Parliament can exorcise Ukraine’s Soviet-era demons

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV.COM Ltd.

This article is part of our special report EU-Ukraine Relations.

The efforts of the European Parliament to accelerate the procedures for the Association Agreement with Ukraine can lead to a new era for the country, disengaged from the past Soviet habits that still prey upon it, says Vladimir Mishchenko from the Ukrainian Foundation 'People First'

Vladimir Mishchenko is an analyst of the Ukrainian Foundation for Democracy 'People First'.

"Members of the European Parliament have approved recommendations on the Association Agreement (A?) with Ukraine addressed to the European Commission, the Council of the EU and the European External Action Service.  Despite the complicated situation in relations between Kyiv and Brussels, aggravated by the processes over oppositional politicians in Ukraine, the EP has supported the fastest initialling of the AA with Ukraine, and desirably before the end of this year.

The voting on the Ukrainian question in the European Parliament took place on 1 December.  This date is special in the history of our country.  Precisely 20 years ago the overwhelming majority of Ukrainian citizens supported the Act of Declaration of Independence at the all-Ukrainian referendum.  Some commentators from the Ukrainian side have pointed out this circumstance, seeing some certain symbolism in such a coincidence.

For my part, I'd like to elaborate on this topic and note the following:

In 1991, more than 30 million people, 84.2% of citizens at that point,  took part in the nationwide referendum. Some 90% of those people expressed themselves in favour of the independence of Ukraine. What do you think it was that the overwhelming majority of Ukrainians voted for that historic day? Someone will say for the independence from Moscow and, probably, will be correct. However, I'm earnestly convinced that in the course of the referendum, the majority voted for the independence from the Soviet past.

Now, let's try to analyse whether the hopes of those who came to ballot boxes on 1 December 1991 have come true over the last 20 years.

Today, as well as in the USSR times, the Ukrainian post-Soviet elite doesn't wish to share the power with the people. People are extremely limited in possibilities of influencing what is going on in the country even through the participation in elections.  Election campaigns in Ukraine are accompanied by the buying-up of votes, abuse of the administrative resource and falsifications of results of the voters' will.  We can soon come to the situation when elections in Ukraine will have the same formal character, as they did in the USSR.

The leadership of Ukraine now, as well as in Soviet Union times, strenuously works on the creation of “the bright future” for a very narrow set of people. In the past, these were members of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the USSR; today, these are oligarchs and their protégés in the parliament, government and presidential administration. 

Alternating presidents and premiers of Ukraine proclaim various reforms which in practice transform into the cover for the redistribution of a collective property in favour of influential political and business groups. Government programmes, as once five-year plans, end up successfully only on the paper of the state statistics reports.

Almost all key political forces in the country have no distinct ideology. They struggle among themselves not for the possibility of realising their programme of state development, but for the access to state material and financial flows for their personal enrichment. Switching from opposition to power, from power to opposition and back, they compete with each other in populism, demagogy and unscrupulousness. This recalls the apparatus struggle of party bureaucrats for the seats in the political bureau of the Central Committee of the Communist Party.

The state institutes in modern Ukraine remain Soviet-like bulky, overbureaucratised and corrupt. They are incapable not only of effectively carrying out regulatory function, but they also successfully resist reform attempts. The regulatory system is imperfect and contradictory, the investment climate adverse.

The modern economic system is to a large extent characteristic of the disadvantages of the centralised economy, such as a high monopolisation level, bureaucratic corruption and a low level of entrepreneurial activity. Consequently, the economy is stagnating. The social security system also remains Soviet to a large extent, but the state, obviously, is already incapable of providing even the existing minimum social standards.

Regulatory and law enforcement bodies are actively used by the authorities as a tool for the neutralisation of competitors, both in business and in politics. This very much reminds of the struggle of the Soviet special services against the other-minded. Judicial system is degrading. Courts are corrupt, dependent on the executive branch of power and fulfil its orders. Unbiased justice is almost inaccessible to average citizens.

And now, let's go back to the document supported by the European Parliament on 1 December 2011. The EP, among other things, recommends the executive bodies of the EU to assist Kyiv in reforming the state institutes, judicial system, the Constitution and election legislation; to support the reforms aimed at rooting out corruption; to take measures in increasing the role of the civil society in the political life; to appeal to the Ukrainian authorities to conduct economic reforms, stimulate entrepreneurial activity and improve the investment climate.

In my opinion, exactly these reforms will help Ukraine to realise its enormous potential and become a strong, rich, self-sufficient country, the country which Ukrainians dreamt of 20 years ago. My confidence is based on the experience of the post-socialist countries of the Central and Eastern Europe. Thanks to the reforms and implementation of European norms and standards, they successfully transformed from authoritative regimes into advanced democracies over the last two decades and considerably outrun Ukraine in their development.

For the time being, Europe does everything possible for the initialling of the AA to take place as soon as possible. Executive bodies of the EU have to express themselves as well as the European Parliament.

On the other hand, much will depend on the political will of the Ukrainian leadership. So I'd like to recall another remarkable coincidence of dates. The Ukraine-EU summit is to take place in Kyiv on 19 December, when we celebrate the holiday of St. Nicholas the Wonder-Worker in our country.

Today, many Ukrainians, especially young people who have grown up in sovereign Ukraine and learn about the USSR only from books and movies, set great hopes on this day. They hope that St. Nicholas will make a little miracle – will inspire negotiators from the Ukrainian side to take the plunge away from the Soviet past towards the democratic future."

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