Three years ago I wrote about pseudo-democracy, how a phenomenon of our times has been the introduction of a democracy-that-isn't, to allow despots to continue in power while providing a vague cover of legitimacy.
It occurred to me this morning that nowhere has this been better exemplified than with the referenda organised in Crimea and tomorrow in two breakaway provinces of Ukraine.
Hitler, for example, did not bother to carry out a plebiscite before taking control of the Sudetenland. He merely threatened and then cut a deal with Western powers. No consultation with actual people necessary (indeed, the Czechoslovak president was not even invited to the conference). Our wish for non-involvement in a further war was at least an honest and open one, if a somewhat cowardly and short-sighted one.
But our more enlightened times require a democratic veneer, to salve Western consciences. So, there are referenda for independence in two provinces tomorrow (an independence which the pro-Russians transparently do not want), both of which will almost certainly join Russia.
Indeed, a nugget which I have - amazingly - yet to see reported in major news outlets is that the provisional government of Donetsk has already stated its intent (here, although you need Google Translate to read it) to hold a further referendum the following weekend to join Russia, on the 18th May (thank you, Twitter).
What is fascinating, however, is that opinion polls have consistently shown that, although a win is to be expected, Ukrainians (at least, outside of Crimea) do not want to join Russia, even in the East. You can probably guess why the contradiction.
But, as usual, there will be the usual suspects on the British left pretending that the referenda are legitimate, fair and tamper-free. They are not.
The most baffling logic of all is that an administration which has shown itself capable over recent weeks of the most blatant lies (for example, oh no, there are no Russian soldiers in Ukraine, ha ha) should be somehow expected to be completely straight-down-the-line and fair when it comes to elections in which it has a clear geopolitical interest. (For other examples, see Venezuela, Iran, etc.) Or that Putin's feigned negativity towards the referenda is anything more than a transparent pretence that he is not pulling the strings.
In short, Ukraine is surely one of the greatest successes of pseudo-democracy to date: to make it so that one country can effectively invade another without provocation, and still have some believing - or at least, using as a convenient excuse for their lack of interest - that it was simple manifestation of "the will of the people". Oh, the irony.
UPDATE 20:29: In fact, the BBC finally reported the second Donetsk referendum yesterday. Only five days after the information was made public. I should also note that a third province, Kharkiv, pulled out of having a referendum the same day, for which reason I have amended the piece. However, that does not mean that Kharkiv will not secede; the reason cited was being unable to agree on wording with the other two provinces.