If Yanukovych does not change course, he may inspire revolution

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April 1, 2010, 11:07 p.m. | Op-ed — by Alexander J. Motyl

Alexander J. Motyl

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.

Alexander J. Motyl writes: New president has made many blunders already that could doom his administration, scare investors. As Ukraine’s recently elected President Viktor Yanukovych prepares to visit Washington this month, he will aim to project an image of stability, confidence and control. In reality, Yanukovych has committed a series of mistakes that could doom his presidency, scare off foreign investors and thwart the country’s modernization. Yanukovych’s misrule is courting a second Orange Revolution.

Yanukovych’s first mistake was to violate the Constitution by changing the rules according to which ruling parliamentary coalitions are formed, making it possible for his party to take the lead in partnership with several others, including the Communists. That move immediately galvanized the demoralized opposition that clustered around his challenger in the presidential elections, former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko.

His second mistake was to appoint as prime minister his crony Mykola Azarov, a tough bureaucrat whose name is synonymous with government corruption, ruinous taxation rates, and hostility to small business. The appointment dispelled any hopes Ukrainians had that Yanukovych would promote serious economic reform.

His third mistake was to agree to a cabinet consisting of 29 ministers as opposed to 25 before — an impossibly large number that will only compound its inability to engage in serious decision making. That the cabinet contained not one woman — Azarov claimed that reform was not women’s work — only reinforced the image of the cabinet as a dysfunctional boys’ club.

His fourth mistake was to appoint two nonentities — a former state farm manager, and an economics graduate from a Soviet agricultural institute — to head the ministries of economy [Vasyl Tsushko] and finance [Fyodor Yaroshenko]. Meanwhile, he created a Committee on Economic Reform, consisting of 24 members, to develop a strategy of economic change. The size of the committee guarantees that it will be a talk shop, while the incompetence of the two ministers means that whatever genuinely positive ideas the committee develops will remain on paper.

His fifth mistake was to appoint the controversial Dmytro Tabachnyk as minister of education. Tabachnyk has expressed chauvinist views that democratically inclined Ukrainians regard as deeply offensive to their national dignity, such as the belief that west Ukrainians are not real Ukrainians; endorsing the sanitized view of Soviet history propagated by the Kremlin; and claiming that Ukrainian language and culture flourished in Soviet times.

Unsurprisingly, many Ukrainians have reacted in the same way that African-Americans would react to Ku Klux Klan head David Duke’s appointment to such a position — with countrywide student strikes, petitions, and demonstrations directed as much at Yanukovych as at Tabachnyk.

These five mistakes have effectively undermined Yanukovych’s legitimacy within a few weeks of his inauguration. The 45.5 percent of the electorate that voted against him now feels vindicated; the 10-20 percent that voted for him as the lesser of two evils now suspect that their fears of Tymoshenko’s authoritarian tendencies were grossly exaggerated.

And everyone worries that Yanukovych and his band of Donbas-based “dons” are ruthlessly pursuing the same anti-democratic agenda that sparked the Orange Revolution of 2004, which denied Yanukovych the fruits of a rigged presidential election.

Several other key dismissals and appointments have only reinforced this view. The director of the State Security Service archives — a conscientious scholar who permitted unrestricted public access to documentation revealing Soviet crimes — has been fired. The National Television and Radio Company has been placed in the hands of a lightweight entertainer [Yehor Benkendorf], who is expected to toe the line.

Most disturbing perhaps, several of Yanukovych’s anti-democratically inclined party allies have been placed in charge of provincial interior ministries — positions that give them broad scope to clamp down on the liberties of ordinary citizens.

Democratically inclined Ukrainians are increasingly persuaded that Yanukovych wants to become Ukraine’s version of Belarus’s dictator, Alexander Lukashenko. But Yanukovych’s vision of strong-man rule rests on a strategic, and possibly fatal, misunderstanding of Ukraine.

