Skip to main content
На сайті проводяться технічні роботи. Вибачте за незручності.

The “system” is so far outplaying society

Den roundtable participants speak of a demand for the alternative and of false “beacons”
15 May, 11:44
Sketch by Anatolii KAZANSKY from The Day’s archives, 1998

On May 8 Den held a roundtable, “New Leaders and ‘Social Elevators’ for them.” Those who participated in the debate were Oleksandr DANYLIUK, head of the Center for Defense Reforms; Kateryna SMAHLII, ex-director of the Kennan Institute’s Kyiv office; Volodymyr FEDORIN, cofounder of Bendukidze Free Market Center and former editor of Forbes Ukraina magazine; Ruslan ROKHOV, founder of the School of Mayors, head of the board of the Joint Efforts agency; and political writer Larysa VOLOSHYNA.

The roundtable continued to discuss the questions Den raised in the article “Television Leaders” (May 3, 2018).

Tellingly, the very announcement of this publication triggered an extremely stormy reaction in social media. Some people supported Den’s position and wrote in comments that it was an important debate. At the same time, there were nervous comments from those who must have forgotten what a real dialog is.

We are convinced that the formation of new leaders and political elites is a socially important topic and not a reason for personal quarrels. This is why we strongly advise those representatives of the civic sector, who have not yet expressed their position for some reasons, to do so because there is an obvious necessity of a higher-level dialog.

Photo by Mykola TYMCHENKO, The Day


Alla DUBROVYK-ROKHOVA: “Pre-election sociological surveys say there is a demand for new faces in politics. I suggest we first find out what kind of new people society wants and why.”

Volodymyr FEDORIN: “The new faces in the surveys you are talking about are people who have not yet been in politics and whom the media have not exposed as allies of the old politicians.”

Oleksandr DANYLIUK: “I agree that there is a demand for people who have not been part of the defective oligarchic clannish system which has posed as democracy for many years. I am not sure that this demand is well-considered. But there are certain signs of maturing. The proof of this is the fact that information about the participation of Liovochkin’s and Pinchuk’s New Leaders, an allegedly civic sector, in the project caused a storm of indignations. I doubt that these people are mature enough to understand that they themselves must show a pro-active attitude and form a party like this, but understanding the necessity of having their representative in politics is already a big step forward.”

A. D.-R.: “If I got you right, new leaders are being again selected in our society by means of the contrast-based method: we want those who are not implicated in anything, instead of looking for those who have been doing, in such hyper-difficult conditions, things that we support and share. Ruslan, do you think it is right?”

Ruslan ROKHOV: “The Ukrainians need different, not new, ones. Den has often said this. The question is not in new faces but in a new quality of politics. This demand is not a discovery of today. The results of all parliamentary elections have been showing it since the 2000s. In 2000, Svoboda entered parliament in the guise of a new one, but they lost the next elections because the middle class saw that they were not different. The same happened to UDAR and may well happen to Samopomich now. The middle class is in search of a representative of its interests which will establish a relationship with it, rather than a policy of one-off transactions: we promised you – you elected us, we failed to fulfill our promises – you search for a new entity to play the role of your representative. Therefore, those who will be able to show their difference by concrete results will become new leaders. Thus, the TV-project policy of one-off transactions, where new political wild schemes are constantly devised to meet the social demand, will give way to the policy of customer-oriented relations between voters and parties. In the same way, when we like a certain hairdresser or dentist, we become his regular customer.”

Kateryna SMAHLII: “There is a demand for a different quality of politics above all because the Maidan’s agenda has not been realized. We hoped that a new force would come and carry out reforms quickly. But this did not occur. Today neither the old nor the new ones, which discredited themselves by allying with the former, can move this process further on. This is why society is in search of those who can do this. Meanwhile, the oligarchic clannish system is adjusting to this and preparing an offer to meet this demand. You want new leaders? Here they are.”


