This is not Ukraine’s finest hour

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Sept. 30, 2012, 2:50 p.m. | Op-ed — by Boris Danik

A photo taken on January 11, 2012 shows the shadow of woman walking past the Holodomor monument to the victims of the 1932-1933 famine in Ukraine in Kiev. Ukrainian cites of Kiev, Lviv, Kharkiv and Donetsk will host in June 2012 of the 2012 European football championship. AFP PHOTO / SERGEI SUPINSKY

Boris Danik

Boris Danik is a retired Ukrainian-American living in North Caldwell, New Jersey.

 Recent polls show that if presidential elections were held today in Ukraine, nearly 22 percent would vote for Viktor Yanukovych, 13 percent for Vitali Klitschko, and 8 percent for Yulia Tymoshenko.

This suggests that Yanukovych would probably win again in a runoff, despite Ukraine’s  persistent economic doldrums, despite rampant violations of the human rights by his government and the overall backsliding of democratic freedoms (worst since the Soviet times). Add to this a pandemic of kleptocratic abuses and the demise of the nascent civil society.

The declining fortune of the Yanukovych regime on the international stage is graphically seen in the failure of a recent Ukrainian trade mission to Washington. The visiting  battalion of  buffoons, none of them able to make a business presentation in English, and only one speaking in Ukrainian, was a sorry spectacle, barely noticed back home.

Amazingly, the staying power of the Yanukovych regime seems to be rationalized in the minds of at least some by the disillusionment of the people with the outcomes of the 2004 Orange Revolution that brought Viktor Yushchenko and Tymoshenko to power. “We were fooled” is a recurrent theme.

Wrong. The regime’s power hinges on the monolithic support it gets from the pro-Russian regions of Ukraine. Hell or high water, this support is immune to any ideological dispute or economic slowdown, as evidenced by the unwritten alliance between the Regions Party and the Communist Party.

Disillusionment with the Orange Revolution may be still lingering and diluting the strength of the democratic opposition, but the time has come to call the spade a spade.

Wasn’t the corruption at all levels a systemic feature of the Leonid Kuchma, Yushchenko, and Yanukovych governance ? Who is to say that the disillusionment with one of them must nullify the advances it delivered in nurturing the democratic freedoms and the national aspiration of the Ukrainian people that had been downtrodden for centuries?

Isn’t  the blaming of disillusionment of the people about the internal conflict in the Yushchenko-Tymoshenko government a cop-out for the inability of opposition politicians to put  together a winning strategy? Hasn’t the entire left-of-center spectrum on socio-economic issues been practically ceded to the Communist Party?

Or perhaps worse -- isn’t the disillusionment an excuse for the absence in the mainstream of Ukraine of at least some degree of genuine appreciation, if not a strong commitment to democratic values and patriotic spirit?

Even more troubling is the ambivalence of the people, confirmed by the polling numbers, to the abuse of power in the politically motivated conviction and jailing of the leaders of the opposition. The jailing of former prime minister Tymoshenko, who has become the symbol of Ukrainian national democracy, is a living proof that Ukraine is not a free nation, a nation with a majority of its citizens no longer troubled by loss of liberty.

When Nelson Mandela, the leading figure of the majority of people in the republic of South Africa in their quest for freedom, was jailed for 20 years by the apartheid regime, he was universally revered while in jail and was acclaimed as new president when freedom finally came, even though that country is far from being ethnically homogeneous.

It is obvious that all of Ukraine, with its split identity, will not rally for Tymoshenko mainly because some of its regions carry the legacy of imperial Russian hegemony over Ukraine, and are incompatible with Tymoshenko’s stand for democracy and national dignity. It strikes observers as strange that not even all 47 percent who voted for her in the presidential runoff elections in 2010 will stand by her.

Arseniy Yatseniuk, another notable candidate in the 2010 elections, must get credit for uniting his Party for Change with the Batkivshchyna Party of Tymoshenko on a joint list for the coming parliamentary elections, and in effect for standing with her.

The same cannot be said of Vitali Klitschko, who initially moved as “fighting for Tymoshenko,” but then declined to put his new UDAR party on the same joint list, while claiming that his party will draw more votes (and thus increase the opposition’s total draw) if competing separately and maybe taking away some from the Regions party base.

Recent polls show that his party is getting about 10 percent, but the single-list opposition draw has slipped to 15 percent, while the Regions Party gets 27 percent. The Communist Party moved up with 9 percent.

The Tymoshenko factor is recognized in the West as the central issue in quest for democracy in Ukraine. The U.S. Senate on Sept. 21 approved a strongly worded resolution demanding freedom for Tymoshenko and other political prisoners in Ukraine, and recommending that sanctions be imposed on those responsible for their jailing.

At this point, the people of Ukraine don’t seem to be rushing toward democracy, nor are they demonstrably disturbed by encroachments on the human rights. Among those who should care, many seem to be hiding under an umbrella of disillusionment.

Not hiding in anything are Femen, the women’s group famous for topless protests. Recently they did their thing in France in protest against the discrimination of women in Ukraine, and in cutting down a wooden cross in Kyiv, erected in commemoration of the victims of the Holodomor.                             

While the latter action sparked a minor furor, a larger question is why at the unveiling of the Holodomor memorial in Kyiv four years ago, in what was supposed to be a major and very solemn national event, only about 400 people showed up, besides Yushchenko with high government officials. This indication of a lukewarm public attitude concerning Ukraine’s greatest national tragedy in modern times perhaps explains the casual frame of mind of many in Ukraine towards the upcoming Oct. 28 parliamentary elections. Overall, this is not Ukraine’s finest hour.

Boris Danik is a retired Ukrainian-American living in North Caldwell, New Jersey.  


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