The Other Samuel Huntington in Ukraine

One of the last times I posted about Ukraine I wrote: “If I were a betting man, I would still wager at this point on the DCFTA being signed; there’s too much at stake for Ukraine to pass up the opportunity.” Uhh…oops. Insofar as my analysis focused on Yanukovich’s decision hinging on whatever he perceived would be best for his election prospects (and oh, how he miscalculated), it was perhaps more useful than those which focused on the question of Yulia Tymoshenko’s release. But it was still pretty wrong.

Since Yankuvich’s dramatic ouster, there has been much talk of a divided Ukraine, its eastern provinces getting sucked towards Russia and its western ones towards further European integration (to be fair, it’s in many ways not unwarranted). This potential divide has also been framed along Huntingtonian lines, as an example of his “Clash of Civilizations” theory turning up in practice. For example (from the Fareed Zakaria GPS blog at CNN):

In his book The Clash of Civilizations, the political scientist Samuel Huntington pointed out that the divide between Western and Eastern Christianity runs right through the heart of Ukraine. And that divide, between two kinds of Christianity and thus two paths of political development, dates back to the Middle Ages – and it resonates in Ukraine’s politics to this day.

Take a look at the map in the video, from Ukraine’s 1994 presidential elections. Shaded in grey on the left are the provinces that voted for the incumbent, Leonid Kravchuk. On the right, those for the pro-Russian Leonid Kuchma. Both took 13 provinces each: an even split reflecting Ukraine’s deep historical, cultural divide.

But there’s another Huntington piece which may be more immediately useful by helping understand how the newly-reconstituted Ukrainian government might be expected to behave. It is his 1991 book, The Third Wave: Democratization in the Late Twentieth CenturyHuntington establishes three categories of third wave transition: transformation, replacement, and transplacement.

In the transformation paradigm “those in power in the authoritarian regime take the lead and play the decisive role in ending that regime and changing it into a democratic system” (Huntington 124). In a replacement, democratization “results from the opposition gaining strength and the government losing strength until the government collapses or is overthrown [after which] the former opposition groups come to power [and] groups in the new government struggle…over the nature of the regime they should institute” (142). A transplacement occurs when both the opposition and the government see benefits to negotiation and results in a managed transition.

To be sure, the theory is not a perfect match, since Huntington is writing about full transitions from authoritarian and totalitarian regimes to democratic ones. And as horrendous as the Yanukovich government was, it’s not obvious to me it qualified as authoritarian in the traditional sense. But the present dynamic is similar enough that I think there’s still some useful insight to be gained from considering what Huntington’s work might have to say. Given the degree to which the government has been overhauled it seems fair to consider the revolution in Ukraine as an example of replacement – when the public is taking impromptu walking tours of the president’s private residence it seems appropriate to consider him overthrown.

Huntington suggests that the ultimate determination of how governments behaved after transitions was the extant political balance of power. In the case of a replacement, where the power base of the former governing entity has been significantly degraded and the former opposition can act with, if not a free hand then with diminished restraint, that calculus suggests avoiding overreach will be a major challenge.* Certainly those responsible for the murders on the Maidan must be brought to justice, and those who siphoned off vast sums from the country’s economy should be indicted for corruption. But I don’t think it’s unreasonable to worry that spirited prosecutions of every single person who could possibly be targeted for illegal behavior in the Yanukovich years might undermine the Maidan’s very project. Luckily, there is at present, little cause for concern – the Maidan protesters have been astonishingly disciplined, and Tymoshenko’s “cool reception” suggests a marked desire to look to the future rather than refight the past.

*Just to be clear, this post is in no way intended to be an apologia for the idiots suggesting the Maidan are a bunch of fascists bent on destroying Ukraine’s Russian ethnics. On that subject I could not agree more with Timothy Snyder’s article for The New York Review of Books