09.09.2008 | Halya Coynash

Crisis of political genre


You can never step into the same river twice however - forgive me Herodotus - tumbling back into the same bog is the simplest thing in the world! That’s if you think that we ever actually climb out of it which is also questionable. The following thoughts are based on two assumptions:  1) Life in a bog may have a beneficial effect on the health and good spirits of a frog, but it does nothing for you or I; 2) with all due respect to the poet Fyodor Tyutchev, any nation is fathomable. Those who push the idea that Russians, Ukrainians or others cannot be understood, but only believed in, usually have their own dubious aims.

It has become virtually impossible to differentiate between political events and their reflection in the media, and it is politicians themselves who contribute most to this. They don’t balk at any genre, and the media unfortunately are all too eager to go along with them.  The headlines have been shouting about coups, State treason, insufficient patriotism, excessive nationalism, venality, stupidity, and much more. Articles demand more attention to detail than any Agatha Christie novel so as to gauge just whose devious scheming we’re dealing with.

I have to admit that a few times over the last week I’ve compared information with reports in the Ukrainian services of western media outlets. Not that I expected to gain more information, probably less in fact. However you get tired of constantly having to thoroughly check any text for hidden advertising, propaganda or simple sincere bias.

You get tired, in short, of the very genre – “political crisis” – in its numerous remakes.

There is also a nagging sense of some kind of a misunderstanding here. This has nothing to do with disillusionment. Illusions are as subjective as toothache. Some shed them all a long time ago, while others have only now abandoned their last hope. There may also be somebody whose disillusionment threshold is that much higher, and who is still hoping. No, the misunderstanding, as far as I can see, is over who precisely holds the leading roles.

I glanced at news stories. In England, it seems, a scandal has erupted over the Minister of Foreign Affairs having travelled around the world more than the Queen. Why this is so shocking I can’t say – I didn’t read any further.  This wee scandal does, however, clearly demonstrate a crucial difference. Politicians in England are nervous of the press. Journalists get under their feet, hassle them and ask uncomfortable questions. In Ukraine this also happens, however you more often have the impression that politicians see journalists as freelance workers in their public liaison services. The public on the other hand have one consolation: all the politicians have the same attitude to the press.  That makes for some kind of pluralism, although admittedly there’s much more spam than critical journalism.

And what can you say about the latest political crisis? Judging by all the websites around, whatever you want. I’ll confine myself, however, to the obvious fact that citizens of the country and the international community are once again overwhelmed by accusations of State treason, that A, B, or C are destroying democracy.  They couldn’t care less that there are presidential elections in a year. They want to see the country’s interests protected now at a time of enormous tension for all of Europe. Some are wondering whether it’s worth investing in Ukraine at all, while in the European Union they’re almost certainly asking themselves just what Ukraine actually wants.

You can hear alternative voices. The Ukrainian Catholic University issued an appeal to the country’s academic community in which it warns of the serious consequences of such political irresponsibility and the nihilism it engenders. There are also complaints that Ukrainian politicians lack State-orientated thinking. That they are short on this is not in question, however I am rather sceptical as to whether they differ in this so sharply from politicians in other countries.

The difference, in my view, is that the voters in those other countries, including members of the media, demand that politicians follow certain rules of a law-based democracy. Journalists have an interest in catching any politicians breaking these rules and blowing the whistle on them as loudly and unceremoniously as necessary.

The never-ending mutual accusations of all mortal sins are highly disturbing. However the worst thing is that politicians are openly seeking control over State bodies and over the judiciary, and the media and public see this as something normal.

If you want democracy, and not the “managed” imitation Putin espouses, then this is no less a coup d’etat for which all without exception share the blame.

There are numerous examples, but I’ll mention only the scandal around Zhvania. Everything connected with the battle between former political allies can only arouse disgust, however we have no right to look away squeamishly when the courts are dragged in and the possibility of depriving a person of his citizenship is used for political ends. Journalists did in fact give wide coverage to part of this story when their colleague was interrogated for a long time in the prosecutor’s office. It’s good that they did so. However what was at risk was not merely the right to freedom of speech and press freedom.

We have no grounds to expect new, more adequate politicians to emerge under the present system. It’s even less justified to hope that they will themselves begin behaving better while they think they can wreak havoc and shame the country with impunity. Most of us have our own political preferences and perhaps you are convinced that one side is right, the other not. You may even believe that all will be well if X comes to power. If X gets enough votes we’ll see. No great tragedy if it again proves no panacea.

What will be a tragedy is if we end up in an entirely different play. It’s extremely difficult to create a law-based democracy. Like quality cinema, everything is complicated, demanding attention and effort. While soaps, where all is simplistic and dense, are relaxing. You stop reacting and paying attention when they turn the constitutional process into a tacky parade of political manifestos, parliament into a sandpit and State bodies of power into pawns for their political gain. We are not likely to create a new breed of politicians however we are entitled to determine their role, and the very genre. And we should, before it’s too late, ensure that they don’t forget who calls the tune.

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