First, the Orange Revolution and five years of Viktor Yushchenko’s presidency empowered the Ukrainian population, endowing it with a self-confidence that it lacked before 2004 and consolidating a vigorous civil society, consisting of professionals, intellectuals, students and businesspeople with no fear of the powers that be. Yanukovych’s efforts to establish strong-man rule already are, and will continue to be, resisted and ridiculed by the general population.

Second, Ukraine’s shambolic government apparatus cannot serve as the basis of an effective authoritarian government. Tough talk alone will fail to whip a bloated bureaucracy into shape. Worse, Ukraine’s security service and army are a far cry from those in Belarus. Yanukovych may try to emulate Lukashenko, but without a strong bureaucracy and coercive apparatus, he will fail.

Third, with an ineffective cabinet, all decision-making will be concentrated in Yanukovych’s hands. Even if one ignores his deficient education and poor grasp of facts, Yanukovych’s appointment of Tabachnyk demonstrates that Ukraine’s president is either completely out of touch with his own country, or arrogantly indifferent to public opinion.

Fourth, Ukraine is still in the throes of a deep economic crisis. If Yanukovych does nothing to fix the economy, Ukraine may soon face default, and mass discontent among his working class constituency in the southeast is likely. If Yanukovych does embark on serious reforms, that same constituency will suffer and strikes are certain.

So negotiating the crisis will require popular legitimacy — which Yanukovych is rapidly squandering, a strong government — which he does not have, and excellent judgment — which is also missing from the equation.

Indeed, if Yanukovych keeps on making anti-democratic mistakes, he could very well provoke a second Orange Revolution. But this time the demonstrators would consist of democrats, students, and workers.

The prospect of growing instability will do little to attract foreign investors, while declining legitimacy, growing incompetence, and tub thumping will fail to modernize Ukraine’s industry, agriculture and education. Yanukovych could very well be an even greater failure as president than Yushchenko.

Although the outlook is grim, it is not yet hopeless for Ukraine’s new president. He could still grasp a modest victory from the jaws of an embarrassing defeat by ruling as the president, not of Donetsk, but of all Ukraine.

All he has to do is restrain his appetite for power and learn to rule with the opposition and with the population. It’s not so complicated — it’s democracy.

Alexander J. Motyl is professor of political science at Rutgers University in New Jersey. This article originally appeared in the Wall Street Journal and is reprinted with the author’s permission.
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Anonymous April 2, 2010, 1:41 a.m.    

Yanukovich already inspired revolution - BLUE revolution which swept the orange stench and brought sweet air of freedom to the destitute Ukraine people who got robbed white by the orange thieves and their US handlers.

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Anonymous April 3, 2010, 9:28 p.m.    

Are these the same destitute people who were bribed with vodka at the elections.. or the ones who had died and had their papers used to vote for yanu.. either way.. its fruad

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Anonymous April 3, 2010, 7:26 p.m.    

The blue revolution was rather limited and confined to the russified easterners (read: Little Russians). They, being good sheep, voted in one gigantic block for their criminal leader. The rest of the county rejected this monster. These are the facts.

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Anonymous April 4, 2010, 12:36 a.m.    

I think the Ukrainian people get robbed by ANYONE in govt, but at least the last govt respected the Rule of Law and the rights of the people, the way this govt is going you might as well be back in the USSR in Ukraine.

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Anonymous April 2, 2010, 2:19 a.m.    

Excellent analysis Mr.Motyl. Thank you. It is rather obvious what Ukrainian Dabya planning for Ukraine. His rope is his rope. Let him have it.

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Anonymous April 2, 2010, 4:05 a.m.    

Listen folks, this russian gangster will ruin Ukraine, so lets face it, revolution is going to happen, repeat, going to happen. Yanokovych will not change his path because his masters want the same thing as he does. The course is already determined so the revolution now is preordained.

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Anonymous April 3, 2010, 4:08 a.m.    

revolution preordained?

by whom?


as washington is getting broke on its wars,,,,

will you finance it with this column writer?

you falks need to be de toxicated

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Anonymous April 3, 2010, 6:32 p.m.    

