THE BLOG

Ukraine and Venezuela Show Us that Freedom Is Not Free

27/02/2014 10:58 GMT | Updated 28/04/2014 10:59 BST

Incredible scenes. Thousands of people - ordinary people - taking to the barricades in the streets of Kiev, fighting pitched battles with the Ukrainian police - who dress like soldiers and fire live rounds - and other government-sponsored thugs. Independence Square turned into a gigantic tent city, protestors wielding makeshift shields to protect themselves from snipers' bullets. Then, the flight of Yanukovych and the astonishing pictures emerging from his crassly opulent compound.

No less incredible were the scenes from Venezuela, where tens of thousands of people gathered to protest again President Maduro, following weeks of sometimes violent protests in which several were killed by Venezuelan police, who also dress like soldiers and fire live rounds.

Maduro responded to the protests in time-honoured socialist style; he blamed America, expelled diplomats, arrested opposition politicians, silenced the media and cut off the internet and transport links to anti-government regions.

Uncertain times lie ahead for both nations. History teaches us that, all too often, idealistic revolutions end up simply replacing one bunch of gangsters with another.

But it is clear that, whatever the future might hold, the protests in Ukraine and Venezuela have much in common. They are the desperate outpouring of people who are through with oppressive government. The people of Ukraine and Venezuela want freedom and they are prepared to fight and die for it. Venezuela is fast becoming a failed state, with crime levels, economic deprivation, political corruption, media suppression and unemployment soaring out of control. Venezuelans have had enough. In Ukraine, the people do not want to become simply another Russian puppet. I like to think that the craze for toppling statues of Lenin is a statement against both Russia and against big government in general.

Then I contrast what's going on around the world with the political scene here in the UK. Rather than taking a stand for freedom, people take it for granted. The people of Venezuela and Ukraine are having their freedom curtailed in big, dramatic ways; freedom of speech is attacked, freedom to earn a living, to support opposition parties, to be pro-America or pro-EU. In the UK our freedom is being eroded in a more subtle fashion, but that should still be worrying to us.

Britain is in what should be an enviable position. We are the world's oldest modern democracy. We have had, on the whole, light-touch government. Periodically we have experienced unparalleled economic prosperity, thanks to some governments' free-market policies. But it seems that some are becoming bored, that the freedom of others is worth less than certain pet projects or cherished ideas about how other people should live their lives or spend their own money. Politicians have learnt that re-election is far easier if you've spend the last four years doling out treats with other people's money.

Just because we've been a democracy for hundreds of years, doesn't mean it will always be the case. If people are unable to recognise the drip, drip, drip of their freedoms slipping away, if people are not willing to hold politicians to account and actually stand up for their rights, if people are not able to recognise that the dollops of cash they are receiving from the government represent their own regurgitated taxes, or those of others, then I genuinely worry about the future.