18 August 2016

The summer of 2016 was marked by an event, which in future, I am sure, will be considered a turning point in Ukrainian history by historians and political commentators. This event itself is not actually political, but it will have long-term political consequences, which neither Ukrainian politicians, Government, nor the world community can ignore. The Holy Cross Procession organised on the initiative of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, and personally by His Beatitude Metropolitan Onufrii, combined the West and East, Pochaev, Kiev-Pechersk and Sviatogorsk Lavras. Thousands of believers and millions of compassionates from all over the country participated, showing how the forces fighting for peace and unity, and against war and discord, are organised.

The Sacred Procession also demonstrates that the nation has stop being intimidated by the politically disaffected who have been terrorizing Ukraine for more than two years and calling themselves “public activists”. The arsenal of these “activists’ includes “Garbage lustrations” (the throwing of Ukrainian officials into rubbish bins), violent seizure of buildings, obstruction of events, the intimidation of citizens, lynching and mob rule.

These so-called “Public activists” – Hongweibing - are supporters of the continuing war in the East and supporters of the ruling party “The Party of War”. These ‘activists’ challenged the Pilgrims on the Sacred Procession and tried to stop the march. However, they failed and the participants were able to complete their Pilgrimage: from this moment it is possible to say that any actions of the Ukrainian Hongweibing will be perceived completely differently.

In the summer of 2016 society overcame its fear. People showed they had the courage to stand up and be counted. They demonstrated that they did not support the Government’s lawlessness, which dictated where to pray, what language to speak, and what history to learn. When several months ago I wrote about post-revolution, I meant that Ukraine was on the threshold of the new relations, with qualitatively new processes (in terms of industrialisation, higher employment etc.) inside society. These processes emerged in the summer of 2016.

Notice the way “The Party of War” reacted to the Sacred Procession. Accusations, provocations, and attempts to disrupt it. Huge amounts of money were pumped into the mass media to discredit the pilgrimage and its participants. It is significant that those who called for military action in the Donbass, and tried to prevent the implementation of the Minsk Agreements, appeared on the media criticising the Sacred Procession. ‘Experts’ dependent on the current authorities joined them on the platform. One of the leaders close to Petro Poroshenko admitted that his involvement in the protests against the Sacred Procession had been a mistake. This is significant: the Government recognises that they failed to stop the pilgrimage, and they are now trying to distance themselves from the situation and minimise these losses. Today the authorities deny that anything significant happened during the Procession and underestimate the number of people who participated.

However, it is already evident that the political autumn in Ukraine promises to bring surprises. The pendulum has swung in the opposite direction: the war is ending not only on the East of the country, but also the unrest in society, the atmosphere of distrust and the “witch hunts” against the Opposition. The country must focus on rebuilding the economy, restoring sovereignty, lawfulness, foreign and domestic relationships. In other words, the Government must focus on the recovery of the state system, its role, authority, functions and aims. This is particularly relevant now, as we are on the eve of celebrating the 25th anniversary of Ukraine’s Independence.

Have you noticed how the voices of those, who a month ago struggled for the implementation of a state of emergency (or even military state), have gone quiet? How they have stopped frightening people with the next wave of mobilization? Why have the revenge-seekers, yelling about the impossibility of a peaceful settlement in Donbass, fallen silent? It has become obvious how many people support peace. This is not only the people who stay at home but also the faithful who marched hundreds of miles in hot weather and under heavy rain for the sake of their beliefs.

Asymmetry on the part of the Government was expected: the Party decided to strike the opposition, which provided administrative and organisational support not only to the Sacred procession, but also to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, protecting it from the persecution.

In this situation, it should be remembered that his Holiness Pimen, Patriarch of Moscow and of all Russia, once said: “The experience of my life and, more importantly, the experience of my Church teaches us to be optimistic and never forget the words which God said to the Apostle Paul: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness”. If you are in despair and cannot see any visible path forward, do not lose heart, but continue to be steady in your purpose. – Unity, renovation and reconciliation, while knowing that only through them shall we be successful”.

These events took place on the eve of political change. Already we can confidently say that the political agenda will survive the serious challenges we will face in the autumn. These are capable of drastically altering Ukrainian politics and include:

Firstly, the post-Maidan Government will finally collapse this autumn. 

