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Has Ukraine changed since Independence? – Fundamentally No (Contains an essential read if you want to understand Ukraine)

August 29, 2012

Yesterday I was interviewed by one of the EU’s many Brussels based (and funded) media outlets.  I am a regular contributer and am often asked to offer up difficult and thought-provoking questions which are then in turn put to members of the European Council, the European Commission, or MEPs, eventually forming the basis of articles to then be written and the always welcome “name-check” for me.

Yesterday’s interview was in preparation for the forthcoming EU State of the Union round table where Messrs Van Rompuy, Barroso and Schulz et al will be in attendance and will face questions, statements and inferences from myself and others that will undoubtedly make them squirm and work desperately hard not to actually answer the questions posed.

All that has nothing to do with this post other than a self-aggrandising introduction to a question asked of me after the cameras had stopped rolling.  The question was, “Has Ukraine changed much?”

The answer to that, if discounting a few additional MacDonald’s scattered around the country in the past 21 years, is fundamentally a definite “No”.

The country is run the same way now as it was under ex-President Kuchma.  That continued in a more disjointed fashion under the utterly awful Yushenko/Tymoshenko tenure which was nothing more than a 5 year prolonged spat with both vying to be Ukrainian “Top Dog”, and the Kuchma method of governance continues today.

In academic circles it is know as “The Arbiter” method of governance.

It is also why civil society in Ukraine was, and is, completely useless for the most part – under current and past administrations without exception.  “The Arbiter” method of governance and the “rent seeking” society system that accompanies it quite simply have no use for civil society.  It is a small bubble of think-tanks and academics detached from society and government alike, to which lip service, if not being completely ignored, is paid by those they seek to influence.

Without society’s support, civil society garners no momentum, so unless there is a crisis in which the arbiter may make some reforms that coincide with some of the wishes of civil society, not necessarily those of society itself, but essential to continued governance, change does not come

To save a lot of writing, this links to an outstanding work by Dubrovskiy, Szyrmer, Graves III, Golovakha, Haran’ and Pavlenko from 2007.  It carefully explains in simple terms “The Arbiter” method of governance and a “rent seeking” society – and thus why civil society, and more generally, democracy, fails.

(The eagle-eyed amongst you will notice amongst those acknowledged at the end, there are several mentions of Irena Akimova – who now sits within the current Presidential Administration.)

That civil society would be the same civil society that the EU is pumping hundreds of millions of Euros into, despite the fact they must be aware that society has little interest in providing the momentum and support/legitimisation for the actions of Ukrainian civil society.

Sooner or later, and I suspect it will be much, much later, the EU will realise that the only way to communicate with the Ukrainian people and have any impact whatsoever, is by doing so directly and not via government or civil society.

Anyway, the link contains a fairly long read, but it is an essential read for those who have never read it before, for all armchair commentators and critics if they want to understand why change in Ukraine is so slow and why Ukrainian society does not rise up to change things.

What is written in that excellent piece of work in 2007, is still very true of today in 2012.  That system of governance has never once been broken – even during the Yushenko/Tymoshenko years of false hopes and horizons.  The difference with their tenure is that both thought they were The Arbiter in the grand scheme of things and it led to nothing more than 5 years of in-fighting.

Should Ms Tymoshenko ever become President of Ukraine, she will govern it in the same arbitrary manner as her predecessors as anybody who has ever met her or worked for her will attest to.  (In fact some have already attested to it whilst she was Prime Minister and they held office in her government.)

Regardless of winners and losers in the parliamentary elections this October or the next Presidential elections in 2015, the governance system of “The Arbiter” and the collusion of the “rent seeking” society will continue for the foreseeable future.

Civil society, for its part, if it wants to have an effective part, needs to concentrate on local government and motivate local people to effect change city by city and region by region.  There is no other room for it in the Arbiter/Rent Seeking society model.

So, has Ukraine changed fundamentally since independence?  My answer is No.

Looking forwards to the end of this decade I see no change either, regardless of who sits as The Arbiter.

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