WORLD AFFAIRS.  What ails Ukraine’s democratic opposition? Why do most Ukrainians, and especially those who detest the Yanukovych regime, continually gripe about the opposition’s fecklessness, weakness, and all-round lousiness?

I asked two friends in Ukraine for their views on the matter. One is a young journalist in Kyiv. The other is a middle-aged businessman in Lviv.

Here’s the journalist:

The opposition hasn’t thought anything through. Its statements are declarative and populist. It has no clear plan of action. Every party in the opposition has a somewhat different position and pursues its own interests. In a word, it’s the same as always: “where there are two Ukrainians, you’ll find three leaders.” It’s my impression that the primary goal of the opposition is to collect a few thousand people in front of some building. As to what should then be done, they have no idea. While people are protesting near the Parliament, taking off from work or studies, the oppositionists are lackadaisically walking about the parliament building. Obviously, the Regionnaires know how to take advantage of this.

When I asked just what he expected the opposition to do, the journalist replied:

In the first place, the opposition must set an example and demonstrate its willingness and determination to pursue political activity. It should engage in simple but symbolic actions that would motivate the people: every opposition deputy should take to the streets together with the people, stay with them until the protest ends (as they used to do during the Orange Revolution), propose effective means of controlling the behavior of the authorities, show that their political positions are coherent, demand mayoral elections in Kyiv, and propose a single, realistic opposition candidate for the position. Most important, there has to be some kind of coordination of opposition parties and of their resources.

Three points stand out in these comments. First, the opposition has to unite. Second, the opposition has to join the people. And third, the opposition must develop a clear, simple, and realistic program.

Here’s what the businessman said:

I have the impression that both the dictatorial power-holders and the opposition aren’t for real, that they’re putting on a show. Today they’re opposed to each other. Tomorrow they’ll be conniving again and will pretend that they’re in conflict. The Regionnaires and Communists just divided billions among themselves: the so-called opposition will accept their misdeeds, while causing a ruckus in order to get publicity.

People don’t believe them. Each of the three opposition leaders is playing a false role. The intellectual Yatseniuk is pretending to be a militant. The boxer Klitschko—an intellectual. The conniver Tyahnybok—the uncompromising fighter. But the most important thing may be the kleptomania of both the authorities and the opposition. These aren’t politicians in the classic sense of the word. Besides Svoboda, they’ve just changed places. Meanwhile, we know Svoboda’s poor record in the provinces. So we don’t believe any of them. As to whom we should believe, I don’t know.

In other words, the opposition has to be honest about what it is, what it wants, and how it behaves, when it’s in power and out of power.

Combine both sets of comments and you come up with the following profile for the opposition. It should be honest, self-sacrificing, practical, and united. Cynics might point out that those four characteristics are at odds with hundreds of years of political culture in Ukraine. Optimists might respond by saying that simple self-interest and survival would dictate that the opposition behave in just the way these two thoughtful gentlemen suggest.

Meanwhile, the young journalist-blogger Tatyana Chornovol pours ice water on all these hyper-intellectual ruminations:

I call on you to support the political opposition fanatically (and I’m not afraid to use that word) … Yanukovych must be removed in 2015. Otherwise, it’ll be too late. We must ensure the opposition candidate’s victory. Some people may not like Fatherland, Svoboda, and UDAR and their leaders. But nothing new will emerge anytime soon … That’s why we must support the existing opposition and inspire its struggle, and not destroy it with criticism … We’re all connected: they need our support, while we need them. To support the political opposition is to struggle for ourselves. To accuse the opposition of weakness is to acknowledge our own weakness. Only the support of civil society can make a political opposition strong, while the personal features of political leaders are secondary.

The moral of the story seems pretty clear: The best is the enemy of the good enough. If you agree, then democratically inclined Ukrainians have no choice but to support the democratic opposition, however “un-best” it is. In turn, the democratic opposition has to make itself worthy of “fanatical” support. When you consider the alternative—indefinite rule by Regionnaire thugs and Ukraine’s complete transformation into Zimbabwe—the good enough is a no-brainer. 

Alexander J. Motyl's blog

Ukrayinska Dumka


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