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YES 2015 – Ukraine

September 14, 2015

The last few entries have been very Odessa centric – so it is time to zoom out slightly and take a look at the recent YES 2015 gathering.

The usual political, cultural and academic star studded affair for sure.

No end of opinion, words of encouragement, cajoling and forewarning from the enlightened spewed forth as happens has every year – except that unlike many of the previous years, for reasons external and internal, western carrots and sticks, as well as domestic societal pressures, now provide the opportunity for actual tangible progress toward something approaching the rule of law, an opportunity to introduce something approaching a free market, something approaching accountable and responsive governance etc.  – certainly for as long as The Kremlin continues to provide an overtly aggressive “external other” to rally against.

These “something approachings” above, may be a few years in the future before they manifest into something that must then be consolidated, yet they are possible – although by no means certain despite all rhetoric to the contrary.

Delayed reform and unimpressive implementation were blamed upon corrupt institutions by some Cabinet Ministers (who at times spoke with an objectionable sense of entitlement to external assistance considering their own historic failures when in power that are contributory to where Ukraine finds itself today ).

Delayed reform was blamed upon 60% of MPs being “owned” by oligarchs or protection their own vested interests by the representatives of the newly elected reformist 40% of the Verkhovna Rada.

Delayed reform was blamed on all the above by civil society, who also blamed the oligarchy and vested interests within government itself.

Delayed reform was blamed on slow and unwieldy bureaucratic systems within the Verkhovna Rada.

Blame was, in short, placed upon individual parts of the whole – yet there was a lack of recognition that the whole is almost entirely absent the concept of public service.  It was everybody else to blame – not simply a collective everybody.

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YES 2015 made it blatantly obvious that the Ukrainian political class and the institutions of state remain light years behind Ukrainian civil society, academia and the middle class when it comes to a genuine desire to leave post-Soviet Ukraine behind whatever it takes, the willingness to endure the pain involved to achieve it, and the very idea that planting trees today and tending them tomorrow for future generations sit under if inferred at all, was clearly hollow rhetoric from far too many Ukrainian political speakers that refuse to give up, or even loosen their grip upon their vested interests in the name of national progress/development.

Beneath all the fine oratory of YES 2015, one wonders whether The Kremlin may yet be able to undermine Ukraine and suck it back into its orbit by simply stopping its aggression and allowing what would become self-destructive forces within the Ukrainian elite to do just that – self-destruct in the absence of aggression from a hostile “external other”.

If YES 2015 has underlined anything, it has underlined two things – firstly there is no concept of the mentality required for public service amongst those within public service, and secondly the greatest threat to Ukrainian development remains the Ukrainian elite/political class – not The Kremlin.

YES 2015 ably displayed not how far Ukraine has come (and it has progressed), but it displayed how far the vast majority of the Ukrainian political class has not come in comparison to large sections within its domestic constituency.

Perhaps the recent appointments of Carl Bildt and Radoslaw Sikorski as advisors to President Poroshenko, two very clear-eyed, straight talking men who know what public service is, notwithstanding unrivaled ability to navigate the machinations of the European Union, may manage to keep the Ukrainian political class with one eye firmly on the prize, and one eye firmly on the threats – at least to the point of avoiding internal self-destruction and a Kremlin win by default.

That said, just how much influence will even the best of presidential advisors have over a still feckless and ill-disciplined Verkhovna Rada that they do not council?

However much external western diplomatic energy has been expended by various embassies within Ukraine to get its domestic players to move the nation to where it is today (or perhaps now to stop it rolling back to where it was), YES 2015 clearly displayed a requirement to up that diplomatic energy,, engage in yet more clever thinking, insure all help remains entirely conditional upon progress, and display an unbending will to stay the course for years to come as long as progress continues.

How much of that external will is supporting Ukraine in recognition of it being the European front line against The Kremlin’s attempt to challenge the global order and international rule of law, and how much of that will would be there otherwise, we will perhaps never know.  Perhaps it no longer matters.

Regardless, YES 2015 showed the enemy within remains far more dangerous than the enemy without.

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