PRAGUE - All revolutions, in the end, turn from euphoria to disillusion. In a revolutionary atmosphere of solidarity and self-sacrifice, people tend to think that when their victory is complete, paradise on Earth is inevitable. Of course, paradise never comes, and – naturally - disappointment follows. That seems to be the case in Ukraine today, as its people prepare to vote for a new parliament little more than a year after their successful Orange Revolution.
Post-revolutionary disillusion, especially after the revolutions against communism - and in Ukraine's case revolution against post-communism - is rooted in psychology. New circumstances imposed new challenges for most people. Formerly, the state decided everything, and many people, particularly in the middle and older generation, began to see freedom as a burden, because it entailed continuous decision-making.
I have sometimes compared this psychological ennui to my own post-prison situation: for years I yearned for freedom, but, when finally released, I had to make decisions all the time. Confronted suddenly with many options every day, one starts to feel a headache, and sometimes unconsciously wants to return to prison.
This depression is probably inevitable. But, on a societal scale, it is eventually overcome, as new generations grow up. Indeed, 15 years after the disintegration of Soviet Union, a new catharsis seems underway, and Ukraine’s Orange Revolution was part of that.
As Ukraine so clearly shows, the process of self-liberation from communism was, by definition, associated with a gigantic privatization. Naturally, members of the old establishment, with their inside knowledge and connections, gained much of the privatized property.
This "inevitable" process poisoned political life and the media, which led to a strange state of limited freedom and a mafia-like environment. The shadings differed from country to country in the post-communist world, but the new generations rising in these societies now seem to be fed up with it.
Ukraine’s Orange Revolution, as well as Georgia’s Rose Revolution, seems to confirm this. While revolutions in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s were directed against totalitarian communist regimes, nowadays they aim to get rid of this mafia-type post-communism.
But to make the change irreversible, a truly independent and incorruptible judiciary is essential. Too often in politically connected cases, suspicions and charges of wrongdoing are not pursued to an unambiguous conclusion. This is understandable: the communist justice system was manipulated to serve the regime, and thousands of judges cannot be replaced overnight.
Although it is clear that a return to the old Soviet Union is not possible, some blame Russian influence for the disillusion in Ukraine. Yes, there are some alarming elements in Russian policy, mostly because Russia has never really known where it begins and where it ends. It either owned or dominated many other nations, and now it is only with grudging reluctance dealing with the loss of them all.
Some of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s statements seem to recall the Soviet era with nostalgia. Indeed, he recently called the disintegration of the Soviet Union a tragic mistake. But Soviet nostalgia has far more to do with Russia’s traditional Great Power ambitions than with communism. Russia, I believe, should clearly say – and the international community should clearly say to Russia – that it has defined borders that will not be questioned, because disputed borders lie at the core of most conflicts and wars.
On the other hand, I don’t want to demonize Putin. He may lower oil prices for someone close to him, like Belarus’ dictator Alexander Lukashenko, and insist on a market price for someone else, but that’s basically all he can do. I don't envision any serious conflict beyond that.
The promise of Western integration is one reason that conflict seems impossible, for it is a question of geography as much as shared values and culture. Ukraine belongs to a united European political entity; the values that Ukraine endorses and that are embedded in its history are European to the core. The Czech experience shows that implementing all of the European Union’s norms so as to be ready to qualify for membership takes some time. But in principle, Ukraine can succeed as well.
Much the same is true for Ukraine and NATO. Partnerships based on shared rules, standards, and values are the heartbeat of modern security. Moreover, NATO in a way defines the sphere of a civilization, which of course doesn’t mean that NATO’s community is better than any other. But it’s a community that is good to belong to – provided that people want it and that it makes historical sense for them.
NATO membership carries obligations, because situations may arise – and we have already experienced them – when NATO follows a United Nations appeal and conducts an out-of-area military intervention where, for example, genocide is being committed. In other words, NATO membership, like EU membership, comes at a price. However, I think that the advantages far outweigh any possible disadvantages. It is up to Ukrainians to decide this for themselves and thus to overcome post-revolutionary disillusion.