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Less than a year after the deposition of Egypt’s Mohammed Morsi, another democratically-elected head of state has found himself thrown out of office. Like Morsi, Viktor Yanukovych proved a disappointment in office. He did nothing to address Ukraine’s economic problems, enriched himself at the expense of his people and did little to heal the divisions between the pro-Russian east and the pro-EU west. When tensions erupted over his withdrawal from an association agreement with the EU in favour of closer ties with Russia last November, his response was harsh and brutal. The final death toll from the confrontations with protesters in Kiev may well prove higher than the current 77 known casualties.
Western politicians and media have largely been supportive of this revolution which its leaders hope will reorientate Ukraine away from the shadow of Putin’s Russia and ultimately see the country join the EU. Well, no British eurosceptic would wish EU membership on their worst enemy, but that isn’t the only cause for concern about these recent events.
Firstly, while Yanukovych was a pretty lousy president, he was chosen by the people. Even though he lost the support of the majority of Ukrainians, should he not have been allowed to complete his term of office and then removed by ballot? We’ve had some pretty awful Prime Ministers recently – Edward Heath and Tony Blair spring to mind – but even allowing for the fact that neither of these men turned the guns on members of their own people, it never crossed the minds of the population at large or our elected representatives to remove them from office in the wake of mass demonstrations.
This in turn leads one to ask some fundamental questions about the conditions required for a successful democracy. Democracy is sometimes viewed as the panacea for all evils. This is the heart of neo-con ideology:- get rid of the dictators, bring in the ballot box and hey presto, the world’s trouble spots won’t be so troublesome.
Egypt and Ukraine have shown that life isn’t that simple – in fact, the attempt to export democracy to Iraq and Afghanistan hasn’t been a great success either. To understand why, we need to look at why democracy in the UK, for all its faults, has proved more stable. Basically, in spite of the invasion of Romans, Angles Saxons, Vikings and Normans, the genetic make-up of the inhabitants of these islands hardly changed in some 200 years up to the end of the Second World War. We were until very recently, in other words, a society composed of people who were “the same sort of people as ourselves”. Thus, we were willing to accept the result of a democratic vote. If it didn’t turn out the way we wanted, we may have grumbled, but respected the right of our compatriots to make a different choice. Our common culture, language, genetic make up and Christian heritage bound us together as a people in such a way that we were prepared peacefully to tolerate outcomes we didn’t like in the knowledge that they could be changed through the ballot box if enough people could be persuaded to agree with us.
An over-simplistic account of our democratic heritage? Probably, but it highlights a number of factors that aren’t present in the countries above. Egypt is a majority Moslem country with but with a sizeable Christian minority. Iraq is split between Shi’a and Sunni Moslems while Ukraine is likewise split between Ukrainian and Russian speakers. Factor in a long history of conflict between the different groups and you end up with a society that is not composed of “the same sort of people as ourselves.” There is no sense of give and take, so frustrated minorities place less trust in the ballot box, and thus repressive measures are more often applied by governments to maintain law and order.
There are lessons here for our own country too. Do we wish to live in a free society? If so, we should be very concerned about mass immigration. The multiculturalism fostered by Tony Blair and encouraged by the EU’s free movement of people has resulted in residents particularly of our large cities no longer feeling that society is composed of “the same sort of people as ourselves.” These concerns, allied to the growing distrust of the political class, bode ill for the future of democracy in our country. Opposition to large-scale immigration is sometimes seen as a symptom of racism or far right authoritarianism. Well, it can sometimes be, but Iraq, Egypt and now Ukraine all serve as a warning that the lack of common culture and a sense of alienation engendered by multiculturalism can pose serious issues for those of us who wish to see our freedoms preserved and our government reduced in size and scope.
The Freedom Association is a non-partisan pressure group dedicated to principles of freedom and national sovereignty. To keep up to date with the campaign, do follow us on Twitter @tfa4freedom. All views expressed in contributions by named authors or organisations are their own and may not reflect the views of the Association.