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29 August, 2011  ▪  Rostyslav Havrylenko

The Lessons of Independence

20 years is a significant stretch of time on the verge of the 20th and 21st centuries, packed with events

20 years ago, former socialist and Soviet Union countries demonstrated their willingness to move towards democracy and the free market. Samuel Huntington referred to this period as the beginning of the third wave of democratization and the world literature picked up on this definition. Yoshihiro Francis Fukuyama described it as “the end of history” and final victory of liberal democracy in the world.    

However, the countries in this region, which surprised the world in the late 1980s are now showing divergent results from the way they have chosen – or at least declared. Some, that embarked on transformations with a clear vision of the final goal and an idea of the steps that should be taken, have already joined key institutions of the united Europe, thus completing their return to where they belong. Others have seen despotism emerging from the ruins of the old regime. The rest, including Ukraine, are still en route, asking themselves and others for directions.

20 years is sufficient to look back, assess the path taken and provide answers as to where and why the country took a wrong turn. In the early 1990s, EU officials expressed the same skepticism about the prospect of the membership of Ukraine’s Western neighbours in the EU as they are doing about Kyiv’s chances to this day. Yet, within a few years Europe saw Central European governments and nations make the successful transition from dictatorship to democracy, that it is now focused on assisting in the integration of these nations into the European community.

Why has Ukraine failed? The short answer may seem too definitive, but unfortunately, we keep coming across evidence of its accuracy. The explanation lies in the fact the country’s development and potential is held back by its Soviet mentality, which includes stereotypes in the mindset and behavior that are typical of homo soveticus, regardless of his or her social standing.  

Irresponsibility, indifference towards the country, the inability to think ahead or strategically, greed, lack of initiative and a trend towards choosing the easy, often sneaky, ways are the sickness of both the elite (or rather, the “elite” of the establishment) and groups that are not related to power, but are striving to attain it.  

Luckily, this is not a verdict so far. Such social symptoms can be cured, even if slowly, with the development of the economy and the middle class which relies on its own resources and is able to demand respect and appropriate actions from the government. However, in an aggressive geopolitical and geoeconomic environment, there may not be time for the slow start and evolution of society. It follows that the latter should be accelerated by conscious decisions: the establishment of relevant public institutions that would promote the responsibility of those in power, as well as legislative changes which would unlock the energy and creative potential of the nation rather than suppress it.

A closer look at how Ukraine got to where it is now will help outline the priority of the steps it should take, and what these steps are. The Ukrainian Week has launched Ukraine-20, a special project to search for answers to these questions.  

It will focus on well-known, publicized facts which reveal the specific features and explain reasons why the country evolved as it did, what could have been done differently and what should be taken into account to avoid mistakes in the future.

This research determines the success of various moves and processes and evaluates the extent to which they affected the independence of Ukraine as a subject of international law and the fulfillment of the declarations for re-integration into Europe made by each government in turn.  

We searched for the answers to these questions, when examining the stages of Ukraine’s development.

Each stage differs qualitatively from previous ones as regards relations within the establishment

and society; a specific deciding trend is inherent in each, which impeded the state’s implementation of its own potential:

• Why were the unprecedented capabilities, which existed at the moment when independence was gained, not used in the process of state-building? Why were the hopes for the “huge economic potential” of Ukraine not realized?

• Why was “state-building” become a synonym for empty wandering in a circle and the emasculation

of the notions of “national ideas”, “national interests”, and so on?

• How and why did control of the economy of Ukraine end up in the hands of several people? What

are the dangers of the “oligarchiclumpen” model?

• Who was interested in weakening the country and could have been behind the domestic and foreign

policy scandals?

• What does the opposition need to justify the confidence of the people?

Having outlined the reasons, which lie in the basis of the indicated “braking” trends and having analyzed their nature, this knowledge can be used in the coming ten years for the adoption of the right

decisions. Hence our research is directed towards the future, arising from the trends described in it, rather than the past.


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