Well not so very long ago I wrote a small entry on Natalia Korolevska and debated whether she was to be the new female face of Ukrainian politics replacing her former leader and mentor, Ms Tymoshenko. It certainly seems that if her star is not rising through ability and worthy recognition, she is catapulting it into the celestial realms on the back of self-promotion.
As such I was not overly surprised to see that on 27th March the Korolevska Foundation, (it is popular to have a foundation/think tank if you are a politician), is holding a meeting to discuss 3 very important issues:
1. Creating a credible opposition.
2. Defending civil liberties and justice.
3. Campaigning for EU democratic values.
Very good. All worthy of discussion and all worthy of engagement with the Ukrainian opposition leaders, Ukrainian civil society and academia and most importantly the Ukrainian public I am sure we would all agree. I would even go along myself if it was local to Odessa.
Unfortunately it isn’t local to Odessa as many political meetings involving leaders aren’t. Lest we forget, Kyiv is the centre of the Ukrainian universe and we in the provinces are but a far flung orbiting meteor visited only when campaigning for votes or random and infrequent public relations events. Apart from that we are left to defecate in the streets for the amusement of passing tourists in the hope they will through their loose change in our hats.
To be fair though, most people in Odessa are very pleased to be left alone by the powers that be residing in Kyiv, so tourists please continue to throw your loose change in our hats. That is generally far better than unwelcome attention from Kyiv.
Nevertheless, if the Korolevska Foundation cannot or will not do a traveling roadshow around Ukraine to promote her and debate these 3 relevant issues with Ukrainians, then Kyiv is obviously the place to engage with all levels of Ukrainian society. On that most would agree.
However, this meeting is not going to be held in Kyiv. It is not even going to be held in Ukraine. If you want to attend, debate or simply listen to the Korolevska Foundation over such important issues here is the address:
Scotland House, Round-Point Schuman 6, 1000 Brussels.
If you want to attend, simply complete this application form, but if you are Ukrainian, unless you already have a valid Schengen Visa, it is very unlikely you will get one in time to attend now! I expect it will be an interesting jolly for those who go along but what will that achieve other than being interesting?
It would appear that the Korolevska Foundation will be asking how to create a credible opposition in Ukraine, how to defend civil liberties and justice in Ukraine and how to campaign for EU democratic values in Ukraine, not with Ukrainians (unless they happen to be there), but with anybody except Ukrainians who can make it to Scotland House in Brussels on the 27th!
One must seriously question the legitimacy of this gathering. Is it to genuinely find answers to these questions or is it simply another event to reinforce Natalia Korolevska as the new female face of Ukrainian politics amongst the Brussels technocracy.
For certain such advice from Brussels can be given to the Korolevska Foundation in Ukraine. Ukraine hosts ambassadors, political scientists, advisors et al from every EU nation as well as an EU Ambassador and staff as well. She could gather 80 – 100 very smart top level EU policy advisors and policy implementors amongst the diplomatic ranks posted in Ukraine quite easily.
The input holding such a meeting in Ukraine would be no less qualitative or clever than the input given by holding it in Brussels. Certainly such a gathering in Ukraine would get far more Ukrainian media and public attention, but I suspect it is not Ukrainian media attention Ms Korolevska is seeking, but that of the Brussels Quarter and more for her own ends than any to receive substantive answers she hasn’t already arrived at herself.
To answer the first question relating to creating a credible opposition, then firstly there must be trust between the 18 or so opposition parties. As most of the opposition parties have had experience of working together within the Tymoshenko government, then trust is a very rare commodity. Nobody within the opposition trusts her and equally she has no trust in other opposition parties (or some members of her own). That lack of trust is equally apportioned around the opposition parties about each other.
To understand this you must consider the RADA as closed shop business where majority and opposition change places as majority and minority shareholders at election time, and the personal dividends that brings individual deputies is dependent upon what position they hold. That is a situation that becomes very complicated indeed when a coalition government is made up of numerous parties and each party and each deputy is focused in retaining and improving their position and personal dividend windfall.
In order to gain any sort of trust amongst all opposition parties, Ms Tymoshenko would have to permanently leave politics. She currently has a dislike for Yatesniuk (again – and not for the first time) which makes uniting a credible opposition very difficult when Yatseniuk and his party are the second most popular opposition party in Ukraine, not far behind her own. Recent Ukrainian political history is replete with examples of what happens to careers, positions and actions when Ms Tymoshenko took a disliking to somebody within her coalition, something Ms Korolevska discovered herself on 14th March when expelled from Ms Tymoshenko’s BYuT faction. Trust therefore, is severely lacking.