Jerry or is that Terry. Jerry's alto ego. (Still living life in a drunken state or are you back on the pot)

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Anonymous April 2, 2010, 6:01 a.m.    

And all of you except &quot;Jerry&quot; have forgotten one thing...

It is the Ukrainian people that he is robbing...

Sure, Russia can go to war against Ukraine claiming that the 9 million russians in exile are in danger and sure Nato wants in and so on but it is still the Ukrainian people whom are the victims...

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Anonymous April 3, 2010, 4:12 a.m.    

u sound pissed off that russia is no longer going to war to fight ukraine, but to fight nato invaders with ukraine...

not to worry, nato had never won a war,,, never, and russia had never lost one,,,

on the other hand, the west and nato had enough wars lately, perhaps u should join sakaaswiiiil tie chewing champ and play your war games with available nato babysitting forces

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Anonymous April 3, 2010, 9:27 a.m.    

Playing with your rusty battleships and tanks for too long? Don't let it get to your head comrade that you are something special.

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Anonymous April 2, 2010, 6:13 a.m.    

First Yanukovych is not the Government. Many of the issues outlined in this report are the sole responsibility of the Government not the presidency.

To date I would say that Yanukoyvch has only made only serious blunder, which has been made by design, and that is the endorsement of the governing coalition in breach of Ukraine's Constitution. I doubt that this has weakened his parties support. The &quot;new government&quot; was put in place to by time and prevent the opposition from jeopardising and change in policy direction.

To date Yanukovych and the Party of Regions have pursued what can only be seen as a well planned transition of power. If fresh parliamentary elections were held tomorrow I would expect that Party of Regions will improved their vote and that the balance of parliamentary power would be held by Sergei Tigipko.

No doubts this will happen in the not too distant future. In the meantime the counter revolution will continue as planned. Ukraine will not want a return to the Yushchenko years

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Anonymous April 2, 2010, 1:45 p.m.    

Oh dear oh dear, you are very miss informed person you are.

He has already changed the laws regading changing of any other laws and moved it into his court.

He believes he is the government and will go down that line unless the opposition can put a halt to any more of his antics in the old boys network,

HE must start thinking of the people of Ukraine and not his henchmen of the old faction, the only person with any sense in his government, is Vice Premier Tigipko

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Anonymous April 3, 2010, 4:05 a.m.    

the only person you point out you favour is the only person the west has in its payroll,,, tigipko,,,

what else do u know?

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Anonymous April 3, 2010, 6:30 p.m.    

He has put to rest the myth propagated by Yushchenko that the President has no power. The President has to much power. he holds all the trump cards.

Its time for a democratic revolution and the establishment of a full parliamentary system, removing presidential authority and reforming the parliament making it more democratic and accountable.

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Anonymous April 3, 2010, 8:56 p.m.    

No he hasn't put the myth to rest. It's jut that he has the support of the largest party in the RADA and, in addition, is prepared to trample the rules which Yush didn't.

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Anonymous April 2, 2010, 6:26 a.m.    

First, the Orange Revolution and five years of Viktor Yushchenko’s presidency was a complete disaster for Ukraine. Yushchenko' undermined stability and democracy in Ukraine.

Yushchenko was a failed President who betrayed a nation.

Ukraine will not want to return to the Yushchenko years.

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Anonymous April 3, 2010, 9:23 a.m.    

Nor Yanukovych.

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Anonymous April 2, 2010, 12:48 p.m.    

As someone has already said, most of the issues raised in this article are parliamentary and not presidential

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Anonymous April 3, 2010, 4:03 a.m.    

Who will finance the next pineapple or strawberry revolution?

The West again, or Russia?

Will they have again fake leaders, body doubles, like the fake Yusenka who was not the same guy as the one who was around before the poisoning gimmick?

Will Ukrainians fall again for this style of oppression?

This is rather a scapegoat than a reason.....

Another Orange Block of body dobles?

Be easy on your vodka,,,,

The west wants to protect itself and not to provoke a nuclear war with Russia... not over Ukraine,,, u are a joke man...

