Another Maidan on the Horizon?
The battle for Ukraine’s future is as much in the east as it is within the realms of public bureaucracy. And while the former is taking place on the real battlefield, where real people die and suffer, the latter, unfortunately, is being waged on a much more superficial level.
On August 18th 2014, Tetyana Chornovol, the activist and investigative journalist beaten during the EuroMaidan protests in December 2013 and head of the new government’s anti-corruption committee, wrote a long blog post on Ukrainska Pravda. In the post, she announced her resignation from the position she held in the post-Maidan government and provided readers her personal feelings on the ineffectiveness of the battle against corruption as well as the guilt she felt regarding the death of her husband, Mykola Berezovy. Berezovy was recently killed in action in the east of Ukraine.
To many, Chornovol is a heroine of the EuroMaidan revolution. Her appointment as head of a new anti-corruption agency brought hope to the activists and allowed them to believe that real change was possible. Her resignation, however, represents just how entrenched corruption is in Ukraine, even after Viktor Yanukovych’s ouster.
“It became clear to me,” Chornovol wrote, “that my stay [in the government] was for nothing. Ukraine does not have the political will to wage an uncompromising, large-scale war against corruption.”
“Corruption is our national disease,” one journalist recently told us in Kyiv when we were trying to understand the changes that have been taking place in Ukraine post-Maidan. His opinion, by far, was not a sole voice, as we heard it repeated by just about anyone we spoke with.
“The battle against corruption with the current parliament, current judges and prosecutors, current staff of the police and security service is impossible,” said another friend, who is a political advisor in Kyiv. “Any real efforts to curb corruption are either voted down in the current parliament, which the majority is still Yanukovych protégés, or the bills are diluted and stripped of any real effect.”
One of the biggest complaints made by Chornovol was the oligarchs’ control of Ukrainian media. A good example is the TV channel “Inter”. This media outlet is primarily in the hands of Dymtro Firtash (who is currently in Austria awaiting extradition to the United States) and Serhiy Lyovochkin, who was head of the Yanukovych Presidential Administration. Of striking similarity is channel 1+1, which is owned by Ihor Kolomoyskyi, the oligarch governor of Dnipropetrovsk Oblast and business rival to Firtash.
With possible elections in October of this year, the government of Arseniy Yatsenyuk and the members of the Ukrainian parliament who stand up against the oligarchs and their corruption schemes risk becoming victims in some media. Clearly, in a mediatised world, this makes their situation quite complicated. Facebook and Twitter, as important as they are, are not enough to run a successful political campaign. You need TV and the press. The oligarchs know this and so do the politicians.
That is why we should not expect any major attacks against oligarch interests. Conversely, what we can expect is that an oligarch-controlled media will be actively promoting the candidates that support the respective oligarch’s interests.
Nevertheless, even though there is a lot of truth in Chornovol’s words and her decision to leave the office is completely understandable, it should still be said that there has been some modest progress in post-Maidan Ukraine. But it is not only the superficial battle against corrupt business practices that is the only problem in Ukraine. One of the key barriers is the mentality of corruption that remains in the middle level of bureaucracy. In this regards, unfortunately, no significant efforts have been made to change the practices that are rooted deep in public agencies.
Major public sector reforms which require a massive reorientation of the public administration as well as the introduction of a new, transparent public sector culture based on non-corruption is a challenge for this, and other, post-Soviet states. In Ukraine’s case, the fact that the country is in the middle of a prolonged conflict with separatists supported by a powerful neighbour only makes the situation more difficult; the war, as devastating in terms of human but also economic loss as it is, is also a convenient excuse for some politicians to divert attention away from the significant (and also painful) reforms that are necessary to get Ukraine back on a path towards a more transparent government and open economy.
All this, plus many other problems which are currently not tackled by the new government in Kyiv (think about lustration) leads us to an even bigger question that is being asked more frequently in Ukraine: What will happen once the volunteer soldiers who risk their lives on the front lines in the east return back home? They are doing their duty, sacrificing themselves (like the late husband of Chornovol), defending their state against aggression; while back home, the politicians are failing in their duties by sticking to old corrupt habits, undermining the legacy of the Maidan.
Given the frustration that this situation has already generated, and will continue to do so, can we assume another Maidan protest is on the horizon? Time will tell. What we can say with more certainty, however, is that the possibility of yet another drastic political change will continue to increase if the government does not start to become more serious and responsive to such public outcries as Chornovol’s blog post.
Adam Reichardt is the editor in chief of New Eastern Europe.
Iwona Reichardt is the deputy editor and lead translator for New Eastern Europe.