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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

Ukraine’s Opposition trying to unite

For what purpose and how?
25 October, 2012 - 00:00
Sketch by Anatolii KAZANSKY from The Day’s archives, 1997

Watching the Batkivshchyna-Svoboda Opposition making every effort to arrange for a joint action memorandum with Vitali Klitschko’s UDAR party in the next Ukrainian parliament, one is reminded of Albert Einstein who said, “A perfection of means, and confusion of aims, seems to be our main problem.” 

Batkivshchyna was apparently no longer concerned about winning as many votes as it could, combating the “bandit regime.” They wanted a deal with UDAR, above all a document signed to the effect that they would form an opposition that would not cooperate with the Party of Regions on any terms and conditions. UDAR refused, so they had to make do with Svoboda.

From the outset it was clear that all this fuss wasn’t worth a damn. First, what makes the story of Ukrainian politics sad is that written and gentlemen’s agreements have never been kept. Written or oral, all such arrangements have been for the birds, with the politicians involved offering eloquent post factum explanations during talk shows or in the printed media. At present, there is no way to overcome this negative trend. Political culture is a derivative of the state of society, indicative of the degree of democracy. If on an upward curve, public attitude to politicians failing to keep their promises will be increasingly negative, forcing them to think twice before making any statement.

Under the circumstances, trying to sign any document should not be regarded as a number-one objective.

Second, there are tactical reasons behind the Joint Opposition’s insistence on the signing of the document, just as there are ones behind UDAR’s refusal to do so. The outcome of the parliamentary elections in Ukraine is relatively predictable, considering the phenomenon of Klitschko’s party (it started the campaign in conditions that are dramatically different from the current ones).

UDAR’s success appears to have taken Batkivshchyna and Party of Regions’ leaders and spin doctors unawares. The ruling PoR has developed a problem with communists behind the rear lines that promises further problems, heaps of them. They let the commies loose for a certain purpose, but the Reds started barking and attacking their partner, at times sinking their fangs in his flesh, leaving bleeding wounds.

PoR’s anticommunist U-turn is (a) belated and (b) spectacularly inefficient. The administrative resource is their only hope. The ruling party will have to part with lots of hard cash, considering the situation in Luhansk oblast, in the east and south of Ukraine.

Holding coalition and other talks is much easier when one knows the exact number of seats in the next parliament. As it is, collaboration with PoR isn’t the problem. Should Vitali Klitschko follow in Tihipko’s footsteps, he would have to forget about winning even local campaigns and return to boxing. For now, there is hearsay. No newsworthy proof.

Apparently, the Joint Opposition, including Svoboda (if and when they have seats in the Ukrainian parliament), is mostly worried about their stance during the talks, considering that they may well end up acting as a junior partner. This possibility was what made them hurry about an arrangement with UDAR, trying to talk that party into signing an agreement, with terms and conditions.

After all, the coalition talks could fail and there would be no democratic alliance at the Verkhovna Rada, or that alliance could turn out to be too weak to challenge the Party of Regions and its Red satellites. UDAR leadership is well aware of the situation and doesn’t want to make any commitments.

There is a very thin margin between political tactics and strategy. There is apparently more to UDAR than a spin doctor’s ad hoc project meant for the ongoing parliamentary campaign in Ukraine. UDAR’s architects obviously have far-reaching political goals in mind, so this campaign is just an episode – important as it is – of a serial. If coming to power is the number-one objective (otherwise establishing a political party, getting involved in politics, doesn’t make sense), certain problems have to be solved. In Ukraine, these problems are solved in reverse order, compared to the established democracies.

First, you find the leader – Vitali Klitschko for UDAR – and then you use the name as the party’s brand name. Their first try was anything but spectacular (well, the first step is the hardest). Now they are showing a far better performance, having the right electorate niche, with mounting public moods seeking fresh political blood, a political party capable of carrying out reforms. Whether Klitschko’s UDAR will win remains to be seen, but his party’s public impact is self-evident.

In terms of political strategy, with the Verkhovna Rada and local elections’ date approaching, with the possibility of early presidential elections, it is important for UDAR to retain and add, much as possible, to its political capital. Joining the anti-PoR Opposition, becoming another member of an alliance led by good old parliamentary figures, with their good old ambitions, doesn’t fit the pattern of [fresh-blood] progress. The Ukrainian voter in the street knows little about the intricacies of politics, he doesn’t give a hoot about them, so making the process even more complicated will leave him totally confused.

Organization is another problem. The ongoing campaign is proof that UDAR has organizing problems. In the east of Ukraine most electoral districts are dominated by people acting hand in glove with the ruling PoR. Many of them have since changed sides, quitting one party, joining the next one, finally ending up as UDAR members. Standard practice in Ukrainian politics, but one that may have a serious impact on Klitschko’s party. Much will depend on how this problem is solved (the sooner the better). In this sense, the virtual Opposition partners are better off, considering that their regional organizations were established earlier. Vitali Klitschko had to make do with what was left of human [political] resources.

Ideology is the biggest problem. I know that most of my [Ukrainian/Russian] readers are allergic to the very notion [considering the recent Soviet experience]. Nevertheless, ideology is the cornerstone of any political party. A long-established fact: ideology comes first, followed by party leadership and organization.

The existing Opposition has a structure that testifies to the contrary. Toppling the current administration is a matter of political conjuncture, not a tactical objective. Ditto all talk about impeachment and bandits having to be thrown behind bars. This isn’t an action plan, rather a way to go through the motions of being politically active.

Batkivshchyna boasts an eclectic ideology, a mix of liberalism, social democracy, and leftist populism. UDAR is still liberal-minded, as evidenced by this party’s stance in regard to private land ownership and land market.

This is tactic, not strategy. There are many other ideological aspects that actually divide the Opposition. Add here the privatization issue and you will end up having a very long list.

The experience of countries in the West shows that this divide runs deep. What kind of reforms should be carried out in Ukraine? Liberal standards show that this will be a long and painful process, accompanied by mounting social tensions. The longer the process, the higher the price Ukraine will have to pay. Georgia – Saakashvili’s team – has failed to accomplish this process. Leaving alone his authoritarian ambitions, there were many reasons behind the fiasco. In the first place, the populace was not willing to await all those changes for the better. Much had been done, but a large part of the population felt nothing had changed due to the snail’s pace of the economic and social process.

Similar problems are far more serious in Ukraine. So far the Opposition has no solutions to them. This makes one wonder about the reasons for getting united: for what purpose and how? What kind of reforms should be carried out in the first place?

No such points on the political agenda so far, simply because political conjuncture comes first in Ukraine. None of the competing parties has offered a plan of effective reforms. In their absence, the likely scenario is a remake of what happened in 2004-05, followed by a blue mood, total disillusionment, a fog hard to disperse.