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

Where is the dividing line?

On the causes of defeats suffered by Ukrainian “reformers” in the fight against the clan-oligarchic system
6 February, 2018 - 11:34
Sketch by Anatolii KAZANSKY from The Day’s archives, 1998

Kuchmism as a phenomenon. Den/The Day has been writing about it for many years, mainly in order to allow our society to properly diagnose problems which we have not been able to escape, despite all the stormy and tragic events in Ukraine. In this context, our attention was drawn to a recent Facebook post by MP Viktor Chumak and a discussion which it sparked in the comments section.

One can agree with some of his thoughts, but not with others. Indeed, there is a clan-oligarchic system in Ukraine. However, “‘the oligarchic model’ did not ‘take shape,’ it was shaped. And ideological support for it is still coming from ‘some’ allegedly clever and decent people..,” Den/The Day’s editor-in-chief Larysa Ivshyna wrote in response.

The real problem is that some “experts” and politicians either do not understand or, more likely, do not want to understand that the clan-oligarchic system itself could not have appeared out of the blue, and that it had a creator. Leonid Kuchma is the only president so far to lead the nation for two terms, coming to power effectively at the dawn of our restored independence. Let us not forget that before he became president in 1994, he served as prime minister for a year and had the right to issue decrees that had the force of law. Moreover, in 2004, Kuchma intended to secure a third term by re-labeling it as his second one through a Constitutional Court ruling. But it did not work out. Then he decided to make Viktor Yanukovych his successor. We remember how it ended – with the Orange Maidan rising up. And it opposed precisely the rules of the clan-oligarchic system, or, as we call it, Kuchmism (corruption, clannishness, combating opposition, enriching the leader’s inner circle, playing games with multi-vector policies, etc.).

Today, few speak of and mention it, as well as the fact that the system continued to exist under both Viktor Yushchenko and Yanukovych. The latter, unlike Kuchma, who managed to negotiate security guarantees for himself in 2004 through roundtables and good services of his friend Aleksander Kwasniewski (the president of Poland at the time), ended up badly. While people were being shot dead in Independence Square, Yanukovych abandoned his office and fled to Russia. The Kremlin, meanwhile, took advantage of the situation by annexing Crimea and unleashed a war in the Donbas. What happened next? Kuchma has not just evaded answering for his actions (let us not forget, in particular, the high-profile case of Gongadze-Podolsky), but has even gone to Minsk, where, by permission of the post-Maidan administration, he is representing Ukraine’s interests in negotiations with the occupying power and its collaborators.

“There is one dividing line which the ‘experts’ have been refusing to notice, and this is Kuchmism as a phenomenon and the Kuchmists who are motivated and latent,” Ivshyna further emphasized in her comments to Chumak’s post.

One can look for the causes of the current situation at all kinds of “expert strategic parties” to one’s heart’s content, but if one ignores the real origins of the problems, writing the correct ‘recipe’ is impossible. And the worst thing in this situation is that people who call themselves, for example, “Euro-optimists” and “anti-corruptionists” (according to Iryna Bekeshkina, MP Mustafa Nayyem also was present at the party in question) are regular guests and participants in the activities of the oligarchs. For example, the Yalta European Strategy or the Ukrainian lunch in Davos, both organized by the Kuchma-Pinchuk family. This applies to other “motivated and latent” politicians and experts as well.

So, as long as half-truths are uttered and cynical behavior exists, we will see that confused thinking that clearly does not resolve our problems, but only multiplies and deepens them. We discussed all these hot topics with the discussion’s participants and experts. Do they understand what is essential, and what is mere camouflage?


Viktor CHUMAK, MP:

“I formerly represented civil society myself. The thing is, civil society works with the government as it is. It cannot influence or change it. All it can do is to recommend to the government what it has to change. It is clear that the oligarchic government wants to look more or less civilized in the eyes of the West, so it is ostensibly co-operating with civil society.

“The essence of the problem lies elsewhere: the whole of Ukraine, including its economic, political, and social systems, is built on an all-encompassing monopoly. Oligarchic clans are sole owners of both natural resources and entire industries. Their sky-high profits do not come from creating some special, advanced products. It is just that one day, they seized assets that had been created by all the citizens. I am not a socialist. I am a regular liberal. But this story is not about the theory of political economy... Then-president Leonid Kuchma became the arbiter of this process of seizure. And now this monopoly position is used to rob citizens of everything.

“The same story applies in politics. In order to protect their monopolies, the oligarchs created political parties that write the rules for the country that suit the oligarchs.

“And then all of this was supplemented by mass media domination as an ultimate defense. And this doomed the country, because all kinds of competition have stopped in Ukraine: social lifts work neither in the economy nor in politics.

“The formula for corruption is very simple: C = M + A – R, where C is corruption, M is a monopoly, A is arbitrary governance, and R is responsibility...

“It is not that difficult to unite representatives of civil society. But how do you convey this message to people?

“I, for example, do not own major assets, have no oligarchic links or skeletons in the closet, and would like to be a presidential candidate. The question arises: how much do I need to invest in getting people to know me? The oligarchic circles have created conditions where normal competition on achievements does not work.

