Democracy must be broad-based
July 26, 2011, 8:22 p.m. | Op-ed
— by Boris Danik
The regime of President Viktor Yanukovych has some defenders in the West, claiming that progress is being made towards integration with the European Union, among other achievements. Let me dispense with this one by saying that this progress reminds of the “peace process” in the Middle East, which leads nowhere, as we all know.
The EU policy is to keep Ukraine at arms length, while maintaining a chummy attitude that maximizes the flow of gas, literally and figuratively. A possible intercession by the European Court in the ongoing cynical prosecution of ex-Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko in Kyiv is probably not much more than an expression of European political correctness that may mitigate the proceedings without changing the fundamentals.
If anyone needs a reminder of what are these fundamentals, a short line says it all: The mother of all corruption. I have not talked to anyone at the Atlantic Council, but speaking with plain people in Kyiv says volumes. The present regime, they say, will never voluntarily give up power, because relinquishing it would assure the top players’ detention and trial for brazen violations of the human rights and a plethora of economic manipulation bordering on crime.
What turn can the people take in Ukraine to deliver themselves from this morass? A clever idea would make me a rich man, which will never happen. But with some understanding of the poor man’s instincts, it is fairly clear that social issues sooner or later will be king, as they usually have been throughout Ukraine’s history.
If, for a comparison and perhaps some guidance, one looks elsewhere, contemporary democracy in Western Europe is anchored in some equilibrium between labor and capital. .In Germany, for instance, labor unions have a seat at the corporate board of directors (unthinkable in the Anglo-Saxon model). In Germany, France, and most other EU countries, a Socialist Party or some left-of- center coalition has roughly a 50 percent input in all social and political constructs.
The United States before the 1920s was ruled almost exclusively by robber barons. The New Deal reforms of President Franklin D. Roosevelt brought that country into the 20th century.
Remarkably, social “checks and balances” in the USA were built in the 1940s by a “grand bargain” between the business elite and Big Labor’s Walter Reuther, leader of United Auto Workers union and of the CIO (Congress of Industrial Organizations, a united union front), whereby Labor was granted a place under the sun in exchange for purging the labor unions of Communist influence, with the White House blessing.
It was this bargain that produced America’s middle class, while the top bracket was paying a 90 percent marginal income tax rate -- during war years and well into the 1960s (“sharing the burden” of war sacrifices).
This bargain disintegrated with a grand-slam of Reaganomics in the 1980s and the collapse of the Soviet Union. The outcome was a resurgence of America’s oligarchs and the wipeout of the middle class during the Bush presidency. The resulting fault-lines have triggered a worldwide crash of the Anglo-Saxon brand of capitalism, as they did in 1929. Witness the ongoing last phase of its fiscal self-immolation.
The persisting standoff in Ukraine may appear to be frozen in time. Unlike Europe and the USA, Ukraine has no viable labor movement that could shake up the regime. It has no viable Socialist Party of European type. This makes a huge socio-political void, instead of a powerful popular political base with a forceful wallop. This void also fosters apathy and stagnation.
Ukraine has a national democratic camp that is virtually toothless. Ironically, it was a small Socialist Party of Oleksandr Moroz in the Orange coalition that provided a tiny winning margin for the Orange side in April 2006 parliamentary elections.
Incredibly, instead if cultivating and strengthening the left-wing opening, President Viktor Yushchenko proceeded to slight and denigrate Moroz, who was eyeing the speaker’s chair in the parliament. Moroz then defected to the Regions Party side and got his wish. This pirouette cost the Orange camp its parliamentary majority, and scuttled US President George W. Bush’s planned visit to Kyiv.
Don’t ask Ukraine’s oligarchs and the rest of business elite what they can do for the nation’s independence or for social justice. The answer is: What is in it for us? We want everything. We hear the same dictum from America’s top dogs. The winner takes everything.
Dedicated nationalists of Rukh in the 1990s, lacking real power, were willing to accept almost any deal with the nomenclatura, as long as it was flying a blue-yellow flag, while stealing the nation’s assets.(“Give the dog his bone”).
Labor had been smashed by the Soviet state. Genuine labor leadership in the 1990s was and still is nonexistent, much less as a source of support for democracy. In the chaos following the Soviet collapse, politically and nationally inert working people of eastern Ukraine were virtually bribed by the emerging oligarchs to line up behind the bosses, usually the same ones as before.
In all these respects, Ukraine is behind the eight ball, as compared with the landscape in western Europe. Yanukovych will not bend by exhortations from voices in the West, no matter how well-intentioned.
But facts of life in poverty are inexorable, and they don’t look good for the working people in Ukraine. At the same time, a win for democracy is difficult to visualize without their very active support. This should be the next opening and the next opportunity for the people.
Boris Danik is a retired Ukrainian-American living in North Caldwell, New Jersey.