Today after several false starts, and numerous scandals, we cannot say that the political team, “born out of the revolution” is still in power. The period from June 2014 to April 2016 was when revolutionaries were gradually removed from government. This process started with the election of Petro Poroshenko as President, followed by the early parliamentary elections, and finally the collapse of the post-Maidan coalition. It ended in April in 2016 with the resignation of Arsenii Yatsenyuk’s government, the banishment of “varangians” (invited foreign ‘experts’) and the formation of the Government “of three”: Poroshenko’s people, Groisman’s people and the “Narodnyi Front”. However, this triumvirate will be short-lived. Without doubt, internal in-fighting among this “Bermuda triangle” will destroy the existing configuration. Then there will be a new twist in the on-going political crisis.

We shouldn’t expect a new Maidan — Maidan was not the spontaneous event it appeared. However, popular dissatisfaction can be harnessed as a tool to intensify chaos. And those people who support and finance the so-called ‘activists’ will orchestrate it all. This will encourage dialogue among people of all political stripes.

In fact, today Ukraine is experiencing events similar to those that took place in Russia in 1905. The revolutionary agenda has been exhausted, and society is balancing on the brink of post-revolution and counterrevolution. It could either follow a Ukrainian version of Bonapartism (i.e. with a leader ostensibly supported by popular mandate), or stay on the side of reaction. However, there is the third way – an Anti-recessionary Patriotic Act, which would help reboot the state and provide a rescue package for Ukraine. All responsible political parties could join this movement.

Secondly, over the next two years the international political chessboard will change beyond recognition. 

The summer of 2016 led to tectonic shifts in international politics. There was the preparation for the NATO summit in Warsaw, the intensification of opposition in the Chernomorsk region (Russia – Turkey), the attempts to destabilise the situation in Central Asia (Kazakhstan) and Transcaucasia (the Karabakh conflict, an escalation of the tension in Armenia). That is why, in the summer, the world situation changed.

At the end of June, the people of Britain voted to leave the European Union (‘Brexit’). The EU, which had seemed to be an inviolable project, ideal for imitation, began to show signs of strain. The gold leaf was peeling off. The European Union was constantly discussing either the “prolongation of sanctions against Russia” or the “cancelation of the sanctions against Russia”. The delay (actually creeping refusal) of the introduction of visa-free travel to Ukraine, criticism of the Ukrainian administration by the EU, statements by senior EU officials about the non-appropriateness of setting the question of the integration of Ukraine in the near future – all this make the European Union an unreliable ally and reference point. However, that was obvious from the very beginning of “pro-European” adventure.

Europe’s rapidly changing winds mean we need to set new sails for the sake of surviving. The idea of establishing a free trade zone from Lisbon to Vladivostok has never been so topical. This would act as a counterbalance to the stillborn project of the Transatlantic Free Trade Zone (where tensions in Ukraine turned into the stumbling block). As long as the Ukrainian issue remains unresolved, it is not the time to think about whether to align ourselves with Europe and Russia. It is obvious that the whole European continent would like to rebuild relations.

The marginal and unclear position of Ukraine causes nothing but irritation in Europe. The situation would be clearer if Ukraine could demonstrate any successes in its programme of reforms, affirming its democratic values, and Europeanisation. However, even a report published by the influential Freedom House in America shows that there are obstacles to further integration. Pre-crisis 2013 is an almost unattainable reference point!

The appeals of government representatives and radicals regarding the conflict in the East are nothing but a smoke screen covering holes in the economy and rifts in society. They conceal the absence of any desire to give up Asian despotism and hugely profitable defence contracts.

In these circumstances, Europe is doomed to lose Ukraine. The Dutch referendum held in April this year was the first indication. If the incumbent governments in Germany and France are replaced in 2017, Ukraine risks losing the support of Berlin and Paris. Italy will act more pragmatically: they are on the brink of a deep economic crisis and people are not interested in talking about “values”. Poland has already expressed its willingness to negotiate on behalf of Ukraine, but this will come at a cost. To use legal journalese, Ukraine will have to pay by the hour! Nothing depends on the other countries, not even our historic neighbours in the Baltic.

At the same time, the USA is absorbed by a presidential race that could have an unexpected outcome. This worries the post-Maidan politicians in Ukraine, who have not forgotten that after the defeat of Al Gore in the 2000 elections, George Bush’s administration started to investigate the cases of Gore’s political and economic partners including those in Ukraine (e.g. the Kuchma-Gore Commission). American taxpayers may well question if their money is being well-spent in post-Maidan Ukraine.

To summarise, potential changes in the international arena (and as a result, possible changes in global attitudes towards Russia), will force Ukraine to the review its foreign policy, particularly its EU ambitions. This reassessment could already start in the autumn 2016. 

