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How to stop the oligarchization of power?

31 января, 00:00
VALENTYNA HOSHOVSKA

This phenomenon poses a threat to Ukraine, says political scientist Valentyna HOSHOVSKA, who heads the Center for Prospective Social Research at the Ministry of Labor and Social Policy and the Ukrainian National Academy of Sciences. “The oligarchization of power is a new term in the Ukrainian political milieu. What does it mean? Does it describe a process by which oligarchs come to power? Some estimates put the number of millionaires in the current Ukrainian parliament at 300. Why has the term ‘oligarchization of power’ appeared only now?”

“It is not about the number of oligarchs in parliament, but about the classic system of oligarchized parties. This phenomenon was known in Europe in the early 1920s. The Ukrainian scenario of oligarchization has four or five of the richest parties imposing their own rules of the game. As a group or faction, they have been in parliament for a long time, i.e., they have had many opportunities to push their own bills through parliament and lobby for their ideas. A single parliamentarian can raise a certain issue, but he will not resolve it. Meanwhile, a group or faction has the capacity to propose a bill, push it through parliament, and monitor its implementation. Parties that have been represented in parliament for several convocations in a row are full-fledged subjects of legislative power. They are oligarchic parties. Such parties have had the same leader for more than 10 years. They have an exceedingly large central committee and their own monitoring and oversight bodies.”

“They are attempting to convince us of the benefits of such ‘powerful’ political forces. What are their dangers?”

“These parties are capable of stifling any initiative proposed by their cells at the regional, municipal, or district level. If they show any disagreement, the mother party disbands them immediately. These forces have a solid financial footing and enough regular supporters among the voting population, which allows them to use their popularity and paid services of the mass media to impose any opinion and implement any idea that might run counter to the nation’s interests. They caused the most damage during the period of transition from the previous majority electoral system to a party one. They did absolutely everything to endorse the most ‘tragic’ electoral legislation in Europe. The Venice Commission criticized it in extremely negative terms. The election law is imperfect in addition to the imperfect constitutional amendments relating to the electoral process. I must remind you that these amendments were proposed and lobbied for by party leaders who spent over 20 years in parliament and did everything possible to secure parliamentary seats for their party forces for another five years. They created the law specifically to reflect their interests. A kind of conservation of the elites has taken place. Only parliamentary parties will control the election process within the Central Electoral Commission. Only parliamentary parties will have budgets funded with taxpayers’ money. Incidentally, these budgets are enormous. Nobody asks people if they want to finance one party or another. It may happen that my taxes will be used to bankroll a party that I consider dangerous to society.”

“Is Ukraine following its own path or repeating somebody else’s mistakes?”

“There was a period in Italy when a proportional electoral system was introduced in place of a majority electoral system. The people saw how much damage it was doing. They held a referendum and abolished this system. The same thing can happen here. I think that political, economic, moral, and spiritual problems are inevitable. We will see a certain degree of degradation. People will soon understand what it means not to have a representative of their own.

“Therefore, voters must know the names of each one of those who initiated the amendments. We must know our ‘heroes.’ I think that they are the same politicians who at one time caused Ukraine’s international isolation by spreading disinformation about the sale of the Kolchuha air defense systems and the killing of the journalist Heorhiy Gongadze. They have also provoked the present internal crisis with the current electoral legislation. They did it for their own party interests. They did Ukraine a bad turn. How could they permit this chaos? The parliamentary elections and the elections of representatives to local councils will take place on the same day. Voters will receive one huge sheet with the names of parliamentary nominees, another sheet with nominees to the oblast council, and another one with the nominees to the municipal, raion, or village councils. The elections of mayors are also scheduled for the same day. A person will have to spend at least 30 or 40 minutes reading these lists. How many voters can pass through a polling district in these conditions? No more than 25 percent. Why hasn’t anybody thought about this?”

“Some people think that the new legislation makes parliamentarians dependent on their party leaders, which deprives them of the right to have a viewpoint of their own.”

