Where Optimists and Pessimists Meet

Mykola Riabchuk

Three years ago, when Viktor Yanukovych was narrowly winning elections over Yulia Tymoshenko, very few people predicted future developments that would result in the full usurpation of power by a well-organized and extremely resourceful group of unscrupulous rent-seekers. It was an open secret, both then and now, that many regional bosses had a criminal past. Hennadiy Moskal, a former deputy minister of internal affairs, maintains that there are at least 18 of them in today’s parliament, all of them in the Party of Regions faction http://www.pravda.com.ua/articles/2013/03/21/6986155/.

Even without this (and many other) warnings, the living experience under two governments of Viktor Yanukovych – in 2002-2004 and 2006-2007 – should have been sufficient to understand what his ultimate victory would mean for the country. Sapienti sat, but Ukrainians seem to be incurable optimists. This might seem paradoxical in view of all the ordeals they suffered throughout their history. But maybe some resilient optimism is exactly what they need most to survive under unfavorable circumstances.

Even today, three years after Yanukovych’s victory and the complete destruction of state institutions, any warnings about the most probable steps to be undertaken by his devious team usually fall on deaf ears. Even seasoned experts typically respond: “No, they would not go that far!”

But they do. And there are no signs they are going to stop anywhere due to some legal, or moral, or merely technical reasons. If any rule, or law, or even the constitution restrain the usurpers, they easily change them, bypass, misinterpret, or ignore. This is how they created the illegitimate government, reshuffled the Constitutional Court, abandoned the Constitution, changed the electoral law, falsified local and, then, national parliamentary elections, imprisoned political opponents, subordinated the entire judiciary to the unconstitutional body called the Supreme Council of Justice, a mere handmaiden of the presidential administration, and more http://www.pravda.com.ua/articles/2013/03/25/6986377/.

Until recently, very few people imagined the tame courts could be used, four months after the elections, to withdraw mandates from a couple of disobedient deputies on the dubious legal ground of some alleged electoral violations. No Ukrainian law stipulates such an odd procedure but the goal of the legal novelty is clear: to send a message to all MPs that any of them could lose their mandate at any point, depending on the president’s whim and his team’s calculations. If the MPs refuse to accept carrots in a form of six-digit bribes, they should be ready to face the sticks http://www.pravda.com.ua/news/2013/02/8/6983167/.

Sehiy Vlasenko, Yulia Tymoshenko’s legal adviser, became the latest victim of Ukraine’s notorious selective justice when the Supreme Administrative Court stripped him of his MP’s mandate on the grounds that he could not combine the activity of a professional attorney and work in the legislature. Despite the fact that all the evidence indicated that he did not represent Tymoshenko in court as an attorney but merely assisted her as a consultant (which is not forbidden by law), the judges adhered to their decision http://www.pravda.com.ua/news/2013/03/6/6985032/.

Now, the Ukrainian optimists have got one more field to perfect their positive thinking. As the crucial presidential elections in 2015 loom large and the incumbent has virtually no chance to win them fairly, the possible tricks are pondered, ranging from possible changes of the constitution that would enable the election of the president by the (domesticated) parliament to a more sophisticated manipulation of the electoral process that would secure an easy victory for the incumbent against the radical rival in the second round. The first scenario was put in doubt after the parliamentary elections did not bring the Party of Regions the needed majority it needed to change the constitution at some later point. The second scenario was questioned recently by an opinion poll, which revealed that Yanukovych might lose the second round not only to Vitaliy Klychko (30% to 49%), Arseniy Yatseniuk (33 to 40) or Yulia Tymoshenko (33 to 36), but even to Oleh Tiahnybok, a radical nationalist, who was considered easy prey for the incumbent and therefore the most preferable sparring partner in the second round. Now, Tiahnybok lags only one per cent behind Viktor Yanukovych (32 to 33) and, as time passes and the situation deteriorates, may overrun the incumbent as a lesser evil in the eyes of the electorate http://ratinggroup.com.ua/products/politic/data/entry/14049/.

Therefore, Ukrainian authorities are musing over a new ploy: to conduct the presidential elections in a single round, that is to employ the first-past-the-post system, which largely helped them to win parliamentary elections last year. This does not require any changes to the constitution, other than to amend the law on elections to that of a simple majority. And once again, the Ukrainian optimists contend that the Regionals would not go so far. They argue that such presidential elections would not be internationally accepted and that the legitimacy of such a president would be very low. But there are no proofs that Ukrainian rulers care much about international practice, legality and legitimacy. Occasionally, they make some concessions to public opinion and international policy-makers but only to a degree that would not threaten their monopoly on power.

