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A pain in tush(ki) for Viktor Yanukovych

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April 15, 2010, 10:23 p.m. | Op-ed — by Alexander J. Motyl

Tushki is the word that is usually used to describe the bodies of animals such as these chickens at Myronivska factory in Kyiv Oblast. But the term now also refers to individual parliament deputies, especially those who quit their party factions to join t

Alexander J. Motyl

Alexander J. Motyl is professor of political science at Rutgers University-Newark, as well as a writer and painter. He served as associate director of the Harriman Institute at Columbia University from 1992 to 1998. A specialist on Ukraine, Russia, and the USSR, and on nationalism, revolutions, empires, and theory, he is the author of Pidsumky imperii; Puti imperii; Imperial Ends: The Decay, Collapse, and Revival of Empires; Revolutions, Nations, Empires: Conceptual Limits and Theoretical Possibilities; Dilemmas of Independence: Ukraine after Totalitarianism; Sovietology, Rationality, Nationality: Coming to Grips with Nationalism in the USSR; Will the Non‑Russians Rebel? State, Ethnicity, and Stability in the USSR; The Turn to the Right: The Ideological Origins and Development of Ukrainian Nationalism, 1919–1929; and the editor of more than ten volumes, including The Encyclopedia of Nationalism. Motyl’s novels include Whiskey Priest; Who Killed Andrei Warhol; Flippancy; The Jew Who Was Ukrainian; and a work in progress, My Orchidia. His poems have appeared in Counterexample Poetics, Istanbul Literary Review, and New York Quarterly (forthcoming). He has done performances of his fiction at the Cornelia Street Café, the Bowery Poetry Club, and the Ukrainian Museum in New York. Motyl’s artwork has been shown in solo and group shows in New York, Philadelphia, and Toronto; his art is represented by The Tori Collection.

Most Ukrainian analysts agree that President Viktor Yanukovych’s decision to change the way governing coalitions are formed is, despite the Constitutional Court’s recent ruling to the contrary, unconstitutional. But how will that change actually affect the workings of government? Will it make for more or less stable government? Will it enhance or diminish the prospects for reform? Will it increase or reduce government corruption? Imagine that you’re one of the crossover deputies. You’ve just turned your back on the party that got you into the Verhkovna Rada. You’ve joined the Stability and Reforms Coalition for one of three reasons. The least likely reason is that you actually believe in Yanukovych.

The more likely one is that you figured that, by joining the coalition, you’d be delaying new elections — which you suspect your party might lose — and thereby prolonging your stay in the Rada. The most likely reason is that the Party of Regions offered you material incentives to cross over. Or some combination of all three.

How are you likely to behave in the two years between now and the Rada elections scheduled for 2012?

Remember: your primary concern is re-election, as that guarantees you continued access to the trough. Ideals are fine and good, and a temporary payoff from the Donetsk dons can help you buy that Mercedes, but all of that pales in comparison to the material largesse offered by deputy status.
Will the party you’ve just betrayed include you on its list in 2012?

Highly unlikely. Will the Party of Regions include you on its list?

Possibly—but not very likely, either. After all, the Party of Regions has its own cadres who deserve to be rewarded for loyal service. Moreover, will the Party of Regions, which places such a high premium on unquestioning loyalty, really want to reward a turncoat? If you’ve betrayed one party—your own—what’s to guarantee that you won’t betray the Party of Regions sometime in the future?

To be sure, if you’re a prominent policymaker, such as Taras Chornovil, the Party of Regions might be willing to take a chance on you. But if you’re just a rank-and-file member of the Bloc of Yulia Tymoshenko or Our Ukraine, why would the Party of Regions need you?

This means that, as the number of crossovers increases, the percentage of tushki who are likely to be embraced and rewarded by the Party of Regions in the 2012 elections will decline.

Tushki, by the way, is parliament slang for individual deputy; the word originally meant dead body of a small animal.

So, the increasing number of tushki , in turn, means that those of them who eventually realize that they will be left hanging will prove to be highly unreliable supporters of Yanukovych’s policy initiatives.

Having betrayed their own parties and being ignored by the Party of Regions, these crossover deputies will be able to enhance their electability only by projecting an independent image. They will have no choice but to argue that they crossed over by sacrificing their careers for the good of the country and that, now that they see the Yanukovych government is not pursuing the people’s interests, they have no choice but to defend the people—come what may.

Will government therefore become more stable with the addition of more tushki? The answer is no, not in the mid- or long-term perspective.

But the government’s ability to adopt radical reforms will also diminish with the tushki. It will, after all, be in the interest of the Yanukovych government to have as many crossovers as possible vote for whatever reform packages it proposes. That will permit the government to argue that the reforms were supported by all the deputies and that the blame for whatever pain ensues should be spread out among all the parties and not be focused only on the Party of Regions.

Now, imagine once again that you’re one of the crossover deputies. Will you, in such circumstances, vote for reform or not? If you’re one of the select few likely to be placed on the Party of Regions’ list in 2012, very possibly yes. But if you’re one of the excess crossovers trapped in the no-man’s land between the party you abandoned and the party that’s abandoning you, very probably no. After all, not only do you want to argue that you are an independent thinker, but you also want to bear as little of the blame as possible for unpopular policies.

Now, your reluctance to vote for unpopular measures only enhances the importance within the governing coalition of the radically anti-reform Communist Party. Yanukovych might be able to outflank the Communists if he has enough tushki to outnumber their votes. But—and this is his dilemma—the more tushki he has, the less likely they are to find a place on the Party of Regions’ list in 21012, and the less likely they are to support him! Which means that Communist influence is likely to grow, not decline, with the number of tushki.

Will reform therefore be likely with more tushki? Again, the answer is no.

The third question—regarding the likelihood of cleaner government—is easiest to answer. For one thing, the very emergence of tushki confirms the pervasiveness of corruption. For another, given their truculence and unmanageability, the tushki can be made responsive to Yanukovych’s priorities in one way only. Since they can’t or won’t be rewarded with a spot on the Party of Regions’ list in 2012, they might be won over by significant—indeed, very significant—material incentives.

If you’re being asked to abandon your career in the Rada, you’re going to demand a high price. If a Mercedes was the price of crossing over, how much more will you demand for being docile, supporting the government, ands ruining your career? A lot.

The ultimate irony of the tushki is that, while they made a Yanukovych government possible, they will also make it unworkable. The tushki could turn into a real pain in the tush for Yanukovych.


Alexander J. Motyl is professor of political science at Rutgers University-Newark.
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