The state. Administration. Regime. The choice of the right word to describe the group that governs a country of 600,000 sq km and the population of nearly 46 million people defines not only the diagnosis, but the prognosis, too.
What was initially designed as a guarantee and instrument for natural rights of a given people on the given territory degraded into a corporation of personal enrichment for a narrow circle of people. A closer look at the way the corporation is structured explains the operation and evolution of this mechanism.
Today’s government is:
a) Administrators – heads of top authorities, ministries, state administrations of various levels, i.e. decision makers, especially in the commercial domain;
b) Service staff – MPs from pro-government factions of the Verkhovna Rada and local councils, party functionaries, civil servants. These people are not actually decision makers but they communicate, legitimize and provide media support to certain decisions that benefit the leadership;
c) Law enforcers, particularly the Interior Ministry with its subordinate agencies, the SBU (special service of Ukraine), Prosecutor’s Office, the Ministry of Revenues and Duties, and the Ministry of Defence;
d) Clients that mostly include big business owners, i.e. oligarchs getting preferences in return for financial, organizational, human staff and media support to the regime; and
e) Foreign agents. These include mediators of a neighbouring state (one). Some are infiltrated into the state apparatus while others act as “independent” figures with significant influence on the key processes, including decisions of top officials.
All these elements are closely intertwined through background and business interests. Officials in central, ministerial and oblast administration offices are mostly from the Donbas. This is not occasional positive discrimination, but a sign of informal nature of government where key agents interact on the basis of mutual trust backed by common background – and common skeletons in the closet – rather than laws and rules. Outside candidates eager to join the club have to go through serious loyalty tests before they win the trust and can participate in distribution of offices.
Membership in the club gives access to uncontrolled distribution of the most attractive market segments, including public procurements, for businesses of every player, mostly registered as companies of their family members of trustees. Other enrichment options include raider attacks and privatization of profitable public enterprises that are funded from the budget initially and driven into bankruptcy later. Plus, bribes and kickbacks. All that said, officials truly believe that they have a natural right to this income. This is part of their mentality.
The hierarchy also includes service personnel that provide comfort and leisure to the mighty and may turn into MPs overnight, as well as criminal groups with whom law enforcers have to collaborate in order to fulfill their function of an instrument for pumping money and delivering it to those at the top. As a result, an average citizen sees little difference for his or her personal security between a criminal and a man wearing police uniform.
National interests are nowhere in the scene. These people do not treat the surrender of sovereignty as high treason. There is hardly a chance to build a career, a business or an own project without integrating into the hierarchy in today’s Ukraine. Plus, not all people are accepted. The terms are not equal for everyone. And the interests of the population normally referred to as biomass are of zero importance. Rare fits of populism erupt shortly before elections or a local visit of a regime leader.
The only category that can provide sustainable support to this order is that of obedient subordinates exhausted by the struggle for everyday survival, deprived of an adequate awareness of the modern world and opportunities it offers.
Stages of the great journey
The evolution of the current authorities to their hideous state has been consistent and full of faults inherent to the project since day one. Many generations of Ukrainians had seen the mere slogan of getting sovereignty for Ukraine as sacral so they did not seek anything more specific. Many idealists believed that merely having a state of their own would solve all problems. Meanwhile, the nomenclature turned into pragmatic players and swiftly took over the initiative. As a result, they rebuilt the only model they knew, only without a system of repressive controls they treated as redundant. What they missed was that the machine inherited in detail from the Russian Empire – from Ivan the Terrible to Stalin – entailed regular rotations of elites, sometimes violent. Without regular purges, it swiftly grew weak and refused to fulfill its functions.
The state mechanism was established in a few stages:
1) Leonid Kravchuk. 1991-1994. The slogan was to build the state. As a result, the Ukrainian SSR was rebuilt, this time without Moscow, the Communist Party of the Soviet Union and nuclear weapons. Against the backdrop of passionate patriotic speeches and ritual moves fast and unabashed grabbing of state assets took place, accompanied by quick impoverishment of the population.
2) Leonid Kuchma. 1994-2005. Building the hierarchy. In his struggle against political opponents, Kuchma relied on oligarchs. As a result, he nurtured what they are today. He tried to reform the Constitution following the Russian one, but was stopped by the Cassette Scandal and the murder of journalist Georgiy Gongadze.
3) Viktor Yushchenko. 2005-2010. His president term passed in attempts to shape the national idea and neutralize the allies, although he was restricted by the constitutional limit on the president’s powers. State mechanisms stopped working on some local yet top priority objectives, such as preparations for Euro 2012. Global financial crisis didn’t help.
4) Viktor Yanukovych. 2010 – 2011. Anything for friends, laws for enemies. The fourth president returned old and vast powers and grabbed new ones, taking courts under control. Close oligarchs and smaller businessmen caught up on what they had lost before. Dangerous political opponents ended up in jail. The media were gradually purged.
5) Viktor Yanukovych. 2011 – … This is mine, and that is mine, too. A growing desire to redistribute power, assets and cash flows to the benefit of the Family. Loyalty and membership in the party in power no longer guarantee security to any business. Oligarchs seem alert and hint that Yanukovych should play by the rules. The opposition loses the election again and stays within its comfortable parliamentary ghetto. Hidden social tension erupts after Yanukovych pretends to move towards Europe in a self-promotion maneuver. Capitulation to Moscow and EuroMaidan follow.
Ukraine’s current president and his team embody a sort of rulers well known from African, Latin American or Middle East countries. His scenario most often works in countries that have just shed their colonial dependence and have no algorithms for arranging their political, economic and social life by the best standards. Until 2013, the entire state mechanism in Ukraine operated as a private club with the order based on personal informal relations with strict sanctions for any violation. It has created a huge gap between those in power and the people.
EuroMaidan is not just a demonstration of geopolitical preferences of modern Ukrainians. It is also a reaction to the type of social relations the group on the top tried to impose on Ukraine.
Despite the genocide, wars, traumas and massive brain washing with propaganda, Ukrainians retain a memory of different traditions. Before all that, they had lived with the initial elements of self-governance and grassroots democracy for centuries. They lived with a high degree of responsibility for themselves and their actions, not expecting that of a patron or the state. In 2010, Ukraine was 29th in the world and 21st in Europe in the UN Education Index, slightly below the US, Italy and Hungary, and one line above the UK.
In other words, on the opposite side of the barricades we have people who deny market economy, competition and free market, and prefer to live on violence and robbery. On this side of the barricades are people who prefer to earn their living without fear, grow, develop and travel the world, and most importantly be independent from the whims of their domestic or foreign rulers. It looks like people on this side of the barricade will not forgive a conspiracy against themselves – from this government, or any other that will replace it.