A. D.-R.: “And what is the Maidan’s agenda? We used to invite Maidan civic sector people and the new leaders the Maidan had revealed to roundtables and ask them: what do you favor, what’s your political plan and program? The answer was: the No. 1 goal is to topple Yanukovych and then we shall see. Now it is clear that this position was wrong. Was it really a Revolution of Dignity if Maidan leaders demonstrate inability to unite and communicate with society without resources of the clannish oligarchic system?”

O. D.: “We conducted our own polls during the Maidan. At first the main subject was a risk for Ukraine to lose independence. This brought people onto Independence Square. The problem was not in that we weren’t going to the European Union but in that we were coming closer to the Customs Union.”

R. R.: “I know a lot of people who fell for the project. Their motivation is simple: they want to use the platform for hyping up themselves and their ideas. When told that this platform is toxic, they say they trust the community activists who are in the Supervisory Board now and campaigned for them.

“The point is that it is not a new platform. It is a continuation of the old TV policy that has dominated in Ukraine for many years. An oligarch makes a one-off project before the elections through his media resources and sells his ‘new’ people as ‘different’ during the elections. The Ukrainians elect them. They fail to produce the promised result. They squander their rating within three terms at most, and the oligarch begins all over again.

“In my opinion, the ‘New Leaders’ project is dangerous. Firstly, they run the risk of mowing down the emerging elements by separating leaders of the forces that have already begun to develop.”

Larysa VOLOSHYNA: “There is a demand for a leader as a ‘collective Maidan.’ Society wants a leader who will come and destroy the existing order. It is in fact a demand for the freedoms and subjectivity of a Ukrainian in his own country. It was present at the first and second Maidans and still exists. It is growing. Here we are approaching a major problem which a part of the civic sector is creating, as it has opted to cooperate with the constructors of the system that society really wants to see eliminated. They are bypassing the problem. When a collective demand is not satisfied, this clears the way for war. Demanding new leaders, new rules, and new policies, society is trying to call for peace in the country. And the people who see no problem in simulating leadership and ‘otherness’ for oligarchic money are pushing society towards a colossal explosion which the country may not get over. So, I don’t think we can afford to look at ‘New Leaders’ through our fingers. We are in a real danger.”

V. F.: “I would not go so far as to demonize these nongovernmental organizations. They opt for painful compromises, for they have no answers to a number of questions.

“Moreover, it is good that this project is provoking a more substantial debate: who is who? Oddly enough, a lot of those whom we call civic sector are in fact lobbying governmental reforms. They are doing the government’s job. I call it ‘expert-donor complex.’ Their collusion with the political class simulates reforms. For how else can you explain the fact that none of them managed to make at least one reform work? They have created a civic entity. Why is the ‘New Leaders’ project not there? There’s neither the money nor the audience – it is the result of your reforms.”


O. D.: “I wish we would be courageous enough to drop this euphemism: there were good people who then became bad. It is a simulacrum that was specially designed to disorientate and disinform Ukrainian society. In reality, they have been cooperating for many years. The late Levenets, who was responsible for the formation from the Ukrainian side for many years, knew it very well, as did the deported Shuvalov, their supervisor. Oleh Rybachuk, who was deliberately in contact with Serhii Liovochkin, also knew it very well and used civic forces, also on the Maidan, for the purposes that are destructive for Ukraine.

“Mykhailyna Skoryk wrote an excellent article, ‘A Chronicle of Provocations: Same People Betrayed Euromaidan and Tax Maidan,’ in December 2013. She named no names, but these can be easily guessed. The Tax Maidan did not turn into a revolution owing to the same technique that was supposed to ruin the Euromaidan. The same people took on the leadership, opted for a split with the other political part, and then trumpeted that the whole story was over and carried away the students at night.

