Where's the elite?

The Ukrainian Week - - CONTENTS - Ro­man Malko

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


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.


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