Why I Don’t Trust Opposition Leaders

8 February 2013, 19:18

The language Maidan last year at the Ukrainian Home was launched by about seven MPs of the For Ukraine! group, who ascended its steps, unfolded their cots and tied bandanas across their foreheads, declaring “I’m on a Hunger Strike!”

Unfortunately, opposition members have given a new meaning to the concept of a hunger strike, changing it to “not eating for as long the mass media is interested.” Several deputies disappeared after a few hours after appearing in public and on television screens. Some visited from time to time, as if it were a buffet, to inquire what’s new. It’s not wanted for politicians to die from hunger, but it’s also not acceptable when a serious instrument of civil disobedience is turned into a cheap publicity stunt.

The role played by the opposition in the hunger strike of 2012 is an example of how they approach politics in general – hackneyed, short-term maneuvers oriented towards the possibility of appearing before video cameras. There are exceptions to the rule that MPs aren’t ready to sacrifice themselves. But for the most part, we have a caste of individuals that is entirely cut off from the realities and problems of Ukrainian society.

Since the Orange revolts, when I began going to protests led by opposition leaders and listening to their speeches, I was ready to give them my physical presence, but not my trust to the so-called leaders. Knowing me as a journalist, these politicians rarely viewed me as more than a mouthpiece or microphone – only to throw me some empty phrases, but never allowing me to come too close to see who they truly are. But they don’t have to. I already understand that many of them are empty souls who desperately try to appear in the spotlight. And even the imprisonment or abuse against Yulia Tymoshenko hasn’t caused them to react with dignity, because they don’t know how. They don’t respond with dignity because many of them sold it away long ago when they became a member of the Komsomol or committed their first theft (but not last) from the state budget. They are lost because they don’t have moral values that would give them orientation.

To earn the trust and support of the people, they think that not eating for a few days and participating in brawls is enough to inspire tens of thousands of Ukrainians, who struggle daily with aggressive law enforcement authorities, endure abuse from bureaucrats and suffer from selective justice.

But is it worth getting struck against one’s legs, which has become standard practice, or tear gas in one’s face on behalf of such opposition leaders like Arseniy Yatseniuk, who change parties and “ideologies” like a pair of shoes? Or for MP Viktor Pynzenyk, another switcher who is most remembered as the finance minister who fled the government in a critical moment, when the country was faced with financial disaster? Or even the whole election list of UDAR, which was formed with the standard template: celebrities in the first five, businessmen tucked in deeper.

Instead we hear the phrases from opposition politicians: “We can’t do anything until you come out onto the streets!” But have they come out onto the streets where average people live? Because they’d find a lot to do there. After the October elections, not a single deputy’s office has been opened or advertised in Kyiv.

Since 2010, the opposition hasn’t organized a national or local network of small and middle entrepreneurs to lobby their interests. Not a single national network to fight corruption in the tax and fire inspection. Not a single local organization oriented towards reforming the housing authorities. Only the ineffective Committee to Oppose the Dictatorship with its general goals.

The position of the majority of opposition leaders is practically this: you organize into civic organizations with your own paltry funds, risk your health in struggling for elementary needs, and also come out onto maidans to struggle for us politicians, because we’re the opposition, and we’re going to continue flying to Davos’s, to remote islands, flaunt our tans before cameras, and enjoy ourselves on the khokhliatskiy (degrading) 95 Kvartal. And how they cry when they’re not permitted to come to these circuses, where the role of ringmaster is played by Shuster or Kyseliov! They would gain a lot more political dividends if they put as much effort into developing their party organizations and civic movements.

Svoboda is the exception so far. Even after the elections, Svoboda national deputies are active participants of protests. But contrary to popular belief, Svoboda’s high results in the October election was not so much a reaction against the politics of the Party of Regions as a protest against the ineffectiveness of Our Ukraine and Batkivshchyna. Svoboda would have remained on the margins if these political forces did the work that was expected of them.

After the elections, the opposition tried to organize a long-term, large scale protest near the Central Election Commission, once again without success. The maidan of several thousand protestors, which gathered on the morning of Nov. 5, dwindled to a few hundred by nightfall. A Batkivshchyna advisor, Oleh Medvedev, stared at Lesia Ukrayinka Boulevard in frustration, “Where are the people?,” he asked. “We can’t do anything without them.”

Yes, you need the people because resistance is impossible without them. But it’s time that the opposition leaders ask themselves, “Do the people need us?”

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