Archive for January 9th, 2014


Experimenting in the void of trust in 2014 – Ukraine

January 9, 2014

Today’s entry may appear to be a bit “scholarly” but I will try avoid it as much as possible – which shouldn’t be too hard for me!

Utopian and unrealistic it will certainly appear at its conclusion – but that is not to say it isn’t worthy of momentary deliberation or contemplation regardless.  No matter how slim the possibility, that doesn’t mean it should be dismissed out of hand.

A few days ago I wrote about the trust void that will become ever more self-evident in Ukraine during 2014.

That trust is missing between the current authorities and opposition, amongst the opposition themselves, between civil society and the political class, between society and civil society, and lastly between society and the political class is no surprise – but this year it seems likely it will be under the microscope like never before.

Thus I start from 3 foundations that are difficult to dispute.

The first is the perception of the political class in its entirety through the lens of the Ukrainian voting constituency (and many on-lookers too) being entirely feckless and untrusted.

To quote Thomas Carothers from his End of the Transitional Paradigm (2002) – “Countries whose political life is marked by feckless pluralism tend to have significant amounts of political freedom, regular elections, and alternation of power between genuinely different political groupings. Despite these positive features, however, democracy remains shallow and troubled. Political participation, though broad at election time, extends little beyond voting. Political elites from all the major parties or groupings are widely perceived as corrupt, self-interested, and ineffective. The alternation of power seems only to trade the country’s problems back and forth from one hapless side to the other. Political elites from all the major parties are widely perceived as corrupt, self-interested, dishonest, and not serious about working for their country. The public is seriously disaffected from politics, and while it may still cling to a belief in the ideal of democracy, it is extremely unhappy about the political life of the country.” – Hard to disagree with that as the current and historical political situation.

The second  is that it is difficult to argue that Ukraine does not fit the description of a predatory state per Putman in his “Making Democracies Work” publishings.  In this he states, officials feed off the State and the powerful prey on the weak.  The rich take wealth from the poor whilst depriving them of public goods.  “Corruption is widely regarded as the norm, political participation is mobilised from above, civic engagement is meager, compromise is scarce, and nearly everyone feels powerless, exploited and unhappy.”  Again, difficult to dispute.

The third, and last for the purposes of this entry, is the Ukrainian civil society which has thus far failed in its task for the past 21 years with regards to traction within society and impact with successive governments.  Where mutual interest arises, attempts at convergence are all to often met with a lack of cohesion and trust.  Ukrainian civil society is in fact uncivil, regularly feeding upon itself. – A self-evident situation.

With elections looming, Евромайдан a new but on-going civic display repelling political overtures, undoubted additional pressure from The Kremlin once Sochi is over and Mr Putin has far more time to concentrate on building his Eurasian Union political legacy, and a somewhat currently limp EU, that void in trust is obviously open to exploitation – for good or bad – now that certain actors if not knowing exactly what they do want, certainly know what they don’t want and are prepared to operate on that shortsighted basis.

I very much doubt 2014 will deliver trust where there is none.

That leads us to the question of how trust in the framework can even begin to be established.

Not, it has to be said, a question that has escaped political science academics historically – although when it comes to trust, the most interesting studies and resulting recommendations come from nations emerging from ethnic conflict.  Necessarily an environment where trust begins and ends with ethnicity/identity when a conflict subsidies and some form of democratic/representative governance is sought going forward.

Possibly the most read work in this field belongs to that of Mr Lijphart, Mr Dahl and Mr Horowitz respectively (and in no particular order) – and some of what they say can be transposed upon Ukraine – despite Ukraine having nothing like the ethnic divisions emerging from a conflict ravaged national landscape upon which some of their scholarly work has been based.

Dear readers, please note, I am about to do many years of scholarly work from these people a great disservice by generalising, paraphrasing, and in short “hard editing” otherwise very lengthy erudite academic prose from each of the aforementioned down to a simple, single sentence:

Avoid majoritarian systems in deeply divided countries.

Believe me, dear readers, that single sentence has saved you hundreds of hours of reading and contemplation through which I went on your behalf.

Thereafter having removed/avoided a majoritarian system, small and steady steps over time – without undue dawdling – is the way forward in building trust.

But where is this train of thought leading?

Well, amongst the political, oligarchical, religious and societal ranks there is no serious desire to divide the nation.  Therefore it is fair to say an independent Ukraine within its current geographical borders is the non-negotiable outcome for all – regardless of other differences.

In fact, the cross cutting cleavages that unite the aspirations of the nation are far more numerous – rule of law, reduction of corruption, transparent and good governance, basic and universal freedoms and rights, economics, employment, functioning efficient institutions of State etc  as this poll from the end of 2013 would seem to underline  – than the oft publicised differences many on-lookers would use to divide it – East/West voting preferences, Russian/Ukrainian speaking, sign/don’t sign the EU Association Agreement etc.

(Such deep-seated voting preferences and language issues are not unique to Ukraine and other nations remain whole.)

And so my very (c)rude summary of lengthy academic work, “Avoid majoritarian systems in deeply divided countries”  multiplied by “(pillars of) democracy”, plus “national identity within current geographical borders being sacrosanct”,  would suggest a form of government Ukraine has never tried.  Some form of national unity governance for a period of time to deliver the most critical of societal demands.

Naturally it would be too Utopian a thought that one of the feckless candidates that will put themselves forward as the next Saviour of Ukraine/next president in 2015 would base a manifesto and cross-party  governmental composition upon debate and agreement with society during the preparatory 2014 electoral year – despite there being plenty of time and a societal desire to seemingly engage in that conversation.

Would any presidential candidate dare to suggest forming such a government for their term in office?  Would that begin to build trust across the all pillars of a democratic and civilised society – or would everyone trust that candidate even less?

OK – time to leave a possible – no matter how unlikely – and seemingly Utopian solution, and return to the ugly and dysfunctional reality where the opposition candidates are clearly still distrusting of each other when it comes to the single candidate/multiple candidate scenario and who ultimately holds the “power”, and the current “power” remains as corrupt and as unresponsive as ever.

Nevertheless there are some smart minded people in each and every Ukrainian political party – unfortunately just not that many.

Who and where they would be placed in any national unity government would be a very interesting public opinion survey – if an independent, unaligned, but much more democratic status quo is all that can be agreed upon by society for now, as the above poll link would suggest.

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