Sunday, May 10, 2015

Ukrainian Sovereignty between Civic Activism and Oligarchic Renaissance

Mykhaylo Minakov, Ivan Kolodiy
Krytyka Magazine March, 2015; via JS on Facebook

The terrible and bloody year of 2014 was a time of huge shocks to Ukrainian society, not least because we were not ready – neither psychologically nor institutionally – for events on such a scale. It is important to understand the lessons of the heroism and wrongdoing, the decisiveness and cowardice, the wisdom and stupidity of both leaders and citizens in 2014. Among these lessons is the need to come to comprehend the political factors that affect the possibilities open to us: the demands of our partners and the intentions of our enemies.

Throughout 2014, a group of analysts from the Foundation for Good Politics examined political processes in Ukraine. Drawing on weekly polling data and monthly analyses of political events, we discovered three main tendencies in our country’s development in 2014 that will certainly continue to affect events in 2015, namely:

Crisis of state sovereignty
Growth of influence of civic associations
Strengthening of oligarchy
Crisis of State Sovereignty

This is the first time since Ukraine became an independent state in 1991 that we are faced with such a grave crisis of sovereignty.

Sovereignty is a necessary condition for statehood; it is manifested in a politically and legally self-reliant domestic government and the independence of the state as a subject of international law. Beginning in fall 1991, Ukraine’s sovereignty increased and was strengthened through political, legal, socio-economical, and cultural-symbolic institutions, the effectiveness of which continued to grow up until the first crisis of sovereignty in 2004. In 2004 Ukraine was in danger of losing its unity and sovereignty. The Ukrainian elite managed to mop up after the crisis in 2005-2006. To a large degree, they overcame the crisis while rejecting the institutional development of democracy and rule of law in favor of national unity. Once again Ukraine became an overly centralized, exclusionary, and corrupt political system.

The government of Viktor Yanukovych aggravated conflicts within the country and eroded all social support for the Ukrainian state in its existing political form. Having “reactivated” the 1996 constitution, Yanukovych’s administration hastened the process of delegitimization not only for its own political regime, but also for the political project of the “Third Republic” overall (counting the political experiments of 1917-1922 as the “First Republic,” and the Ukrainian SSR as the “Second”). (Here we must reject the usual enumeration of Ukrainian republics, whereby the first is identified as the competition between Ukrainian political projects in 1917-1922, and the second is the Ukrainian political system after 1991. Disregard for Soviet Ukraine is one of the sources of the current crisis. Contemporary Ukraine was created on the foundations of the Ukrainian SSR, [see] and the ideology of achieving a “second Soviet republic” only highlights the inadequacy of a national-patriotic vision of statebuilding. Furthermore, the chance to build a post-oligarchic democratic Ukraine is worth terming a “fourth Ukraine.”)

This ruler, whose popularity declined annually and who increasingly concentrated power in the hands of a single financial-political group, even pushing aside allied oligarchic groups, passed the peak of his administration’s effectiveness in 2012. After that, his authoritarian regime resulted in a build-up of errors, which arose as a result of low levels of engagement of different groups within society and the elite in decision-making processes. The worsening of the economy in fall 2013 compounded ineffective administration and the government’s extremely low level of legitimacy, which led to a systemic crisis. An inability to react nimbly to this economic and political crisis resulted in a situation in which Viktor Yanukovych and his entourage repeatedly adopted policies that only worsened the crisis.

The adoption of the “January 16 laws” was the very peak of ineffectiveness for the Yanukovych administration. Copied from legislation adopted during the “Putinist revolution,” the January 16 laws had a completely different result than in Russia and Belarus. If Vladimir Putin destroyed the legal system in Russia gradually, acclimating the elite and the population to the new political regime with complete unquestioning support from the Duma and the tractability of the majority of Russian media, in Ukraine the authoritarian regime was introduced over the course of a single day, in the face of hundreds of thousands of protesters on the streets, with a doubtful majority in the Rada and with a large number of media outlets not loyal to the regime.

The inadequacy of Viktor Yanukovych’s rule was also demonstrated by the events of February 19-22. The shooting of unarmed citizens on Instytutska Street and the president’s hasty getaway were events whose explanation lies in the inability of the country’s leader and government to adopt sensible legislation.

Regime change and the low level of legitimacy of the new Rada-selected government led to a number of developments: increased influence of western countries on the government’s decisions, separatist movements in the eastern provinces of Ukraine, the seizure of Crimea by the Russian Federation, and the government’s inability to establish a monopoly on force and the administration of territories. All of this taken together made up the moment of greatest crisis for the “Third Republic.”

A challenge to sovereignty is posed both by influence from US and EU member states’ governments and by international financial and military organizations. Without doubt, the support of the West is extremely important at a time of war with Russia and the separatists, and without the help of the IMF, the US, and the EU, our financial system simply would not be able to function. However, the negative effect of this support is that we are creating institutions and practices that normalize the Ukrainian state’s lack of complete independence. The elites in power are growing used to the status of a “protectorate”: the same people who would not let Moscow have the upper hand now tolerate the idea of Washington having the last word. As the West grows weary of the Ukrainian situation, the people who are currently deciding our fate may simply change their priorities. And then our sovereignty, renewed with the assistance of other nations, will fall hostage to the interests of other nations, not the citizens of Ukraine.

At the same time, Russia’s actions are ruinous. Separatism and Russian intervention are inseparable processes, made possible by the crisis of sovereignty and intended to exacerbate that crisis. The Russian seizure of Crimea and support for the separatists were (and are) an act of direct denial of Ukraine’s sovereignty.

This crisis of sovereignty is accompanied by a significant reduction in the effective population of Ukraine. The extent of this decline is approximately 5,4 million adults, or 15% of the total number of voting Ukrainians. This is not due to the sudden death of a large number of our compatriots, but rather population loss due to the annexation of Crimea and citizens living in separatist-controlled regions of the Donbas.

Ukrainian society has quantitatively changed in a fundamental way, and even if the consequences of this change are not immediately visible, it has already shifted all aspects of Ukrainian society that are observed by scholars. The direct result for the work of societal and political analysts is roughly this: all the established and tested formulas and explanations are going to “go crazy” for one to three years, and only later on will stable indicators reappear. The problems created by a crisis of sovereignty were demonstrated by participation in this year’s elections, which hindered accurate representation of the population in parliament: the East and South were represented at a lower level (in nine oblasts turnout decreased by more than 10% compared to 2012), the Center as usual, and the West at a higher level (turnout in Ternopil’ oblast rose by 2%, in Ivano-Frankivs’k oblast by 3%, and in L’viv oblast by 4%).

Furthermore, although war is usually a mobilizing factor, the social legitimacy of basic political institutions in Ukraine has not rebounded. In 2014 only 15% of citizens trusted parliament. This indicator is higher than in 2012 (7%), but it still hasn’t reached the level that would be expected under the extraordinary conditions of wartime. Similarly, the police are trusted by 19% of citizens (6% in 2012), but still the majority of citizens do not trust them, even after leadership changes. Despite the rhetoric of unity among the elite and leading thinkers, we are still a very fragmented and distrusting nation. And Ukraine’s political system is still alien to the majority of its citizens.

The new government’s inability to determine the country’s future, fend off the invaders and separatists, and maintain civil order on the territories under its control between February and April 2014 led to a situation in which civic organizations took responsibility for carrying out fundamental state functions. This amounted to the rise of a new degree of influence of civic organizations on (dis)order in the country.

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