Vitali Klitschko’s rapid political ascent is due to his readiness to say what most voters want to hear. Yet, it is currently too early to talk about any strategic vision of the nation’s development
Vitali Klitschko’s background is a success story of reputation gained in sports converted into a political asset with proactive civil activity in between. In 2000, Mr. Klitschko joined UNESCO’s Education for Children in Poverty programme. In 2003, he and his brother Volodymyr founded the Klitschko Brothers’ Charity Foundation. Mr. Klitschko often visited events arranged by Oleksandr Omelchenko, the then Kyiv Mayor. He supported the Orange Revolution. On 12 December 2004, he devoted his victory in a boxing match to democracy in Ukraine and raised an orange flag. Since 2005, Vitali Klitschko has himself been involved in politics, leading the Pora-Reform and Order Party (Pora-PRP) bloc. His bloc entered the Kyiv City Council after the 2006 election, but Mr. Klitschko lost the subsequent mayoral election to Leonid Chernovetsky. His bloc later failed to cross the 3% threshold in the parliamentary election. In the early election in spring 2008, Pora-PRP doubled its seats in the Kyiv Council, but Mr. Klitschko lost the mayoral election once again – this time not only to Leonid Chernovetsky, but also to Oleksandr Turchynov.
After Viktor Yanukovych came to power in April 2010, Vitali Klitschko founded the Ukrainian Democratic Alliance for Reforms (UDAR). Over the past two years, its popularity with the electorate has tripled, the support of those who are going to vote in the election for its leader climbing to an impressive 10%. First and foremost, this is the result of a permanent need for new faces and a new quality of political forces in Ukrainian politics. Arseniy Yatseniuk and Serhiy Tihipko benefited from this earlier, only to first lose momentum, then support, when they had to answer some tough questions, as the novelty effect faded. Vitali Klitschko can count on proactive support from the middle class and the youth who see him as a successful self-made man.
The main advantage of UDAR is the fact that it does not have a government-tarnished reputation, while Mr. Klitschko and his team have no background in corruption. By contrast, Klitschko’s Bloc often opposed the grabbing of municipal property by Leonid Chernovetsky’s “young team” in the Kyiv City Council. Many of the bloc’s members who got into the Kyiv Council in 2006 and 2008 ended up as crossovers, but Mr. Klitschko insists that he has learned his lesson and will be more cautious from now on. In the spring of 2010, the mass media started buzzing that he was having talks about possible closer cooperation with the Party of Regions, his election as Kyiv mayor or appointment as secretary or head of Kyiv City State Administration. He himself denied these allegations. In fact, he is too European-oriented to lean towards the post-soviet authoritarian Belarus-Russian model that the current Ukrainian government is continuing to develop. It is doubtful whether Mr. Klitschko would taint his reputation by collaborating with a regime that is ever more associated with political repression by the international community.
Meanwhile, it is still difficult to ideologically define Vitali Klitschko and his party. In all likelihood, they are counting on this so that every electoral group is able to find something to identify with in them.
Despite promoting itself as a right-centrist force, comparisons to Germany’s Christian Democratic Union and the wish to join the European People’s Party, UDAR’s platform documents define it as a socio-liberal party whose key objective is to take part in developing a social state and the implemention of the principle of social equality. Clearly, this course would be more in line with the Social Democratic Party of Germany, not the Christian Democratic Union, if put in the German political context.
Mr. Klitschko speaks Russian, but he is learning Ukrainian and now speaks it fairly well. He is aware of the significance of an official state language as a symbol of national identity, but misses the point that it should be used as a basis for the real, albeit gradual consolidation of the nation, rather than as a ritual attribute for public use on individual occasions, such as public administration, politics or education. UDAR’s platform was essentially designed to please everyone as it does not give a clear list of endangered languages while highlighting the need to protect languages other than the official one in Ukraine. Thus, it effectively creates an environment for protecting the Russian language that dominates the media, mass culture and business, and restricts the use of Ukrainian in these spheres.
Given his personal and family background, Mr. Klitschko honours WWII veterans while avoiding talk about UPA, the Ukrainian Insurgent Army, as something he is not familiar with. Most likely, Mr. Klitschko does not know the history of the national liberation movement in Ukraine well enough, but cannot help but understand that the picture of WWII painted by soviet propaganda is also far from being true. He believes that all controversial points in history and religion can be ignored as being provocative, while joint projects, in addition to the common will to join Europe (on which everyone has their own vision), such as the athletic achievements incarnated by Klitschko brothers among others, can consolidate the nation. Based on this, he hopes to become a compromise figure for voters in different regions.
In fact, though, it is hard to think about how national identity can be strengthened based on the “historical, value and language diversity” of the regions and ethnic groups in the Ukrainian post-colonial reality, as UDAR’s platform suggests. The vision of one big state with the historical vision, value concepts and language traditions of a “common state”, still dominates in some oblasts, identifying with the “Russian world” rather than with Ukraine specifically, and backing the revival policy of the Russian leadership in the FSU.
SAFETY OR RELIABILITY
UDAR’s platform on geopolitical choice, national security and foreign policy priorities is vague. It criticizes the current government’s will to “review strategic objectives and priorities based on circumstances and the will of other countries on such important issues as collective security and the dislocation of foreign military forces on the territory of Ukraine, yet offers no reasonable and clear alternative.
The platform is actually a kind of remake of the infamous multi-vector policy that UDAR proposes replacing with “multi-partnership” based on “effective multilateral relations.” At the same time, it puts organizations, the essence and role of which vary significantly for Ukraine, such as the UN, the Council of Europe, the EU, NATO and OSCE, on one priority level. Its geopolitical strategy is “to simultaneously use all available cooperation instruments” rather than “to force a choice between two alternatives.” This essentially means balancing between different centers of influence, with the EU, Russia and USA being on an equal footing. Having said this, Russia appears to have an unjustified high status. All three are clearly recognized as global leaders, as opposed to regional leaders, while Ukraine’s relations with Moscow are interpreted as “vital for Ukraine”. At the same time, there is no clear position on the continued presence of the Russian Black Sea Fleet in Ukraine while the platform only mentions a vague intention “to regulate the terms and the conditions of the presence” of the Russian military base in Crimea.
As a result, instead of a clear European and NATO choice, UDAR has taken on the concept of cooperation within the “Great Europe” supposed “to remove numerous challenges in Ukraine’s foreign policy orientation and make them less urgent”. In fact, though, it is an attempt to fit in with Vladimir Putin’s geopolitical, strategy spelled out in a special platform provision in his latest election campaign. It entails the deconstruction of the Euro-Atlantic space, replacing it with a “Europe from Lisbon to Vladivostok,” in which Moscow is counting on a dominant role. For Ukraine, this will effectively mean a return of the “heading to Europe with Russia” concept.
Even the European integration declared as UDAR’s strategic objective actually boils down to the priority of “European standards” – a concept characteristic of United Russia and the Party of Regions – while EU membership or lack thereof, is secondary. According to its agenda, the European vector sets the direction of transformations within the country, thus ensuring the integrity of state policy in implementing European standards of social, political and economic life and creating the necessary diplomatic background for European reforms within Ukraine. Meanwhile, the feasible goal of EU integration outlined in the agenda only determines the ratification of the Association Agreement and the FTA.
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