The Favourite Ukrainian Soap Opera

18 June 2013, 08:21

“The Administrative Court of Kyiv resumed proceedings in the case about the illegal privatization of 93.02 per cent of Kryvorizhstal’s shares” – seriously, again? “The SCM group buys controlling interest in Ukrtelecom from the Austrian EPIC group” – hmm, did anyone really doubts that would happen? Large enterprises change hands – honestly and non-transparently, with and without corporate raids, with and without the involvement of the Pechersk Court – so often that it has become a permanent topic of discussion among ordinary people, journalists and MPs. This is a kind of Ukrainian Santa Barbara that has been running for years, one of those speculative spectacles without which the lives of many Ukrainians would be completely boring.

This soap opera has a set of storylines. The main one is the privatization of state property. It involves so many schemes and multiple-move stratagems that the viewer always finds something new. In fact, the privatization of Urktelecom is no exception. It is like that moment in a detective story when everyone (or at least the most attentive) knows who the murderer is, but his disclosure requires, following the laws of the genre, several more steps and some more time. About a third of Ukrainian enterprises are still government property, and as long as there is such a political phenomenon as “a list of strategic enterprises not subject to privatization”, this storyline will have no end.

Another storyline is reprivatization (nationalization). The number of plots here is limited – Kryvorizhstal, the Nikopol Ferroalloy Plant and some banks – Ukrgasbank, Rodovid and Kyiv, which, however, were not nationalized by the state voluntarily. However, they have caused quite a public reaction. Judging from the latest news about Kryvorizhstal, this storyline has every chance of returning to the focus of attention. As long as some parties maintain plans to review the results of privatization, similar plots will continue to reappear, so the viewers will have plenty of spectacular things to digest.

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The third storyline is about oligarchs who take over state enterprises to pump money out of them. High interest rates from associated banks, the oligarch’s own suppliers of raw materials to a state enterprise or own companies that purchase its products, as well as own trading houses – these are just a few of the schemes they use to channel government money into their pockets. The list of such companies is huge – Sumykhimprom, Turboatom, Zoria-mashproekt, Azovmash and dozens and hundreds of others, including, perhaps, also such giants and Ukrnafta or Naftogaz.

The last storyline crowns the soap opera and does not leave even seasoned horror movie buffs indifferent – corporate raids. Ukraine has seen a growing number of these in the past years. In Soviet times, they said it was not a sin to steal from the state, but when businessmen begin to take away companies from one another by brigandage, not theft, the situation is frightening indeed.

So why has this soap opera continued for so long, and how do new episodes appear? The common thread here is something just short of a biblical motif of nationwide proportions – a crisis of generations and a crisis of ideas. “God forbid that Ivan turns into a master and a communist into a capitalist,” goes a folk saying. People who have been accumulating assets their entire lives cannot become efficient owners overnight, just like former slaves were not able to conquer the Promised Land at the time of Moses. That is why all the investment ideas of the older generation of Ukrainian capitalists boil down to the redistribution of what already exists. Oligarchs cannot create, because it takes giving, investing, moving and having an entrepreneurial gift. After they came to power, they have also been creating conditions that prevent both the younger generation and foreigners from realizing their investment ideas.

Ukrainians may find it amusing to watch how capital is being redistributed, but what they really need is something else. Just like the majority of people in the world, they would like to have a worthy standard of living and normal jobs and, even better, do the things they like and be adequately paid for that. Another redistribution of property will not, unfortunately, bring that, no matter how interesting the process may be to watch. It takes entrepreneurial people who love to work and compete. As long as these people are missing capital and their voices fall on deaf hears in the government, the series will continue. Meanwhile, Ukrainians will live on stale pieces of bread while watching the favourite Ukrainian soap opera produced by Ukrainian oligarchs.


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