“Let me explain why I believe that Mustafa Nayyem, Serhii Leshchenko, Aliona Shkrum and others did the right thing by opting to join the lists of parties that were created to serve the interests of the clan-oligarchic system. First of all, I will say that they were used and deceived. I too was deceived by Petro Poroshenko in 2014. He then said he was in power to fight the oligarchs, to defeat poverty. And I believed it. They attracted Nayyem, Leshchenko, and Svitlana Zalishchuk in the same way and used them all as a smokescreen...

“Yes, one can proudly slam the door and go into oblivion, lose the opportunity to influence decisions. And it is much easier to do than staying and undermining this system from within.”


Oleksandr SUSHKO, executive director, International Renaissance Foundation:

“Why do results of changes in Ukraine so often fail to meet expectations?

“Firstly, we often have excessive expectations. The real state of society and the political class, the quality of institutions and processes often prevent the rapid fulfillment of high expectations in a short time. For faster and more profound changes, we need somewhat different mass values, different quality of institutions and human capital, different competencies and qualifications, but mass consciousness and even some public opinion leaders often underestimate this and create excessive expectations. Such expectations lay the groundwork for inevitable disappointment and a sense of ‘betrayal.’

“Secondly, the active minority that moves and supports change often identifies its expectations with the expectations of the more amorphous and passive majority. For its part, the passive majority is often indifferent to the aspirations of the conscious and active minority. Sometimes the demands of the minority and the majority coincide, the borders between them get erased, and then the Maidans occur, and abrupt changes become possible, which in fact just clear the field for more profound changes. But after the Maidans, there comes a time for hard work, prolonged and systematic efforts, and for this, the minority often lacks energy, and the majority lacks patience. And then the active minority is once again disappointed and escapes into internal emigration, and the majority again votes for bribes, either virtual, in the form of empty promises made by populists, or even totally material ones. Thus, the gaps are formed between the minority that has gone forward and the majority that has not understood where to go, and this creates a vicious circle of incomplete changes and bitter disappointments.

“Thirdly, there are stereotypes and oversimplifications that prevent us from understanding the essence of the problem. One of these typical stereotypes is the idea that the progressive ‘people’ opposes the parasitical ‘system,’ which is identified with the bureaucratic machine, politicians, and sometimes with the state in general. In fact, the delimitation between ‘us’ (who are good) and ‘them’ (the system) is rather arbitrary, and it is not known where the dividing line actually is. How to separate the ‘system,’ that prevents people from living and developing, from society with its customs, practices, and, ultimately, its own political/managerial class which it has generated? I have not heard a convincing answer to this question.

“The idea of ‘good’ society and ‘bad’ bureaucracy is, of course, comfortable for the general public and therefore popular. It allows one to disclaim responsibility, does not force one to fix one’s own shortcomings. It is typical of post-colonial societies, where the ‘government’ has always been something imposed from the outside, an alien force. In fact, strengthening of state institutions should be accompanied by society growing up and becoming stronger too, even though the interests of the organized society and the state (in the sense of bureaucracy) may differ significantly.”


Andrii ANDRUSHKIV, a project manager at the Tsentr UA NGO:

“The oligarchic economy, which emerged in the 1990s, gave birth to a golem of modern Ukrainian politics. For the oligarchic economy, access to power has always been an important component, as it has been the legislative, executive and judicial branches of the government that have provided access to the distribution of shared resources: subterranean minerals, state infrastructure, and state-owned enterprises. Access to power was provided by political projects, which were not really parties, but precisely projects that were created not to represent the interests of certain groups of citizens, but to defend the interests of the oligarchic minority and enrich it.

“To perpetuate themselves in power, oligarchic political projects have learned how to mutate like a virus, change their ideology and positions on key issues in search of a voter who would cast their voice for them. This has led to the emergence and multiplication of programs of political parties which were neither measurable nor rational, but mainly based on pre-election surveys of public opinion on the most significant issues. The political entourage of oligarchs has constantly offered quickly-acting panaceas instead of proposals for changing public policy. On gaining power, such political projects have been unable to implement reforms and election promises, because they had nothing to do with reality even back during the campaign.

“Discussions on the importance of de-oligarchization have been underway at various levels since the Revolution of Dignity, but they have mostly centered on limiting conflicts of interest, reforming taxes or access to governance of state-owned enterprises. At the same time, the key reason that allows oligarchic projects to self-perpetuate as a phoenix, I mean the electoral system, has been left out of sight. The mixed system of elections to the Verkhovna Rada, which was reinforced by Yanukovych, allows oligarchic political projects to compete by using false slogans for closed party lists and bribing voters in single-member districts. It is this system that has led to the fact that more than 40 percent of voters do not see an adequate political platform on offer for themselves, since these are mostly middle-class voters aged 18-40 who do not expect bribes from politicians but want them to offer specific measurable programs.

“It is precisely the electoral reform, which both a significant portion of the Verkhovna Rada members and people who occupy the offices in the Presidential Administration in Bankova Street fear so much, that will allow us to start a real de-oligarchization after which rational political programs will be able to find their voters and vice versa, voters who do not need bribes will be able to find those who do not seek their votes only in order to stay in control of the state sector’s income flows.”