Once and For All

5 February 2016, 11:11

Russia has lost its war with Ukraine. But the question is, has Ukraine won? Ukrainians themselves began to call this Russian-Ukrainian war a “hybrid war:” there seems to be no war, but people are still dying. Finally it became obvious to us all that not only the war was hybrid, but so were Ukraine’s politics, economics and culture.

There’s supposedly an Opposition Bloc in the legislature, but there is no opposition to the ruling party. After all, why would, say, Ihor Kononenko oppose Rinat Akhmetov—over Ihor Kolomoyskiy’s assets could be the only reason.

Ukraine’s economy is supposedly free market-based but business lives off the state budget, deciding who will better sell the army fuel, who will provide “services” to Ukrzaliznytsia, the national railway operator, and who will help themselves to credits guaranteed by the Government. Supposedly the country also has commercial banks, but bank capital is not circulating, so only hybrid loans can be issued: insiders lending to insiders on “insider” terms. Ukraine’s customs service and border patrol similarly guard the country’s borders in a hybrid fashion, so that contraband flows without interruption and without being taxed into businesses without leaving a trace on domestic GDP. After all, how will people in the regions survive if they don’t engage in smuggling cigarettes in Zakarpattia, digging for amber in Rivne Oblast or moving gobies across the border in Sumy Oblast?

In culture, hybridity is no less evident. For instance, what is “Russian-language Ukrainian literature” if not a hybrid? Or holding Cabinet meetings in the Russian language because the Armenian Avakov and Georgian Saakashvili don’t want to—supposedly “can’t”—speak Ukrainian. Can you imagine that a German deputy who is an ethnic Turk not speaking German in the Bundestag?

Russia as the USSR was also a kind of hybrid totalitarian empire. In 1991, Ukraine gained a similar hybrid-style independence for itself, and has lived for nearly 25 years in that state, with thousands of monuments to Lenin, a russified government and cultural environment, heads of collective farms and red directors in the legislature, criminal oligarchs, and a traumatic, pathological love of the “younger brother” for his “big brother.” 25 years of hybrid independence… is that not a bit too much?

Today, the Russian empire is dying. But this is no guarantee that it will actually die, because it’s gone through agonies before—last in 1917, nearly a century ago. Then, Ukraine failed to gain independence. In the words of General Pilsudski: “Ukrainian politicians have sat on the revolutionary train but got out on the way to independence at a station called Socialism.” In the 1990s, Ukraine’s national democrats tried to get to the station called Capitalism but found themselves in the embrace of a specifically Russian pseudo-capitalism—we would now call it hybrid capitalism—that loves its Lenins on central squares, its red flags, its impoverished people, and its criminal business.

In 2016, Ukraine not only can look forward to celebrating 25 years of independence, but to finally getting rid of all this hybridity. Much needs to be done to achieve this, but the main steps are pretty obvious:

(1) Business needs to operate on real, competitive market principles and not serve the public purse through black market and grey market schemes, which means not only accessible credits and demonopolization, but also transparency as to the ultimate beneficiaries of businesses.

(2) Healthy business should be allowed to develop in the regions that are currently economically depressed and the local population lives without income.

(3) Ukraine’s historical farm sector should be based on the building blocks of productive unit such as family farms and any restrictions on the tenure of farmland should be established in law with input from experts and growers so that a land market can finally be instituted as a stimulus for the economy.

(4) The country needs a proper social-democratic party that will defend the interests of hired labor and have nothing to do with either communists of the Symonenko-Zyuganov type, or with socialists of the Moroz-Medvedchuk type, so that populist manipulations will not be decisive in the competition for votes.

(5) In the humanitarian arena, Ukraine needs not only Ukraino-centric cultural policies, but a renewed effort at ukrainianizing: since Ukrainians were forcibly and brutally russified over several centuries, they should surely have the right to restore historical justice. The policy of protecting and preserving national identity is a European tradition that Ukrainians should uphold, for if we want to eliminate hybridity once and for all, we need to learn to defend our national interests. The choice is simple: either Ukraine becomes Ukrainian, or it dies. A Russian Ukraine is simply an oxymoron, another form of hybrid given to us by the empire.

Then there’s the military sphere: what kind of army should Ukraine’s be, given that it never really existed until now, with the exception of a few heroic, but brief periods in the 20th century? And what about foreign policy, where Ukraine always drifted among foreign channels and was never a geopolitical player, although it has real potential for this, at least in Eastern Europe?

These and many other challenges face the new generation of politicians in 2016. And how they respond will determine how soon Ukraine gets rid of the empire. That this is inevitable is no longer in any doubt.

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