“This is true. The imperative mandate turns the future parliamentarian into a serf and bondsman of the faction leader. Political leaders will decide everything by themselves. They will have no use for fellow party members. After all, the new legislation deprives parliamentarians of the opportunity to consult the people or maintain their own opinions. They will only receive instructions on which way to vote and will not be allowed to take a step to the left or the right. That is why when individual factions are forming their slates, they require members to promise not to ‘betray’ the faction under any circumstances: ‘betray,’ as in ‘have a different opinion.’

“I get the impression that regardless of their political leanings, leftist or rightist, the parties have formed a kind of syndicate that is trying to persuade everybody else that no one but these five or six parties can ever make it to parliament. This is very dangerous, because people fall for this type of political spin.”

“Does this mean that you do not trust opinion polls and forecasts?”

“As a citizen, I do not trust many forecasters. I see a pattern here: on the eve of party congresses that gather to endorse party slates, these parties’ standings in the polls tend to rise sharply. Some pollsters predicted 160 seats in parliament for one party and 120 or 110 seats for another. People are are sure about one thing: the rich guys are being pumped for money.

“The current legislation has fostered the growth of heretofore unseen party corruption and trading for places on party slates. It is nobody’s concern whether any particular person is a professional or not. It’s no surprise that the next parliament will be composed of people, some of whom have never written laws, will never write laws, and, furthermore, will never read them. I consider this a tragedy of the next parliament. Realizing this forced me to run for parliament. I cannot live according to the principle of ‘not my business.’ The elections are three months away, and we must do our utmost to change this situation. The public should have a say in determining who and what forces will be elected to parliament.”

“However, the overwhelming majority of the population is confused. People do not know whom they should vote for. They are disappointed in the leaders whom they trusted only a year ago. They think that the Orange forces not only failed to justify their hopes, but also betrayed them. What, in your opinion, is the reason behind these sentiments?”

“It is clear that today thinking people are in a kind of moral depression: they do not know whom they should vote for. They dislike virtually all the political forces that are claiming to be the frontrunners in the election race. They oppose the lack of professionalism that is discernible among the leaders of various calibers and specializations. Consider, for example, the average barber, who becomes a Doctor of Sciences candidate and snags a Ph.D. in one year. In my view, the biggest problem is the absence of a stable middle class. We have proclaimed Ukraine a social and law-governed state. This norm is present in the constitutions of a majority of countries whose populations are composed of 60 or 80 percent middle class. This is the case in Spain, Sweden, Finland, Denmark, Norway, and many other European nations. Much has been done there for doctors, teachers, librarians, technical and agricultural specialists, and small business owners. Over the years nothing has been done in Ukraine to foster the formation of a middle class. I remember how two years ago there were plans to hold a large conference on this subject, but it did not go beyond the discussion level. Nobody notices these problems now. Hence no efforts are made to resolve them. Meanwhile, as we know, the absence of a middle class results in extreme social polarization, the kind that is happening now in Ukraine. On the one hand, the 0.01 percent of the population is filthy rich, one percent is very rich, and five to six percent are rich. And the middle class is a mere 6 to 12 percent of the population. The remaining 70 percent of Ukrainians are poor people, such as homeless individuals, including children, the majority of pensioners, and underpaid working-age people. The vicious circle of poverty breeds a host of problems. Talented young people from the countryside have little opportunity to obtain a university education and find a worthy place in life. Even if they get win state scholarships, few parents can afford to support their life in the city and pay for food, clothing, and travel. Social polarization has become an abyss. It will not consolidate society, but the opposite: it will deepen these destructive processes. Now that we are talking about unity and consolidation, we must propose a program to bridge the gap between the richest and the poor.”

“Some believe that people who run for parliament should be well off, if not rich. Then they will not be tempted to make a fortune illegally.”