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Edward Gibson April 4, 2010, 6:40 p.m.    

Please tell me more about this body double who played the role of belligerent president for 5 years. I agree he bears absolutely no resemblance to pre-orange yushchenko.

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Anonymous April 3, 2010, 9:31 a.m.    

So what you are saying, is that Russia would provoke a nuclear with the West over Ukraine?

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Anonymous April 5, 2010, 11:15 a.m.    

Russian style oppression is preferable?

Stunt doubles, wow, maybe a clone? CIA in on that as well? Russians and their conspiracies...endless stupidity and entertainment!!

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Anonymous April 3, 2010, 6:23 p.m.    

Nothing of the sort will happen. For one, you need a leader, and there is no leader that can spark a flame big enough right now to get people going, when all they're concerned about currently is their daily bread. They'll tell you &quot;screw the government, because they're going to do what they want. What did they do for us&quot;. What was done for them wasn't enough. If there were so many people that still had hope for the orange ideals, the PM would be president as we speak. The orange politicians gave it a bad name, from top to bottom and they have no backbone to start something again.

I always thought that the people would rise-up against taking what they've gained in the last five years, but after the limited reaction of the people about Tabachnyk I saw, there's no fight left in them. Their representatives didn't get rid of him. Why should the people have confidence in their representatives? Why should the people have any hope? Why isn't what was started in Lviv still going on or increased, since Tabachnyk was not voted out? Because they're all tired and don't give a damn anymore.

The former PMs thought to have so much power and hunger to take Ukraine in the right direction, then where is she now? What did she do about Tabachnyk not being voted out? Why didn't she get into the streets and start a demonstration herself regarding of what is going to be taught in Ukraine's schools from now on? Now you know what's important to her. Her concern is to go on vacation and to forget about backing all the rhetoric she fed all of Ukraine. The same thing goes to all Ukrainian orange politicians, from top to bottom. Whatever happens to Ukraine and its people, they (orange politicians) should answer for their deeds. As for Yush, he wasn't in the final running and the people voted that way, so he's no factor because nobody's going to listen to him.

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Anonymous April 5, 2010, 4:54 a.m.    

Sitting in Newark and making observations about the situation in Ukraine from a diaspora POV is largely an exercise in blowing a lot of empty hot air but I guess that is what a university professor is all about. You need to somehow justify that princely sum you are getting as a &quot;scholar.&quot;

Five weeks later in Ukraine no one cares about the cabinet, the PM nor anyone else, not as personalities, not as policy. That is your domain. However, regular people don't give a damn about this and about you as well.

What they care about is how their lives will improve. Or not. Nothing more, nothing less. If Yanukovich and his team can do improve the scale of life in Ukraine, guess what, you will see him get another 5 year term. If not, then someone else will replace him.

In the meantime, all your writing is utter nonsense. There will be no second Orange revolution. The first one was laid into a permanent grave by your boy Yushchenko and you know it. Go back to your day job on University Avenue and stay there.

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Anonymous April 8, 2010, 3:53 a.m.    

Get your facts straight! Have you forgotten these:

-the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-05? Russia was humiliated in that.

-World War 1. Russia was defeated by imperial Germany. The bolsheviks signed the peace treaty. That defeat allowed Poland, Finland, the Baltics and Ukraine (briefly) to regain their independence.

-the Winter War. Although Finland lost 10% of its territory it succeeded in stopping the Red army and retained its independence. Once again the Red Army was defeated.

There probably many others but I can't name them all.

NATO has never won a war? Oh really? We put a stop to the butchery in the former Yugoslavia. And... we hammered your ally Serbia while stood by impotently watching. That must have really pissed you off. The Russian army is a paper tiger and is more of a threat to its own citizens than it is to NATO.

No denying that Russia's general were horrified by how poorly the Iraqi army with it's Russian (and French) equipment performed against the Americans and their allies. Face it for all your bluster Russia is a 3rd rate country with a 4th rate army.

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