A three-month-long crisis is still on… The unshakable Maidan is standing, heedless of the frost, snow, and winds.
The country is on the brink of a default and under a serious threat from Russia, but the authorities and the opposition are only playing an agreements game around the question of powers and portfolio distribution. This may have resulted in a compromise within the elites, and all the problems would have been solved. But the current situation in Ukraine is not just another political crisis of relations between the government and the opposition. It is a crisis of relations in society and a confrontation between post-Soviet and democratic, civil, values which the Maidan in fact embodies.
This is the gravest crisis in a post-Soviet state which has inherited such typical Soviet-era birth traumas as centralism, corruption, colonial virus, and absence of decision-making strategic centers that would shape governmental policies. It is the crisis of a post-Soviet state which is a symbiosis of oligarchic and administrative capital that has established the system of a “denied access market” for both domestic and foreign competitors. It is the crisis of a state which protects the interests of the ruling minority at the expense of the majority and of Ukraine’s strategic interests and future.
It is during Viktor Yanukovych’s presidency that this system has reached its brilliant peak, with the president being the best embodiment of it. In his desire to monopolize control over the state, the president was and still is trying to establish his own sovereignty instead of that of the people, to become a sovereign who personifies a pre-modern state. The Constitutional Court ruling in 2010 was in fact about the return of the 1996 Constitution that provides for certain presidential powers, and the January 16 laws were steps in this very direction.
It is no mere chance that Yanukovych managed twice to rally Ukrainian society, which has never existed in the conditions of absolute power, against his own self. The political culture of the current president and the top leadership has come into conflict with that of Ukraine because the authorities only treat people as a faceless mass of subjects rather than a multitude of individual political unities. It is for this reason that Yanukovych did not and does not want to view the Maidan as a political entity. In spite of this, the culture of the majority of Ukrainian society is based on the idea of man’s freedom with respect to the will of the state. And the very idea of a state is linked to the idea of an agreement within a community rather than to the idea of the state as a sovereign.
For this very reason, the current crisis of the system is not just a question of politicians’ relations but a question of relations between the political class and society, the question of a conflict between different political cultures, and, what is more, it is a face-off between the pre-modern feudal state constructed by Kuchma and Yanukovych and the modern or even postmodern state which the Maidan and a considerable part of Ukrainian society are demanding. For as long as four centuries ago there was Magdeburg Law in the history of our statehood, and we had a clear-cut national idea, spiritual values, and culture. Therefore, we are striving to build our state today on these very principles.
And the Maidan’s irreconcilability with the current authorities, particularly Yanukovych, was caused not only by rejection of the president personally and the governmental team. This irreconcilability mirrors a conflict between the autocratic etatism of a government linked to Soviet-Russian culture, where the state positions itself as a “sacred cow” and is always above man and human rights, and the concept of the modern European state as a social-contract entity that serves society.
The very depth of this conflict outlines today the scale of a civilization crisis in Ukraine, which cannot be settled just at the level of political elites because the latter in fact remain part of the same paradigm of post-Soviet etatism and a denied access market. In this paradigm, the role that society plays is not civic, active or subject-oriented. This is what the Maidan is in fact showing today, stunning and irritating those who are unable to take a civic stand and the related actions.
The problem of political parties is that, apart from not being based on a civil society, they are parties of clients, not citizens, when voters are the clients or fans of leaders. This is why these parties are unable to cooperate with civil society and the Maidan’s civic initiatives.
This presents a colossal problem of seeking a solution in negotiations with the authorities because it is a search for a broad-based compromise about re-founding the state and changing the rules of the game. So this problem can only be solved by way of a compromise between the elites and society rather than by way of agreements between the authorities and the opposition.
How can this compromise be reached if politicians are interested in intraspecies rivalry only and are unable to go outside the bounds of this process?
In this game, the opposition will always be losing to the authorities, which we can see all the time.
How can we break this deadlock? What is to be done first?
The chief goal is to dismantle the system of absolute power by breaking the monopoly of one center of power or one party on control over the state and the economy.
To begin with, it is necessary to drop the logic “the winner takes all” and the logic of political results. This is the principle of the authorities and Yanukovych personally. This means that the opposition and other politicians should stop viewing everybody as a rival. The only rival is the authorities. It is necessary to set up a field of allies and build institutional coalitions.
It is most important to do so at the level of economic interests. In the existing conditions, it is politicians who should combine these interests and regard them as common objectives and prospects (strategic not tactical) or, still better, common rules of the game.
This policy is supposed to result in the formation of, at best, a constitutional majority. This will allow speeding up the processes and passing the required constitutional laws which can, even if it is impossible to regain the 2004 Constitution, essentially restrict the absolute power of Yanukovych, first of all, as far as influence on the uniformed services is concerned.
The steps to be taken:
1) a political agreement inside the opposition;
2) a political agreement between the opposition, the Maidan, and people’s councils;
3) an agreement between the opposition, the Maidan, people’s councils, and the local government (local elites);
4) an agreement between the opposition and national business;
5) the formation of a (preferably constitutional) majority;
6) the formation of a shadow and then caretaker government;
7) launching the process of passing constitutional laws to de-monopolize power.
It will be pointless for Yanukovych to remain in power after this de-monopolization. He will have to go, perhaps with some guarantees. Should he resist, he may face the Hague Tribunal.
