The stunning events in Ukraine are fading from the news flashes and computer screens across America, at least for the moment. An unsettling testament to the shortness of the modern American attention span, late breaking news stories focus instead on the aftermath of the Sochi Olympics and the increasingly inane occasion of Hollywood narcissism and empty sanctimony known as the Academy Awards. Nevertheless, the present comparative quiet can most accurately be characterized as a break in the action between rounds.
Positioned as it is at the geographical crossroads between East and West, the future of Ukraine will have a direct effect on the balance of power between Europe and Russia, as they vie for dominance of the region. However, the recent events in Ukraine, and their likely reverberations in similarly unstable environments (which describes conditions virtually everywhere) have yet to be fully grasped by detached leaders throughout the rest of the world. Yet they ignore the signs at their own peril. In a very real sense, Ukraine reflects a growing rage among common folk, whose patience with rampant corruption and lawlessness in the halls of power has reached its limit.
The most recent upheaval can be tied to competing trade pacts offered by Russia and the European Union. Viktor Yanukovych, elected president of Ukraine in 2010, opted for the Russian trade agreement, despite a groundswell of support from the people for the pact offered by the Europeans. Yanukovych has worked to fortify his standing with Russia and its president Vladimir Putin, and to reassert a bond between the two nations. However, although a significant portion of eastern Ukraine is Russian, those who inhabit much of the rest of the nation consider themselves wholly independent, and have no intention of once again being subjugated under anything resembling the tyranny of the former Soviet Union.
In a series of increasingly violent protests eventually resulting in bloodshed, the Ukrainian people have succeeded in ousting Yanukovych and securing guarantees from the Parliament to return the nation to its constitution, and to hold elections for Yanukovych’s successor as early as May. In the process, Yulia Tymoshenko, a primary leader of the protest movement who has been imprisoned since 2011, was released.
Certainly, Vladimir Putin has no intention of sitting quietly by while such an enormous piece of real estate, which has long been regarded as Russian property by the oligarchs of Moscow, is wrested from it. Already, an increased military presence along the eastern border, and the obligatory Russian “war games” occurring within Ukrainian airspace signal Putin’s disapproval of the direction Ukrainians are taking. And certainly, the insipid and vacillating oratory of Barack Obama is doing little to convince the Russians of any need to limit their encroachment on Ukraine.
However, the dramatic power shift in Ukraine may eventually prove to be only the first in a series of ruling cabals to topple like dominoes, upending entrenched elites in several parts of the world. The possible restoration of Ukrainian independence and self-determination that seemed ever more likely since Yanukovych was ousted, and the Parliament got the message that it had better comply with the thunderous voice of the people, can only be an incentive to the lowly masses of other oppressed nations whose compliance has likewise been stretched to the breaking point. The former arrogance of unaccountable power has been severely shaken. This genie is not likely to go peaceably back into its bottle.
In the nation of Georgia (a relative “neighbor” of Ukraine also bordering the Black Sea), similar sentiments abound. Georgian Prime Minister Irakly Garibashvili publicly advocates increased ties with Europe and the West, in lieu of any deepening entanglements with Russia. And his plan enjoys enormous public support, with eighty-five percent of the population agreeing that Georgia should be building bridges with the West.
The passions so dramatically on display in Ukraine, and echoed in Georgia, are simmering far across the Atlantic in Venezuela, where similar tensions between the citizenry and the state have resulted in deadly clashes. Angry outbreaks from the citizenry have ensued in the aftermath of the brutish dictatorship of Hugo Chavez, who was able to maintain order through sheer force for as long as he was alive. However, in the course of his rein, the standard deprivations of statism resulted in mass suffering among the common people, who now demand change.
Currently, Nicolas Maduro, who succeeded Chavez as president, is attempting to subdue increasingly intense and violent protests from the disgruntled citizenry, while predictably claiming that events in his country are being misrepresented throughout the world. Senator Marco Rubio (R.-FL) contends otherwise, and affixes blame for government abuses in Venezuela on the influence of nearby Cuba, with its own decades-long history of horrific despotism under the Castro clan.
While the great “Armageddon” between East and West, anticipated by many since the middle of the last century, has yet to ensue, the growing trend of open defiance to established autocracies appears to be a spreading phenomenon. Certainly, the common people can no longer be easily sequestered and prevented from communicating and organizing, as they were prior to the advent of the Internet and social media. For dictatorships to endure, the flow of information must be strictly controlled. Consequently, the present day abundance of cell phones and laptops constitutes a more formidable enemy of the state than an arsenal of nuclear missiles across the border.
The single principle enshrined by America’s Founders which held the greatest potential to prevent impulsive overreach and abuse of power was the concept of government accountability to the people. An office holder who presumed to invoke excessive force could expect the electorate to clip his wings, come the next election. And in light of this possibility, others who might be predisposed would think twice before engaging in similar chicanery. However, if the people neglect their responsibility to keep a tight leash on those in authority, such mischief is inevitable. At that point, restoring the necessary limitations on government becomes far more difficult and dangerous to accomplish.
Nevertheless, the pattern of organized opposition to the totalitarian status quo is evident and growing, despite efforts to suppress it. The flame of liberty is not yet fully extinguished.