PARIS -- Ceding to protestors' demands, Ukrainian parliament members voted last week to impeach President Viktor Yanukovych and hold early elections, which have been set for May 25. Online "slacktivists," keyboard warriors and various media outlets responded by breathlessly declaring the situation a "revolution" -- and in some cases even proclaiming it a successful one. Except that it isn't at this point. Far from it.
Proponents of freedom and democracy would love nothing more than for Ukrainian citizens to fully control their own destiny. However, mere wishful thinking is no substitute for manifest reality, and semantics shouldn't replace substance. Otherwise, there's a danger of never actually getting anywhere. There are historical standards for revolution, and they shouldn't be lowered just because those standards predate the advent of social media.
Some have already made that mistake in the case of Ukraine. The "Orange Revolution" of 2004 was prematurely named, then prematurely declared a successful revolution. In retrospect, it was merely a rebellion -- and ultimately a misnomer. If it had been a revolution in substance, the country would not be where it is now, with parliament having to reinstate the Orange Revolution constitution that was adopted in 2004 but then gutted by a constitutional court in 2010.
There's a reason that the French Revolution started, rather than ended, with the storming of the Bastille on July 14, 1789. It wasn't considered complete until 10 years later. A revolution, by definition, is the replacement of one political system by a significantly different system. In the case of an authoritarian or totalitarian status quo, it has always required many phases of rebellion over a number of years, and much bloodshed.
The only revolutions that end quickly are those that result in totalitarian or authoritarian regimes, as with the Cuban Revolution. Democratic revolutions are much messier. Moreover, they inherently require democratic legitimacy, which is why even a democratic rebellion such as the one in Ukraine needs to occur within the context of an election cycle and be ratified through a democratic process. Democracy can't start ironically with a coup. The results of the May 25 elections will retroactively determine the democratic legitimacy of the rebellion.
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