Ukraine today, suffering from economic hardship and imperfect democracy, is reminiscent of Weimar Germany, says Viktor Tkachuk. He argues that instead of falling into dictatorship, the country can champion a new form of democracy through the direct participation of citizens and a leader with no ties to the existing political system.
Viktor Tkachuk is the general director of the Ukrainian Foundation for Democracy “People First”. He has over 20 years of experience working in governmental bodies at the highest level, including the Parliament, the National Security and Defence Council and the administrations of three presidents since Ukraine’s independence.
?"Present-day Ukraine is sometimes reminiscent the Germany of the days of the Weimar Republic. Both share social apathy of the population, chaos in economic, social and political life, and a sharp feeling of injustice concerning the state in which the country finds itself. Paraphrasing Remarque, Ukraine lives using illusions from the past and makes debts at the expense of the future.
The analogy amplifies under the influence of the world financial and economic crisis. The ultrahigh dependence upon exports which led to the crash of German economy in the thirties of the last century, could also easily lead Ukraine to default. In particular, the prices of the greatest export product of Ukraine, metals, already demonstrate signs of a long-term decline.
German reparations in the period of the Weimar Republic can be conditionally compared with the total public debt of Ukraine, which increased in 2011 to €45.3 billion, which is equivalent to 36 % of GDP.
The analogy is continued by the fact that Ukraine now, the same as Germany almost a century ago, is in a condition of “democracy without democracy”. This is because, first of all, of the crisis of values. This crisis has already used up its time and gives rise to the period of the creation of new senses, concepts and systems.
However, there is also a difference: Germany reached its public crisis as a result of defeat in World War I, while for Ukraine it is as a result of defeat from its own political elite, which systematically continues to destroy the country.
Through its own negative experience of the first half of the 20th century, Germany has come to an effective model of parliamentary democracy and federalism. Will Ukraine manage to come away with a positive experience, avoiding risks of radicalism? There are such chances. But, apparently, it won't do so without making mistakes.
Now, Ukraine is pregnant with a new leader. Some search for him at protest rallies, others – expect him at home in front of the TV. Not only Ukraine, but also the EU, Washington and Moscow are occupied with this today. A person with no ties to the existing system of politics, who can embody the hope of the majority of the population in his image, will become that leader.
The demand for a new “father of the nation” is growing rapidly. This gives rise both to a possibility and a threat for the Ukrainian democracy. A possibility because there will appear a new leader who will be compelled to break an existing circle of total corruption. A threat because this leader will be of an authoritarian type. Otherwise, he won’t be able to mobilise the broad masses, who have lost faith in everything, to support him.
The European Union may see in Ukraine a precedent for the appearance of a new authoritarian leader with mass national support. This precedent could radicalise public moods inside the EU: contradictions with Hungary, problems with the National Front in France, and other parties in the countries of old Europe analogous to the Austrian ‘Freedom Party’.
Hence, the question of the creation of a new model of democracy in Ukraine goes beyond strictly Ukrainian limits. The interests of the Ukrainian people and the European community become the same: everyone is interested in the creation of a values-based institutional platform for a new state system in Ukraine which wouldn't produce risks and, on the contrary, would allow its citizens to create a new 21st Century democratic state.
The question consists in the selection of key components for success. The basis must be the wide influence of the population upon the formation of government bodies at all levels and control of their activity. Ukrainian citizens dream that their politicians resign after the violation of laws according to the European example. Direct democracy with internet technologies and a real freedom of speech will essentially close the door to the non-transparency of oligarchic and party games.
The Ukrainian authoritarian-conservative democracy, which is historically characteristic for Ukrainians and existed in the days of the Cossack republics, could become an example for a new Eastern European style.
The combination of a historical experience of an effective organisation of the political system of the Ukrainian society with the democratic values-based platform of Europe in it will be a guarantee of success. Only on this basis is it possible to build an effective and working democratic Ukraine.
New times dictate new conditions. Perhaps precisely through the authoritarian leader and direct democracy Ukraine will manage to reformat itself and give a modern quality to the relations in the EU-Ukraine-Russia triangle."