently, although the functioning of civil society and the protection of civil liberties remained adequate in Ukraine during the Orange regime’s tenure, neither showed signs of marked improvement (Kuzio 2010). Regarding corruption, reduction of which was one of the key promises of the Orange Revolution, the high levels of corruption failed to be properly addressed and remained a key hurdle to Ukraine’s democratisation prospects (Kubicek 2009).
Indeed, the democratisation goals of the Orange Revolution were partly undermined by the global financial crisis which placed extraordinary pressure on Ukraine; Ukraine’s economy contracted by 15% in 2009 (Aslund 2009b; Kubicek 2009). However, the internal power struggles between Yushchenko and Tymoschenko were arguably more damaging to Ukraine’s democratisation (Flikke 2008). In the aftermath of the defeat of the Orange revolutionaries in the 2010 presidential election at the hands of Yanukovych, Ukraine’s democracy moved from stagnation to regression.
By the time of Yanukovych’s flight from power in early 2014, Ukraine had backslid democratically across the board to pre-Orange Revolution levels (Kudelia 2014; Motyl 2013). Yanukovych’s reign as president was particularly blighted by two key democratic failings: the rise of selective justice (i.e. inadequate rule of law) and the problematic 2012 parliamentary elections. Cases of selective justice became more noticeable (even egregious) under Yanukovych as he sought to marginalise political competitors. The imprisonment of Tymoshenko and her ally Yuri Lutsenko, among roughly 15 individuals from the opposition targeted by Yanukovych, on corruption charges in 2011 were the most blatant (Burlyuk 2015). This demonstrated a clear regression of the rule of law in Ukraine under Yanukovych (Kudelia 2014). Regarding the electoral process, the 2012 parliamentary elections represented a noticeable step backwards from the preceding three elections. Prior to the elections a mixed voting system was implemented, a system previously used pre-Orange Revolution, which was, according to critics, designed to give Yanukovych’s Party of the Regions a parliamentary majority (Kovalov 2014). Additionally, the post-election setting was rife with issues ranging from accusations of electoral violations in Kiev to the decision to require repeat elections in five constituencies.
With the flight of Yanukovych and the subsequent election of Petro Poroshenko as President in 2014 (during the first few months of the Ukraine crisis), Ukraine has once again started a new phase of attempting to democratise under a different leader (Gershman 2015; Snyder 2015). Despite strong rhetorical commitments to democratisation, Poroshenko is significantly hamstrung by the ongoing Ukraine crisis which has resulted in the annexation of Crimea by Russia and civil war in the Donbass region not to mentioned producing significant economic, political, diplomatic and social strife (Wilson 2015). Additionally, as this chapter will argue deep-seated impediments, both internal and external, to Ukraine’s democratic prospects remain even greater challenges to overcome. Consequently, Ukraine’s prospects for achieving its democratic dream are perhaps at its lowest point in its history with few people, internally or externally, confident about its democratic trajectory.