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1 August, 2011  ▪  Ivan Halaichenko


All kinds of heelers keep the tycoon system alive in Ukraine

Much has been written about the detrimental tycoon-controlled model of Ukrainian the economy and politics, which is permeated with corruption and doomed to inefficient decision-making. By contrast, barely a word is said about the mechanisms, with the help of which, the “power of the few” influence the public. Oligarchs do not live in a vacuum, nor are they supermen. Whatever they can do to the country is limited to what society allows them. The issue is about those who are capable of specific moves, which means being involved in the establishment or having sufficient resources and so on, or those who can change people’s moods or minds and encourage them to take specific action. Unfortunately, Ukraine has whole categories of such individuals. Sadly, however, not only do they fail to restrict the adverse impact of tycoons, but also become engaged in the system, enthusiastically and profitably, executing technical and service functions within it.   


The Ukrainian political establishment abounds with proactive promoters of the interests of tycoons – and sometimes even the interests of other countries. The efforts of people, such as Viktor Medvedchuk, Dmytro Tabachnyk or Valeriy Khoroshkovsky, often keep the country from preserving freedoms, developing Ukrainians’ sense of identity in the nation and strengthening a politically united nation. Sometimes, they even damage the national interests of the country. Notably, they frequently run counter to the natural interests of the tycoons themselves, since they lead to the greater dependence of oligarchs on external influences, primarily from Russia. Opaque scams and corruption in business complicate relations with the civilized world and tie them to the Russian establishment, the representatives of which, in the final instance, are the ones creating the scams.

The power of the tycoon system, in and of itself, is a value, since it provides access to resources. This results in the first orbit of opportunists hovering around it. They are far from being poor, yet not wealthy enough to qualify as tycoons. Their main goal is to get closer to power in order to maintain and expand their business opportunities, including personal enrichment from access to public funds, the privatization of facilities and so on, and to enjoy immunity.

This phenomenon of “opportunistic crossovers”, included people such as Bohdan Hubsky, David Zhvania, Serhiy Buriak and the like. Their actions speak louder than words: almost half of the Bloc of Yulia Tymoshenko and the whole Narodna Samooborona (People’s Self-Defense) crossed over to the majority in the Verkhvna Rada established by the Party of Regions. Claims against Ms. Tymoshenko and her circle who cherished the first-orbit opportunists, entered them along with their teams into party lists, and protected them from journalists, were completely justified. Mr. Yushchenko and his team faced claims even more serious than that. Having gained public trust on an unprecedented scale, Mr. Yushchenko not only failed to ruin tycoon systems but, in actual fact, helped them to develop further. It was during his term in office, that Dmytro Firtash became an oligarch. Many of those in power who should have broken the tycoon-controlled model of economy are unable to do this in principle, since they are involved in the servicing of this system.

In addition to business owners, first-orbit opportunists include those “who carry out special orders”, such as lawyers, experts in tender scheme and so on. It is not a coincidence that Messrs. Portnov, Osyka, Yatsenko and others, end up in opposite political camps with every shift of power. Their specific experience and skills are always useful for those in power under tycoon-controlled conditions.

By switching parties, opportunistic crossovers mothball relations and problems in the economy and preserve ineffective corruption schemes that are detrimental to the country. Moreover, they also deceive the voters who voted for BYT and Nasha Ukrayina – Narodna Samooborona, expecting that they would fulfill their promises and programs. And all of a sudden, the electorate ends up with a change of power, without any election taking place.


Despite having resources and power in hand, first-orbit opportunists are few. Instead, tycoons influence society through their minions - all those who have conceded to the role of servitude, which they do in exchange for offices, salaries and remuneration. Sadly, this status most often reserved for people who, on the contrary, should haveexplained the true state of affairs to society.

The broad category of “service personnel” can be broken down into various typologies. On the one hand, there is the “official academic sector”, comprised of research and education facilities. Their employees who, for the most part, were mostly born and raised in the Ukrainian SSR, attained their top offices back in soviet times, which is the root of the model of servitude and provincialism which they continue to this day. For this reason, numerous documents from leading research facilities echo the official speeches of soviet leaders. This is also why we hear the commentaries of people such as Valeriy Soldatenko and Petro Tolochko, who pursue essentially anti-Ukrainian concepts on their way to power and enthusiastically search for new “scientific substantiation” for misanthropic diatribes of Mr. Tabachnyk and the like. Those pursuing a career in the new pro-government institutions have already had time to learn some servility from senior colleagues.

Unfortunately, even relatively independent experts and organizations that have become “addicted” to grants and subsequently do not have to grovel to power have also failed to create an alternative free society. In the absence of zero support from the state and lack of motivation in business to support civil society, grants are virtually the only source of funding for social activists and intellectuals that is beyond the control of the government and tycoons. Therein lies their undeniable value. However, the recipients of these grant often turn out to be opportunists themselves. They work out issues covered by grants without criticism, do not know how to work with and involve the mass media, and tend to stew in their own juice. After all, this kind of behavior is safer, butt it dilutes the role of the intellectual, which these people like to try on. What is worse is that they are ready to repeat the concepts of their grant-givers that are unacceptable to Ukraine. First and foremost, this pertains to history: some Ukrainian scholars, for example have gone as far as to enter into cooperation with Polish foundations, following their example by condemning such phenomenon as the UPA, (the Ukrainian Insurgent Army).

The only way to break this vicious circle of opportunism, servility and pleasing the benefactors is by the means tested by our European neighbors: uniting non-oligarch business, primarily small and medium enterprises, and intellectuals who can speak convincingly to the public. There are plenty of common problems for which it is worth uniting efforts, ranging from the amendment of tax legislation to the establishment of a civilized system for encouraging business to contribute into the “third sector”, i.e. science and education, which would support a healthy intellectual environment, capable of changing the tycoon-controlled model of the economy into a more competitive one.    


There should be a stick, as well as a carrot. This line by Taras Shevchenko is the best explanation of why opportunists and crossovers feel so at home in Ukraine. Ukrainians have not developed immunity to conformism for the sake of principles, colleagues and voters, and have not learned to punish traitors with contempt, refusal to shake the traitor’s hand or have any business dealings with him or her. However, it is possible that such a reaction could be the only effective medicine. Oleksandr Moroz experienced this in full, when voters kicked him out of the Verkhovna Rada in 2007. This experience should be spread further, to politicians, as well as civic activists, intellectuals or “pseudo-intellectuals”, experts and all others who undertake to influence the opinions of people, while cynically serving the system that exploits the country.

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