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A Historic Chance not to Waste

In February 2014 history has not only proven to continue, but seems to have accelerated. The dynamics of the events in Ukraine between February 18th and 22nd is simply unbelievable. It is definitely not a good time to make a prognosis.

February 24, 2014 - Igor Lyubashenko - Articles and Commentary

Photo by Wojciech Koźmic

But as the situation stabilizes, the danger of the country’s disintegration seems to decrease. Hopefully, a time has come for a relatively normal political process – divisions within the opposition and creation of new factions and political forces (there is a huge need for them).

Hopefully, the natural political conflict will take the form of a civilised parliamentary debate. These are of course hopes and emotions. In such circumstances any attempt to predict the political trajectory of events in Ukraine would not be serious.

There is one interesting phenomenon however, that provides me with confidence that the quality of the upcoming new period of Ukrainian politics will be different than from what we saw so far. To be clear – a new quality does not mean “better” or “worse” – the evaluation from an ethical point of view will only be possible later.

The new phenomenon is, not surprisingly, the Maidan. In other words, Ukraine’s awakened civil society. The day after the horrible battle in the centre of Kyiv, opposition leaders have called the Maidan a guarantee of an agreed compromise. Indeed, it was. As protests against the extremely corrupted political establishment, the Maidan should not be identified with the opposition. In fact, it becomes not only guarantee, but a “watchdog” of the political process in the upcoming months. Symbolically, people didn’t express their enthusiasm when freed Yulia Tymoshenko spoke to them from the stage. Activists declare that they will inspect properties of opposition leaders as well to avoid further corruption.

These are normal European values – we should reply. Yes, they are. Transparency is one of the keywords we associate with democracy in the West. At this point we should pay attention to Ivan Krastev’s warning, that transparency can paradoxically threaten democracy. The more we know about decision-makers, Krastev argues, the more we tend to believe that they are hiding something from us. The less ambitious decisions are being taken by politicians knowing that people watch their every step. To a large extent, it is because of transparency we replace politics with political marketing. But real democracy is not possible without genuine trust.

Having in mind the beautiful and terrible experience of the last three months, we can be sure that Ukrainians as a society have more trust in themselves than ever before. But they obviously do not trust politicians. And there is a risk that it will be hard for them to trust newcomers in politics as well. In one of my previous texts on Euromaidan, I’ve put forward a thesis that the networked nature of the protest means less stability in Ukrainian politics. This is, I believe, even more applicable at the moment. Looking for political wisdom to build trust and for institutional design of the state that will support this process is a key challenge for Ukraine at the moment.

From the EU’s perspective it means that support for Ukraine cannot be reduced to banal “export of rules”. In fact, it should be a creative process of support of grass-rooted “institution-growing” (instead of institution-building). And my thesis is that this process can be healing for Western European democracy itself. Whether Ukraine’s political new quality will be “better” or “worse” – it depends on us as well.

Ukrainians have proven that Europe is still one of the most exciting places to live. They paid a very high price for that. We have no right to waste this historic chance.

Igor Lyubashenko is a contributing editor to New Eastern Europe. He is an academic teacher, new media enthusiast and international relations analyst. He has a PhD in Political Science from the Maria Curie-Sklodowska University in Lublin.


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