Svoboda Party’s result became the main sensation of this election. Everyone is talking about it, some with delight, others – with caution. It turned out that the nationalists managed to accumulate the protest electorate of Western and Central Ukraine, which, along with Svoboda’s base electors, gave them 10.5 percent of votes. While some were considering Svoboda’s chances of clearing the 5-percent barrier, the party managed to do that in 17 oblasts and in Kyiv. In 2 more oblasts, Kherson and Mykolaiv, the party received more than 4 percent of votes (4.7 and 4.3, respectively). And in the remaining 5 (Zaporizhia, Kharkiv, Odesa, Luhansk, Donetsk) oblasts, the Autonomous Republic of the Crimea and in Sevastopol, the result was less than 4 percent. What caused this “Svoboda phenomenon”? There are three main reasons for it.
It should also be emphasized that Svoboda’s triumph should not be treated as an absolutely unexpected one. This situation has been brewing for a few years. Besides, after the 2010 local elections, Svoboda gained power in three western oblasts: Lviv, Ternopil, and Ivano-Frankivsk.
So, now about the reasons. The first one is the defeat of the national democratic movement after gaining independence. The primary goal, sovereignty of Ukraine, was achieved, but then the country was ruled again by former communists and newly-made oligarchs. The second is the failure of the national democrats after the Orange Revolution. The society and opposition managed to break Kuchma’s regime, but Viktor Yushchenko’s further rule destroyed all he hopes and expectations. The third reason the result of the Party of Regions’ ruling during the last two and a half years. Numerous anti-Ukrainian decisions have been made, which only provoked resistance and radicalization of nationally minded citizens. Among these decisions were the Kharkiv agreements, change of the stand concerning the Holodomor, and cancellation of awards given to Bandera and Shukhevych. And the last drop, of course, was the language law. Here, the government helped Svoboda so much, and the latter benefited from the law adoption more than anyone else.
Now, each Svoboda’s step will be scrutinized, especially considering the discussion of some radical stands of Svoboda members. A lot will depend on this political force’s ability to evolve, improve its image abroad and at home, in eastern and southern regions in particular.
Of course, Svoboda will now be tempted by money and captivating offers. Unfortunately, the Ukrainian parliament is far from a place that could be called a platform for discussions and center of adoption of legislative initiatives. The infamous turncoats have become the symbol of the parliament’s illness long ago. Are Svoboda members able to withstand these trials? Rumors about their political force being financed by oligarchs have been out for a long time. The party members themselves will prove if it is true or false. The party itself can be divided into two parts: the bureaucratic wing (includes older party members, such as Oleh Tiahnybok, people that have been in politics before, and these rumors are related to some of them) and the dynamic wing (a younger generation of politicians, including Andrii Illienko, Ihor Miroshnychenko, etc.). Which of them is going to win?
We have heard, even from Svoboda itself, that they were the “special forces (riot police) of the opposition.” But we should keep in mind the specific features of this body, because riot police cannot be called an independent structure. No matter how prepared, determined, and professional it is, it still carries out somebody else’s orders. There is one more thing for Svoboda to try to avoid: participation in political technologies. In this case it is about the ruling party’s technologies, not the opposition ones. There is an opinion that the Party of Regions needs nationalists in the parliament to keep their base regions in the east and south constantly scared. Maybe, that is even the reason why the language law technology was launched. Moreover, there is a scenario, according to which Tiahnybok can become Yanukovych’s main opponent at the 2015 presidential elections, so that disappointed voters would reelect the incumbent president for another term. Do Svoboda members remember recent history?
