Members of parliament have gone on vacation – but not all of them. Oksana Syroid, Deputy Chairperson of the Verkhovna Rada, has visited the Den’s Summer School of Journalism. Although the school finished as far back as July, the practice of students was so intensive and fruitful that they are still discussing results. All the more so that the subjects lecturers covered are still topical. As Ms. Syroid serves in parliamentary for the first time, students first of all asked her what she thinks about the Ukrainian Parliament’s performance in the almost four years of the present convocation. Did she expect to see this when she was running for a legislative seat?
“A CLAN OLIGARCHIC SYSTEM BEGAN TO FORM IN THE MID-1990s”
“I knew what to expect from this parliament because I had seen the ups and downs of many people and the Verkhovna Rada’s rules. I worked as an MP’s assistant for several years from 1995 and cooperated, in other capacities, with politicians for a long time, so I used to say categorically that I would never set foot in there. But the Revolution of Dignity and the war changed many things. Everybody was trying to give off something in addition. I knew I could do nothing on my own there, but I found a team that became a shoulder to rely on in the attempt to begin making changes. I don’t regret my decision today from the viewpoint of confidence in people, for I stay in a sincere society, although it is very difficult to be in politics.
“A clan oligarchic system began to form in the mid-1990s, when a few people received access to governmental funds, natural resources, and privatization. They would suck out, cash in on, and smuggle these resources abroad. The next goal was to form an oligarchic government in order to preserve or increase access to resources, the budget, and the management of state-run businesses.
“The Euromaidan and the war opened the window that allowed about 60 non-oligarchic people to make their way to parliament. This is the first time since the formation of a clan oligarchic system that we have people in parliament whom oligarchs do not control. This makes the current parliament unique to some extent.”
“SOME OF THE NEW MPs HAD ALREADY DEPENDED ON OLIGARCHS, AND OTHERS SUCCUMBED TO TEMPTATION IN THE PARLIAMENT ITSELF”
Olha KRYSA, Ivan Franko National University of Lviv: “Many new young Maidan and NGO politicians, now MPs, used to say they would unite when they entered parliament. But, as a result, they in fact melted into various political projects. Why did they fail to form a united party? How effective do you think they are in parliament?”
“Formally, parliament has been renewed to a large extent. There are several groups of new people in it. But do they represent a new generation? Some of them had already depended on oligarchs when they became MPs, and others succumbed to temptation in the parliament itself. If one goes into politics in pursuit of fame, he will burn himself out quickly, for politics suggests service. You should be confident in yourself to such an extent that temptations and challenges could not influence your way – only in this case you can stand your ground. People often fail to stand the test and lose confidence in themselves and in what they do. Going through this several times, they demotivate themselves or lose focus. This is also one of the reasons why young people have partially blended in. It is very difficult to keep things in focus, knowing that nobody may appreciate it or that you will gain nothing from this.
“As for political parties, you cannot form parties in parliament, for they should be formed ‘from the bottom up.’ A political force must be linked with people – otherwise it is a bubble, an empty brand. It is very difficult to form a new political party first of all because the very notion of this has devalued. What also matters very much is the desire of people to join. The hierarchy of a political force is horizontal, and this structure must rely on the personality of leaders, not on their formal powers.
“I know for sure that Samopomich is the only political force that makes all decisions horizontally, i.e., when they all sit at the same table. Now imagine how difficult it is for a faction to work, when 25 ambitious figures sit at table, each of them wants to explain something, while the faction should make a joint decision. At first, our faction’s sittings lasted for seven hours. It takes time for people to learn to hear each other. For example, we discussed withdrawal from the coalition for 14 hours in a row. Very few were prepared for this.”
“ONE MORE PROBLEM IS DEVALUATION OF PARLIAMENT BY OTHER INSTITUTIONS. ALL PRESIDENTS OF UKRAINE ‘SUFFERED’ FROM THIS”
Yuliia DOVHAICHUK, Taras Shevchenko National University of Kyiv: “According to various polls, about 80 percent of people do not trust the Verkhovna Rada. This raises a question: what is the progress of the promised parliamentary reform? For MPs still vote for one another, the new Rada system does not function, to say nothing about almost daily violations of parliamentary rules. Why is there no reform?”
