Where's the elite?
Who can make the foundation of Ukraine's transformed political machine
Ukraine is entering 2017 with many political crises. A very dangerous one comes from the party building front. According to the State Registration Department, Ukraine has 350 registered political parties. Virtually none of these today meet the classic definition of a party. Most entities from the abovementioned 350-list are communities of cronies glued together by a leader and his/her interests, or the interests of individual oligarch groups. They miss the component of ideology or an articulate political platform. There are people in these forces who are perfectly able to drive progress and change in the country. But that takes a clear understanding of where to move, and why. The wallets of party owners cannot define that vector.
For many years, all these entities have managed to stay afloat, often by inertia. Today, however, the moment has come to replace them with projects of a differ-
ent quality. Society seems to realize that need, even if a large part of the electorate is silenced with confusion and apathy. The old players are no longer good enough for it. Yet, it is still indifferent to the new ones and not ready to push for the emergence and growth of a new alternative.
This is not something new for Ukrainians. They are willing to put their life at stake on the Maidans as they seek an end to the communist or oligarch systems and a change for something decent, something that drives progress in most civilized democratic countries. Yet, they are traditionally not prepared to finalize what they started. Happy with overthrowing a more scandalous ghost from the dismal past, Ukrainians leave the system intact and once again delegate the task of changing the country to the people who “have professional experience”, i.e. those who have been in power and change colors now and then, but do not reject the system as such.
What could have gone differently? Ukraine needed snap general elections under a new law. This would allow all available political and civil groups shaped by the Maidan to enter the contest and bring in new blood. That would change the quality of Ukrainian politics by diluting the groups in power with the decent and proactive young generation. It never happened. The haunting chaos of war, the lack of real elites, the deficit of a clear vision, the inability to take decisions quickly, the lack of readiness for all that has come, fear and many other factors prevented Ukraine from taking the radical leap into the future. This scenario could have been the least painful and the most fruitful of all because the country was prepared for it. So were its partners, enemies and adversaries: all were expecting it.
Why write about this today? Because mistakes must be analyzed.Unfortunately, progress is not always a default option for the country infected with totalitarianism and slavery. Moreover, the model of government in which the country has been living for over 25 years now is nothing more than a modernized version of the Stalin & Brezhnev machine inherited from the soviet times and hardly changed. That machine was not demolished when Ukraine gained independence. Its managers were not removed from power. As a result, politics stayed in the hands of those who managed to adapt to the changing environment and milk that change to their benefit. 25 years later, there are still few people in power who have nothing to do, directly or indirectly, with the old party and soviet elite, the KGB, and the oligarch business clans. The continuity of the soviet power model remains present in the independent Ukraine, sad as it is. The goal of its players is to get into power under whatever party brand, hence migration between five or six parties as a norm. Sometimes, the interests of these people meet the interests of the state – like it was during the Maidan. That creates an illusion of patriotism. That patriotism, however, is opportunistic. When the extreme situation is over, they go back into the usual parasite mode. Hence the commerce with the enemy in the warzone, the smuggling with a cover-up from Kyiv, the barely-there effort to eliminate corruption or reform courts and police, the failing lustration, the dissolution of volunteer battalions that pose a threat and more similar things. These people are loyal to just one party, the party in power, whatever its name at the moment.
That can give an impression that it is impossible to affect political processes in Ukraine. Especially, when they are shaped by scenarios that seem to be written by the unknown people in the unknown cabinets. To many here, this entire system looks like a different dimension which only the chosen ones can access.
This is not exactly true. Obviously, too many people are interested in keeping things as they are. They are taking every effort to maintaining status quo for as long as possible. It is so much easier as, over the past 25 years, Ukraine never managed to see a normal party building process or a decent party or election law passed to allow new parties into politics. All this backpedalling has been done for a purpose. Traditional crony deal-making practices have played a huge part in this conservation. Yet, there are glimpses of hope: the niche, or the quota, if you will, for the few representatives of society (it always existed and was filled through various democratic loopholes in the crony machine) has grown considerably since the Maidan. The 2013-2014 revolution raised the benchmark of society presence. It managed to push through an army, even if small, of the agents of new values into the holy temple of the past. The quality of these agents is a different matter. But they are in place. It is naïve to expect that this minority will be able to bring about quick and big changes. It has enough strength to tickle the nerves of the major players. And they are doing so pretty well.
To understand what a pro-Ukrainian camp in politics could be (by contrast to an oligarchcontrolled or neo-soviet wing), and how it could become the foundation for the transformation of the current system, a marker should be defined on which we will further rely. Being a Ukrainian party, acting within the limits of Ukrainian law and recognizing Ukrainian statehood is not enough. It could have been enough before the war. No longer.
