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Where there is no law, but every man does what is right in his own eyes, there is the least of real liberty
Henry M. Robert

Ukrainian nation and its European mission

26 February, 2014 - 18:22

Each time some of my fellow countrymen try to explain that all our troubles are the result of some “foreign hand” being at play, I wonder about their IQ. I mean their understanding of Russia [and the people that make up the Russian Federation]. Indeed, this people, remaining Europe’s numerically predominant one, with all the advantages and shortcomings in terms of European civilization process, has succeeded in building a great culture (the latter being the main controversy over Russia’s history and current realities). This people may well become a pawn in any kind of political power game.

This subject – in regard to Ukraine – has been broached by a number of European and North American periodicals. Experts, analysts, journalists reiterate that the future of Ukraine is in the hands of Ukrainians, no matter what the Kremlin plans, sticking to its Ukraine-conquest schemes. I can say that the Ukrainian nation is tasked with a European mission aimed at preventing the revival of a single post-totalitarian space in Eastern Europe.

I will now return to my usual cynical self.

Before the year 2014, Ukraine was the only post-Soviet republic (apart from the Baltic States) that could be regarded as a democracy. The acting head of state has issued a statement in which he described the Yanukovych regime as dictatorial. He was wrong. The paradox is that the Ukrainian formula of democracy, like that of Russia in the 1990s, is rooted in inter-clan arrangements. Russia’s experience is proof that the rule of a single clan leads to dictatorship, resulting in a relative governance that ruins human rights and pertinent institutions, turning them into facade decorations. In Ukraine, party-parliament pluralism was rooted in the required political representation and lobby practice of the oligarchic clans.

I will now say something that all can watch and hear, something we all of us understand while mostly remaining silent: All of the post-Soviet space, except the Baltic States, is proof that Russia’s expansionism over the past 20 plus years can only be resisted by separate authoritarian regimes – even if their leaders are verbally sworn brothers of Russia. Lukashenka and Saakashvili are graphic examples. Saakashvili succumbed to Kremlin spin doctors’ techniques. Georgia currently has a regime whose leadership (unlike Lukashenka’s in Belarus) reiterates the territorial integrity cliches, while actually letting the Kremlin run their country. Ukraine, with President Yanukovych in office, was certainly a democracy, unlike Russia. Then what?

I see one way out of the political crisis in Ukraine. Democratic process. The central government in Ukraine should be firm but without vengeance, without lustration, without any attempts aimed at inciting various social groups.

To ward off the number-one Russian threat, Ukraine shouldn’t be divided following a Byzantine-Russian scenario, because in that case its nature would remain the same, but it would have an entirely different elite. There is no time or strength left to do that. There must be confirmation of the previous inter-clannish consensus, including the clan previously headed by Viktor Yanukovych. I will mention no names; there are enough media references for the inquisitive reader to figure out who is who in the Ukrainian political realm.

Another taboo subject is the change of the role played by the Maidan, particularly its boiovyk street fighters. I didn’t say that, others did, to the effect that there is no reason for eulogizing the Bandera- and Makhno-like (right-left-wing) traditions in Ukrainian political culture. In other words, traditions of a losing battle, without the objective of taking over political power. The Maidan and its boiovyks tend to attribute to themselves the crucial role in the changes that have occurred. In fact, the main role was to be played by the elites that could act within the institutional framework. They didn’t because Viktor Yanukovych and his retinue lacked the political will and the Kremlin failed to firmly support them. Now the biggest danger is that the ongoing political crisis [in Ukraine] will impact state institutions that are being threatened by the Maidan-based supporters of “direct democracy.” Historical experience shows that this can only lead to totalitarianism.

Experimenting with direct popular representation, with lots of people taking part in the decision-making process, instead of the good old bureaucratic practices, serves to destroy what democratic institutions actually exist and screen the emergence of dictatorship from the general public. Any references to Switzerland are irrelevant and immaterial because its self-government is strictly regulated and adjusted to the local political, natural, and demographic environment.

Political will appears to be the key problem [in Ukraine]. Solving this problem would show the way out of the economic crisis – a subject none of the Maidan leaders has bothered to mention. What could be expected from the Maidan, save for slogans about justice? Another depressing impression is the repeated television footage showing Yanukovych and Pshonka’s opulent estates. This reminds me of Russia’s democratic movement that ended up engulfed by populism and social voyeurism.

Talking of Russia, there is no answer to the question of 15 billion dollars [worth of loan to Ukraine]. What about the three billion dollars that has already been granted? What about the other tranches? How will the European Union respond to the news that Ukraine’s debt to the EU will not be paid by Russia? What about the Association Agreement, considering that the instrument envisages rehabilitation of the Ukrainian economy – which is not compatible with the Maidan populist expectations?

Separatism. I meant to raise the matter toward the end of my article. However potentially dangerous, this subject largely depends on how the central government will deal with it, in terms of political will and approach to socioeconomic issues. Russia-supported separatist entities have proved ill-fated, mostly ending up in ruins and public unrest. By the way, those who support direct democracy can watch the process and its consequences live on the TV channels showing what’s happening in Sevastopol and Kerch.

Last but not least, denying the Russian language the status of a regional [official] one looks to me like a very bad political mistake, a retreat from the European standard. This is a big step taken backward from European integration.

By Dmitry SHUSHARIN, historian, political journalist, Moscow, special to The Day
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