Next is a complete lack of policy. There is a policy void amongst the opposition, individually and combined, that is so vast it makes the Grand Canyon seem like a hair-line fracture. The only thing they have agreed on publicly is to try and create a single voters list amongst themselves to stand against the current government but even that, despite being announced in January, has still to be done and even if it is done, not only does it stand a chance of falling apart before the October elections, it also significantly reduces voter choice.
That does not even begin to address the vastly differing ideologies and places on the political spectrum that so many different opposition parties occupy. The opposition ranges from the extreme right of Svoboda all the way across to the centre left socialists. It is no wonder there can be little agreed policy to act as a platform for electioneering other than “we are not the PoR”.
As unpopular as the PoR may be, when push comes to shove at voting time, it is not hard for the Ukrainian public to remember what happened last time there was a populist, policy-less, dysfunctional, multi-party coalition in power. As all political observers know, any polls today are meaningless with the elections 6 months in the future.
It may already be too late to create a credible opposition as credibility and legitimacy is not given, but earned over time through policy and action. The clock ticks towards election day and there is as yet no credible united opposition.
When it comes to defending civil liberties and justice, the opposition have a very difficult task. When in power they did a particularly poor job of doing either, let alone improving it. The EU policy as per the recent EEAS policy document and numerous statements and meetings by Stefan Fule, is now to engage with civil society and NGOs to do this. Just as Ukraine fatigue set in within the EU when the opposition were in power, it seems quite clear by the EU adopting this policy towards civil society and NGOs, it suffers from the same fatigue now these parties are in opposition.
No effective credible opposition means no effective and credible actions over civil liberties and justice will come from it. Better to go directly to those who are united in a cause, have far fewer internal conflicts, have policies and plans and fund them directly- which is exactly what the new EU policy does with civil society and NGOs. Whether it will be an effective policy or not remains to be seen, but it can certainly be no less effective than the Ukrainian opposition.
Quite why the Korolevska Foundation is holding a meeting in Brussels about which campaigning for EU democratic values is on the agenda I am unsure. National ambassadors from every EU nation, the EU Ambassador to Ukraine, the Council of Europe, OSCE, European Commission, European Parliament and European Council are hardly likely to be saying nothing to the leadership of Ukraine when the most important nation in their EaP strategy is baulking at the DCFTA and AA final fence and the stumbling block is indeed EU democratic values.
Ukrainian society is quite aware what EU democratic values are. Well at least they thought they knew what EU democratic values are. Events in Italy, Greece, Hungary and Slovakia this year may well have caused the Ukrainian public to rethink just exactly what EU democracy really is. If it has then they would not be alone. Many in the EU are now wondering as well.
Anyway, the Ukrainian public know/knew what EU democratic values are. They do not live in a cocoon. They travel, they have the Internet, they have millions of European visitors to Ukraine every year with whom they can and do interact.
The Ukrainian public can organise itself over issues it feels overstep the mark or are decidedly wrong.
They did it over the Tax Code without any organisational help from the opposition parties. In fact the opposition parties were told by the demonstrators the protests was A-political and they would not allow the opposition to hijack it. To date, since the current government came to power, that has been easily the biggest demonstration, dwarfing any other.
Locally, as yesterday’s post shows, they are also capable of forcing appropriate action where none is taken.
Should the Korolevska Foundation not be asking these questions of themselves, other opposition parties and in particular, the Ukrainian public in Ukraine rather than technocrats, journalists, interns, bloggers, and associated bodies within the Brussels bubble?
Has she not noticed the increasing perception amongst the EU citizenry of a democratic deficit between themselves and the Brussels bubble? Even the EU elites are waking up to that fact, although the only answer they seem to have is more central power and political union which simply increases nationalist rhetoric amongst the EU nations and their citizens.
There is bountiful foreign advice to be had here in Ukraine if that is what the foundation seeks, not to mention a large amount of quality domestic advice from the academia of Ukraine.
The future of Ukraine lays with Tigipko, Yatseniuk and yes with Korolevska. At some point in the next 10 years the European stage will be theirs without the clutter of Yanukovych, Tymoshenko and the other recycled parts of the old Soviet apparatus. Her star will rise in its own good time and I see so very little to be gained from this meeting being held in Brussels in comparison to holding it in Ukraine, other than some egotistical attempt to force her mobile number onto the speed-dial of mandarins she will soon enough put in the political shadows of the fairly near future.