Zuzak Ukraine Political Report; Part II

In my 02May2006 report as a Canadian Observer of the 26Mar2006 parliamentary elections in Ukraine, I concluded that:

"On 26 March 2006, the Ukrainian people democratically elected and legitimized the 450 "criminals" (with immunity from prosecution for criminal acts) to the Verkhovna Rada. In other words, although the election procedures were fair and legitimate, the legitimacy of the politicians ranked in the "party lists" of the various Parties is questionable. I hope to expand on this issue at a later date."

Despite the boisterous hoopla of the campaign rhetoric, the underlying sentiment of the people was bitterness and cynicism towards all politicians. When I remarked on this cynicism to a young waitress in Kyiv, she simply shrugged in resignation and said bitterly, "What can we do?" There was obvious disenchantment with the Orange Revolutionaries.

After the elections, when I was no longer constrained from entering into political discourse, everyone agreed that immunity from prosecution of the deputies of the Verkhovna Rada must be abolished. The argument that this would require a constitutional change only heightened the cynicism. Even conceptually, it is impossible to fight corruption, if the corrupters themselves are elected to the Verkhovna Rada.

The people's attitude to the leaders was instructive. Supporters of Viktor Yushchenko were apologetic and almost embarrassed. Yulia Tymoshenko was either a saint to her fans or a dangerous demagogue to her detractors. I received pens, photographs, an audiocassette and declined a huge poster from her supporters in Kharkiv and Kolomyia. Viktor Yanukovich was almost a non-entity. To the voters, the Party of Regions and its pro-Russian orientation were obviously more important than its leader.

The campaign advertising (at least, in Kyiv and Kharkiv) was very ostentatious and expensive -- with huge billboards, TV commercials, tents, handouts, etc. I suspect that only very rich oligarchs could finance such campaigns. The results demonstrated that news media hype works in Ukraine just as effectively as in North America and that "name recognition" is very important.

Frankly, I am not at all impressed with the "proportional representation" system adopted for these elections, where voters are forced to vote for a party list rather than an individual. The reality of this system is as follows. The "oligarch" creates a Party (usually with himself at the head) and then sells positions 2 to 450 to the highest bidder. It was rumoured that the first ten positions on some of these lists fetched about $1.5 million U.S. And, since a deputy's position provides immunity from prosecution for criminal acts, the highest bidders can be expected to be criminals attempting to escape prosecution and to protect there ill-gotten gains.

Party lists are submitted to the Central Electoral Commission at the beginning of the election campaign. Perhaps decisions as to rankings on party lists should be removed from the party hierarchy and placed in the hands of either the general electorate, or members of the particular party, or even the very people on the lists (via secret ballot). Whether this should be done, before the election campaign, during the election campaign or even after the elections is unclear. One can also envision the Central Electoral Commission conducting scientifically rigorous polling in this regard. Whatever the optimum solution, it is absolutely necessary for the electorate to have some oversight or "checks and balances" on the composition of the party lists.

I was rather concerned that on the first three ballots all the same parties were competing in National, oblast (provincial) and raion (municipal) elections. This provides for a perfect opportunity for "vertical integration" of corruption. However, when I suggested that there should be a complete separation between national, provincial and local politicians, my "journalistka" threw up her hands in exasperation and said that it was hard enough to familiarize oneself with the platforms of the existing 45 parties, let alone an extra 90! Nevertheless, the responsibilities of the elected politicians are different at each of these levels. They should be as independent as possible from being influenced by the other levels to the detriment of their constituents.

Since the demise of the Soviet Union and the proclamation of an independent Ukraine on 24Aug1991 -- legitimized by the referendum of 01Dec1991, wherein 91% of Ukrainians supported independence -- the economic performance of the Ukrainian state has been abysmal. For the last 15 years, so-called "oligarchs" have robbed the Ukrainian people blind. They have seized control of property and firms at a fraction of their real worth. They have illegally siphoned off and deposited billions of dollars in "safe havens" in North America, Europe and elsewhere. Sadly, this was often done with the collusion of Western banks, institutions and so-called intellectuals promoting "privatization" and "shock therapy". Many books have already been written on this subject.

In my view, what the oligarchs have done to the Ukrainian people is a crime against humanity. The billions of dollars stashed in "safe havens" should have been invested in the Ukrainian economy, where one dollar invested can be expected to increase the gross national product by a factor of seven. Perhaps then millions of Ukrainians would not have to go begging for work in Europe and the rest of the world.

Still worse, many of these oligarchs were simply fronts for organized crime -- where blackmail, bribery, coercion and death were the operative norms. The whole society was reverting back towards Stalinist terror until the Orange Revolution associated with the presidential elections in the fall of 2004 appears to have arrested this trend.

Whatever the composition of the parliamentary coalition scheduled to be revealed in the Verkhovna Rada on 07Jun2006, the primary responsibility of the deputies (many of whom are just mouthpieces for oligarchs) must be to the Ukrainian people. They will have an opportunity to redeem their souls. And the Ukrainian people have a huge responsibility to provide "checks and balances" on the government. After all, the Constitution clearly states that it is the people, and not the government or courts, that is the final arbiter of the Ukrainian nation.

The word "kripaky" in the Ukrainian language translates into "serfs" in the English language. Ukrainians were "kripaky" in the Russian Tsarist and Austro-Hungarian Empires during the middle ages up to the twentieth century. The Ukrainian (and Russian) people were "kripaky" in the Bolshevik/Communist Empire in the twentieth century. Will they end up being "kripaky" to the Oligarchs in the twenty-first century?

Respectfully submitted
Will Zuzak; 2006-06-02
Archived as zuzak20060602UkrPolitics.doc