Geopolitics: Revolutions fail to change the East

A short-lived victory: a 2004 election poster of the Orange Revolution's leader Viktor Yuchtchenko in Kiev. (AFP)
A short-lived victory: a 2004 election poster of the Orange Revolution's leader Viktor Yuchtchenko in Kiev. (AFP)
Tygodnik Powszechny (Cracow)

In Ukraine and Georgia, "pro-Western" movements, which are hoping for a second wind even though they cannot count on support from the EU, are not only paying for their poor political performance but also for the fact that they no longer figure in Europe's geopolitical ambitions, explains Polish political analyst Olaf Osica.

Although the Rose and Orange revolutions in Georgia and Ukraine failed to fulfill their early promise, they nonetheless began the process of transformation of society and state institutions. The question is why has the European Union shown no eagerness to draw these countries into its sphere of influence? Many factors can be blamed for this situation. Chief among them is the performance of local political elites.

In Ukraine, the country's politicians lacked the requisite determination to transform victorious protests in the Maidan — the Kiev square at the centre of the Orange Revolution in 2004 — into a programme of reforms. By contrast in Georgia, successful internal reforms resulted in an excess of confidence that played a key role in the country's harmful decision to enter into a war with Russia, as well as the establishment of a "post-1989" authoritarian regime.

How the Cold War still shapes European policy

Both of these disappointments have provided Western elites — whose interest in Georgia and Ukraine is not solely determined by the level of internal change but also, whatever they might say to the contrary, by geopolitical considerations — with an excellent alibi. Geopolitics is undoubtedly the second reason for European indifference.

The proximity of both states to Russia, which continues to view former Soviet countries as an integral part of its sphere of influence, has been sufficient to dissuade Europe from becoming more deeply involved in the region. So it is that the Cold War — or at least a mentality inherited from the Cold War — has continued to play a determining role in European policy.

A desire to avoid more eastern "mavericks"

The third major factor is the nature of the European project and the aspiration for greater political and economic consolidation in Europe. European enlargement now has to take into account a candidate's desire and ability to comply with rules that have been designed and progressively introduced by longstanding members of the EU. New members that are unable to observe these regulations would simply reinforce the camp of "maverick" states on Europe's eastern periphery, and add to the delay in the implementation of projects developed by and for core EU countries.

It is on this basis that both Georgia and Ukraine are perceived as a potential hindrance. It is true that the countries of central Europe faced similar problems when they took leave of the military structure of the Warsaw Pact and the Council for Mutual Economic Assistance (Comecon). However, there were two key differences.

Other Eastern countries still suffering

Our post-communist elites were not identified with Soviet power structures to the extent that they were in the Ukraine and we also had a powerful elite drawn from the ranks of Solidarność. At the same time, historical circumstances were such that the Polish, Czech and Hungarian states could count on a greater degree of solidarity from the West and the unlimited determination of their citizens to knock on the doors of Europe. However, we still had to contend with a negative view of the East that still prevails today. We were and still are perceived as poverty-stricken and barely-civilized masses led by all manner of unscrupulous scammers that seek to undermine the security and prosperity achieved by decades of patient endeavour in the West.

Barbarians with no grasp of higher reason or the phenomenon of European integration, and no inclination to participate in such a process. And when we left the communist bloc, we also had to deal with a more volatile geopolitical situation. At the time, Russia was a much more unpredictable country than it is today — a declining superpower that still had the potential to inflict further wounds. But in spite of these adverse circumstances, we succeeded. Why can the same not be said of Georgia and the Ukraine? The answer to this question lies in the fundamental historical changes that have occurred since 1989.

Europe no longer a major power

Although their appearance and rhetoric might imply that they have much in common with our experience, the Rose and Orange revolutions should not be considered an extension of the phenomenon of the Autumn of Nations in 1989. Born in different internal and external circumstances, these revolutions did not herald a new era in global geopolitics but only brought about a subregional change. They did not alter the political context in Europe, but simply presented a new set of circumstances to which Europe had to adapt.

And it is for this reason that it did not make sense for the European Union, which Jan Zielonka, Professor of European Politics at Oxford University, has termed a "neo-imperial" project founded on a bid for power that defines access conditions for new member states, to expand beyond its eastern borders. Since the 1990s, Europe has progressively set aside a vision of itself as a superpower, and for this reason, it is unlikely to pursue a process to reinforce its potential to achieve this goal.

Life without the EU and NATO

Among candidate countries, this change has been reflected by a growing awareness that life can continue without the European Union and without NATO. It is on this basis that the European factor has had little influence on the development of the main tenets of policy in a Ukrainian state that has been established without the prospect of European integration and inclusion in NATO.

In Georgia, the situation was somewhat different. But defeat in a war against Russia, which Europe and the United States were powerless to avert, may have a more determining influence on contemporary Georgian political identity than its plan for full integration with the West, which played a predominant role in national policy before August 2008.

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