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15 August, 2012

Talking About the United States of Ukraine

There are people whom you simply don't trust. Even if they offer something allegedly favourable and plausible, unintentionally you automatically put up resistance. Nothing can be done: that is reputation.

Viktor Medvedchuk tried hard to earn his reputation. A Richelieu, or rather Mazarin of the 2000s, he personally architected the system known as ‘late Kuchmism’. Of course, everything is recognized in comparison and Leonid Kuchma, the second president of independent Ukraine, was right to some extent when he said: “One day you will regret losing Kuchma.” But the difference between the oligarchic model of 2004 and the one of 2012 is rather subjective; it only reflects the difference between the mentalities of the former director of a giant defence factory and that of a former director of a transport depot (not to dig further into the backgrounds of the two people mentioned). The styles are different - the core is the same.

After the Orange Revolution and, as it turned out later, the untimely burial of ‘Kuchmism’, Victor Medvedchuk disappeared from sight for a long time. Suddenly, eight years later, he once again rose from the ashes; firstly having shown his image on the city’s billboards with a confusing policy line, and then having twice become a newsmaker: first, he received the godfather of his child - the President of Ukraine’s brotherly neighbour (Vladimir Putin) - in his Crimean backyard and then initiated a scientific conference on the federalization of Ukraine in Kyiv.

Now, knowing the thoroughness of our hero, we shouldn’t have any doubts that the idea of turning Ukraine into the United States will not die away. Moreover, its spin doctor keeps his finger on the pulse of demand: the idea will lure both people who are fed up with Ukrainian language, culture and mentality, and those who are considered as true patriots. And now, there are even some quite astute and intelligent people suggesting that maybe it is the way out! Maybe some people should remain in their homo sovieticus domain and not poison the atmosphere in the whole country with their understanding of power, order, business and relations in society. Maybe they should control ‘their’ East and not impinge on the rest of the country. However, even if there was a chance of doing only this, I would not give in to temptation. This would mean leaving the Ukrainian citizens of Kharkiv, Luhansk and Donetsk Oblasts to the mercy of fate – their lives have not been sweet so far, and they would certainly get worse. It would be a shame to betray your own people.

But, suppose that federalism is a technology which guarantees maximum rights and freedoms for citizens through the redistribution of power in favour of local governments. Can someone name at least one political force in Ukraine that would protect people’s rights and freedoms, without having to hide their eyes in shame later? We should have the courage to admit that these aspects are not on the agenda of Ukrainian politicians or the voters.  

As for self-government, what are its real achievements? Is corruption eliminated? Is the strategy of Democracy as a Daily Plebiscite implemented? Are hospitals repaired? Do the police catch criminals or do they torture innocent people? Do we have water in our taps?

Illusions aside, the pragmatic goal of the federal project is to legalize the feudal structure of power and the real sectors of business controlled by it. Regionalization is carte blanche for the local ‘Princes’ that launches the process of feudal fragmentation. At the same time, it is the ultimate rejection of real systemic reform in the economy, the judiciary and pension systems that are currently being replaced by a window-dressing one. Such systemic reform is painful, therefore only possible with maximum centralization of power. And Ukraine’s eternal Fata Morgana – the European vector – fades, too. Clearly, Europe will not accept only some parts of the country.

It appears that I have to sacrifice the dream of an, a) indivisible, and b) European country for an illusionary and, let’s be frank, unrealistic prospect of getting rid of a few hundred poorly educated usurpers from the East, hoping that West Ukrainian politicians are warm and fuzzy. In fact, they are not. Demonizing Eastern Ukraine and idealizing Western Ukraine is a common mistake of the local patriots.

What about overcoming disparities in culture and mentality? As long as regions are not yet institutionalized, the central government has a chance to deal with them.  Once they are granted the formal status of a decision maker, their ambitions may swell which will lead to conflicts under a weak central government. It does not take much to find precedents: from the USA in 1861 to Yugoslavia in 1991.

All in all, if Medvedchuk supports federalization, I surely don’t.                            


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