The French counterrevolutionary political philosopher Joseph de Maistre once wrote that “every nation gets the government it deserves.”
De Maistre was referring to the democratic process and the willingness of voters to forgo their self-interests in favor of a nation’s collective good.
If constituents vote for self-centered reasons, he argued, they will end up with a closed government that serves only an elite few.
But if they instead vote for the common good, he said, they will have a true democracy which serves all of the nation’s people.
History has shown that the democratic process can sometimes herald in brave new visionaries (as in the case of Argentina’s promising new president, Mauricio Macri, who – save a rather embarrassing link to the Mossack Fonseca law firm in Panama earlier this month – is helping to bring South America’s second-largest economy back from the brink and reestablishing the Land of Silver’s international credibility after a disastrous eight years under Cristina Fernández de Kirchner).
But the democratic process can also lead to the empowerment of despots and tyrants (as in the case of Egypt’s Mohamed Morsi, who rose to power in the wake of the so-called Arab Spring only to use his position to persecute that country’s ethnic and religious minorities and try to impose a dictatorial sharia law).
And then there are the situations in which democracy is used to keep the status quo (do I have to make reference to Venezuela?).
Such is the case in Ukraine, where Volodymyr Groysman, the speaker of the parliament and a close ally of President Petro O. Poroshenko, was just elected the country’s new prime minister, a reshuffling of power that proponents are calling the most significant senior leadership shift since the revolution two years ago, but which critics are warning will give Ukraine’s already-indulged oligarchs even greater range to engage in cronyism and corruption.
Political tensions have been stewing in Ukraine for months now and partisan-based favoritism in the country has been the standard modus operandi since Soviet times and even before.
Poroshenko won his office in 2014 on a platform that promised to put an end to authoritarianism and corruption, but old habits die hard and little has changed for the good in terms transparency and clean government in the last two years.
In fact, allegations of bribery and financial malfeasance have become so endemic that the International Monetary Fund (IMF) recently suspended financial aid to the Ukrainian economy even though the country is on the verge of bankruptcy.
Just before the election of Groysman, some of Ukraine’s most respected reformists resigned because of accusations of cronyism and the entrenched practice of concentrating power in the hands of a few.
The prospect of an even more corrupt and autocratic Kiev – which is what Groysman’s election implies – has very dire implications for the entire world, since Europe and the United States have been shoring up Ukraine with military and diplomatic maneuvers in Eastern Europe to stop Russian expansionism ever since Moscow annexed Crimea in 2014.
It also makes it more difficult to implement severely needed economic reforms and to negotiate a peace accord with Russia and separatists in the eastern part of the country.
Groysman, like Poroshenko, has vowed to make the weeding out of corruption a national priority, but his past and current affiliation with some of Ukraine’s biggest culprits does not bode well for the prospect of that promise being fulfilled.
Given the urgency of Ukraine’s political and economic volatility, it may be time for Ukrainians voters and lawmakers to stop using democracy for their own purposes and think about the common good of their nation as a whole.
Otherwise, that nation may not be around all that much longer.