The goal of the caretaker government is to pursue an anti-crisis policy (audit and economic revitalization) and sign an agreement with the EU, with due account of the interests of the key economic players.
It should be taken into account that today’s political crisis in Ukraine is closely linked to the economic crisis – a factual default of the Ukrainian economy. This situation has in fact caused Yanukovych’s strong and effective authoritarian regime to malfunction. The economy of Ukraine has proved unable to satisfy the appetites and demands of this kind of political regime.
The political crisis has shown that one of the key goals of a new compromise-based government should be an uncompromising policy of economic de-monopolization based on such measures to protect ownership rights as drawing up a single register of property, legalizing capital, simplifying the administration of taxes, and renouncing the repressive tax policy. These important steps must be taken to create equal and favorable conditions for doing business (which will make it possible to re-attract foreign and escaped national investments in the Ukrainian economy). To this end, it is necessary to solve the problem of a civilized regulation of the emergence of super-monopolies or oligomonopolies in order to protect the interests of all market players (perhaps through the constituent bodies of the National Business Council – to seek agreements between the key market participants about the common rules of the game).
The second level actually deals with modernization of the economy. This should be laid out in a revised Ukraine-EU free trade area agreement or the Ukrainian Plan (a.k.a. Marshall Plan for Ukraine).
A judicial reform should be carried out – first of all, the lustration of the corps of judges and prosecutors. This must be followed by the adoption and enforcement of the laws that are in line with the European judicial practice.
The state’s law-enforcement bodies should be decriminalized and reformed by turning them into entities that serve the purpose of maintaining public order rather than defending the interests of the current government. The lustration should be followed by the punishment of those guilty of using force against public activists.
The most important goal is to decentralize the system of government by adopting the law on local government and changes in the Constitution. Local government should be invested with the powers and resources that serve the interests of local communes. Ukraine should be a country of communes, not separate regions. This decentralization, rather than federalization, will make it possible to ward off the spilt of this country.
The law on political parties should be revised, as far as open political funding is concerned.
A new Constitution should be drawn up and adopted as a great social contract by the Constitutional Assembly which will include representatives of various groups of society and regions elected in straight vote.
The election legislation is to be changed and an election code should be adopted.
Following this, it will be advisable to reset the entire system of government by holding elections at all levels – presidential, parliamentary, and local.
It is an incomplete list of urgent, strategic, and very complicated measures to overcome a systems crisis in the state.
What remains very important in this context is the job-placement question. It is necessary to find people who are able to fulfill one Action Plan for Ukraine or another which are now in the pipeline.
Shaping strategies, plans, and ideas is an extremely important process, but it will remain a nonstarter unless there are people who are prepared to try to put them into practice.
Are there any elites today which are an alternative to the current authorities – not only in public positioning, but also in essence?
The events on and around the Maidan have shown that the current “registered” political opposition is a weak link in both the revolutionary and the parliamentary chains.
Unfortunately, some particularities of political parties in Ukraine – their superficial nature (weak links with their voters) and specific ways of political funding – are turning oppositional activities into a simulation and opposition politicians themselves into a priori weak opponents of the current authorities.
The opposition does not look either as an alternative to the government or as a real motive force of the transformations Ukraine needs.
For this reason, the Maida – the most active part of society – has either to act on its own or to constantly push politicians into action.
This naturally raises a question: can the Maidan and, first of all, its civic elements assume political functions and take important steps about an action plan for Ukraine?
They are capable of drawing up this kind of plans but not of carrying them out in the existing political system.
Politicians are not yet viewing the Maidan and its units as part of the negotiating process. The opposition mostly continues to stand on a podium in front of, not with, the Maidan. For this reason, to have a meaningful dialog about a national compromise, the opposition should first come off the podium. It is difficult to imagine this because the opposition is mostly busy talking about the political results of negotiations (portfolios, a victorious election of the president, etc.) rather than about changing the rules of the game or the system, for the sake of which the Maidan is standing.
So it is clear that there will be a difficult way to a broad compromise.
What really matters today, as far as changes are concerned, is the answer to the question “Who?”
Firstly, the Maidan has already begun to structure itself. It has at least two dozen new and interesting leaders. They are rather young politically. But they are really there, they are forming their position and may continue to work for a broad compromise once the main goal is achieved and the regime is undermined. Joint efforts are needed today. But nothing will prevent the new Maidan leaders from pursuing their own strategy and compete with the current opposition tomorrow.
Besides, if you take a closer look at the opposition, you will find some interesting personalities who could play their role if they stepped out of their leaders’ “shadow.” This applies both to the politicians who are well known on the Maidan (I will not name them, but they belong to Batkivshchyna, UDAR, and Svoboda) and to those who do not fit in with the opposition’s official standards but favor changes in the systems in spite of loyalty to the opposition leaders – first of all, they are former Front of Changes members, some well- and not-so-well-known independent MPs. They are current politicians, which is their weak spot in comparison with the Maidan’s civic leaders who are not blemished with the political past. But this is also their forte because they know how present-day politics is made and how it can be changed. They have gained political and parliamentary experience. No less interesting are people’s council leaders in the regions – particularly, as far as the necessity of local government reform is concerned.
It is these segments that may bring forth the new political elite which will be able, in a two to three years’ time, to essentially upstage the existing parties and the key political players.