Civil Position, the party of former Defence Minister Anatoliy Hrytsenko, has a special place among opposition forces that prefer to ignore efforts to unite and which have few chances of entering parliament independently in 2012
Anatoliy Hrytsenko is one of many politicians who rose to prominence on the wave of the Orange Revolution but who were unable to fully realise their ambitions under President Viktor Yushchenko. Still, Hrytsenko was an influential figure for quite some time as Defence Minister under prime ministers Yulia Tymoshenko, Yuriy Yekhanurov and Viktor Yanukovych. He was rumoured to have been considered alongside Yuriy Lutsenko and Arseniy Yatseniuk as a possible candidate for the top spot on the NU-NS (Our Ukraine – People’s Self-Defence) party list or even tapped as Yushchenko’s successor.
However, Hrytsenko was dismissed in December 2007 and replaced with Yekhanurov. After this, he launched his own political project – Civil Position, initially an NGO and later a party. With his untarnished reputation of a decent, professional and uncorrupt politician and his image as a consistent supporter of democracy and Euro-Atlantic orientation, Hrytsenko could count on the informational support of the authoritative Dzerkalo tyzhnia newspaper run by his wife Yulia Mostova and the intellectual potential of the Razumkov Centre where he previously worked.
While much of what Hrytsenko says is correct, he has been unable to ignite the public at large and lacks the charisma of an experienced politician. He has been unable to solve a number of systemic issues, primarily having to do with financing his party and setting up an efficient organisational network. He sometimes presents these shortcomings with a certain pride, implying that his Civil Position does not have centralised financing. “I haven’t stolen money. Sorry,” he says. But Ukraine's history has seen many a party fold in the absence of financial contributions.
Of course, this lack of financing could be offset by enthusiasm on the part of local party members, but this is something we have not seen from the Civil Platform: there are no mass protests, challenges against decisions of government agencies or anything of the sort. A KMIS poll performed 12-24 April, 2012, shows that Hrytsenko as an individual politician is almost twice as popular as his party. He also has problems with MP candidates, especially in first-past-the-post districts, and lacks representatives to assign to district election commissions – he will be able to cover no more than 10 per cent of them, according to sources with knowledge of the situation. This means that he will find it difficult to protect his interests.
THE ELECTION PLATFORM
Civil Position proposes radical changes in government aimed at drastically downsizing the state apparatus. Specifically, he says the president should personally lead the government, as is the case in the United States. Furthermore, Civic Position believes that local self-government should be expanded and that more resources must go to the regions by eliminating district state administrations and reducing the functions of regional administrations to a minimum. The number of ministries and government agencies should be reduced by 30 per cent, officials on all levels of the power vertical by a third and managerial staff by 50 per cent, according to the party platform.
Hrytsenko also stands for deregulating and de-monopolising the economy and separating the government and business. He insists that he will make every effort to help form “a powerful and well-off middle-class” which will guarantee progressive democratic development in the country. Hrytsenko also has a number of pleasant promises for entrepreneurs: a simplified registration and reporting procedure, fewer and lower taxes, no tax relief for "chosen" businesses, but tax exemptions on spending on new technology and technological upgrades for small and medium businesses and fewer controlling agencies and checks. There are also more radical promises, such as doing away with the tax police and scrubbing VAT (and introducing a turnover tax instead).
Less clear are Hrytsenko’s views on national identity and Ukraine’s geopolitical choice. While affirming that “Ukrainian will be the only state language in Ukraine”, Hrytsenko declares in the same breath a desire to make officials “speak to people in the language they spoken to,” which would essentially strip Ukrainian of its state language status even in official communications. While promising to “respect everyone who has fought for independence, as well as study and honour our history,” Hrytsenko is vague on the issue of national reconciliation and state recognition of UPA fighters.
Hrytsenko associates national security guarantees exclusively with stepping up combat readiness of the Ukrainian Armed Forces, which are supposed to switch to a contracted basis. He is mum on Euro-Atlantic integration, which is significant for a politician who was long viewed as one of the biggest supporters of NATO membership.
An analysis of the current situation and the results of recent opinion polls suggests that Hrytsenko’s party can hope for no more than 3-3.5 per cent in the parliamentary election this autumn. This is not sufficient to enter parliament but more than enough to weaken the united opposition. Hrytsenko is looking at several options with other parties, including rallying behind the Fatherland party or joining forces with Vitali Klitschko’s UDAR party. He cannot unite with the Freedom party for ideological reasons.
In late 2011, after Front of Changes and Fatherland supported the new parliamentary election law, which raised the parliamentary threshold to 5 per cent and banned blocs from participation, Hrytsenko announced his withdrawal from the Dictatorship Resistance Committee. He had valid reasons to do so, because the opposition compromised itself by voting together with the parliamentary majority for the election law. However, his reaction was too emotional. He continued to accuse the opposition of cooperating with the government after his withdrawal.
For a long time, the mass media reported on negotiations between the Civil Platform and the UDAR party. While both parties do have ideologically similar platforms and voters, the outcome of the negotiations in March 2012 was surprising. Speaking live on 5 Channel, Hrytsenko said that a union with Klitschko would be possible under one condition: if he cleanses his party of turncoats and “people with criminal pasts”, such as Artur Palatny, whom Hrytsenko called a criminal authority from the 1990s.
BIRDS OF A FEATHER
By insisting on high principles with regard to other opposition forces, Hrytsenko has essentially isolated himself. Furthermore, he began to absorb suspect political projects. At one point, he lay down five principles for the unified opposition, including the key demand of keeping party ranks pure. In March 2012, Civil Position announced the absorption of the Ukrainian Party led by Kalush Mayor Ihor Nasalyk, who has had a chequered political career. He entered parliament as a member of Our Ukraine in 2002 and then defected to the Party of Regions faction. He travelled a lot across the political spectrum, with sojourns in the Ukrainian People’s Party, Fatherland, People’s Democratic Party and EKO+25. He is a classic example of a political rolling stone and, worse still, is often accused of being corrupt in government procurement.
Still, after his party merged with the Civil Position on 31 March 2012, Nasalyk became the number two man behind Hrytsenko. Perhaps this is how Hrytsenko is trying to solve the problem of financing his election campaign. According to confidential sources, the Kalush mayor promised to attract the influential Galician businessman Petro Dyminsky as a donor.
The transformations which Hrytsenko’s political project has undergone may pose a threat: he may come to view an independent run in the elections as an end to itself. At the same time, mutual offences with other opposition politicians will play into the hands of the government, which will reap significant benefits if Civil Position runs but fails to cross the 5-percent threshold. In this situation, Hrytsenko can only save his reputation by refusing to make a hopeless independent run and instead closely cooperating with the most popular representatives of the opposition camp.