From Maidan to Systemic Changes?

Jan 24, 2014

The proclamation of the “Maidan” public association can be considered a constructive step forward following the month-long protests in the center of Kyiv. It is quite a positive development that it is finally possible to move from symbolically meaningful but not very effective demonstrations in the modern “Occupy” fashion towards a broad mobilization of engaged citizens seeking systemic changes, including virtual networks (“with Maidan in our minds,” as Lutsenko put it). The notion of such mobilization, under the logic of political opposition, becomes relevant in light of the presidential election campaign of 2015.  Everyone is aware of the need for systemic changes. Even abortive “reforms” of governing bodies in power as well as the calls for modernization   confirm the need for such changes. Ukrainian society has already been through the “systemic changes” promised by politicians, which in fact amounted to the slogans and wishful thinking of Orange Revolution of 2004–2005. The slogans and declarations of Maidan (“Separate business from politics,” “Put bandits in prisons!,” “Fight corruption”) are still relevant, and few people would doubt their relevance. Hence the crucial questions – why haven’t these demands been met and where are the guarantees that a new wave of protests would trigger any changes in this area?

Another positive aspect of the people’s movement is the attempt to restore the algorithms of the most successful public movement in the modern Ukrainian history – the Rukh movement for an independent Ukraine that started in mid 1980’s. Rukh was a real movement, mobilizing multiple segments of society to achieve its goal. Rukh’s victory (as is often the case with any revolutionary efforts) was fully used by both politicians from Eastern Ukraine and economists who, even in the early 1990’s, were skeptical, to put it mildly, about the concept of an independent Ukraine. For several years these groups have been receiving the largest dividends, both financial and economic, from their proclaimed independence. After being transformed into a partisan (with a partially public segment) organization, Rukh lost its unique characteristic of being a nationwide public network and lost the shell game, the rules of which were defined by more experienced party bureaucrats.  

The former party-komsomol bureaucrats and soviet administrative apparatus with their wealth of connections, spheres of influence and long experience with closed-door decision-making, absorbed and dissolved more than just Rukh. The financial circles among the new Ukrainians very quickly embraced the new format of party pluralism, the essence of which, in their perception, was that the infinite number of political affiliations had almost nothing to do with the sincere adherence to the preached ideas, values and other formally democratic “trash.” Thus, the largest industrial pollutants could establish and finance the “green”party, while the programs of the most powerful party-industrial holdings were literally copied one from the other, especially, the provisions concerning care and protection of citizens. The oligarchs have learned to place financial eggs into different political baskets, sometimes with completely opposite ideologies.

Meanwhile, Ukrainian policy was slowly moving from attempting to organize public discussions, search and choose strategies for state building, to superficially professional, but, in fact, routinely tactical group motions, perpetually “putting out fires” in the aftermath with neither a strategy nor vision how to eliminate ongoing disputes among numerous lobbyists in charge of lawmaking. The timid attempts to submit respective legislative acts, advertise the lobbyists’ services and reimbursement for them were unanimously rejected by the Supreme Rada. Policy and state management in the allocation of the available budget have long ago become one of the most profitable businesses, which does not require the strain of developing business plans, nor taking on risks through loans and investments with one’s own hard-earned money. High governmental positions and a parliamentary majority become the first prize within the structure of the privatized state mechanism. Within this system of coordinates, elections also signify the rate of control exercised by various competitive holdings over the budget finances and credit flows (what was then the goal of the struggle and expenses incurred?). The fulfillment of the control functions of the current political opposition and the audits carried out in these ritual exchanges somehow do not look convincing. The majority of the corruption scandals became known to the public at large due to the efforts of journalists, mainly those not serving the interests of those in power.

One can infinitely stigmatize the electoral protyvsikhs (“those against everyone”); the concept of politics as “dirty business” can be reiterated ad infinitum; and the instinctive distancing of community from political parties, their boring slogans, props and active members can be regarded as simply the implementation of new technologies by the authorities (especially in today’s Maidan). However, the fact is that in 2012, less than every fifth respondent agreed that the country had political leaders capable of ruling the country in an efficient way or that the ruling political parties could be entrusted with power.[1] The level of trust in political parties meanwhile dropped to a value barely higher than a statistical error – only 6% – while the level of trust in public organizations and associations is twice higher.