Thirdly, the “Minsk crisis” 

The Minsk process tried to resolve the deadlock in Ukraine, but elements of the package have not been practically implemented owing to its contradictory provisions and the limited interest of the participating parties. The West and Russia have both pressurised Kiev and the self-declared republics to implement the Minsk Process, but both Kiev and Donbass are dragging their feet. It should also be remembered that a new group of people, benefitting from the war, have acquired special weight in Parliament. However, they all want one thing. They want to delay, or even better, stall the Minsk Agreements.

The more time passes, the worse the situation in Ukraine becomes. This is owing to political disputes and a worsening economic situation. However, the longer the Minsk stalemate continues, the more obvious the main issue is: how much is the present Government in Kiev actually able to negotiate and how capable is it of executing its responsibilities?

It is amazing. If it is impossible to accept the legislative acts, as outlined in the Minsk Agreements, then why did Ukraine accept the liabilities? After discussing the “impossibility” of implementing the Minsk Agreements, what does the next visit of Victoria Nuland demonstrate? That nothing is impossible? If so, where is Ukrainian sovereignty? If the Ukrainian issue is discussed by Nuland and Surkov in Kaliningrad, Lavrov and Kerry in Vientiane, and by Putin and Obama on the phone, what is the sovereignty question about? Actually it only indicates that the present Government is willing to exchange the sovereignty of Ukraine for personal gain.

The autumn must answer the question about whether Ukraine is ready to compromise. This question concerns the whole of Ukraine, both the parts controlled by Kiev and those that consider themselves non-Ukrainian. The Minsk Agreements cannot be removed from the agenda. We cannot expect the problems to simply disappear. The West has staked a lot on the peaceful resolution of the issue and already ignores Kiev’s playground attempts to blame everyone except themselves. The Dayton Peace Accords show us that in the event of failure to implement the agreements, the decision will be taken elsewhere, probably somewhere on a military base with Poroshenko and the representatives of the DPR-LPR called as observers to the event. Ukraine still has a chance to solve the issue internally, with the least loss of face, and by which time those now studying in the first and second grades at school will have taken over the reins of political power.

Otherwise the disputes about federalisation, decentralisation, special status and the authority of the powerful institutions will seem preferable to the other scenarios. For example, look at Bosnia and Herzegovina…

The fourth factor: the crisis of the reforms 

The reforms in the country have not merely faltered, they have ground to a halt. The superficial changes made in one or two areas raise more questions than they answer. It reminds me of an anecdote popular in 1924. The state’s “Alcohol Prohibition Law”, enacted in 1914, had been repealed and instead of high-quality 40-degree proof vodka, 38-degree proof “rykovka” was sold. Contemporary commentators wondered if the two degrees were worth a revolution. Today’s reformers might ask themselves the same question.

The task of reforms is not to cover the cracks, but to rebuild the foundations. The state needs a “revolution from the top” with a well-managed process of systematic change including the introduction of a new Constitution and a “contract with the public”. I am sure that this issue will become more topical in the autumn. By the way, the Opposition Bloc presented its concept of the new Constitution several months ago (under the leadership of Boris Kolesnikov). It foresees maximum decentralisation, devolution of power and budgets to the regions, proportional reduction in the number of the People’s Deputies (MPs) at the Rada and the introduction of a two-chamber parliament. This vision needs to be discussed, as I am sure that the other parties will have their own views of Ukraine’s future political system.

I am sure that it is necessary to change the Constitution. We must not offer a random collection of ill-conceived reforms but a single, well-thought through Patriotic Act, which would allow for the immediate transformation of the state. This is similar to what was done in France by de Gaulle, in Germany by Adenauer and by other political giants. 

The fifth factor is the necessity of reviewing social-economic policy 

During the last two and half years the Ukrainian Government has acted under the direction of the International Monetary Fund (IMF). All Ukraine’s economic processes have been reduced to new industrialization, expansion of the service sector, and the search for new markets, investments and technologies. Now credit tranches and grants are released when conditions, set out by the IMF, are fulfilled particularly in relation to cost optimisation.

After the Maidan in 2014 the Government was not focussed on national interests, but rather those of the transnational companies. Today whole sectors of the economy are under foreign control. The representatives of these supranational structures play a serious role in Kiev. They dictate staff assignments, budget priorities, political actions and legislative measures.