We have written about this many times. The presidential election of 1999. President Kuchma very successfully used the technology mentioned above. The only difference was that back then, the communist leader Symonenko was used as a bugbear, and it was not the east and south of Ukraine that needed to be scared, but the west and center. As a result, Kuchma was reelected for another term. Today we can see that communists are not playing the same role anymore, though they showed excellent skills during these elections, especially in the pre-election campaign and advertising. Their result is even labeled the second sensation. But the paradox is that the mixed electoral system will not allow communists to have significantly more MPs in the future parliament than they have today. They did not win one single-ticket constituency, and the 50-percent proportion system (it was a 100-percent system before) will only let them have about 30 MPs in the future parliament (they are holding 25 seats at the moment).
By the way, regarding the “merits” of the communists: why was Symonenko awarded an order in Moscow? Was it an advance payment of sorts, or an award for the actual service? Let us remind that recently the head of the Communist Party of Ukraine was awarded the Order of Friendship by Russian President Vladimir Putin for his contribution to the development of friendship and cooperation with Russia.
So, does Svoboda understand the danger of their party being manipulated, the results of which may affect a totally different area? With this and other warnings and questions mentioned above we have addressed famous Ukrainians, dissidents, and Svoboda representatives, whose commentaries and answers are presented below. By the way, when commenting on this topic, the former prisoner of conscience and public figure Yevhen Sverstiuk emphasized: “We should not pay too much attention to Svoboda’s victory at this time. We can only congratulate them on coming to the parliament and wish them fruitful and constructive work.” Of course, we can agree here, but with just one qualification: it is very unlikely that the national democratic idea will survive if it fails one more time.
By Ivan KAPSAMUN, The Day
“SVOBODA IS YET TO GO THROUGH THE DIFFICULT TIMES”
Levko LUKIANENKO, public activist and political figure, MP in the first convocation:
“The rapid growth of Svoboda’s popularity can be accounted for by several factors. The first one is radicalization of the entire Ukrainian society caused by southern and eastern Ukraine’s frustration with the Party of Regions. The electors that once voted for Yanukovych and his team asked themselves: ‘Who should we vote for now?’ A part of the PoR supporters went over to the Communist Party due to their instinctive, deep-rooted hatred for nationalists. Another part, which consisted of more or less patriotic people, decided to support Svoboda. Therefore, such display of support does not imply complete solidarity with Svoboda’s ideology, but rather a temporary phenomenon.
“On the other hand, the fact of Svoboda’s rapid popularity increase also signifies the awakening of national consciousness of Ukrainians, who are fond of the patriotic rhetoric of the party. They are bold, straightforward, and open. This is a positive phenomenon. Obviously, this political force corresponds to the attitudes of people who support it.
“Another important point: in this election, more than 6 million voters were young people born in 1991 and 1992, who just reached the age of 18 and voted for the first time. They are free from anti-Ukrainian, pro-Moscow and pro-imperial ideas and world outlook. They are not afraid of the KGB, the anti-Soviet agitation, and responsibility, because they understand freedom and democracy better. This turned out to be a progressive part of Ukrainian voters who were outraged by the anti-Ukrainian policies of the government.
“However, radicalization was revealed the most during the counting of votes. This is the first literally physical confrontation of such kind that radicalized the opposition forces. The Party of Regions and its supporters also resorted to drastic measures which they had never used before. Now, the PoR hired people to block the work of election commissions. These things are absolutely unacceptable in a democratic and law-abiding country.
“In general, there is no radical party in Ukraine. If there was at least one, it would cleanse Ukraine from imperial symbols: Lenin, Stalin, Soviet-era street names and so on. This is a shame for the Ukrainian people, who have been living in an independent country for 21 years, and still walk the streets named after mass murderers of Ukrainians.
“In his time, Yushchenko led the nation to the terrible disappointment that was so profound that it still continues today. Svoboda represents the segment of the Ukrainian society that overcame the disappointment and wants to fight for the ideal of creation of an independent Ukraine, which was expected of president Yushchenko.
“Svoboda’s radical statements are mere words. When you take a look at Svoboda’s activity, you will not see anything special there. At the Verkhovna Rada, they will undoubtedly support the idea of the abolition of agreements on Russian troops in the Crimea. Perhaps, they will even amend the language law. But this is no more than normal parliamentary activity.
