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30 March, 2012  ▪  Andriy Skumin

High Demand, Zero Supply

None of the existing opposition parties really seek demonopolization, separation of business and government, or desovietization

Modern European right-centrists are hardly unanimous, yet they have some things in common. They support economic liberty, development of entrepreneurship, preservation of conservative values, and protection of state and national identity, as well as tough regulation of migration policy and the restriction of illegal migration to Europe. Social demand for this sort of ideology often intensifies in periods of crisis when left-wing social populism concerning redistribution of available resources turns out to be strikingly ineffective. Crisis compels people to adopt a more realistic attitude toward life, and right-centrists are the proponents of living within our means.  

Right-wing centrism is in demand in Ukraine. The current economic model focused on substantial oligarchic capital that thrives on cheap resources has almost exhausted itself. There is a growing urgency to secure real economic liberty, a guarantee of private ownership, and the creation of the conditions necessary to unlock the nation’s productive potential through the development of entrepreneurship focused on competitive small and medium enterprises rather than monopolistic tycoon-controlled big business. Underdeveloped national identity is another problem. Still, even though most opposition forces of the day, including Yulia Tymoshenko’s Batkivshchyna (Fatherland), Arseniy Yatseniuk’s Front Zmin (Front of Change), Vitaliy Klychko’s UDAR (Ukrainian Democratic Alliance for Reform), Anatoliy Hrytsenko’s Hromadianska Pozitsiya (Public Standpoint), Viktor Yushchenko’s Nasha Ukrayina (Our Ukraine), the Ukrainian People’s Party and other remaining fragments of the People’s Movement of Ukraine and Our Ukraine / People’s Self-Defense bloc identify themselves as right-centrists, they fail to satisfy the available public demand for an efficient right-centrist political force capable of making the necessary radical transformations and overcoming the vestiges of the soviet system. They seem unable to understand voters’ needs, communicate their vision of the country’s development to the public, or implement strategies listed in their own election platforms. As a result, not a single party in Ukraine talks to the electorate responsibly. Instead, they keep coming back to populism and promoting the interests of their business groups.

STANDING ON ONE FOOT

Appealing to ethnic, linguistic and historical values most of all, the Pan-Ukrainian Association Svoboda (Freedom) has long contended for “right-centrist party” status, or even a monopoly of the right-centrist wing. Economically, though, its platform has very little in common with the agendas of right-wing parties. For instance, Svoboda supports conversion of debt under foreign currency loans to individuals based on the exchange rate effective when the loans were issued, and demands that the government “force construction monopolies to build affordable social housing.” Svoboda’s policy leaves the impression that its key objective is to win a small part of the ultra-patriotic electorate and subsequently use it as a bargaining chip. It seems that a real plan for national transformation is nowhere on the agenda.  

The parties that broke off from the Our Ukraine / People’s Self-Defense bloc have not come up with a clearer standpoint. As a rule, they declare their patriotic position on crucial identity matters while failing to offer prospects for socio-economic transformation. Members of these parties follow a clearly right-centrist rhetoric in some sectors, such as education and culture, yet they do not extend beyond mere declarations, as Mr. Yushchenko’s presidency proved. In terms of economic policy, they tend to lean left.

HOW TO BOOST POPULARITY

The top political forces are in a similar position. Lately, they seemed to be willing to run in the election as part of the united Batkivshchyna and Front Zmin lists that also include new opposition parties.

Thus, the platform of Batkivshchyna, a member of the right-centrist European People’s Party, contains a series of provisions that are meant to confirm its coherent ideological position concerning the alleviation of the tax burden, privatization, legalization of shadow capital and so on. Yet, their initiatives, including legislative proposals, have largely presented them as a left-wing populist political force that occasionally promotes amendments in the interests of business groups within the party.

Support for the middle class, which has typically been a priority for European right-centrist parties, has been demoted to a secondary position among Batkivshchyna’s rhetoric and initiatives.

Among its platform priorities, Front Zmin lists the development of the state, including the “support of fair competition among Ukrainian manufacturers, guarantee of all kinds of ownership, protection of the Ukrainian market from aggressive foreign expansion, and support of a socially and environmentally responsible private sector.” At one point, party leader Arseniy Yatseniuk voiced his interest in increasing the retirement age—quite radical, even for right-centrists—and more rational allocation of the grant-in-aid given to regions. Yet, he never mentioned any proposals to overcome oligarchical monopolies in the economic or political spheres. Front Zmin makes liberal statements while essentially ignoring issues related to national identity and desovietization. Moreover, Yatseniuk’s recent maneuvers are more typical of left-wing populist politics. On 16 January, he registered a bill at the Verkhovna Rada to temporarily ban penalties for late payment of utility bills for the public. His other proposal was to spend privatization revenues on higher pensions for 17.2mn potential voters, including retirees and people employed in the public sector, rather than on development programs such as the creation of new jobs. Mr. Yatseniuk ignored the fact that with such a huge number of recipients, the effect of such a meager pension increase will be negligible.

The socio-economic component of the UDAR party recently founded by Vitaliy Klychko also indicates its interest in wooing the right-centrist electorate. However, its leader’s public speeches have been devoid of a clear action plan or objectives to be reached at each stage of the transformation.

Today’s Ukrainian opposition forces tend to hide their heads in the sand when dealing with issues that are crucial to national identity, including the protection of the Ukrainian language, the policy of preserving historical memory and the like. Their leaders seem reluctant to risk the support of any part of the electorate gained temporarily through showy election campaigns promising voters “mountains of gold.” As a result, these issues serve as rich soil for radicals, who discredit the identity issue with the destructive position they choose. The latest example of this was the lecture by historian Grzegorz Rossolinski-Liebe that outraged the Ukrainian public, yet found no response from Batkivshchyna, Front Zmin, UDAR or Our Ukraine.

Notably, Yulia Tymoshenko’s Bloc (BYuT) has been avoiding identity markers such as language and history ever since its leader was put in prison. Arseniy Yatseniuk and Vitaliy Klychko have always avoided these issues. Thus, the right-centrists do nothing to consolidate the identity of Ukrainian society and prefer not to tackle desovietization. As a result, the strategic element vital to real transformation in Ukraine is left to radicals who tend to discredit these crucial issues.

Leaders and representatives of purportedly right-centrist political forces have failed to explain what exactly they support, focusing instead on naming their enemies. What agenda of change are they ready to fulfill in the economic, humanitarian and geopolitical spheres? One can assume that forces promoting themselves as the right employ left-wing populism for tactical purposes: their excuse could be the fact that “voters like to hear good news,” therefore they have to lean left before the upcoming election, otherwise they are doomed to lose. However, by doing so, they ignore the attitudes of the electorate, which, as in Europe, lay the groundwork for a succession of strong right-wing parties.

There is yet another dimension to the right-wing choice. One of the objectives of right-centrists is to promote responsibility: voters are responsible for choosing a candidate for while political parties are responsible for fulfilling their promises. The “interest clubs” currently acting as opposition parties in Ukraine are not ready for that mission.

The key problem, though, is that most of the so-called opposition politicians come from the soviet system and its logical successor: post-soviet oligarchy. The most typical features of this system are corrupt control by certain groups over an obsolete economy and the lack of real economic liberty for the larger part of society. In the political sense, the soviet system is apparent both in oligarchical parties (masquerading as liberals) and their alter ego - social populists (including communists and socialists).

This vicious cycle has to be broken at some point. Otherwise, the country will go broke and end up overshadowed by its larger neighbour. Apparently, though, neither Yatseniuk, nor Turchynov, Kozhemiakin, Tiahnybok or Klychko can accomplish this.


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