7-13 March 2014 #697

Lessons from Kiev

Jugal Bhurtel, Nepal, 2 March

Four months after demonstrators first protested against President Viktor Yanukovych and his paramilitary forces for refusing to sign on to EU policies, Ukraine’s capital Kiev finally looks peaceful. But the conflict is hardly over: half the country is celebrating Yanukovych’s ousting, while the other half is seething in discontent. And amidst all this, foreign forces are happily playing a geopolitical tug-of-war at Ukraine’s expense.

Ukraine gained independence in 1991 after the Soviet Union fell apart. It was geographically the largest country in Europe with fertile agricultural land, untapped coal mines, industries, as well as the centre of a medieval Slavic civilisation. Despite these opportunities, independence has been more of a burden. To its east is titanic Russia, whose rulers long for the Soviet Union. From the west, furthering its borders and influence, is the EU, more concerned about Vladimir Putin than about the financial crises among its members. Kiev, under direct influence from international powers, now looks like a war zone. Ukrainians are more than willing to tear their country along the Dnieper River and the only thing remaining for the power players is to provide impetus through bloodshed.

Nepal is no different from Ukraine because we too are caught between two equally proud and shrewd powers. And the recent violence is reminiscent of our own 10-year conflict and post-1990 upheaval. We know from our past experience that a country will never find peace as long as its leaders kowtow to foreign influence. Instead we can learn from Ukraine’s other mistake: whenever a directly elected president tried to centralise power, the citizens handed back control to the parliament. This disproves the notion that a ‘strong’ president is needed in an unstable country.

Ukraine has continuously experimented with constitution writing and amendments, but it still isn’t anywhere close to a prosperous nation. The lesson for us is that a constitution will not guarantee anything as long as the political elites are influenced by foreign powers and interpret the document to fit their purposes. Let’s hope Nepal doesn’t have to suffer like Ukraine. But for that to happen, our politicians need to look beyond the rat race for portfolios and lucrative posts.