“Parliamentary reform boils down to your and our votes. If people go on electing representatives of oligarchic groups, the essence of parliament will not change, no matter what procedural resolutions we pass. All depends on the intentions of the people who sit in the Verkhovna Rada room. Sometimes journalists ask me why some MPs play truant. But the vice-speaker of parliament is not a company manager – it is the people, not I, who employed the MPs. The MPs are answerable to society only. But they escape responsibility because they are sure of being reelected. Elections are the only way to control parliament.
“Do voters know what their MP votes for? How many people ask the MP, when he visits the constituency: ‘How dared you vote for this?’ Collective irresponsibility is a terrible syndrome. If people were asking MPs why they voted one way or another, the MPs would take a more serious approach to voting. Therefore, a true parliamentary reform means changing the clan oligarchic system. Another problem is devaluation of parliament by other institutions. All presidents of Ukraine ‘suffered’ from this. Particularly, whenever their rating plummets, they immediately aggravate relations with parliament – they create crises, blame MPs for failing to do something, etc. The current president is not an exception. If you watched the closure of sessions, you remember that the Petro Poroshenko Bloc once walked out when they refused to vote for new Central Election Commission members. Politicians must begin to understand that it is in everybody’s interests to respect each other, each institution. Respect increases public trust in governmental bodies as a whole.”
“IN MY VIEW, WE SHOULD HAVE A PRIME-MINISTERIAL FORM OF GOVERNMENT, WHEN THE PREMIER REPRESENTS A PARTY OR A COALITION”
Daria CHYZH, Borys Hrinchenko University of Kyiv: “Ukrainians often debate on the form of government – in the years of independence, it has been changing from parliamentary-presidential to presidential-parliamentary. You favor the parliamentary form of government. But to what extent is this possible in the absence of real political parties?”
“What we have is not a parliamentary-presidential form of government because parliament does not wield the clout it must wield in a democracy, and the form is in fact presidential-prime-ministerial. We have the so-called dual executive system which has brought forth collective irresponsibility and cemented an oligarchic system. The main functions of the executive branch are to control the budget, collect and distribute taxes, decide on the use of force inside and outside the country. We have the Cabinet of Ministers, legally the highest body of executive power. But, on closer examination, most of the executive functions in fact belong to the president. He controls a considerable part of the budget, the security and defense sector, and all the so-called independent regulators. Besides, there is not a single instrument of the president’s accountability to parliament and, hence, to society. Even the US president reports to Congress, although the US has a purely presidential form of government.
“In my opinion, the form of government does not matter. What really matters is that the entire executive branch should be under parliamentary control. The presidential form of government is effective in the US today. They formed this unique model to keep all the states united. Is this the Ukrainian way, too? We should strive to have what is really in line with our historical development and could be effective. If we suddenly wished to have the presidential form of government and a strong leader, this might pave the way to dictatorship. So, in my view, we should have a prime-ministerial form of government, when the premier represents a party or a coalition. And he must be personally responsible for the formation of the Cabinet.”
“IF THERE IS NO IDEA AND TEAM, IT IS IRRESPONSIBLE TO RALLY AROUND SOMEBODY”
Evelina KOTLIAROVA, Taras Shevchenko National University of Kyiv: “What do you expect from the next elections? There is so much talk about a single candidate of democratic forces. Such names as Hrytsenko, Sadovyi, and Chumak are in the air… What do you think of a single candidate? Who can it be?”
