We briefly talked in class about the disturbing violence in Ukraine. I would like to draw your attention to two aspects of the power struggle in Kiev: a cultural and an institutional one. Let me start on the cultural front. In his famous but controversial theory that the cultural landscape among nations would be the source of conflict in the Post-Cold War World, Samuel Huntington defined nine civilizations as the largest cultural entities encompassing the world. He argued conflict would be likeliest between countries belonging to different civilizations, although quantitative tests did not confirm his argument. But its weaknesses notwithstanding, Huntington’s work also had tremendous insight and foresight. He called Ukraine a cleft country: a country straddling civilizational faultlines, which he projected to be particularly war-prone. The country’s Western half belongs to the Western, while the Eastern half is part of the Orthodox Christian civilization. Recent elections in the country follow the civilizational faultline to a high degree. What we see today in Ukraine is escalating violence between representatives of two civilizations.
Yet, can we understand conflicts without bringing in political institutions? The Economist’s Blog rightly draws parallels between events in Ukraine and other countries slipping into a modern type of dictatorship, the ‘illiberal democracy’. These countries see democratically-elected Presidents or Prime Ministers dismantle the safeguards of democracy while in office. At the same time, they keep a fully-democratic facade, but cronyism, the muzzling of the media and the elimination of independent organs of state tilt the political playing field heavily in their favor. Unfortunately, political institutions are prone to diffusion and newly-minted dictators in the region may learn from and emulate each other. But let us hope that we will soon see democratic diffusion in the region rather than a dictatorial one.