One of the most common myths related to Ukraine’s society is the myth of its almost total, overall leftism. Since many of our fellow citizens still seem to expect the government to solve all their material problems, politicians will exploit this stereotype as one of the most efficient tools for winning votes and employ populist slogans based on empty promises. These latter remain unfulfilled, which affects people’s attitude towards politics and politicians. Unlike Western countries, where major political forces can boast of being supported by nearly 40% of the voters (and sometimes can even form single-party majorities), in Ukraine a “big” party can barely capture 10 to 15% votes.
There are various ways to achieve well-being, craved for by the absolute majority of citizens. The path of “oligarchonomy,” which Ukraine is following, will a priori lead away from it. This model perpetuates backwardness, poverty, and soviet-style practices in society. What kind of alternative should there be? The analysis of social sentiment reveals that society is quite prepared to opt for right-of-centre forces that would de-monopolize the economy, liberalize and support entrepreneurs, and provide incentives to create new jobs. Data collected by the Institute of Sociology at the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine, reveal that among those few respondents who were able to make a choice, 11% prefer socialism; social-democracy has the same fan base, while right-of-centre movements (national-democrats, Christian democrats, and liberals) enjoy the support of 14% of respondents.
GROUND FOR GROWTH
A frequent argument to corroborate the prevalence of left-wing supporters is the fact that respondents in opinion polls (for instance, one by the Kyiv International Institute of Sociology of February 2012) rate rising food prices (57.9%), housing expenses (53.7%), and job loss (33.6%) as the most critical problems. However, in many countries right-wing forces, practicing well-balanced economic policies rather than social populism, have always been better at solving the problems of inflation and employment than their left-wing opponents.
Moreover, expert research reveals that our society possesses many features which show that the classical right idea is inherent in its active life ethics (reflected in the English proverb “God helps those who help themselves”). Other roots of the nation’s propensity for the right-of-centre values are people’s initiative, respect for private property, and conscious joining of free citizens’ efforts for the sake of solution of common problems.
In Europe such ideas were first labelled as “liberal” and became ideological framework for opposing absolutist power. Conservatism, which arose in Britain as a response to the challenges of “revolutionary” liberalism, later borrowed its ideas about the value of individual rights and freedoms, the inviolability of private property and free entrepreneurship, but instead it compensated for certain liberal “excesses” (excessive individualism, indifference towards the less privileged, and so on) through expanding the system of values at the expense of social responsibility, respect for family and other traditional institutions, and the idea of joint action (see The Ukrainian Week, No.20/2011). This alloy, which (depending on the shift in priorities) is labelled “new conservatism,” “people’s party,” or “social liberalism,” is the ideological basis for the modern right-wing political forces that dominate the leading European political arenas.
Our society possesses numerous qualities which indicate that it is prepared to embrace such ideas. Despite the myth about Ukrainian sluggishness and propensity to passively wait for gifts from the government, at least one-third of respondents in polls are ready "to assume responsibility for their own lives". 10.5% believe that it is up to them to decide what turn their lives will take. 11.7% think their decisions are more important than circumstances, and 31.1% consider these two factors equal. 34.9% insist they are determined enough to achieve their goals, 43.3% see themselves as independent and enterprising; however, 27.9% think they are irresolute, and 23.9% lack independence.
A strong demand exists for liberating initiative from legislative and administrative restrictions. In 2010, 53.9% of respondents “strongly approved” or “mostly approved” the expansion of private enterprise in Ukraine. Meanwhile, 30.6% would like to start their own businesses, while 18.7% “would rather” consider doing so, whereas less than 5% of the population define themselves as “entrepreneurs” today. 39.8% of Ukrainians are convinced that it is necessary to actively protest against the deterioration of living standards, while 36.6% are prepared to suffer hardships for the sake of “order, peace, and quiet.” In 1994, this ratio was 22.7% vs. 43.8%, respectively.
Ukrainians are increasingly more willing to unite to defend common rights and interests. By the way, such consolidation is traditionally seen as one of the ideological foundations of modern European “people’s” parties: many right-wing political groups in Europe are officially called “unions” (the best-known example is the incumbent German Christian-Democratic Union).
Trust is an indispensable prerequisite for joint action. Over 1994-2010, people have been increasingly trusting their colleagues (from 37.5% to 51.8%) and neighbours (from 40.7% to 54.1%). Finally, more than two-thirds of our fellow citizens value the nation’s unity more than the problems imposed by politicians, which can allegedly divide it (such as federalisation, making Russian an official language, or interpreting contentious parts of our history). All these irritants rate as the least important in the rating of burning problems. So there is a good safety factor, which can allow the implementation of modern national identity and information safety policy (see The Ukrainian Week, No.19/2011).
BREAKING THE VICIOUS CIRCLE
The above shows that a strong right-wing party in Ukraine could have a social base capable of providing the support of at least one-third of voters. Why do then our politicians fail to notice this, as they play populist games and fight for a pitiful fraction of votes at the margins of the electoral field? The answer lies partly with the widely spread stereotypes (shared by politicians as part of society), and partly with the oligarchic nature of the political parties.
It might seem as if our statistics prompted such social-populist rhetoric. President Yanukovych has admitted that in Ukraine one-third of families with children are living below poverty line. What is worse, even being employed does not help escape misery: a quarter of families where both husband and wife work also qualify as poor. And according to UN standards, almost 80% of Ukraine’s population are living below poverty line.
However, there is no point in trying to overcome this problem under the present conditions, without changing the very foundations of social and economic relations in Ukraine. An economy where major industries are monopolized, and the resources and the national product are distributed in favour of a handful of oligarchs, is incapable of a qualitative leap forward, which would ensure an influx of funds to the budget sufficient to overcome poverty. Perhaps the only example in Ukraine’s history when standards of living rose sharply is associated with a qualitative change in economic relations. In 2000-01 the government led by Viktor Yushchenko and Yuliya Tymoshenko was able to pay pensions and raise salaries only after barter schemes were eliminated in the energy sector. The money flowed past the dealers into the national budget.
In short, politicians have objective grounds for systemic reforms and can rely on more than one-third of society for support (and as the reforms succeed, the number of supporters will grow). Yet in order to take such steps, political parties have to neglect their sponsors’ interests. Funding the political forces with oligarchs’ wallets means that parties depend on the interests of the oligarchs who would rather maintain the status quo in Ukraine. Only a party which will take a step from declarations to actions in terms of ensuring non-oligarchic funding can change the situation and win votes. But for this it will have to convince voters and entrepreneurs (including big, but not oligarchic, business) of its ability to elaborate and carry out reforms for the good of society.
Unless otherwise stated, this article relies for information on Sotsiolohichny monitorynh “Ukrainske suspilstvo” (Sociological monitoring “Ukrainian Society”), issued by the Institute of Sociology, the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine