Phantoms of Ukrainian Democracy

4 July 2011, 15:04

Countless political betrayals, ideological chameleons on various levels from village councils all the way to the parliament, defections between factions (sometimes going from one opposite to another), self-recruitment of members of seemingly hereditary patriotic Ukrainian families to serve the ruling administration – as you take it all in, you naturally begin to wonder: Do we really have a democratic opposition that is fundamentally different from its opponents?

What the opposition is really made of became clear when it came to power. This experience impedes its actions now, because they do not have unassailable positive past accomplishments they can cite and which people can recall with pleasure. All they have to show is the experience of thoughtlessly wasted opportunities, chaos, internal fear and lack of real attempts at democratic transformation. The previous government does not have convincing arguments or a positive alternative to offer precisely because too many of its top representatives engaged in illegal personal enrichment and corruption.

An especially lasting impression was made by Viktor Yushchenko’s ridiculous management of human resources in which he was guided by his personal emotions and whims and those of his internal circle. This resulted in Asian-type nepotism and brought to power a coterie of his friends and advisers who were sarcastically and disparagingly dubbed, using his own expression, “dear friends.” During the Orange Revolution Yushchenko and his friends (without the qualifying adjective) promised that three main criteria would be looked at before appointments: professionalism, patriotism and decency. However, what quickly evolved was a system which Andrey Illarionov, former advisor to Vladimir Putin on economic matters, called svoism, i.e., a combination of clan and caste approaches aimed at filling government offices with people based on their loyalty to the president and his closest aides rather than national interests. The main criterion is how much a candidate fits the description “he's our guy,” while the measure of his clout is his proximity to the clan leader rather than his formal functions and office.

In one case, a group of respected academicians, including former dissidents and prisoners of conscience, spent a lot of time trying to persuade the president that Taras Vozniak, noted scholar, political writer, public figure and editor of the Lviv-based Yi journal, was by far the best candidate for the minister of culture. Instead, the president appointed Oksana Bilozir, totally in line with svoism and against national interests.

The cushy parliament seats which those in the opposition had under President Leonid Kuchma eventually spoiled them. In 2005, quite a few of them proved unable to make progress in the areas entrusted to them (reforming the government’s UT-1 channel, shaking up the Crimean authorities, and so on) and to do something in a responsible way in general. Many of them subsequently returned from stressful government offices to the warm seats of parliament. It is indeed hard to shake off the impression they had merely imitated activity in the opposition and turned it into a nice business and a niche for life.

This is the kind of opposition we had when the Party of Regions, the communists and Volodymyr Lytvyn’s men came to power. A true opposition stance in Ukraine – a post-colonial, post-totalitarian and post-genocidal state – takes courage and sacrifice. But our opposition had become used to operating in fairly comfortable conditions: they struck deals with their opponents and blackmailed Kuchma a bit in trying to wrest concessions from him. This was possible, because the essence of his administration was to be the arbiter balancing above various interests. The current government is fundamentally different (a fact some stubbornly refuse to recognize) in that its ideal is not equilibrium but the total political destruction of its opponents.

Where is the opposition now under President Yanukovych? Less than 30% of Ukrainian voters support the government and 40% are ready to protest. Add to this permanent government attacks on citizens’ interests, and it would seem that this kind of country is bound to have a powerful opposition camp. However, we have every reason to say that what we have now is not the real democratic opposition but merely an imitation. People sense this intuitively and, while they are ready for protests, they do not see any leaders worthy of putting the energy of the masses to effective use in the interests of society at large. The reason is that the nation has seen too much indecision, cowardice, compromise and political inaptitude from the current opposition.

This is true of both politicians and the entire top stratum of society, which has become permeated with imitations. Look at those who rushed to take government offices and public (unpaid) positions only to wield power. For a long while they were considered the elite, the intellect of the nation. Some of them earned this reputation by fighting soviet authorities, while others made a name for themselves in public protests in the 1990s.

But it turned out that they do not have a clear and consistent civic stance that society could identify with. They are shackled by their particular interests, a desire to be closer to the powerful at all times and at any moral cost, a striving for perpetual media presence and illusions about having an impact on the process which they, in fact, use to boost their own image. Even though these people justify their acts (very ingeniously at times) by some lofty national considerations, there is nothing more to them than petty motivations dictated by everyday common sense. Looking at them as they stand on podiums and appear on TV screens, society has become accustomed to thinking it has moral national leadership, but these people are merely its imitation. As it has often been the case in our history, Ukrainians are again a “headless nation,” i.e., one without leaders. This was the case in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth when Orthodox Ukrainian princes converted to Catholicism and became part of the Polish nobility. History repeated itself in the Hetman State when the Russian empress issued an edict granting equal rights to the Ukrainian nobility and Cossack officers on the one hand and their Russian counterparts on the other.

But the Ukrainian people often produced new generations of leaders: Petro Mohyla, Ivan Vyshensky and Petro Sahaidachny in the Polonization era; the democratic intelligentsia in the 19th century (an age of russification); the UVO-OUN (Ukrainian Army Organization-Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists) activists after the fall of the UNR ; the rebels of the 1960s after the failed national-liberation struggle in the 20th century. However, this process takes an adequate understanding of the contemporary conditions and seeing that “the king is naked.”

Unfortunately, the current pseudo-elite is not only failing to perform its functions but is also barring others through a monopoly on large segments of Ukrainian life. It has blocked access to some very important social spheres fearing potential rivals from among ideologically sympathetic camps. Look at the veterans (or invalids?) of the democratic movement who have spent up to 20 years in parliament without making any palpable achievements for Ukraine. They will never yield their seats to the more talented, energetic and pragmatic generation. It is worthwhile to introduce terms for MPs just like those for presidents and government officials: a maximum of two terms (10 years) is enough time to do something useful for the state and its citizens. Otherwise the person should free the seat rather than hold on to it until he is moved to Baikove Cemetery in Kyiv. These MPs are an imitation of fighters for a more democratic and patriotic Ukraine.

There is also the imitation of justice and the rule of law. Yushchenko’s group of advisers is a case in point: with all the authority it had for five years it failed to complete even one high-profile criminal case. Journalist Oleksiy Podolsky, who was Georgy Gongadze’s predecessor in that he was brutally beaten up (but not killed) on orders from above, said: “The previous government simply betrayed us. It was when Yushchenko was president and Oleksandr Turchynov headed the SBU that the key witness in our case, Valeriy Kravchenko, was killed. This was when the case was falsified. They went back on all the promises they made on the Maydan. Moreover, they are still in politics, preventing democratic forces from coming to the fore in political life.”

The healthy societal forces will have to fight against not only the oligarchic mafia, corrupt bureaucrats and the anti-Ukrainian fifth column but also a large army of imitators in all areas of national life. They are found in large numbers in Ukrainian literature, culture, civic society, etc. They have done a lot and will continue to do more to see our state fail. The chief imitation of freedom, democracy and patriotism is now traveling across Ukraine and elsewhere teaching Ukrainians without any shame or scruples that they need to love their country. And this after he has given up the country to the current rulers and sold everyone down the river. Olena Teliha once called this type of people partachi ‘those botching things up’. But they will not disappear on their own, and society needs to make a concerted effort to help them leave.

Losiev Ihor

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