What it takes to make changes irreversible in Ukraine
One of the major unsolved problems today is the preservation of the crippling cohesion of power and business. In most capitalistic countries, power cannot and should not be fully independent from business. They inevitably interact and affect each other on various levels. Private business is a source of managerial talents that prove highly efficient in competitive environments. Successful development of economy in any country relies on the ability of those in power to hear and consider what the business has to say, respond to its concerns and problems both domestically, and abroad. The business, in turn, takes into account national interests of its home country.
The kind of power and business cohesion that’s present in Ukraine has little in common with the model mentioned above. Instead, it is a grotesque mutation shaped by the specific ways of Ukraine’s post-soviet economic transformation that never turned into a fully market one, and of its society which has not yet become fully democratic.
While often perceived as exclusive domain of those in top offices and the much-hated oligarchy, the mutation is in fact far deeper and broader. Hordes of small entities that are linked to officials of various levels, and have thus an opportunity to enjoy privileges and milk state resources, are equally more damaging to the country. Moreover, the top politicians and oligarchs are in the spotlight of public attention. The small entities aren’t, even though they are most often linked to families of prosecutors, ministers or deputy ministers, heads of oblast or county administrations, mayors or directors of state-owned companies.
A change of individual figures or top officials in government bodies will not change the motivation of most people engaged in the system: they will continue to sabotage any initiatives aimed at undermining their stance. That, in turn, will burn out even the most idealistic leaders, especially in a situation where they are forced to work and employ motivated and qualified professionals in their teams for a salary of several hundred euros. The only way to change the system is with another system – one that could be based on organized civil society and the ability of thousands active citizens to resist attempts of thousands people in power to subject rules and mechanisms to their benefit.
Civil society, comprised of SMEs that have not integrated into the political-business conglomerate, as well as other strata that qualify themselves as middle class, is the only group capable of forming an alternative to the current system. It should not and cannot be a homogeneous structure because it must integrate groups that are extremely varied by interests. It can even include competing interests. However, all these groups should share one common aspect: unacceptability of power monopolization and use for personal enrichment, and of the tendency to give privileges to associated sponsor entities while discriminating everyone else. The goal of this civil society should be the change of the basic principle in interaction between government, business and society, rather than reshuffling of individuals in power.
To accomplish this, civil society should be not only well-structured and organized, but adequate. It cannot be an exasperated crowd that demands scapegoats, miracles, altruism or messianic efforts from the managers hired to be in government bodies or to run state-owned enterprises. All it can demand from such people is a certain quality of work which is paid for adequately. At the same time, this society should realize what is possible and what is not, be open to compromises and be able to act responsibly and support itself, not expect to rely as clients on the state or individual sponsors.
It is obvious that the majority of Ukraine’s society, still paternalistic, does not meet the above criteria, nor will it do so in the immediate future. Most people here still prefer to keep finding yet another messiah who then turns into a scapegoat, prescribe the messiah with idealistic features and overlook his or her actual motivation and dependence on very real teams and sponsors. Then, the failed messiah is kicked off the Olympus and causes huge frustration over failed expectations. Pseudo-civil and political projects are created, first and foremost, to replace specific top officials and take over their income-generating opportunities from corrupt and monopoly scams on the national or local scales. In turn, the “activists” of such new political or civil projects view them as merely paid jobs with an immediate reward or compensation that will come later from the servicing of their sponsors or building their own income channels.
According to surveys, over 10% of the voters in Ukraine openly admit that they would sell their vote. Nearly 1/3 of all voters are willing to accept the idea that someone might do so in one way or another. Some of the new parties are being formed of people who grew up professionally in the old system and are not going to break it. Instead, they would rather re-adjust it to fit their interests. Quite often, they are backed by the same sponsors that had been exploiting the rules of the system for personal enrichment, both on the national and on the local levels.
As a result, “we have what we have”, as a popular saying in Ukraine goes. If, however, Ukraine’s society stops moving towards the goal of breaking the system and building a new one, no real changes will take place in the interests of society. Any politics always was, is and will be conducted only in the interests of those who actually define and control it. And no revolts, protests or insurgencies ever changed the system, unless they had an alternative new one of their own to put in its place.
Fear of mass revolt or defeat in yet another election on which many supporters of forcing the old system to change count only pushes those in control of power to capitalize from their positions in authorities or politics more brutally and hastily. Therefore, risk-takers will keep using the appeal of populism for the majority of the population unless an organized political force or broad civil movement emerges, that is capable of taking over responsibility for the development of Ukraine and profound changes in it, rather than imitation. Otherwise, there will be “new” projects that will ride on the wave of popularity and get their shares in parliament or government (and with it a quota for the management of national wealth under the current corrupt and uncompetitive scheme), to only be replaced by more similar “new” ones.
Serhiy Zakharov is an artist from Donetsk known for his plywood caricatures of “Novorossia” leaders installed on the city streets in 2014. The installations resulted in his captivity in Donetsk that year. In his interview with The Ukrainian Week, Serhiy speaks about his complex relations with his city and the attitudes of the creative crowd to politicians
The Ukrainian Week talked with Acting U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Russia, Ukraine, Eurasia in the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Policy on the act of aggression in the Kerch Strait and the military assistance to Ukraine.