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Savchenko and Overton’s Window

August 2, 2016

At the end of May, upon the release of Nadia Savchenko an entry appeared relating to Ukrainian folklore and the impossibility of two Ukrainian women (Ms Tymoshenko and Savchenko) sharing the same (Batkivshchyna) kitchen.

The entry concluded thus – “There seem to be no particularly good political options for Ms Tymoshenko when to comes to Ms Savchenko, and as has been written at this blog innumerable times, you either work for Ms Tymsohenko, or you work against Ms Tymoshenko.  Ms Tymoshenko does not do “work with”.  Thus the Batkivshchyna kitchen is simply not going to be big enough for these two Ukrainian women.

Whilst it is clear that Ms Savchenko will continue to work for the release of other prisoners incarcerated due to political expediency, and no doubt she will actively employ her Ukrainian PACE delegation position to that end, Ms Savchenko is not going to be missing that many Verkhovna Rada sessions.

Time will tell whether heroines should remain heroines, or if in time they become tarnished by politics, but in the immediate future, as tweeted upon receipt of the splendid news of Nadiya Savchenko’s release.”

It is now clear that Ms Savchenko has already lost the ego/personality cult battle within Batkivshchyna to Ms Tymoshenko.  Her political star will remain eclipsed by that of Ms Tymoshenko within the party and for the majority of the Ukrainian constituency too.  Few do empty populism as well as Yulia Tymoshenko.  Nevertheless, Ms Savchenko remains problematic for the Batkivshchyna leader when it comes to internal discipline and staying on “party message”.

The 2nd August saw Nadiya Savchenko give a press conference – a press conference not sanctioned by Batkivshchyna.  At least prima facie that appears to be the case with both Ms Savchenko, and the reaction of Sergie Sobolev of Batkivshchyna, giving that firm impression.

Without dwelling upon all that was said within the press conference and the deviations from the (current) Batkivshchyna Party line, the above quoted prediction of continued and energetic work toward the release of all Ukrainian prisoners by Ms Savchenko was more than apparent.

A cause that is rightful and moral undoubtedly.  However the means to this end identified by Ms Savchenko will cause much debate.

This brings about Overton’s Window, and how policy, however unpopular, radical, or simply stupid, can be maneuvered into a more acceptable, even main stream, policy position.

Overton_Window_diagram.svg

Ms Savchenko again reiterated previous statements that she be prepared to negotiate directly with the LNR and DNR, and that she had indeed secretly visited the region.

Fair enough.

But what mandate would she have in any negotiations?  A de facto ombudsman for captured Ukrainian servicemen is not the same thing as being the de jure representative charged with negotiating their release – and many have been released through the efforts of the currently mandated representative.  Further, it is not as though Iryna Gerashchenko allows the issue to drop from the governmental agenda, the “Contact Group” talks, nor from the media.

A response from “LNR leader” Igor Plotnitsky to her rhetoric stated “I think we can create a kind of a deputy group, of three persons. Basically, we can talk as a deputy to a deputy, if one wants to find a compromise and resolve the situation peacefully.”

Well perhaps – although caution is required.

This is not a traditional Track 2 agent of change and/or influence channel.  It is a channel that can easily become the channel of choice and inferred authority over and above the legitimate channel by one side but not another.

Differences between official and unofficial channels may very well complicate matters further and also be deliberately used to frustrate progress by any party concerned in negotiations when those differences are exploited.  As painful and prickly as each day of further detention of prisoners is, especially for those detained, the short-term goals of releasing all such prisons require a longer-term vision with regard to concessions sought and made.

Indeed with insufficient care there is a real possibility that due to deliberate, or unintentional, mishandling of negotiations those detained could be held far longer than would otherwise have been the case.

Does Ms Savchenko have that longer-term view?  Apparently not.

Upon making this offer of direct negotiation once again, she also announced a hunger strike in an effort to force the prisoner release issue stating the Ukrainian government and international authorities are inactive.

Batkivshchyna, via Mr Sobolev, were swift in making the following statement calling her decision an act of desperation – “The faction has never supported her hunger strike in the torture chambers of the Kremlin  We believe that her health is much more valuable. – This is an act of desperation,

Further Mr Sobolev went on to state that Ms Savchenko cannot influence the process of prisoner release from within the occupied Donbas nor the Russian Federation.  Batkivshchyna therefore clearly not in favour of her having any unofficial, nor official mandate to do so, and the wiser heads within the party are obviously aware of the complications that may come from it.  Unnecessary political complications and bad PR are not what populist parties thrive upon – they are about peddling populist angst whilst proposing no viable solutions.

Mr Sobolev, perhaps rightly, classified the declaration of Ms Savchenko as an act designed to “wake up” those involved to find new ways to facilitate prisoner exchanges.  Nevertheless, Ms Savchenko had made the ending of her hunger strike conditional upon “positive results“.  With at least 111 Ukrainians held in captivity within the areas outside of governmental control, how many releases constitute “positive results” sufficient to end her latest hunger strike  is an open question – and is also dependent upon the will of those with whom negotiations occur.

It remains to be seen how Batkivshchyna as a party, or more accurately how Ms Tymoshenko, will now deal with the issues of unsanctioned press conferences, policy statements that stray far beyond the (current) party line, and the latest hunger strike of Ms Savchenko.

Can Ms Savchenko pull Overton’s Window, and Batkivshchyna, to a position more favourable to adopting her declarations and goals as party policy?  Maybe – but doubtful.

Overton’s Window is usually a window that requires looking through for quite some time to witness progression from what begins as unthinkable to what becomes policy.  It is more likely a reader will see Batkivshchyna empathy – but not robust Batkivshchyna support – with regards to the questionable political means Ms Savchenko proposes to arrive at rightfully humanitarian ends.

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