“These people consistently participated – deliberately or not – in breaking the political projects aimed at Ukraine’s pro-Western course. This applies to Leshchenko’s and Nayyem’s ‘pedophilegate’ which in fact brought Yanukovych to power, this applies to the United Center and the role of Lesia Orobets in the collapse of a pro-Western coalition three months before the NATO Budapest summit, when Tymoshenko was forced to get communists involved. Incidentally, I’d like to remind you that Vitalii Shabunin, Yaroslav Yurchyshyn, and Tamila Tasheva were Orobets’ assistants. Likewise, the lion’s share of other activists were assistants of Rybachuk, when he was President Yushchenko’s Chief of Staff. Incidentally, Rybachuk was involved in the collapse of the 2005 pro-Western coalition, and he personally took part in the negotiations that brought forth RosUkrEnerho [the Den roundtable took place after we had arranged an interview with Rybachuk on the coming Friday. We hope our plans will not change, and we will give Mr. Rybachuk an opportunity to respond to Danyliuk’s statements. – Ed.].

“Friends, let us say that it is no accident and that we are talking about what was once called ‘active measure,’ when people are just taken in and made to look positive. And we see all this but keep silent – until Roman Sinitsyn, a punk of sorts, comes and says: let’s talk because I have a question.

“They are not community activists not only because they are members of nongovernmental organizations, but also because some of them are active participants in Ukraine’s electoral process as candidates. The abovementioned Yurchyshyn is a longtime party functionary. He is a historian by education and has never been in anticorruption. Then he suddenly wins a competition of 172 people and becomes executive director of Transparency Ukraine. This raises the question: how was this competition held?

“It is deception pure and simple. And it is shame on all of us that we used to share the same TV programs with them and nod that all was OK. It’s not OK.”

L. V.: “Speaking of the Maidans, an evolution has occurred, but it is the evolution of freedom, the freedom of gaining subjectness. The main question is: is it possible at all to establish new rules without leaders? Yes, we need institutions, but modern relations in US society were built at the leader’s call: for example, when Martin Luther King said that racial segregation was the problem. There must be a leader to form a problem and show a vision. And the masses that support the leader create mechanisms as institutions. In my view, at the present stage we cannot construct entirely new institutions on new principles if we have no leaders who adhere to political, ideological, and value-related principles.”

R. R.: “We do have this kind of leaders.”

A. D.: “Our country is free but infantile. If we want to have a quality political service, we should orient ourselves to the client, as Ruslan says. It is when a politician comes to people not only for votes, but also for other support.

“From this viewpoint, the ‘New Leaders’ project does not respond to the challenges of today. Society is already prepared today to take a step – to form a demand, but they are trying to give it another false beacon. They have always been doing so. Let us ask honestly: what is this ‘grouping’ doing in general? It uses its false beacons in everything they are doing.”




Ivan KAPSAMUN: “If we look at Ukraine’s contemporary history, we will see that there has always been a demand for new leaders, as well as a high percentage of those who are dissatisfied with the system. This dissatisfaction exploded in the shape of Maidans, but this needed stimulants. The Orange Revolution was caused by the fact that Kuchma, who had established an oligarchic clannish system, intended to be reelected for a third term, and when he failed to do so, he backed Yanukovych. The Euromaidan was, above all, a reaction to an abrupt change in the government’s course and the beating of students. I agree that society is evolving, but, concurrently, the oligarchic clannish system is also ‘evolving’ – it took advantage of the Maidans and the energy of society and is now staging a show, ostensibly looking for ‘new leaders.’ In other words, the ‘system’ is so far outplaying society. Speaking of the leaders, what kind of program should they have?”

R. R.: “Society will be always losing to the clan system for one reason – oligarchs can always gather and make a deal. They know their interests and have instruments to promote them. Unless society comes to have a subject and an instrument, nobody will even protect its interests. In my view, we have reached this today as a result of the evolution. As for the programs of leaders, each of the latter should identify the problem that torments him, solve it, and thus convince the others that this can be done.”

A. D.-R.: “I would add to Ivan’s question: who are the new leaders’ allies? Are there any people with ample resources and capabilities who are interested in the construction of a strong democratic state?”