The previous government had tried to find a balance between the national and transnational interests. After the Maidan the imbalance in favour of transnational corporations (TNCs) appeared. Those who disliked the Ukrainian “oligarchs” took instructions from foreign companies with their commensurately greater appetites and ambitions as well as higher levels of cynicism. However, if anybody thinks that this new system is more progressive with regards to Ukrainian economic development, they are wrong.

Now Ukraine is still without either sales markets or competitive means of production. However, it does have high labour costs and can only rely on credits lent on draconian terms and on the rent repayments for factors of production. Development of the economy is out of the question.

However, the example of Africa and Latin American countries shows that this offers no prospects of progress or advancement, but is simply a road to nowhere. Sooner or later countries that have cooperated with the IMF, have become enslaved in its structures. The policies imposed by the IMF as a condition on loans have prevented long-term development. In the last two decades, election campaigns in Latin American countries have taken place under the slogans of minimisation of the International Monetary Fund’s presence on both the economy and the political life of the country. In a range of African countries, including Liberia, IMF imposed reforms are acknowledged to be the most serious impediment to economic development. The current Government in Kiev do not think about the future: they take the loans, but do not plan how to repay them.

The autumn has already seen serious protests by desperate citizens who are suffering from the results of the IMF’s policy in Ukraine. People’s pockets have already been hit by the rise in utility bills, increase in prices, freezing (or even removal) of benefits and rising unemployment. Is it ‘The grapes of wrath’? 

The sixth factor is the collapse of the authoritative propaganda of the hatred and cult of war  

It is obvious that against the above background, the collapse of the old propagandistic and ideological clichés was inevitable. In the past, any display of civil dissatisfaction and unrest could be explained by “ FSS (Federal Security Services) Intrigues”, and failures in the economy attributed to the war, Putin or Russian plots. However, it has since become more evident that there are other explanations. Any dissenter in Ukraine is subjected to accusations of working for Russia and “the Russian world”. In the mass media, especially television, censorship is carried out by the National Committee of Television and Radio Broadcasting.

Another two messages, used by the new Government as part of its propaganda machine are: “The Opposition is responsible for the war in Donbass and encouraging separatism” and “The Ukrainian Orthodox Church is the main bastion of “the Russian world”, and Russia’s “Fifth column”. This attempt to blame others leads to “witch hunting” and stokes the atmosphere of distrust and hatred that has overwhelmed the country. Totalitarian states are characterised by their ability to find simple solutions, define ‘common’ enemies and transforming the government’s policy into the all-national quest under the slogan “catch the enemy!” Unfortunately, during the last two years Ukraine has been far from the ideals of democracy: the image of Mussolini here would fit much more harmoniously here than the bright face of Washington.

When people do not have trust in the state system of propaganda and ideology, it would be appropriate to remember the words of St. John of Kronstadt. Not long before his death, he said: “Don’t mourn inconsolably about the evil fate of the native land, lost wars … lost military ships … huge losses of the state from being set on fires … The earthly native land suffers for the sins of the tsar and people, for the tsar’s lack of faith and lack of foresight, for his indulgence to the lack of faith and blasphemy of so called educated world of the ministers, officials, officers and educated youth”. The word “sins” can be perceived not only in the ecclesiastical-theological understanding but also to the term “lack of faith”.

The political autumn of 2016 is the time when post-Maidan stereotypes will be destroyed, and social recovery begins. This recovery must start with a diagnosis of the problem.  

The seventh factor is the “Illusion of fear” 

The constant expectation of a visa-free regime and joining the EU, an economic miracle, reforms, full-scale intervention of the Russian military forces, a Third Maidan, a military coup, early elections, Western assistance, the return of Crimea, the collapse of Russia and Putin’s resignation …all these lead to schizophrenia on a national scale. The presence of “activists” in uniform who disregard court judgements and break the law under revolutionary slogans also generate fear.

Returning to the problem, from which I began my article, I can say the Holy Cross procession showed that fear is only an illusion. The nation showed that there is strength in unity. This does not only relate to issues of the church. There is no longer a silent majority or a compliant crowd: these people are going together into the political autumn of 2016. This is very important!  

The opposition of opinions will determine the agenda of the forthcoming political autumn: war or peace? Revolution or recovery? Imitation of reforms or a new Constitution? Euro-optimism or Euro-scepticism? Is Russia an enemy and aggressor, or our most important economic partner? National or transnational interests? It is within this system that Ukraine must resolve these issues.

No one can avoid making a choice, so please do not even try.

The breath of autumn is already felt in the hot August air… 

Vadym Novynskyi,  
People’s Deputy of Ukraine 

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