YES 2018: When does the new start getting old?
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)