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Who Are We to Define Democracy for the Ukraine?

02/24/2014 05:12 EST | Updated 04/26/2014 05:59 EDT

As a preeminent journalist of unquestionable pedigree, I am puzzled by the lack of context offered by the National Post's editor-at-large Diane Francis in her most recent Huffington Post blog.

A distinguished professor at the Ted Rogers School of Management at Ryerson University in Toronto, a Visiting Fellow at Harvard University's Shorenstein Center, a Media Fellow at the World Economic Forum, a media advisor to graduate student teams at Singularity University in the NASA Research Park in Silicon Valley, she doesn't mention that Ukraine is a country cut in half by cultural and economic division.

There are the Russian speaking, Orthodox people in the eastern part of the country, in the economic driving centers of Ukraine like Kharkiv, Donetsk and Dnipropetrovsk. And the more impoverished, largely Catholic, places in the West such as Lviv and Uzhgorod. The capital Kyiv is smack dab in the middle of the country that is divided geographically by the river Dnieper which runs through the center of Ukraine. The people in Crimea, in the south, are pro-Russian.

The majority of Ukrainians want to enter into a partnership with the European Union. They want to choose outside of either Western or Russian influence. That's the essential fact that Ms. Francis doesn't query. People in the Ukraine are aware of the issues and costs of such a deal. Citizens of Greece, Italy, Spain, Portugal and Ireland can attest to the fact that it is no sweetheart deal.

The Ukraine first entered into negotiations with the EU as far back as 1998. According to this EU-Ukraine Partnership and Cooperation Agreement (PCA) originally signed on January 3, 1998, the EU was obliged to pay Ukraine for welcoming and recognizing the importance of Ukraine's efforts, aimed at a transition of its economy away from a state trading country with a centrally planned economy into a market economy.

It was never ratified.

Exact figures are difficult to come by but 16 years later, Reuters reported: "internal EU estimates shown to Reuters showed the total EU loans and grants to Ukraine between 2014 and 2020 would be at least 19 billion euros ($26 billion), provided Kiev signed the trade deal with the EU and reached an agreement with the IMF. Desperate for cash to cover a big external funding gap, Ukraine turned to Russia, which agreed a $15 billion bailout for Ukraine and slashed the price of gas exports."

As she readily admits, Ms. Francis started a "financial newspaper" in Kiev in the early 1990s, and while she claims it was stolen by "thugs", the former Soviet Union was a wild west at the time in which Western governments were complicit, a free-for-all where corruption was king, and where organized crime and "beeznezmen" ruled the day. For her to claim that Ukraine could "once again slip under the waves of corruption" unless it aligns with the EU is disingenuous at best.

The virtual civil war that erupted in the nation's capital of Kyiv has led to the ouster of the deeply unpopular President Victor Yankovych, and opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko is out of jail. Why this particular period of brutal protests occurred at the exact time the Sochi Olympics was taking place has to be questioned. A person of Ms. Francis' intelligence and journalistic skills knows that in any geopolitical hotspot there is no such thing as coincidence.

And while I respect and appreciate her own strongly held belief in the "Orange Revolution" is there not a possibility that said "revolution" was a well thought out political campaign created by elites, those who have a vested interest and the funds to wreak havoc for Russia and especially open doors for Western corporate interests?

Perhaps these same elites believe they are necessary in order to create conditions that would produce individuals capable of being good democratic consumers. Perhaps they believe their control is necessary for the survival and maintenance of democracy itself.

In a previously published post on corruption in Russia, I wrote about Russian journalist known simply as "Latynina." Someone Ms. Francis knows well. She published an article in the Moscow Times in January of 2010 following the elections in Ukraine, declaring that people can't be trusted to vote for their best interests. She wrote:

"Viktor Yanukovych's victory in Sunday's presidential election -- not unlike the victories of former Chilean President Salvador Allende, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad or Adolf Hitler -- once again raises doubt about the basic premise of democracy: that the people are capable of choosing their own leader. Unfortunately, only people in wealthy countries are truly capable of electing their leaders in a responsible manner."

A few final questions.

If there was a similar situation in, say, Toronto, and seven police officers had been killed during widespread civil unrest, and scores of other cops had been taken captive, what would the reaction have been?

Yes, the Ukraine is corrupt, perhaps more so than even Russia. There can be no questioning the bravery and commitment of the people who went out on the streets to voice their grievances.

But Ms. Francis' assertion that the "Ukraine has no choice but to join the EU"? Perhaps, as Latynina points out, there is doubt as to whether people know what or whom they are voting for.

There would be considerable debate in Toronto as to Latynina's assumption that "only people in wealthy countries are truly capable of electing their leaders in a responsible manner."

But that's her definition of democracy. People in Canada, people in the Ukraine, must decide themselves.

We shouldn't define for other countries what democracy is or isn't. The people of Ukraine voted Yankovych in, now Parliament has thrown him out.

Rigged vote? Coup d'etat? Probably. Maybe. I don't know.

Are there any guarantees for a fair and transparent election now that Yankovych has been dispatched?

Shady election results aren't restricted to Ukraine. The U.S. Presidential elections of 2004 and the farce in Florida are an example.

By comparison, it could even be argued that in Canada, without proportional representation, the Harper government would not be in power today.

The Conservatives manipulated the system by planning their campaign strategy knowing key seats won would negate their underwhelming popular vote count. But that's our system and its up to us to change the law.

If I was a student in your class, Ms. Francis, these are the questions that I'd ask.

Ukraine Riots (GRAPHIC WARNING)