Valerii Pekar, a co-founder of EED’s partner, Nova Kraina Civic Platform, explains why everything is just beginning for Ukraine. This article was first published in Novoe Vremya magazine on 14 January 2016 and on the Novoe Vremya website on 16 January 2016.
Ukrainians are yearning for change and don’t want to go back to a good old but stagnant past. That’s why for us, everything is just beginning.
The main result of 2015 is that everyone is unhappy with everyone.
Ukrainians are unhappy with the authorities without really making a distinction between who is responsible for what. The authorities are unhappy with the Ukrainians who refuse to bear the costs and start moaning immediately if their grievances are not addressed. The parliament is unhappy with the government which prepares lousy bills and does not meet deadlines. The government is unhappy with the parliament which is unable to adopt even high-quality bills prepared on time. The president is unhappy with both, and in turn gets accused by both either of excessive interventionism or withdrawal from the political processes. Civic activists are unhappy with public officials who block the reforms. The public officials are unhappy with the civic activists who keep interfering in their job and don’t let them work. The government is unhappy with businesses which continue the old practice of avoiding taxes and paying bribes. Businesses are unhappy with the government which keeps increasing the tax burden and continues to take bribes. This list of those who are unhappy can go on.
One could get the impression that 2015 only brought failures. But at a closer look, we can see many positives.
Firstly, contradictions are often signs of development. Only graveyards have people who are no longer dissatisfied with anyone. The dissatisfaction with what we have achieved so far stimulates advancement and further progress. Older generations remember far too well the times of ‘unanimity’ when in public, everyone was happy with everything and only vented their frustrations around the kitchen table. What we see now is part of normal life.
Secondly, social and political processes are as open as ever. Each bill, each budget line and each high-profile appointment is publicly scrutinised and discussed. This naturally causes irritation to some who are used to taking decisions without external pressure. One could endlessly discuss the pluses and minuses of closed and open processes but it no longer makes sense: as a matter of fact, no procedure is hidden from the public anymore.
Thirdly, as long as the process remains within the confines of the parliament or the government, at conferences or think-tank meetings, it will not spill over into streets. And this is good: it would be impossible to have a serious discussion on the streets. It’s easier and better to draw conclusions from criticism by activists or journalists voiced in the parliament or conference rooms than under the pressure of the street protests. The street always seeks simple solutions to complex problems, and these rarely work.
A key feature of a successful revolution is its quick transformation into an evolutionary process. We have managed to achieve that. Our next task is to ensure that this evolution is successful and that a new revolution does not take place.
The main result of 2015 for Ukraine is that it still exists as a state. We used to take this for granted – yet as recently as March 2014 we had no state, no army, nor national unity. Such states usually collapse after the first blow, but Ukraine hasn’t. It has survived and started a transformation.
The second result of 2015 is that Ukraine has not managed to use the window of opportunity it has had. The breakthrough has only been achieved on paper, not yet in real life. Multiple small victories have not led to a breakthrough marking a successful transformation. Yaroslav Hrytsak, a Ukrainian historian, recently said that any transformation takes at least 50 years – not because it takes so long but because windows of opportunities are not always used and only open sporadically.
The third result of 2015 is that society remains hungry for change. They have not given up, they have not burnt out and they do not want to go back to the good old, but stagnant past. This means that we can open a new window of opportunities for ourselves, without having to wait for another ‘black swan’.
And finally: the political elite has proven incapable of implementing the changes demanded by society.
All of this means that for Ukraine, everything is just beginning. The next season of this show will be nothing like the previous one. 2016 will not be a Groundhog Year for Ukraine.