STAFF WRITER AT SAIS HOPKINS-NANJING CENTER
Two facts regarding recent protests in Ukraine must be acknowledged. First, the protests are against the authoritative rule of Ukrainian President Yanukovych’s regime. And second, the protests are trying to pull Ukraine away from Russia.
Despite their instability and the presence of far-right groups in the movement, recent protests have the potential to transform the country into a liberal democracy. The European Union should grasp this opportunity by supporting the protests, and make every effort to realize a democratic transition.
The EU was originally established not only to challenge a Westphalian nation-state system in our globalized age but also to address the “democratic deficit” that exists in today’s dominant international institutions. In this vein, it has always been the hope of Jürgen Habermas, currently Europe’s most influential scholar, that the EU promotes democratic transnational governance that resonates with ordinary Europeans.
Only by creating a public sphere in which ordinary people can participate and make their voices heard will the EU temper the right-wing nationalist thinking of its member nations. This thinking threatens the union’s own existence. Thus, the EU is actually fulfilling its own ideal by helping Ukraine into a democratic transition. Meaningful actions on this issue could even signify the comeback of the EU after the Eurozone crisis.
What’s more, the European Union should not have serious doubts about aiding Ukraine merely due to the presence of far-right groups in recent protests. Only through democratic governance can the EU survive in the face of nationalist movements within its member nations. The sense of belonging and self-governance which nationalism seems to offer is what makes it attractive to people in the first place.
During the past few decades, right-wing nationalism has found a large audience in Europe simply because the EU has failed to meet its own “democratic standard.” Ordinary Europeans will continue to resort to nationalism if they feel the EU is an elitist international institution with a serious “democratic deficit.” Hence, the only way for the EU to hold back far-right groups in both Ukraine and its other member nations is to become more democratic. A successful democratic transition in Ukraine offers promise to EU’s fulfillment of its “democratic promise” to it citizens.
Of course, sound reasoning on a theoretical level about the future of Ukraine should not blind us to the practical difficulties in implementing related policies. What I am arguing here is that it is in the interest of the EU to address its own democratic deficit by offering Ukraine clear financial and political incentives to democratize and liberalize. Careful planning and calculations are still needed to turn EU’s embracement of the protests into real success.