Their general approach to all the boring legal principles and procedures was aphoristically expressed by Mykhaylo Chechetov, the Party of Regions band-master who conducts the  “right” voting of his party fellows in the parliament by raising the hand (that means “yes”) or waving it (that means “no”). Last year, after his faction brazenly violated all the procedural requirements to push through the parliament a highly controversial law on languages, he boasted cynically to journalists: “Just realize the elegancy of our play! We tricked them (the opposition) like kittens!”

The meaning of “elegancy” of their play is perfectly characterized by a leading member of the Party of Regions who, back in 2004, headed the shadow, i.e. real electoral headquarters of Viktor Yanukovych, responsible for all electoral manipulations, contrary to the official headquarters, assigned the role of a show-window. According to Taras Chornovil, who worked at the time for Yanukovych, all his attempts to discourage colleagues from blatant falsifications encountered a typical response from the headquarters’ chief: “Why worry? Everything is under [our] control!” (Ne boysya! Vse skhvacheno”—the word “skhvacheno” comes from criminal jargon and means literally “is captured!”).

There are an increasing number of experts who believe that Yanukovych has already passed the point of no return and will now stay in power at any cost. Many Ukrainians used to have the same feeling about Leonid Kuchma after his alleged involvement in Heorhiy Gongadze’s murder. But, as Mykhaylo Dubyniansky argues, Kuchma had some internal restraints that are completely missing in Yanukovych. Kuchma was prone to bargain for security guarantees and retreat peacefully. Yanukovych would not trust in any guarantees since he destroyed the non-aggression pact among the elites himself. “He does not stand upon ceremony with the Constitution, does not stand with MPs, and would definitely not stand with protesters, however many of them go into the streets. Any attempt to dismiss Yanukovych – real, not farcical – would end up with violence. If anybody had cherished rosy illusions, they should have faded away last fall. We saw a bloody battle in Pervomaysk [during the elections], and tear gas in Kyiv, even though there was nothing particularly valuable to fight for. In two years, the stakes will be much higher – the personal security of Viktor Yanukovych, his family assets, and his beloved Mezhyhirya residence. Coercion would grow proportionally to the price of defeat”: http://www.pravda.com.ua/articles/2013/03/21/6986081/.

These gloomy predictions might contrast dramatically with some optimists’ views. A leading Ukrainian historian Yaroslav Hrytsak believes that “Ukraine has never had such a weak regime. To dismiss it is an easy and even joyful task” http://gazeta.ua/articles/grycak-jaroslav/_mudrist/415453.  Oksana Zabuzhko, a prominent Ukrainian writer, argues that: “by all indications, they are short-term rulers… And, when they—like teenagers who encourage themselves—cry threateningly that they have come to power ‘for a long time,’ it sounds ridiculous” http://unian.net/ukr/news/news-385145.html.  Yulia Mostova, the editor of the reputable Dzerkalo tyzhnia weekly, contends that “today’s authorities are weaker than ever before” because they are not able to “withstand the challenges that our nation encounters” http://gazeta.dt.ua/POLITICS/slabkist_silnih.html.  And Alexander Motyl, one of the most perceptive observers of current Ukrainian politics, is confident that Yanukovych’s deeply dysfunctional system “will collapse under its own dead weight. Most probably, that collapse will come in 2015, during the next presidential elections, or in 2020, after Yanukovych finishes his second term” http://www.worldaffairsjournal.org/blog/alexander-j-motyl/yanukovych-ruin-and-its-aftermath-part-1.

What both the optimists and the pessimists have in common is a profound concern about the regime’s succession. Indeed, whether the regime’s collapse occurs sooner or later, peacefully or violently, the new authorities, in any case, would have to solve an enormously difficult task of complete reconstruction of state institutions, from top to bottom. And, as Mykhaylo Dubyniansky aptly remarks, the tougher an authoritarian regime, the more likely its opponents-cum-successors would be very similar, as we have witnessed in Libya, Syria, and quite a few African states. In other words, Vitaliy Klychko may easily win an election against Viktor Yanukovych if it is free and fair. But if it were not conducted democratically, it would likely not be Klychko who orchestrates the dismissal of the usurper. Suffice it to recall the dismissal of Ceausescu, Qaddafi, or Assad to understand the challenges Ukraine is approaching.



Distinguished University Professor, University of Alberta

One comment

  1. Kada

    “…very few people predicted future developments that would result in the full usurpation of power..”

    It certainly lie because many knew, but such people as Rjabchuk (Hrytsak, Mostova) worked against Yushchenko, hoping that the Jewish cocaine princess will help such to live better. Now they push Klichko, a puppet of the Jewish illegal capitals of Kolomojsky and the co. Perhaps it will turn out?

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