Personally I do not believe in referenda as a sustainable democratic method. If all decisions were taken to referenda we would essentially have an anarchy. But the use of referenda – occasionally but often not with great circumspection – has become a common practice in so-called democratic countries whenever an administration finds itself at odds with the great unwashed electorate and at risk of losing an election.
The Crimea has no great tradition or history as a part of Ukraine. It was merely attached to Ukraine in 1954 for administrative and prestige purposes during Khrushchev’s time. I find the developments in the Crimea are now showing up the double standards that always apply in international “diplomacy” in a very clear and sharp light. It is always a case of “do as I say” and never of “do as I do”.
There is little doubt that the Crimean referendum yesterday reflects the wishes of the majority of the inhabitants of that autonomous territory. The Tartars and the Ukrainians living in the Crimea largely boycotted the vote. But it was a direct vote on a simple question. It is being criticised for being illegal and unconstitutional by Obama and the EU and the “West”. But it cannot be criticised for being undemocratic. The claim that it was unconstitutional is a little weird since the current administration in Kiev can hardly be called constitutional. At best one could say that neither the acting government in Kiev (which is not an elected government any more) nor the referendum are in line with the currently suspended Ukrainian constitution.
EU Ministers are rushing to condemn the referendum – but they are careful to quote issues of legality and constitutional impropriety. They are careful not to call the referendum undemocratic. Hague and Cameron particularly show up as being triple-tongued and double-faced. The Crimea – under the Ukrainian constitution – had more autonomy than Scotland has in the UK. How then is a referendum in Scotland on independence acceptable but a referendum in the Crimea is not? Hague claims that the referendum makes a “mockery of democracy” but that is an intellectually bankrupt statement. He might as well call for all of the UK to vote in Scotland’s referendum for that referendum not also to be a mockery of Democracy. David Cameron is struggling to balance between offering a referendum on EU membership and yet making it a vote which has no possibility of the UK leaving the EU. Democracy will not apply if the vote is “No” to membership. The electorate wants a referendum, so he offers them one. But the UK Parliament – which has surrendered many of its powers to Europe – is loth to allow the unwashed electorate any such power.
The reality today is that almost all “democratic” countries use voting systems which are nowhere near as direct or as represntative of an electorate’s wishes as a refrendum. The US Presidential elections with its electoral college is a case in point. Party democracies in Europe are extremely indirect reflections of the wishes of the electorate. It is political parties which control the names on the party lists. The broad electorate only chooses a Party, and the Party hierarchy and membership usually choose the representatives. The manner in which names enter the Party lists is hardly democratic. European countries which practice proportional representation have a quite “undemocratic” representation in their Parliaments. Extreme minorities have a disproportionately large presence in Parliaments.
There is a lot of noise and bluster from Obama and Kerry and all the EU politicians. But it is the imprudent wooing of Ukraine by the EU and US meddling which has created the current crisis in Ukraine. It is their indiscriminate support of any opposition (just as in Syria) which has allowed the advance of the violent far-right neo Nazis.
I also note that while Obama’s popularity is at an all-time low of 41%, Vladimir Putin’s popularity is at an all-time high of over 70%. And democracy, after all, is just a popularity contest. But the simple fact is that most of the Crimea would prefer to be with Russia than with Ukraine. Obama and his friends may call it illegal and unconstitutional but the Crimean vote yesterday was totally democratic.