What did I know about popular uprisings until the crisis in Ukraine? Not much, to be honest. Sure, the Arab Spring gave us all a taste of what it means. Countries can disintegrate as a result of anti-government protests that turn into violent confrontations with the police and the army, and end up in regime change, or protracted civil war. But the way things are going now in the Middle East and North Africa, it looks like all that “people power” may not have worked out so well. Try asking people on the streets of Tripoli and Benghazi, or Cairo and Alexandria, or Damascus and Homs, and you may find that quite a few are hankering for the bad old days of dictatorships.
Now that a revolution and a popular uprising have come closer to home, in my case at least, I can judge its impact on the nation directly, having known some of the people on the ground and seeing how it all came to be. The one lesson that can be derived from the current turmoil in Ukraine is that a sudden, violent change of regime can never produce anything worthwhile and constructive.
As my sources on the ground in Kiev tell me, the current situation there is far worse than it had been before the fall of the regime of former President Viktor Yanukovich. Corruption in government has become even worse, law and order in the capital is non-existent and prices are spiralling out of control with the economy falling apart.
Kiev, according to one friend, looks like it has been through a civil war. Gangs of masked thugs wielding baseball bats now roam the city, looting shops and properties and mugging passers-by. The Maidan “revolutionaries” are growing more restless by the day and demand to be rewarded for their revolutionary zeal, hinting that a radical redistribution of wealth in their favour should be on the cards.
The Maidan ‘revolutionaries’ are growing restless by the day and demand to be rewarded for their revolutionary zeal, hinting that a radical redistribution of wealth in their favour should be on the cards.
A woman I know who lives with her daughter in Kiev said they are trying to stay at home most of the time, considering the mess outside, while prices for everything are going through the roof and black markets for all sorts of goods, including groceries, have sprung up just like in Soviet times. She also said that Ukrainian television is full of preposterous reports about Russian troops “invading Ukraine” and “Russian spies” getting caught daily, with documents and all, trying to sabotage the work of the new “democratic” government.
“At times,” she said, “I wish Yanukovich had remained in power. Sure, we knew he was a crook and surrounded himself with crooks, but at least there was some sort of normality.”
Others I have spoken to have been no less scathing about the impact of the so-called “popular uprising” that took place in Kiev. Many of them are worried about the emergence of ultra-nationalists and neo-Nazis as a key force in politics, and they are thinking of leaving.
All this brings me to the conclusion that I made years ago about all sorts of revolutions and social upheavals. Most people don’t like them because they introduce chaos into their lives, with all sorts of dodgy “revolutionaries” emerging out of nowhere, making lofty promises they can’t possibly keep. All revolutions, as someone once said, are driven by greed and envy. The rest is just public relations.
All the talk about freedom and equality and democracy and “people power” is usually just a cover for social upheavals. Once the revolutionary fervour has died down, all sorts of unsavoury characters take over and things start to get much worse than they were before. Consider all the revolutions or coups in the past century in Europe, the Middle East, Africa, Asia and Latin America. Not a single one ended in the people getting a good deal out of the chaos and mayhem.
Once the battles are over
Once the revolution is over, revolutionary leaders forget their promises as they grow accustomed to the perks of office and enjoy the opportunities to line their pockets. It is not long before they are despised by the very people who had supported them, and a new cycle of change for the sake of change comes about.
Modern revolutions and coups, however, have seen a transformation with the cunning use of media and the Internet to undermine the institutions of power and make it appear as though the number of protesters are in the hundreds of thousands even when they’re not really all that impressive.
The tragic thing about the coup in Ukraine in February, which the current bunch in power call a “revolution”, has already resulted in Crimea breaking away and joining Russia, while the east of the country is sliding into a civil war, with government troops are fighting with their own people. You can ask pretty much everyone in the east whether they would have preferred the old status quo, and I’m certain they will tell you that the current situation is a nightmare and they wouldn’t mind seeing Yanukovich come back.
Finally, every time the US and its allies feel they need to “export a bit of democracy”, or organise a regime change, they rush to the United Nations, demanding to hold an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council, introduce sanctions or condemn someone for gross violations of human rights. And it works perfectly, with the UN obliging every request. We’ve already seen how it worked out in Libya, which is going through another phase of never-ending civil war, and in Syria, where the fighting never stops. And now the UN is presiding over a post-revolutionary mess in Ukraine.
In the 21st century, it is time to have an orderly change of regimes. If we can technically fly a man to Mars, we should be able to resolve problems on the ground in a much more civilised manner.
Alexander Nekrassov is a former Kremlin and government adviser.