Ukraine’s Promise of Peace Overtaken by Fresh Tragedy

Roundup: Historians' Take
tags: Ukraine



Timothy Snyder is Bird White Housum Professor of History at Yale University and IWM Permanent Fellow.

The tragedy about the crackdown in Ukraine is that the day of violence began with the promise of peace. Tuesday was the day that the Ukrainian parliament was supposed to begin discussions on the basic constitutional change that is needed as a first step towards resolving the present political crisis and restoring normal governance to the country. More tragic still is that a broad consensus exists, within and without Ukraine, as to how a political exit from the crisis could be arranged.

The parliamentary debate, which was cancelled before the massive crackdown on protest, was on the constitution. In 2010, after a delay of six years, the Ukrainian constitutional court reversed legislation that had limited the power of the president. Since then President Viktor Yanukovich has enjoyed legal powers far beyond any European norm. Most observers understand that the balance of powers must be restored, not only to halt the country’s rapid descent into tyranny, but to ensure that future presidents are not corrupted by the excess of power.

Once the constitution is revised, new parliamentary and presidential elections should be held. The Ukrainian opposition, quite understandably, calls for Yanukovich to resign. Given that his family has accumulated immense wealth, his government has trodden on the rule of law, and his police have beaten, tortured, and killed protesters, it is hard to ask people to expect anything less. Even so, constitutional reform and new elections would give Mr Yanukovich a legal path towards leaving office. Even though he has imprisoned his own political opponents, it is important that the transition be constitutional, legal, and democratic....




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