06.07.2009 | Halya Coynash

A High price for disillusionment


Given a choice between political propaganda and an ad for washing powder, I will probably opt to find out how to make my clothes sweet-smelling, and not the country. Only twice ever have I forced myself to read party manifestos, or, more precisely, disillusionment compelled. Several years ago I decided to vote for a pure and untainted party which was, admittedly, far enough from the reigns of power to be able to afford such pristine purity. On voting day the doubts set in – you can chuck out soap powder, but a vote should not be cast lightly. I didn’t need to read far, the party stated clearly that it would abolish private property. The argument that it would never abolish a thing since it would never get to power seemed less than adequate. We’ve been through that policy and I for one need no repeat lesson.

Virtually everyone is gripped by disillusionment, and at least in Ukraine there is cause enough. However when the stakes are very high, and the game could end in serious harm for the country and its reputation in the world, some rules are best not forgotten.

It is also worth bearing in mind standard reactions by angry voters in any democracy. The crisis led to a sharp rise in support for radical parties at the recent elections to the European parliament, particularly those which blame “immigrants” for just about everything. Not that everybody was looking for a scapegoat. The wish to show those in power that their voters were fed up with ineffective and piecemeal measures took a different form in Sweden which elected members of the Pirate Party to the European Parliament. I don’t follow Swedish politics but would hazard a guess that pirates will not be elected to the national parliament. Protesting is good, but in parliament we’re talking about real power, and not just a platform for nice-sounding declarations.

You won’t cast a vote for motives of revenge or for cheap words about the glory of the nation and national heroes if behind the words there is emptiness – or a very real threat that a political force will drag the country into an abyss.

Problems arise when, as now in Ukraine, the words of most political parties are empty and their struggle for power is taking place on the edge of an abyss. I will admit immediately that I didn’t look at the Communist Party’s manifesto – that’s one lesson that should last eternity. I did however conscientiously endeavour to at least identify the genre of the other parties’ so-called political manifestos. Pure poetry in places, and oodles of the noblest intentions   I even resorted to the “find” command on the computer, learned who most often speaks of “prosperity”, “justice” and “”freedom”. There remains a question mark, of course, as to what this says about a party in the absence of specific plans. In search of the latter, I used different colours to mark up vague intentions; vaguely definite intentions; and specific plans, with three categories depending on how measurable implementation would be. The texts were all marvellously colourful, only no let up on disillusionment.

Why is the media so passive in this area? Obviously they’re also bored reading such unconscionable nonsense, but it’s easier for them to get to politicians and find out whether there is a programme lurking in the verbal foliage. What kind of contract is it when you don’t know what’s been agreed to? It’s clear enough that politicians prefer to ignore that annoying little principle of democracy, namely, that agreements are contracted with the voters and not between themselves. Yet what is the point of journalism which aids and abets them in this? Their audience needs information – not twisted or biased, but the information they can gauge for themselves from intelligently posed questions to all politicians. And I mean all, not just those they’ve been told to get at.

We are not only talking about empty words here. There are situations where not just journalists, but all of us, cannot just nod our heads when people are clearly trying to wriggle out of uncomfortable questions.

In April during Savik Shuster’s television discussion programme, politician Yevhen Chervonenko asked one question three or four times to representative of the rightwing VO “Svoboda” [“Freedom”] Party, Andriy Ilyenko: “So who am I?” According to their manifesto, “VO “Svoboda” are for a Ukrainian State in which the Ukrainian people will hold the dominant position due them”. There is no explanation in the manifesto as to what is understood by “Ukrainian people”, however from various interviews it is clear that this refers to ethnic Ukrainians. Yevhen Chervonenko is a Ukrainian of Jewish origin. He is not a member of a national minority, he is a Ukrainian. Many Germans of Jewish origin died in the gas chambers because they understood too late that for the Nazis they were to be eliminated as Jews. We can hope that the need felt by members of VO “Svoboda” to divide Ukrainians into their own and others is not as diseased, however it was reasonable to ask. So much so that I find it unfathomable that Shuster and others present allowed Mr Ilyenko to effectively duck the question.

And don’t tell us that it’s clear anyway. If it was so clear, if they weren’t afraid of spelling it all out, they would answer simple questions and not hide behind euphemisms.

We are no longer talking about empty verbiage or vague promises, but about something quite different which could divide the country and shut the door once and for all to the European Union and the democratic community altogether. If they really want to so divide their country, let them state their policies plainly, without subterfuge.

It was staggering after the unprecedented victory of VO “Svoboda” at the Ternopil regional elections to hear some journalists announce the emergence of a young force in politics. The party’s leader, Oleh Tyahnybok is certainly relatively young and the party itself is a newcomer on the political arena, however the last feeling one has from their programme is of innovation. In places it’s quite difficult to detect how their position differs from the Soviet system, and as for freedom – not a whiff.

            The plans for the Crimea are typical. “The party is for the return of the Crimea’s regional (oblast) status by means of an all-Crimean referendum on the issue”.

            It wouldn’t hurt to specify whether they are for the return or for a referendum. After all, in a democratic country these are not necessarily the same thing. Although if one considers that all objections will be seen as an encroachment on Ukraine’s statehood, i.e. as in Soviet style, “anti-State activity”, perhaps there really aren’t any grounds for doubting a “correct result”.

            It is not only their specific understanding of such concepts as “elections” and “referendum” that is so reminiscent of the Soviet regime and its only correct way under the wise leadership of the Party. The ideology may be different, but first of all, there is one, and secondly, there is to be only one, effectively that of the State.

“The party considers it to be necessary for Ukrainian society to reach an ideological, language and religious unity where ideological unity shall be formed on the basis of the idea of Ukrainian patriotism, language – on the basis of the Ukrainian language, and religious – on the unity of all traditional Christian denominations.”

            See you in the camps – or at best, in an already not entirely post-Soviet community of former Soviet republics.

            “if such unity is achieved, Ukrainian society will be monolithic and strong and will be able to honourably respond to the challenges of the time.”

            Depends how you respond – if through retreat to past lack of freedom, then sure.

I haven’t read the political programmes of their comrades in arms in France and other countries. I suspect however that such a surrealistic hotchpotch of populism and the most disastrous aspects of that strangely titled and never fathomed thing called socialist economy could only be found in the post-Soviet realm. Empty words about intentions are reminiscent of the hollow verbiage of the other parties, however there are certain nuances. Their heaven on Earth is to be built by means of nationalization and control over many areas of the economy.

“The government should carry out protectionist measures with respect to Ukrainian producers. VO “Svoboda” is for the immediate nationalization of factories and plants with Ukrainian owners or nationalization of their part of enterprises which were privatized illegally.”

And as if that were not enough to make all those who could help to develop the Ukrainian economy pack their bags immediately, we read also of the plan to change “to forms of direct control by the people” despite their stubborn unwillingness to openly explain who “the people” are.

            When asked whether his ideas about freedom had changed, Myroslav Marynovych, one of the founding members of the Ukrainian Helsinki Group (formed in 1976), answered as follows: “As far as my perception of freedom is concerned, it has not changed. I paid too high a price for it to now doubt its value”.

            Myroslav Marynovych paid the price of years in labour camp and exile for his unwillingness to endure lack of freedom – freedom for himself and for his country.

            For disillusionment resulting in schism and the division of Ukrainians along ethnic lines, economic, political and social stagnation and the rejection of freedom, we would all pay too high a price..

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