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The Moment of Truth in Ukarainian History


The electoral campaign in Ukraine has come to its homestretch. To predict the results of the election in a foreign country is a mug’s game, especially if this foreign country is the Ukraine with its unstable political situation, its struggles between numerous regional groups of influence and clans, and finally with its political parties’ competition. No matter how the seats in the future parliament are finally distributed, the major camps are defined. Whichever party is going to get more mandates, the Ukraine will be in for another circle of political instability.

The confrontation still remains between two political lines, represented by Viktor Yushchenko and Yuliya Tymoshenko, taking no notice of all of the other political parties and groups. Russian observers, who are closely watching Viktor Yanukovych’s activity, once again fail to notice the main thing. Yanukovych’s Party of Regions might represent interests of a certain clan, but it doesn’t formulate any intelligible strategy of social and economic development. It-s clear enough: the main objective of such political forces is to maintain business interests of the clan they represent (in this case it is the Donetsk financial and business group), under whatever circumstances the country is currently in. In a situation when the major confrontation is going on between Yushchenko and Tymoshenko, the only thing left for Yanukovych is to fluctuate unsystematically around offering his services and clarifying who he should adhere to this time. The left parties — Socialists and Communists — turned out to absolutely lack any political strategy. The Communists’ radicalism yields to that of Tymoshenko, they are split up; the Socialists who cling to their seats in the government, are little by little losing their prestige. Once powerful and influential, these parties are now decaying. The fact that Yushchenko and Tymoshenko will sooner or later clash in a political confrontation, was obvious back when the “orange revolution” had just begun. Usually any revolutionary process tends to drastically change its political configuration, i.e. former allies become enemies. And it’s not the impact of the winners’ ambitions. It’s a social and political logic. The political reform is only an outward goal of the game — whether Ukraine is going to become a parliamentary republic or stay presidential. In reality, the controversy is more deep-rooted. There was no revolution in Ukraine — that is the main problem. The movements which started out as revolutionary, from the very beginning were planned by the opposition strategists as an “orange revolution” show, free of any social content. To make this show convincing, however, bizarre mass forces were to be involved. Yuliya Tymoshenko happened to become the leader of these forces (maybe against her will). Exactly this, but not personal disagreements determined the inevitable break-up. People came in the streets not out of love for Yushchenko, but being tired of the system. They got fed up with inequality, poverty, social injustice, and corruption. They were against the social and political course, pursued by former president Leonid Kuhma. All their hopes and insults were not however shaped into a clear political program or even a system of demands. Vague expectations of the up-coming changes came out as a vote for Yushchenko and sympathy towards Tymoshenko. As it happens in the fairy tales about genie people finally got not what they actually wanted, but what was suddenly articulated and said aloud. In other words, they wanted social justice and got President Yushchenko instead. Under such circumstances Tymoshenko immediately became a symbol of the initial pure hopes which failed to come true. She was like a magnet for those preserving this hope. There is simply no other existing political niche suitable for her. Those who intend to stop the revolutionary process support Yushchenko, those who want to let it develop, concentrate around Tymoshenko. Thus, we get Ukrainian Jacobins and Girondists. Tymoshenko’s populism originally consisted in her effort to meet the social expectations by raising benefits, stimulating salary growth, and simultaneously tightening inflation. Very soon it became clear that a policy of the kind firstly contradicts the liberal principles spread within the ruling elite; secondly, it lacks funds. These funds could have been accumulated through the re-privatization, but it would inevitably include some elements of the re-nationalization, with the economic course turning to the left (again, independently of the initial intentions of Tymoshenko and her team). The ruling elite could not put up with it, Tymoshenko’s career as a prime-minister had disastrously come to an end, and she automatically became a member of the opposition. Yushchenko’s situation is no better. He tries to go on with his neoliberal policy, which before had been pursued by Kuchma, Yanukovych, and Yushchenko himself when he was prime-minister. However, the Ukrainians don’t support this policy. Their trust in such a political course is exhausted. It was exactly the protest against this social course that granted Yushchenko the presidency in 2004. By proceeding with his predecessors-’policy he is little by little exhausting the people’s confidence. That is why he may not allow realization of a political reform aimed at democratizing the institute of the state power. The problem with the political reform is not in its potential ability to limit the president’s power. It will make it possible to put pressure from below, which will chaotically correct the economic course. Whether Tymoshenko will rise on this wave or someone more radical will rise instead — it’s just a question of time. Meanwhile, by suppressing this pressure from below and blocking the already promised political reform, Yushchenko just keeps losing his supporters among the population, as he gets an image of a liar and an opponent to the democracy, for which sake he was calling people out in the streets just a year ago. The two main participants of the political drama have not yet been determined. Sooner or later Yushchenko will have to stand in front of his people without his “democratic gown” and demonstrate the authoritarian nature of the East European liberalism. Tymoshenko will have to make the final ideological step and openly talk as one of the left. If she proves unable to do that, she will either be beaten by her “orange revolution” colleagues or will have to yield to someone more radical. Both parties are now hesitating. They were not striving for such a confrontation, they were not planning this course of events. But the logic of history is stronger than personal sympathy and plans. The “orange revolution” becomes the asset of the past, but real Ukrainian revolution may be just around the corner. Boris Kagarlitsky is a Director of The Institute for Globalization Studies.

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