V. F.: “I think medium-scale business is a driver of public growth because competition is required and of economic growth because there are monopolies. There was a good example, when in November last year a medium-scale business, Nova Poshta, wanted to turn into a big one, but they were prevented from doing so. So the problem here is: either you grow and become part of the system or you remain a medium-scale business and try to do something on your level, knowing that the SBU or some other agencies may come to you at any moment. It seems to me that there should be a political leadership first, which will be convincing for small- and medium-scale business. The oligarchic system is very strong so far, and it is impossible to deceive it – it is only possible to break it. Two of my good acquaintances take part in the ‘New Leaders’ project in order to use the system’s resources against the system itself. But this is a wrong strategy and absolutely non-systemic thing. What we need is mass-scale systemic pressure on the government.”


K. S.: “It seems to me that we are paying too much attention to oligarchs. It is civil society that can break this system, so let us focus on it. What is the problem with the ‘New Leaders’ project and civil society?

“There is a really astonishing range of nongovernmental organizations in Ukraine: more than 17,000 registered associations, a powerful volunteer movement, and a lot of informal initiatives of interested citizens. And we have noticed a dangerous tendency in the past few years: a few Kyiv-based organizations, which know each other for a long time and cooperate with the same donors, have ‘privatized’ the right to represent Ukraine’s civil society and speak on its behalf. As the debate on the ‘New Leaders’ project showed, they begin to position themselves as the ultimate truth, artificially divide civil society into ‘friends’ and ‘foes,’ and take a scornful attitude to outsiders of this Kyiv ‘mainstream.’ They legitimize their ‘superiority’ or ‘rightness’ through links with government members, Western donors, or oligarchs, rather than with communities. However, many activists and nongovernmental organizations no longer want to put up with the encapsulation and closeness of this self-proclaimed ‘elite’ of civil society, protest against simulacra, and strongly doubt the correctness of their strategy of too close cooperation with the government or big business. If no understanding is found, there may be serious conflicts within the already disunited civil society.”


V. F.: “I have been trying for about two months to launch a project that would involve representatives of the public, NGOs, and media partners in order to try to set up, for the first time in the history of our state, an institution for inducting little-know people of action into politics, for oligarch-run channels have faces of their own. Opponents claim that this will cost enormous money. But there is the internet, online platforms, and some independent media. When we were making the film ‘The Ukraine that Succeeded,’ we had no serious budget, but it eventually drew a wide response – marches, arrests, searches. It took us 5 or 6 filming days, and when we show this film now to certain audiences, we can see the reaction. It’s not a blockbuster, but we can do much more than it may seem at first glance in the era of cutting-edge technologies. And, to do so, it is not necessary at all to come to painful compromises with those who have been ruling this country for more than 20 years. I like the American model most of all. Over there, primaries help find an individual who can meet the demand of society in the best possible way. Primaries are a competition. It is what you gain as a result of struggling for people’s opinions.”

R. R.: “A system can change a system. Only a different organized system can change the oligarchic one. Those who play by the rules of the oligarchic system won’t be able to change it. We must establish institutions and unite people. Time will show to what extent this will succeed. The question is: who is the ally? The organized supply the oligarchs are constantly creating can overcome the organized demand. In other words, it’s necessary to unite customers, shareholders, stake holders of the local and regional level, who share the same interest. They know they won’t bite off more than they can chew, for they will enter into conflict with the system in this case, but they have an articulated interest and can, accordingly, make deals with their counterparts. They are the people who can issue a challenge. The Americans self-organized in this way – from bottom to top, by contrast with monarchies. Therefore, we need a new subject who can throw down a challenge to the oligarchic system because politics is an expression of economic interests. Civil society itself will never create a proper alternative because it is not a customer. It wants to work for a new customer. But hired people do not do politics. It is customers who do politics. It is necessary now to find the customers of different politics.”

