“Those who make peaceful revolutions impossible, make violent revolutions inevitable” – John F. Kennedy. Sounds about right for Ukraine, a country with a dysfunctional democracy and a polarised society. The Soviet legacy has left the industrialised (Russian) east and the Europeanised (Ukrainian) west engaged in a bitter power struggle for the control of Ukraine. The polarity and bi-partisanship in Ukrainian politics shows that the ‘revolution’ is not ubiquitous. It is not the people vs. dictatorship. It’s more like east vs west. Granted, Yanukovych is a bad leader and incompetent administrator. But Yulia Tymoshenko, despite her iconic braids, is no angel in her own right. Ukraine today is not the revolution of 1989 or the collapse of the USSR. It is a divided country. It resembles Egypt, deeply polarised, embittered and where politics is literally a zero-sum cutthroat sport. Yanukovych and Morsi were right to call it a coup. The numbers in Ukraine and Egypt are literally split down the middle.
A part of Ukraine’s problem, is its political system. A presidential republic results is zero-sum politics. And that is not the way to govern a country which is split down the middle. A presidential republic, by definition has a powerful president who implements his and only his agenda, and this does not help to build consensus in a divided society. Ukraine needs a culture of political compromise and dealmaking. It has the wrong political system for this, it well and truly needs a Westminster-style parliamentary system so that all voices, even the opposition, can influence the executive branch. At the very least, levels of alienation will be minimised. For this, the blame lies with the authoritarian Putin-like, Yanukovych, for bolstering presidential power. Morsi sinned no less, issuing a fatal decree making him immune to both Parliament (pro-brotherhood) and the judiciary (Mubarak loyalists), thus alienating revolutionary groups which controlled street power. General Sisi in Egypt should also learn that divisive politics and gross human rights violations (which made the Brotherhood’s mistakes appear a drop in the ocean) will only make violent revolution inevitable. This is a pattern which has repeated itself, boosting short term power is just like taking steroids, you lose muscles in the long run. Both Morsi and Yanukovych learnt this the hard way.
This leaves us with Yulia Tymoshenko, idolised by western Ukraine as both Caesar and Cleopatra re-incarnate. And let’s be honest, Caesar is the saint of history, but he wouldn’t have been a happy bunny when his political career was cut short. He pursued politics which were divisive and paid the ultimate price. She too was stabbed in the back by her loyalists for pursuing petty politics with former allies such as ex-President Yushchenko. Both sides have invested huge political capital and labour in the enterprise of revolution, hoping for a quick profit, if only the same could be said of the Ukrainian economy.
Tahrir square and Independence square (Ukraine) increasingly resemble the colosseum. Alpha-male gladiators duelling for the pleasure of the audience. Julius Caesar (Tymoshenko) chased down her nemesis valiantly into Egypt before Mark Anthony (Yanukovych) vacated the palaces and brought his career to a grounding halt. Both Morsi vs Sisi and Yanukovych vs. Tymoshenko would be a sell out gladiator duel in the Roman republic. One match would not be enough, allegations of rigging and cheating would lead to never ending re-matches. A shame that the political elite of today does not realise that the Roman republic was highly unstable, ungovernable and illiberal due to it’s bloodsport politics. As Mark Twain famously quipped “History never repeats itself, but it rhymes”. If only Cairo and Kiev stopped singing to the same tune as Rome. As we speak, these nations are on song for ruin.