Ukraine’s ground zero

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Oct. 21, 2011, 7:19 p.m. | Op-ed — by Boris Danik

Opposition lawmakers surround the tribune in Ukraine's parliament in Kyiv on Oct. 20. The poster reads: "Freedom for Yulia - Freedom for Ukraine."
© (AP Photo/Sergei Chuzavkov)

Boris Danik

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

“Foolish ways,” a Kyiv Post editorial on Oct. 17, was a fitting epitaph on the collapse of President Viktor Yanukovych’s machinations towards trade association with the European Union. Among several comments that were posted, one of them concluded that “the Ukrainian people deserve better.” It is not entirely clear that they do.

When Ukrainians gained freedom and democracy with the 2004 Orange Revolution, a large part of the southeast part of the nation despised it. The winners didn’t quite know how to govern or manage the rift among themselves, and did little to flush out the endemic corruption and dysfunction, often in their own midst. Someone who spent time in Kyiv in the 2005-07 period could sense a perception of failed governance and disillusionment.

In 2010, the people incredibly, albeit by a small margin, made a U-turn to someone whose reactionary record was for all to see. And so, Yanukovych delivered a back-to-the-dungeon reality and then some.

The margins in Ukraine seem to be mostly narrow, and so was the Orange victory on Dec. 26, 2004, despite a voter turnout much larger than in 2010. It would be absurd to deny that the United States and Europe were sympathetic and helpful during the early Orange aspirations. It was, to a major extent, intensive American diplomatic pressure that convinced President Leonid Kuchma to see the light and understand the consequences of any attempt to use force against the people.

It is doubtful that American magic could shine again in similar circumstances in Ukraine, as the US has lost its touch by playing a self-destructive role as successor to Europe’s colonial empires in Asia, and responded to 9/11 in ways not affordable even for a superpower.

Its central bank, the Federal Reserve, was forced into the gymnastics of financing the war in Iraq and Afghanistan by mountains of debt, while stimulating the economy with a stream of toxic assets such as the collateral mortgage obligations bubble, leading into a financial meltdown and a great recession on the brink of economic collapse.

The interconnection of events around the globe is stunning. There is no question that -- as America’s attention receded from Europe -- Ukraine’s President Viktor Yanukovych became overconfident in his ability to play “silly games” with east and west, and overplayed his hand. He is now cornered like someone trying to break into Europe’s bank on the sly, while having his authoritarian cake and eating it too.

Now Russia’s Vladimir Putin is holding the cards, and Yanukovych may be reduced to a Lukashenko size.

Amazingly, many Ukrainians across the board, and also the foreign literati, have been dismissive of Europe’s ability to stand on principle. They appeared to be certain that the European Union will be enticed by the promise of Ukraine’s economic potential and will be blind to its baggage of corruption and disrespect of law.

More ominous for Ukraine than the cooling of European connection is losing the ground in 2010, not against Russia, but against its own regressive pro-Russian regions backed by oligarchic syndicates that, as a consequence, gained the upper hand and now maintain a de facto occupation of Kyiv. Russia had conspicuously kept its distance from Ukraine’s 2010 presidential elections.

Blaming Russia too many times for Ukraine’s own blunders, as some do – especially in the diaspora – is leading nowhere.

In the next weeks and months many banalities and post-mortems are likely to be written, reflecting among them the frustration of those who sought painless salvation for Ukrainian democracy from trade association with the EU.

Actually, such a deal would be a boost for Ukraine’s authoritarian regime. The EU has no formal mechanism for penalizing non-compliant partner states. More urgently needed is focusing on the need for Ukraine’s citizens to stand up against evil, endemic corruption and political persecution in Ukraine, rather than theoretically sniping at the malfeasance of Yanukovych and his regime.

Not much has been said about the shortcomings of the opposition or, yes, the foibles of the Ukrainian people, or what kind of vision of governance can the democratic opposition offer if it grows feathers.

Such defocusing of attention is not surprising. No one can devise a clever exit from Ukraine’s political and economic stagflation when the people seem to be frozen in disgust towards the entire political spectrum. Ukraine’s ground zero is the apathy and indifference of its people, while the country’s wealth is off-shored by the oligarchs.

For a change, the pundits could start by recognizing that the opposition lacks credible leadership, other than the now imprisoned ex-Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko. In fact, she is seen by Ukraine’s president as the only threat to his and the oligarchs’ power. Disabling Tymoshenko has become his priority, by far more important for him than any dealings with the European Union.

But by persecuting and jailing Tymoshenko, the president perhaps has guaranteed his own downfall in a manner not yet obvious, and likely to be extensively odorous.

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