Feb. 21st could perhaps mark the beginning of a new chapter in Ukraine’s history. The date comes three months after the original protests were sparked by Yanukovych's decision to note sign the Association Agreement on Nov. 21st, 2013. The situation continues to rapidly evolve, however the actions over the last several days provide hope that Ukraine is charting a path to a sustainable democratic future. The protests were never truly about EU membership or a turn westward, but about having an open and accountable that respected the rights of all Ukrainians.
Viktor Yanukovych established an iron grip on Ukraine, and consolidated power in the presidency. These actions allowed cronyism to flourish, and the pictures coming out in the last few days show the spoils of this theft from the Ukrainian people. Under Yanukovych, Ukraine’s economy remained stagnant and was teetering on the edge of default. Corruption was rampant, and the country’s elite continued to amass great wealth while normal Ukrainians suffered.
They now embark upon a new chapter, and one that will prove to be very difficult in the days, weeks, months, and even years ahead. The true work of EuroMaidan now begins in earnest. It is up to all parties to enact reforms that will move Ukraine forward. Reforms should begin with ensuring an independent judicial system that will protect the rights of all Ukrainians, and a respect for the rule of law. Allow a free and independent media to flourish, and encourage investigative reporting. The creation of an open market based system that will allow entrepreneurship and innovation to flourish. These are just a few of the steps that must be taken to ensure that those who died, did not do so in vain.
All of these reforms tie back to one goal, an open economy that fosters trade. These actions will instill confidence throughout the financial system and encourage the foreign investment that is necessary for Ukraine to thrive. As Frederic Bastiat once said, “When goods don’t cross borders, soldiers will.” This is a necessary axiom to keep in mind, especially as it relates to Ukraine’s relations with the world as a whole, but Russia in particular. Trade is never a zero sum game, it is beneficial to all parties involved. Russia is an important trading partner for Ukraine, provided a free and open market is respected.
It is critical that Ukraine chart her own course. EU membership will encourage the reforms that must take place, as well as open new markets to Ukraine. Ukraine can join other countries that have experienced significant growth despite decades of Soviet oppression, something that it has had difficulty doing in the two decades of independence from the defunct Soviet Union. This new chapter will be difficult to write, but it is crucial if we are to see improvement in the lives of Ukrainians.
Here’s to hoping that Ukraine stays the course. These reforms and a functioning democracy are the best ways to honor the lives of those who died.