Some people in Ukraine and its political class recognize the state as such. But they view it as something amorphous and diluted, a nominally
UKRAINE NEEDED SNAP GENERAL ELECTIONS UNDER A NEW LAW. THIS WOULD ALLOW ALL AVAILABLE POLITICAL AND CIVIL GROUPS SHAPED BY THE MAIDAN TO ENTER THE CONTEST AND BRING IN NEW BLOOD
liberal society without any historic foundation; or another Russia without Putin; a tabula rasa as a field for experiments. These people are the passengers. They don’t care about where they live or what values they stick to. It all depends on their level of comfort and the ability to feel fed, clothed and happy. Anyone from oligarchs, Viktor Yanukovych included, to many terrorists in the occupied parts of the Donbas, fits into this framework. But being a statesman is from a different category. This one embraces those people who associate themselves with Ukraine, see themselves as part of the Ukrainian community with its history, culture and language, and implement it respectively in domestic and foreign policies.
What of this do we have on the political chess board today? A romantic commentator would include virtually all political groups currently in the Verkhovna Rada except for the Opposition Bloc. A pragmatic one would primarily look amongst the major players that managed to build the parliamentary majority two years ago. These include the Petro Poroshenko Bloc, Arseniy Yatseniuk’s People’s Front and Andriy Sadovyi’s Samopomich, as well as a number of independent MPs. It is important to keep in mind that all of these parties are not homogenous, so a closer look is necessary.
Petro Poroshenko’s Bloc (PPB) as the party in power has attracted few statesmanlike figures. Instead, it is generously infused with the “all-time” politicians and officials whose roots in politics trace back to the collapsed socialism, as well as delegates of virtually all oligarchs and influential clans, and new ambitious brokers. A few adequate pro-Ukrainian figures have miraculously ended up there, but they are a minority. This is a natural state of things for a party in power because its mere status gives many prospects and guarantees. Its division into groups of influence is based on interests and access to resource or the patron. MPswhoareinthegroup of Ihor Kononenko, the Presidnet’s most loyal ally; or Serhiy Berezenko, the nephew of yet another brigade leader within the PPB (an ex-Komsomol man Anatoliy Matviyenko); or even Viktor Yushchenko’s friend Oleksandr Tretiakov are not pro-Ukrainian. They are business groups or communities of the old wolves from politics that have come to the Parliament to solve their issues. The group of the former UDAR, the party led by Vitaliy Klitschko, which ended up out of party processes after it merged with the PPB, is comprised of very different people, including fairly decent ones. The most controversial MPs, activists and media people have joined the Oleksiy Honcharenko group within the PPB. The group known as Eurooptimists stands separately; how much of a pro-Ukrainian stance they have is a question.
Things are clearer with Arseniy Yatseniuk’s People’s Front. The party was initially formed with many activists from the Maidan and war veterans. These are also in various groups (of Yatseniuk himself, Mykola Martynenko, National Security and Defense Council Chair Oleksandr Turchynov, Interior Minister Arsen Avakov and Speaker Andriy Parubiy). Yet, they make up a visible backbone by contrast to the many opportunists who have joined the party. The People’s Front sticks more clearly to the center-right wing. Its faction in Parliament is more disciplined and acts in a more coordinated manner than the President’s faction.
Andriy Sadovyi’s Samopomich stands generally on the pro-Ukrainian position and is one of the few parties in Ukraine’s politics that can live up to the concept. Its ideology is not fully shaped yet, but that’s nothing new in the current environment. It is pretty diverse as well, comprised ofthe initial list of candidates it nominated for elections. But this diversity is nothing like that of the President’s party. There are no formal groups in the faction; informally, Samopomish members can be divided into politicians, businesspeople and radicals. Overall, however, the party demonstrates a consistent position and the principles it has declared, even if sometimes to its own detriment.
Somepro-Ukrainianfiguresfromotherfactionscanbeincludedinthefirmlypro-Ukrainianwing. They are officially present in Oleh Liashko’s Radical Party, Yulia Tymoshenko’s Batkivshchyna, as well as among the independents. In addition to them, there are several Svoboda members who failed to enter the Parliament in the latest election, as well as the leaders of two other new forces: Andriy Biletsky’s National Corps and Dmytro Yarosh’s DIYA (Action). These might have a chance to join Ukraine’s political ranks in the near future.
But this won’t happen tomorrow. Today, there are very few statesmen in the Parliament. This is not good given the polls which show more and more frustration with politics or political class. Because it is impossible to transform political class without the participation of the society. 2017 will not be easier. Ukraine’s reality on the ground will change little: there are no reasons or drivers for that. There will be no leaps forward; the muddling through and waltzing around will continue, and the comeback of old forces is still possible. Yet, Ukraine must be going forward. We cannot delegate our future to the gang of traders or scammers. It will be our suicide. And we’re not that far from the real victory. The main one is already ours: Ukrainians have finally become a political nation.
THERE ARE VERY FEW STATESMEN IN THE PARLIAMENT. THIS IS NOT GOOD GIVEN THE POLLS WHICH SHOW MORE AND MORE FRUSTRATION WITH POLITICS OR POLITICAL CLASS