Ukraine: From Democracy to Chaos

June 14, 2012

 By Jim Treadway

After a riveting portrait of Ukrainian politics in the documentary Ukraine: From Democracy to Chaos, director Jill Emery engaged in a lengthy conversation with Orysia Lutsevych  researcher of civil society and democratisation in Ukraine and Georgia at the Russia and Eurasia Programme of Chatham House; and Neil Pattie, former PR adviser to the party of the Ukrainian opposition leader and former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko
 
Emery chose to focus on Ukraine after working on a previous film about Russia. The Putin System, inspired in her a particular affection for Moscow’s southwestern neighbors.  Ukrainians, she said, seemed, "different," "fun," "open-hearted," "open-minded," and "believing."  
 
The documentary features poignant interviews that range from everyday people to the country’s top political players.  Lutsevych relished the light that Emery’s film shined on her country:
 "There are not many films about Ukraine," she said, "It’s an unknown country."  
Ukraine received greatest attention, perhaps, during its Orange Revolution of 2004-5 when Presidential candidate Viktor Yuschenko survived an assassination attempt by poison.  With Tymoshenko at his side, he framed his victory in the election at the country’s moment of change toward democracy, independence, and fairness.  He was wildly persuasive, but as Pattie regretted:
"History will judge Yuschenko most harshly [as] a huge disappointment."  

"His speeches were still as brilliant," an analyst recounted in Emery’s film, "but his actions dwindled to nothing."  

Oligarchs who fled the country in fear have since returned, their power now multiplying as the economy has been handed over to their monpolies. Under current President Viktor Yanukovych, Ukraine has devolved, in the words of one commentator in the film, to an increasing "Putinization," in which secret services increasingly penetrate society: 
"That is the main danger of Ukraine," Lutsevych said, "if we don’t have rule of law."
Nonetheless, Ukrainians themselves seemed the most optimistic.  An interviewee in the film emphasized that only through the greatest sufferings can people ultimately shine the brightest.  
 Lusevych called Ukraine’s suffering today "painful" but added, "maybe this is a process of purification."  
 
Emery found the young Ukrainians’ political engagement to be exceptional:
"They all know about politics [Compared to British youth who seem to know less about politics]. They all have great English […] in Ukraine, they all know about it.  It’s incredible!"
While Pattie argued for sanctions on Western perks for Ukraine’s oligarchs, such as places for their children at elite universities, a member of the audience shook his head fiercely:
"That hasn’t worked in Belarus!"  He added, "democratization can only happen by Ukrainians."  
Lutsevych agreed.  Ukrainians have to learn that democracy is about more than elections, she said.  It’s about civil society, which Ukrainians have to take and build themselves.  "It won’t just be given to them."
 
She also asked for an end to Western intrusion in Ukraine’s affairs, but wanted badly to see more cross-cultural interaction, through joint university programs and similar types of organizational cooperation.  For both the West and Ukraine, she emphasized, "That’s the best investment you can do!"