We do not hear much about it, but the occasional media reports confirm that people are being killed and buildings are being shelled and blown up.The Ukrainian government forces are laying siege to parts of their own country. We sometimes see pictures of Ukrainian tanks deployed and warplanes flying low. We are told the rebels are violent and being gradually defeated by the state.
Let me begin by making it clear I do not support Russian military involvement in the Ukraine, nor do I support the use of violence by the rebels. I am, however, worried that a pro western democracy , encouraged and supported by the EU, is busy firing on its own towns and destroying its own properties in a damaging civil war. Isn’t it time the EU spoke out against the violence? Shouldn’t the UK dissociate itself from EU policy?
I want the UK to be an advocate and practitioner of democracy. That means we look for peaceful solutions to political problems. Disputes need to be settled through argument, through decision and votes in Parliaments, and through elections, not through the use of the bomb, bullet and shell. If a state lacks legitimacy with an important minority or even majority of its citizens, that state needs to persuade them of its legitimacy by governing in their interests, or needs to allow them a peaceful way out. Trying to bludgeon people into submission to the authority of a state can work all the time great force is used, but it creates a false unity based on fear, not a true unity based on common acceptance of the state’s legitimacy.
The UK is showing the world how to deal with the potent issue of belonging and the question of the legitimacy of governments by the way it is handling the forces of Scottish separatism. Those who want an independent Scotland formed a party, started winning elections, made their case, and now have the opportunity to persuade the majority in just Scotland alone in a free referendum that their country should be split from the UK. No-one in the rest of the UK thinks our response to Scottish separatism should be shelling Edinburgh or sending armed jets flying low over Glasgow to terrify people into accepting the power of the UK. We accept there needs to be a good political debate followed by free votes to decide the matter.
So why when it comes to the Ukraine do we go along with the EU idea that the official government of the once whole Ukraine has every right to use military force to put down separatist feeling? Some will point out correctly that the rebels are using force whereas Scottish nationalists always have used peaceful democratic means to further their aims. That is true. We need to ask why the rebels in Ukraine thought they could not make progress politically through elections and arguments? We need to ask why can’t the central government in Kiev find the words and actions to get the sensible majority to lay down their arms and start talking? Why can’t Kiev engage with most of the rebels and isolate the violent leaders from their civilian supporters?
The Ukrainian government needs to seek ways to get the large majority of pro Russian Ukrainians to believe talking and voting represents the best way forward for them. That is a central task of democratic government, to gain and retain agreement over how we settle our differences peacefully. The government also needs to find better ways to disarm the rebels and to bring murderers to justice. Using more weapons against them is unlikely to restore the peace in a way which creates a harmonious democracy. If the Ukrainian government succeeds in its war it will preside by force over a very split country, with one part only under control through fear. Surely that is not what the west stands for?