L. V.: “You are right to say that one system can overcome another. A businessman and any individual can be a customer. The question is what we, people who are aware of all the current dangers, are to do. What results should we achieve to break the deadlock? Or goal is to set up a platform, where it will be possible to hold primaries and where an individual can draw up a party list and bring it to the Verkhovna Rada, local councils, etc. This is what US parties are presenting today – the list is drawn up not by those who founded the party. This platform will be funded by both big businessmen and ordinary people with small contributions. They form the demand, and hired politicians satisfy it.

“Our problem is also in that the party founders want to be elected. And, in reality, we must all be ready for the situation that, in spite of our contributions, we won’t be elected and will receive nothing at all. We need a mechanism of putting candidates on the imagined list of the party that will not break up the whole coalition. We should think over this mechanism.”

R. R.: “To make oligarchs enter into negotiations with somebody, there must be a subject whom they will accept. If there is no subject, there’s nobody to speak to. Small- and medium-scale business should articulate a new system of rules and finance the new political subject that will change the existing rules. When a customer founds a party, he himself is not running for a parliamentary seat.”

V. F.: “I worked as journalist and editor for economic publications for 15 years and can say with all due responsibility that you will never receive this kind of demand from business. Businesspeople will take part in this process when a political force, which is responsible for the public demand and has attracted people, emerges. Only then will business come there.”


Valentyn TORBA: “If we sum up the point about searching for new leaders and forces, I must say I am haunted by the thought that we are living not only in a non-European country, but even not in Ukraine. At present, we are still in the Ukrainian SSR. Although the country has been transformed, the harsh reality of life is Komsomol windbags, who are playing now the role of civic activists, ‘Red directors, who are playing the role of different-level oligarchs, and an absolutely passive society which is in fact not always aware of what it wants. Maybe, we will have to roam in the wilderness for 40 years in order to squeeze out of ourselves the decades-old infantile mentality which leads to apathy, then to Maidan maximalism, and then to disappointments again. I share the opinion that the leader is, above all, a person of action. War has brought forth a new army, the new military, and volunteers. Something of the sort, but in the longer term, should occur to the entire Ukrainian society. Unfortunately, we are catastrophically short of time. But, instead of the people of action whose activity can be easily traced on concrete examples, we have an artificially constructed pseudo-reality behind which stand oligarchs who ‘will never peck each other’s eyes.’”

A. D.-R.: “We are saying that the ‘New Leaders’ project is a wrong way and poses a threat to this country. Then which way do you think is right, and are there any grounds to think that it will be successful?”

R. R.: “It takes small steps to go a long way. Leaders must lead others with their examples. They are representatives of milieus, namely, communities. It is wrong to proceed from an abstraction – I will come and do something. What we need is a technical assignment, its fulfillment, and victories. This will form a network which will finally turn into a political platform. A platform like this cannot be one in number.”

V. F.: “I don’t think we have time to build this kind of networks because borders are open, and, as long as you restructure this until 2024, both voters and leaders will realize themselves in some other place. In my view, one must think in terms of nationwide projects. It would be very good if we continued to project nationwide supra-party primaries, where the demand for new names is formed by the press, civic activists, and pro-Ukrainian, pro-European, and pro-democratic politicians. All this should be done openly, quite in contrast to the abovementioned projects, including ‘New Leaders.’ This may provide a chance to answer the question: who will come after Poroshenko? You can’t possibly become a politician in six years’ time. You must become a politician right now.”

L. V.: “The first thing to be done is to rally people around values. Incidentally, the war against Russian occupation is what can bring together both the Left and the Right if they are Ukrainians. For this reason, we must search not for new leaders but for the ways in which society can show itself.”

K. S.: “In my opinion, civil society itself must do homework. Like parties, nongovernmental organizations should be based on real membership. And leaders of these NGOs should be elected by members of these organizations, not by the obscure groups of three people who have privately decided which of them brought more grants and, accordingly, has the right to be the leader. For this reason, we should first achieve leadership on the microlevel. But this will be a microlevel of the truth, which will bring forth the macrolevel of high-quality life.”

Delimiter 468x90 ad place

Subscribe to the latest news:

Газета "День"