Around the world, hijacking is in. Ukraine is the latest example.
Extremists let moderates do the heavy lifting (protests, strikes, marches, sit-ins, blogs, public speeches) to win the support of the center. Then, when the old leaders have been removed from power, and the new leaders don’t even know where to find a bathroom in the parliament, the extremists take over. Here are some recent examples:
Syria: Al-Qaida and other extremist killer groups have hijacked what was initially a secular, moderate movement for freedom from the repressive Assad clan.
Tunisia: A secular uprising against injustice after the self-immolation of a poor fruit vendor was hijacked by Islamist groups.
Egypt: The peaceful, pro-democracy uprising by secular Egyptians was hijacked by the Muslim Brotherhood, which immediately grasped for all seats of power, rewrote the constitution and pushed its orthodox vision of Islam on a largely religiously tolerant nation.
Israel: the conservative Likud party was hijacked by the settlers’ movement which is hawkish, intolerant, absolutist and opposed to giving Palestinians their own homeland on the West Bank.
Gaza:After Israel relinquished control to the Palestinian Authority, the well-armed and zealous Hamas movement hijacked military control of the enclave and continues for seven years to repress all opposition, demand the destruction of Israel.
United States: The tea party hijacked the Republican Party for about two years, forcing moderate Republicans to vote to shut down the government and move to renege on the nation’s debt.
Afghanistan: The Taliban, armed and inspired by Pakistan, hijacked the mujahideen movement that ousted the Soviet army in the early 1990s. Taliban extremists now seethe along the Afghan-Pakistan border, murder all who refuse to obey them and await the U.S. departure in 2014 to try and hijack the nation once more.
Iran: The massive general uprising in Tehran in 1979 led to the ouster of the shah and installation of a government with academics, moderates and mullahs. Guess who threw all the moderates out, killed many of them and hijacked the nation of 70 million people?
Iranian clerics I met in Europe at the time assured me that the clergy had no wish to take power and would install democracy. It was sweet talk to someone they saw as a foolish young journalist.
In the Ukraine we see the latest hijacking attempt taking place. It is, in fact, a double hijacking. The Russian-speaking minority in the East won power through elections and are attempting to shift the ship of state toward the past and join a Russian-dominated customs union.
The hundreds of thousands of people in Kiev we see each night on TV news are protesting this hijacking of their country. These protesters are mainly Ukrainian-speakers from the center and West of the huge agricultural and industrial nation that was the crown jewel in the Soviet system of satellites.
The second hijacking is within the protest movement which aims to link Ukraine to Europe.
What began as a liberal, secular, modern, pro-Europe movement in 2004 — during the Orange Revolution against Russian-backed oligarchs — appears to be hijacked by Ukrainian Catholic, neo-Nazi, nationalists.
The New York Times reported Dec. 17 that the nationalist Svoboda Party have taken over the center of the protests and barred liberal elements from the city hall.
This is the standard way democracy movements have been hijacked. The Bolsheviks worked with the moderate Russian revolutionaries in 1917 at first, but as soon as the tsar was removed, the communists ousted and often executed the middle-class liberals – their duped former partners. When you lie down with wolves it is wise to expect they will soon turn on you.
Hijacking is an effective and ruthless route to power. You only need back moderates who will place themselves in the way of danger, provide martyrs for the cause, spark international retribution against the ruling authorities and then prove incapable of managing the country.
Ukraine already had this experience. After the 2004 Orange Revolution, the government of Viktor Yushenko proved weak and soon resorted to nationalism to remain popular. It honored Ukrainian partisans who fought for the Nazi Germans against Russia in World War II. The Kiev government soon lost credibility and support paving the way for disenchanted voters to turn back to the Russian-backed Viktor Yanukovych.
Now the Svoboda Party, linked to the Nazi partisans of the war, hopes to hijack the latest moderate, secular uprising in Ukraine.
What is the answer to these hijackers?
• Expose extremist, racist and other undemocratic tendencies on all sides.
• Divide power on decision-making bodies so extremists are only a minority.
• Throw the wolves a bone such as limited responsibility for small sectors in in rotation with moderate groups.
• Insist that universal laws apply to all groups and anyone who jails or executes unarmed people will end up in international courts.
We must hijack the hijackers and clearly back only groups and individuals who shun extremism and observe the rule of law as set forth in United Nations instruments or treaties.
Ben Barber has covered the Middle East for 30 years for the Baltimore Sun, London Observer, Toronto Globe and Mail, and other publications. He wrote this for McClatchy-Tribune.