“The Ukrainians really want unity because whenever the presidential elections are coming up, the number of candidates increases many times over. This brings in a lot of caretaker candidates because it is important for oligarchic groups to retain power. Yes, the Ukrainians understand subconsciously that the oligarchic system must be destroyed. And there is quite a wide range of opposition candidates who could rally together. But this raises the question of who to rally around. I am skeptical about rallying around somebody. If there is no idea and team, it is irresponsible to rally around somebody. Suppose this person wins. So what? Who is going to work? Shall we call on oligarchs again to help us? They will immediately place their people in offices.
“It seems to me we are having a situation, when some people, who position themselves as presidential candidates but have no team or ideas, really want either to ‘dissolve’ votes or, even if they win, to become a new face of the old oligarchic system. Many of these candidates are dependent. Of course, they won’t say this publicly, but they know who stands behind whom. On the other hand, there are groups of people and their leaders who are free of this dependency but full of energy and ideas. They find it very difficult to believe and unite with other leaders because there has been too much deception in our politics.”
“I DO NOT RULE OUT THAT RUSSIA CONCEIVED NORD STREAM 2 IN ORDER TO BREAK UP THE EUROPEAN UNION”
Sofiia POSTOLATII, Sumy State University: “To what extent has the question of the annexed Crimea and the occupied parts of the Donbas been brought into line with the law at present?”
“All the resolutions we have today convince me that the leadership is not going to fight for independence and victory. We tried to interpret certain processes in the bill ‘On Temporarily Occupied Territories’ drafted in mid-2015. The first question is what is to be done with the occupied territories. They are populated by our people but controlled by the enemy. So how can they, for example, protect themselves from the illegal arms traffic? The second question is how to regain control over the occupied territories. It is a wide range of questions – who should be pardoned, lustrated or punished? We drew up a bill like this. Almost all the governmental bodies, including the Border Guard Service, the Ministry of Defense, the General Staff of the Armed Forces, the Security Service, the Ministry of Finance, and the National Bank, supported us. But the president refused to support this decision. Instead, he proposed a bill of his own. But the adopted law ‘On Reintegration’ says nothing about the abovementioned.”
Khrystyna SAVCHUK, Taras Shevchenko National University of Kyiv: “You wrote on your Facebook page about grave consequences for Ukraine of the construction of Nord Stream 2. What or who can stop this process? How can Ukraine influence?”
“It is not ruled out that Russia conceived Nord Stream 2 in order to break up the European Union. As a matter of fact, Russia and Germany are building a transit capacity which, together with Nord Stream 1, will be enough to pump gas, bypassing Ukraine. After building the new branch, Russia will be free to just shut off the valve and pump nothing, including to Ukraine. This is why our gas transportation system is like another ‘nuclear arsenal.’ After the failure of the Budapest Memorandum, its loss will be one more security guarantee lost.
“What can stop this project? Only harsh US sanctions. Europe is so far unable to make a joint decision against Nord Stream 2. Ukraine should in turn seek a way not to fall into the pit which the construction of Nord Stream 2 is pushing Europe into.”
“I HAVE ALSO BEEN ABROAD, BUT I CAME BACK BECAUSE IT IS MUCH MORE INTERESTING TO DO SOMETHING IN YOUR OWN COUNTRY”
Vladyslava SHEVCHENKO, Kyiv Mohyla Academy: “In the past few years, young people of Ukraine have been going abroad on a mass scale because they do not believe in their country. How can this negative tide be stemmed?”
“One must believe in success. It is logical that young people want to be ‘cool’ and successful, have a good job and housing, and be able to keep a family. But when they see our politicians devalue the state, they get disappointed and, as a result, do not want to identify themselves with this country. On the other hand, we harbor an illusion that it is easier to achieve success in other countries, but no matter where you come, you will always remain an emigrant. Very few take into account that an unstable country provides a larger space for successful enterprise because it is possible to ‘catch the wave.’ I have also been abroad, but I came back because it is much more interesting to do something in your own country rather than jump on someone else’s bandwagon. You are facing a major challenge, but you are also standing a chance to amply realize yourselves in your country.”
Project Summer School of Journalism was carried out with support from the NATO Information and Documentation Center in Ukraine