“Will the Party of Regions, which has the majority of seats, bribe anyone, and will there be turncoats among current Svoboda members? In my opinion, Svoboda members are the most stable in this regard. Of course, there are no guarantees that none of the party members will be tempted, but in any case, they are the most ideologically stable people.
“Tiahnybok may appear next to Yatseniuk and Klitschko. Even though there is very little time left before the presidential election, this period will be very tense due to constant, active struggle. The number of oppositionists has increased compared to that of the sixth convocation of the Verkhovna Rada. The quality of this opposition changed too: now it is more active, bold, determined, and persistent. This indicates that the debates in the Verkhovna Rada will be heated. Of course, the three people I named might be not the only ones. There are a lot of talented people in Ukraine who can lead the country. But the scenario in which Tiahnybok rises to this level is quite realistic.
“I think that Svoboda is yet to go through the difficult times, whether they will be internal or triggered by external influences. But everything will not go as smooth as it may seem. Firstly, the matter of formation of Svoboda as a serious political party is stipulated by the internal problems. Secondly, Russian chauvinists do not like this political force and will put spokes in their wheels. Moscow’s political elite would love to have Ukraine back under its influence. It has already infiltrated Ukrainian society with its agents and it will try to slow down the political process. This means no easy life for Svoboda. However, the direction they officially chose is very popular among people. The number of Ukrainians who choose this way to succeed is increasing. It will provide support for Svoboda. And how should we accept the fact that only 22 percent of MPs were of Ukrainian nationality in the previous parliament? It is a mockery of the Ukrainian nation! This is not normal, and we have to fight it! It would be good for the new Verkhovna Rada session to be a little better nationality-wise.”
“OUR POLITICAL FORCE DOES NOT HOLD THE PATENT FOR THE NATIONAL IDEA”
Andrii MOKHNYK, representative of Svoboda
It is believed that the current government can involve Svoboda into some political scheming. In particular, it is predicted that Tiahnybok will be nominated as chief opponent to Yanukovych at the 2015 presidential election, so the latter can win. What can you say about this? Are you ready for this?
“It is clear that politics abhors vacuum, and every political force, including Svoboda, will have its own goals. However, we clearly declare what our goals are. Today, there is an agreement on the creation of a coalition of democratic forces in the parliament with clearly specified objectives: the removal of Yanukovych’s regime and impeachment of the president. If this happens, what kind of opponent will Yanukovych be, if he is removed from office by impeachment? In general, we have not yet formed a faction, we have not recaptured and protected all the votes: the final count is not yet announced, and they are already talking about our involvement in political games. In the current situation, our party is interested in fulfilling all the commitments that we have publicly undertaken. So, talks about some political games and Svoboda being a bugbear for eastern Ukraine are not working.”
After the party enters the parliament, a lot of tempting offers become available to its members. Are there any guarantees that Svoboda members will not become turncoats?
“We can make certain conclusions based on the present-day situation. We have been running local councils with more than 2,500 members for two years now. And during this time we have not had a single turncoat. While forming the party list and nominating candidates for majoritarian constituencies, we chose reliable party members who have experience in party work, work in local councils, and local governments. These people were tested by time, temptation, pressure, and intimidation. We have worked side by side for years. So we are ready to bear responsibility for every single member of our party who becomes an MP.
“As a political force, we understand that Svoboda will receive more nagging attention than any other party. And we are ready to do our best to keep this fair and transparent electoral list, with which we and our candidates passed to the parliament, for the next term. We have worked for 21 years to come to power and use it as a tool to implement the program to protect Ukrainians, not as a means of obtaining some preferences. This is our reputation, vision, and life. This is not some political project boosted with money. Not only party members live by our ideas, but our non-partisan friends, family members, colleagues do so, too. We cannot betray all this.”
Interviewed by Anna CHEREVKO, Ihor SAMOKYSH, The Day