The modern tendencies of departyization is a sincere, although desperate, reaction, expressed by the active members of society in response to the political action scenario, distorted by Ukrainian reality, its involvement with private interests, engagement in the tactical schemes of political machinery, and politicians’ disregard of social interests at large. Even the current efforts to bring forward “role models” to strengthen the policy is the equivalent of politicians confessing to the degradation of their own political show. Maidan revealed yet another problem of the current political process in the country – namely, the complete absence of mechanisms for public control of power. In particular, under the existing structure, a specific regional clan controls all the branches of government, especially the judicial branch.  So far, elections remain the only effective mechanism for the replacement of power elites. But under the distorted power structure, the voters are trapped in a vicious circle of clan struggle for power, nomination of one-party governments (and, therefore, always trying to satisfy specific group interests), and being bribed with token social benefits achieved by accumulating new debts and credits without the long overdue structural economic reforms.

The urgent need for viable mechanisms of public control between elections – e.g., the use of a parliamentary-presidential republic constitution, effective procedures to recall representatives, the principle of open party lists, and a public-initiated impeachment process – has not been addressed thus far. Ukrainian society is divided by politicians and the two-chamber structure of parliament.[2] Decison-making based on both chambers’ agreement would ensure certain balance between the territorially-larger but less densely populated western-central part of Ukraine, and the territorially smaller, but more densely populated southeastern part. In this case, decision-making would likely take longer, but it would be better than the current parliamentary machine’s mass production of dubious laws and their incessant revisions.  

Concerning the agenda of political changes and perspectives of intensive growth of the new public association, the results of sociological polls highlight the two most consolidated areas for social support, regardless of regional, linguistic, ethno-cultural, confessional, and other social-demographic differences among the Ukrainian population. The first most supported concept included justice, the rule of law, equal treatment before the law, and a fair, independent, and unprejudiced judicial system. The second most common area of concern was corruption, in all its forms – from governmental and political, to its routine and everyday manifestations.  In fact the most significant protests during Maidan 2013 and the most prominent motivation of the protesters was related to the demands for justice following the events that occurred on the night of December 1 – the attack on a peaceful student demonstration by the militia special unit, and for due punishment for the officials that exceeded their duties and the commanders who gave the orders.    

The European choice seems to be perceived, primarily, not as an advantage for a certain geopolitical orientation (this concept, lamentably, is not a consolidating factor for Ukraine), but rather as creating a more favorable atmosphere for resolving the two aforementioned problems plaguing Ukrainian society.  When the time for decisions comes and a neutral position cannot be held any longer due to the current geopolitical situation (maybe not the worst scenario after a mere 20 years of sovereignty), the economic and political benefits and flaws of any association cannot be the bargaining coin and superficial activity of politicians. Instead, the times call for expert analysis and discussions of well-grounded assessments of all the pros and cons, various scenarios for both short-term and long-term perspectives, and proposals not only for modernization, but, perhaps, radical reconstruction of the whole industrial model. It is an extremely difficult task, and one which has neither been addressed by the ruling administration nor the opposition, nor has it been opened up for broad public discussion.   

In other words, the Euro-choice should not be perceived as another cure-all, which makes all the efforts and attempts for social change, made by the most active members of society, redundant. The examples of a perpetually near default Greece, or Bulgaria with its high unemployment and corruption rate prove that even EU membership does not automatically resolve these problems, which will hardly be resolved by any international associations or institutions. This is rather “homework” for a civically active society, especially when the appearance of new, effective political leaders cannot be expected.  

Viktor Stepanenko, Senior Research Fellow, Department of History and Theory of Sociology, Institute of Sociology, Ukrainian National Academy of Science; former KI Fulbright Scholar; former KI Advisory Council member




[1] Data from the nationwide representative poll conducted by the Institute of Sociology, Academy of Sciences of Ukraine.

[2] One chamber’s representatives are elected from territorial divisions of the country (seven representatives from each oblast’ and the autonomous republic of Crimea, 175 in total), and the other is composed of party representatives (250-300 total).

 

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