YES 2018: When does the new start get­ting old?

Kyiv Post - - Na­tional/Opin­ion - BY JOSH KOVEN­SKY KOVEN­SKY@KYIV­POST.COM

The pres­i­den­tial elec­tion is shap­ing up to be a con­test be­tween an in­cum­bent pres­i­dent and a for­mer prime min­is­ter. The gov­ern­ment is locked in a game of chicken with the In­ter­na­tional Mon­e­tary Fund. The coun­try’s oli­garchs are loot­ing the econ­omy with im­punity.

It’s busi­ness as usual

But why? Did the new gen­er­a­tion that was sup­posed to come to power af­ter the 2014 EuroMaidan Revo­lu­tion fail?

The 2018 Yalta Euro­pean Strat­egy con­fer­ence fea­tured a panel at­tempt­ing to an­swer these ques­tions, ti­tled “Ukraine’s Democ­racy — Did the New Gen­er­a­tion Fail?”

It could be ar­gued that some of those who failed were sit­ting on the panel, which fea­tured three for­mer jour­nal­ists and ac­tivists who joined the gov­ern­ment af­ter the 2014 EuroMaidan Revo­lu­tion — Bloc of Petro Poroshenko MPs Svit­lana Zal­ishchuk, Sergii Leshchenko, and Mustafa Nayyem.

Na­talie Jaresko, a Chicago-born in­vest­ment banker who served as fi­nance min­is­ter from 2014 to 2016, also spoke on the panel.

The pan­elists were her­alded as part of the so-called “new gen­er­a­tion” of Ukrainian lead­ers whose in­flu­ence was sup­posed to steer the coun­try to­wards pros­per­ity and, even­tu­ally, the Euro­pean Union.

And yet, in spite of achieve­ments like the EU as­so­ci­a­tion agree­ment and visa-free travel to the Schen­gen zone, many post-EuroMaidan goals have gone un­ful­filled.

Oli­garchs con­tinue to have the gov­ern­ment in their clutches, while the po­lit­i­cal and fi­nan­cial elite have de facto im­mu­nity from pros­e­cu­tion. Wages have failed to in­crease for the ma­jor­ity of the pop­u­la­tion amid sky­rock­et­ing util­ity prices.

“Age alone does not qual­ify one to be in the new gen­er­a­tion,” Zal­ishchuk said, adding that ob­servers should look to those who “came to run this coun­try with new prin­ci­ples, new stan­dards, and a new cul­ture.”

The dis­cus­sion fo­cused mainly on the health of Ukrainian democ­racy and on the im­por­tance of fight­ing back against vested in­ter­ests — is­sues that have re­mained crit­i­cal since the 2014 EuroMaidan Revo­lu­tion.

Fail­ure or progress?

Moder­a­tor Carl Bildt, the for­mer Swedish for­eign min­is­ter, started the panel off with a blunt ques­tion: “Have you failed since Maidan? Could you have done bet­ter?” The replies were as fol­lows. Leshchenko said he didn’t think they failed. Zal­ishchuk asked how one “mea­sure fail­ure.”

“The fact that there’s dis­ap­point­ment is more a fact of the ex­pec­ta­tions and the de­sire for progress than fail­ure,” said Jaresko.

“EuroMaidan was our achieve­ment,” said Nayyem, “and since EuroMaidan we have shown that there is an­other way of doing things.”

And yet, in many re­spects, the goals of the 2014 EuroMaidan Revo­lu­tion have gone un­ful­filled.

Leshchenko tried to fo­cus on his own work on ex­pos­ing cor­rup­tion, say­ing that “five years ago, you could not imag­ine such strong anti-cor­rup­tion in­ves­ti­ga­tions con­ducted by law en­force­ment agen­cies, and es­pe­cially by civil so­ci­ety watch­dog or­ga­ni­za­tions, and jour­nal­ists.”

Con­trast that with Leshchenko’s re­marks three years ago, on an anti-cor­rup­tion panel at the 2015 YES Con­fer­ence: “We have a very strong civil so­ci­ety, and this civil so­ci­ety re­ally wants to see a gov­ern­ment with­out cor­rup­tion.”

He added: “The real fight against cor­rup­tion is not to pros­e­cute for­mer gov­ern­ments and for­mer clans, it’s to pros­e­cute the cur­rent gov­ern­ment and cur­rent clans!”

Since 2014, Leshchenko has found him­self on the re­ceiv­ing end of graft in­ves­ti­ga­tions as well.

Eye­brows were raised when it was re­vealed that the value of the apart­ment he pur­chased in 2016 far ex­ceeded his salary and sav­ings, and be­cause of the bizarre loan agree­ments un­der­pin­ning its pur­chase, while he has also come un­der scru­tiny for re­ceiv­ing hon­o­rar­i­ums from the oli­garch Vic­tor Pinchuk’s foun­da­tion and as­so­ci­at­ing with oli­garch Kostyan­tyn Grig­or­ishin.

“There’s a new po­lit­i­cal fashion, and I believe it’s a bet­ter fashion than to steal money,” Leshchenko said on the panel.

Bildt sug­gested that rhetoric sur­round­ing the fight against cor­rup­tion is of­ten used to mask real pol­icy de­bates.

“Ev­ery­one says that they’re fight­ing cor­rup­tion, whether they’re doing it is a dif­fer­ent busi­ness” he said, while also ask­ing how Ukraine could stop from fall­ing into a “cy­cle of en­thu­si­asm and fad­ing en­ergy” whereby vested in­ter­ests use the lack of for­eign at­ten­tion to beat back the gains of the post-revo­lu­tion­ary years.

Jaresko said “at the same time as we are cre­at­ing these in­sti­tu­tional changes… it’s not enough un­less there's law and or­der,” sound­ing a lot like her­self in April 2015, when she wrote that “strength­en­ing the rule of law is at the core of our re­form pro­gram.”

At one point, Nayyem ap­peared to ac­knowl­edge the sense that the re­form­ers on­stage had failed to de­liver.

“I can prom­ise you that the next YES con­fer­ence will have real re­sults of this co­op­er­a­tion,” he said, ref­er­enc­ing work be­ing done be­tween par­lia­ment and civil so­ci­ety.

He added that while many in Ukraine were fight­ing in sup­port of spe­cific politi­cians like Pres­i­dent Petro Poroshenko and for­mer Prime Min­is­ter Yu­lia Ty­moshenko, he would like to see the so-called re­form­ers fo­cus more on de­vel­op­ing a health­ier po­lit­i­cal cul­ture.

Ukrainian mem­bers of par­lia­ment Sergii Leshchenko, Svit­lana Zal­ishchuk and Mustafa Nayyem talk on a panel at YES with for­mer Fi­nance Min­is­ter Na­talie Jaresko and for­mer Swedish For­eign Min­is­ter Carl Bildt. The panel dis­cussed whether the 2014 EuroMaidan Revo­lu­tion failed. (Alexandr Pil­i­u­gin/YES)

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