Last week, a little-noticed report briefly appeared in the news: in the ranking of the world’s 80 best countries which is annually compiled by the influential US magazine US News & World Report, Ukraine rose by four positions compared to last year and was placed 69th, after Jordan and before Kazakhstan. For reference, Russia is 26th, the US was ranked 8th, and the Top 3 are Switzerland, Canada, and Germany.
A trifle? Quite likely, but this trifle offers an opportunity to ponder our situation.
And when pondering, one understands: actually, everything is trifles except the question which country is better, and which worse. After all, have not the first Maidan, the Revolution of Dignity and the reforms that followed it (okay, let us be honest: rather, they have been attempts at reform) aimed to make Ukraine better? Of course, European integration as well as the fight against corruption, and deoligarchization of the politics are all very important matters, but what use all these transformations are, if they do not result in Ukrainians living better than before? This is the goal, everything else are just means.
It would be worthwhile to clarify the question of what “better” actually means. US News & World Report uses various criteria, and then calculates the arithmetic mean. For example, Ukraine’s ranking on “power and influence in the international arena” is quite decent, as it is placed 33rd. It seems that there is something to be proud of here, but this power affects the life of an ordinary citizen only indirectly. However, on quality of life, which is something any Ukrainian feels for themselves, this country is ranked as low as 72nd, or in other words, clings at the very bottom of the list. This is despite this criterion being the most important.
In a word, the results of the revolution and four post-revolutionary years are hardly impressive in this respect. There have been some shifts, but rising by four positions and staying at the bottom of the ranking makes for changes so small as to be at the level of fluctuations. Yes, Ukraine is staying ahead of Kazakhstan, but is trailing not only Jordan, but also Azerbaijan (placed 64th). Tanzania (62nd), Romania (54th), Vietnam (44th), Hungary (38th), and Poland (32nd place)... Out of European countries, we can look down only on Belarus with its 72nd place. Yes, this country has moved up by four positions, but it is hard to characterize other than as “the mountain bringing forth a mouse.”
The magazine’s ranking, of course, is subjective, but in fact, everything in the world is subjective. Everyone is able to look only with those eyes that are given to one by nature. Importantly, no personal interests are likely to have been involved in it. Significantly, the American magazine placed its own country (which is quite rich, prosperous, and offers comfortable living conditions) only 8th. It seems that this ranking can be trusted.
So, the criticism of its president and government, which in recent years has sounded ever louder across Ukraine, is absolutely fair. If the state of affairs is far from brilliant (and it is exactly this in the present case), then it is the authorities that should be held responsible, and no one else.
However, as an old dirty joke says, there is a nuance. And to honestly argue about the quality of life in Ukraine, this nuance must be taken into account.
Jordan, Poland, Hungary, Romania, Vietnam, Tanzania... None of these countries is currently at war with anyone, they are able to spend their resources on improving the living standards of citizens. Their hands are free in this respect.
Ukraine, meanwhile, is waging a war, which, however, was called until recently with the elegant euphemism “an antiterrorist operation.” And no one asked Ukraine if it wanted to fight, as it was attacked.
Modern war is waged not with swords, spears and arrows, but with high-tech weapons. It is a quite expensive endeavor. Even though the West helps us (including by delivering Javelin missiles for free), the war has been a very heavy burden on the Ukrainian economy. And this economy, speaking frankly, is incomparably smaller than the Russian one. Even though our military budget is many times smaller than the enemy’s, it is still extremely large for Ukraine as it is now.
In addition, it is not only equipment that fights the war, as people fight it as well. Strong and healthy men (and often women) of productive age could work quite well, developing the national economy and raising the standard of living for everyone. Instead, they are forced to shoot and evade other people’s shots, otherwise Ukraine would cease to exist very soon. If you say that this is useful for Ukrainian industry and agriculture, I, with all due respect, will have to disagree with you.
Finally, the loss of a significant part of the Donbas, no matter how it is evaluated, is primarily a loss to the economy. The country has become poorer, which means that its citizens have become poorer too (of course, not everyone has done so, as a select few are thriving as usual, but we are not talking about them here).
In short, a country at war should not be assessed according to the same criteria as a country that enjoys peace. A significant part of the national product goes to military needs, which leads to a decrease in consumption. A lot of working hands are excluded from the economy, as these hands bear arms now. Finally, there are issues with political freedoms as well. It is unpleasant, but the war is generally unpleasant, and so should be avoided whenever possible. That is, except for cases when it is imposed on a country, as it was imposed on Ukraine in 2014.
In such conditions, one would expect that Ukraine will gradually slide down in the US News & World Report ranking. Meanwhile, its standing there is actually improving, although not that fast. This is a success, even if a minor one. The country reached the bottom, pushed off it, and began to surface.
But the most dangerous thing here would be to use the argument that “the war will justify everything.” The war can explain something, but justify nothing. The fact remains: the goal of improving Ukraine (and, first of all, improving the living conditions of its population) has been declared, but it has not been achieved.
The US News & World Report ranking is extremely useful for Ukraine. It supports a very useful feeling in this nation – that of dissatisfaction with itself and the desire for self-improvement. And we need to improve a lot of things in this country – more precisely, almost everything.