As Tim Garten Ash notes, the victory of Viktor Yanukovych in Ukraine’s presidential election is not good news — but neither is it necessarily a cause for despair. Granted, Yanukovych is a buffoon with a record of violent crime (as a young man) and more recently, of electoral crime — his attempt to steal the 2004 election ignited the Orange Revolution. However, the courageous Viktor Yuschchenko, who was poisoned for having the temerity to contest electoral fraud, turned out to be a lousy president, allowing Yanukovych to make a comeback by narrowly defeating the beautiful, if divisive, prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko, whose refusal to concede defeat bespeaks a lack of class. Still, as Ash notes, while “Yanukovych will seek a close relationship with Russia,… there is no evidence that the oligarchs behind him want Ukraine to cease being an independent country.” In fact Yanukovych is committed, at least rhetorically, to continuing Ukraine’s integration into Europe. The problem is that it takes two to integrate and the EU, suffering from enlargement fatigue, has shown a real lack of enthusiasm for admitting Ukraine. That attitude needs to change; otherwise the gains of the Orange Revolution could easily be undone.
The broader picture is that the global march of freedom has been stopped and partially reversed over the past few years. Freedom House reports: “For the fourth consecutive year, global declines in freedom outweighed gains in 2009, as measured by Freedom House’s annual survey of political rights and civil liberties, Freedom in the World 2010. This represents the longest continuous period of decline for global freedom in the nearly 40-year history of the report.”
Such reversals are to be expected: the path of progress is never smooth or easy and there will be zigzags en route. But they are certainly a cause for concern, especially because President Obama has not made the advancement of human rights and freedom a priority for his administration. Today, even while brave Iranians are protesting against the brutal dictatorship under which they live, the administration is refusing to adopt tough sanctions on Iran’s imports of refined petroleum and is not doing much publicly to support the demonstrators. It is not only the EU that needs a bigger commitment to the advancement of liberty; so does the U.S. under our neo-Realpolitiker president.