“I do not believe that they will sympathize with the needs of the people on the other side of the abyss. When we say that Ukraine has several families of billionaires, we must be aware that none of them share the philosophy of the wealthy philanthropists of the 18th and 19th centuries. Today’s Ukrainian millionaires have forgotten about the people whom they duped in order to build up their huge capital. How can one possibly accumulate so much in just a few years? In other countries the process of accumulating private capital takes centuries. Grandfathers and fathers had to work to accumulate it. Here it’s a matter of years, and this does not surprise anybody. Isn’t asking where they got this much money the moral thing to do? Quite the opposite, it’s amoral not to ask. Consider, for example, Poland, where no one has capital exceeding 40 million. Here such fortunes are commonplace among the rich. At the same time, entire industries are deteriorating, drained of all their profits by oligarchs. Consider the coal mines. Young people work below the surface of the earth in life-threatening conditions for meager wages. Unless people learn to see who is who, we will not rise from this abyss.”

“Before elections, when the population is under tremendous informational pressure, it is not easy to make sense of the situation. How do you distinguish between a sincere desire to develop the country and cheap promises?”

“The Yevhen Marchuk bloc has enough professionals to make this truth known to the people and propose a program to foster the formation of a middle class in the country in the shortest possible period. Unless there is a middle class, there will be nobody to take care of social orphans, of whom there are officially 200,000, but nearly a million in reality. Even paying out 8,500 hryvnias for each child born will not help the situation. I studied the statistics for the past nine months. Unfortunately, even though women are now receiving this amount, they have still abandoned twice as many children as last year, when they were not receiving these benefits. Nothing will work if we try to solve this problem in fits and starts, episodically, and by patching up holes without a systemic approach.”

“How can you tell a genuine Ukrainian patriot from a pseudo-patriot?”

“I differentiate them based on how they speak about Ukraine. For example, I have never heard a Russian or Pole say ‘We live in THIS country.’ Meanwhile, we are accustomed to hearing this word combination: ‘in THIS country.’ It appears we have forgotten that this is OUR country. At first this outraged and hurt me. I have divided such people into two categories. For me, they are either uneducated and ignorant, or they are enemies of their country. If he doesn’t call Ukraine ‘my country,’ I do not consider him seriously.”

“Does the notion ‘oligarchization of power’ describe only the partisan dimension of the problem? Do the oligarchs who are trying to get their names on party slates at any cost pose a threat to the development of a democratic society?”

“This has two components: ‘political oligarchization’ and ‘oligarchization of party slates.’ The latter developed recently. Oligarchs, who only a few years ago preferred to remain in the shadows, declaring that ‘Pressing buttons is not a royal thing to do,’ are now bending over backwards to get into parliament. They seek immunity and an opportunity somehow to influence social processes as part of a team. This is a solid guarantee of the preservation and growth of their business. Also, they want to perpetuate a belief among the public that they can build up the country in the same way as they develop their own enterprises. But we are all aware of the state of affairs in most of these privatized enterprises, as well as what is happening with the coal industry, natural gas, and oil. I know how hard it is for real specialists to work in these spheres, when oligarchs of various calibers interfere with the work of state functionaries, demanding that their own interests be served first and foremost. The price increases for Russian gas are very advantageous for the Ukrainian oligarchs who produce natural gas on Ukrainian territory. Today it sells for 60 or 70 dollars per 1,000 cubic meters. But just tally up their profits if the price increases to 230. I think the government should start not by raising gas prices for consumers, but by inventorying Ukrainian gas wells. People should know who owns them. Meanwhile, a ceiling on profits, such as 10 percent of their yield, should be set for owners, as this has been done in Russia. The remaining funds should be directed toward social programs: education, healthcare, etc. Things have to be brought in order.”

“The struggle for power will obviously take a toll on the economy. Who can curb this process?”

“We must clearly understand that the economic situation will deteriorate in connection with the parliamentary elections. It will also be a long time before a parliamentary majority forms and the speaker and ministers are appointed. This will not happen as soon as we would like. Moreover, in Ukraine, where there are as many ambitions as there are leaders, the political elite tends to overestimate itself. Therefore, this will be a lengthy process. In this situation a professional force is needed, one that will consolidate everyone and know how to find a way out of all these situations.”

“Is it possible to counter the forceful propaganda of the handful of powerful parties?”

“The parties and blocs that are running for parliament must necessarily sign a pact. They must find forms of cooperation to resist the oligarchic parties. I am certain that it is still not too late to reverse the extremely dark prospect of the government becoming oligarchized.”

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