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22 December, 2017  ▪  Roman Malko

New players, same broken game

What explains the tug-o-war between various enforcement agencies in Ukraine

The nature of Ukrainian politics has been, both by tradition and by nature, a dog and pony show—because that’s the best way for those in power to manipulate voters while satisfying their own interests. This has been going on for nearly three decades since the country became independent, and it could go on for another three. Changing the actors, the sets, the concepts and the technology matters not as, below the surface, nothing really changes. Anyone who steps into this mud will end up behaving just the same, because habits and traditions are very hard to break.

The situation today with Mikheil Saakashvili, a brilliant actor, or the tug-o-war between various enforcement agencies—the Prosecutor General’s Office, MIA —and NABU and the Special Anti-corruption Prosecutor’s Office is hardly original. There have been plenty of showmen in the arena already and everybody likes to draw comparisons. It’s easy enough to dig into the details and look for what NABU did to whom and why, to engage in heated debates in Facebook while looking for traitors and patriots, to transfer all of this into the real world, to call on soldiers at the front to leave their positions and go beat up “criminal government officials,” while the “criminal government” tries to out-shout everybody, claiming that those who fail to support it are collaborators or traitors at Kurchenko’s beck and call—only what might be achieved by this?

Even if the pieces on the board are changed, the nature of the game will remain the same. It’s not important whether Petro Poroshenko remains at the top of the pyramid—or Saakashvili or Kolomoyskiy or Tymoshenko. The fundamental problem in Ukraine is that, after the collapse of homo sovieticus, nothing was done to design a new form of government, meaning a real government with a clear administrative chain-of-command and points at which decisions are made, together with accountability for such decisions. Under the communists, this kind of structure existed—highly hierarchical and corrupted, but nevertheless structured. The one-and-only Party generated decisions and then delegated their implementation to soviet bodies—endless chains of councils and executive committees. And security agencies carefully monitored all this. After the communist chain-of-command was taken own, nothing was organized in its place. The soviet government that effectively remained in Ukraine was only slightly modified and so was unable to become a proper government structure because of its very nature. The soviet system, that is, the government of councils, was so designed that it could not represent both the power and the chain-of-command.

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Remembering how things were under the soviet regime, Leonid Kuchma tried to construct his own chain-of-command, but failed for a variety of reasons. Viktor Yushchenko never even tried. The only one who managed, however temporarily, to turn back the clock to an imitation of the past was Viktor Yanukovych. He plastered together something like the bolshevik system only the party was replaced by a mafia. The role of leading and managing was handed over to bandits who made it possible for the chain-of-command to function. How it functioned was a different matter altogether.

As long as the basic principle remained the same, it won’t matter who is sitting at the very top. And as long as the system remains semi-functional and no one really wants to change it from communist times, it will never work properly. Those on whom all this depends seem to either not understand or not want to understand why nothing works the way it should, why the system worked back then but doesn’t work now. Intuitively, these people probably understand that something’s missing, some key part is missing. But all the attempts to make it work have so far failed. Think of the presidential secretaries that Kuchma set up, the overseers Yanukovych had, or the planned but not effected presidential prefects Poroshenko has talked about. The variations on this theme are many and what they’re called is irrelevant. The main thing is for the government structures to actually work and clearly carry out the functions delegated to them. Then things won’t flounder the way they are doing today. Then it will be clear who makes decisions and answers for them. Today, all pathos and the army of bureaucrats in the country still don’t clearly demonstrate a chain-of-command and junctures at which decisions are made. Not at the level of the president with his authority and responsibility, or at the level of the head of Government, the legislature, the ministries or other executive bodies.

All the tugs-o-war between enforcement agencies that we can see going on today are the latest manifestation of this disease and are actually inevitable. But they needn’t be. When power is scattered, this is what happens. For instance, if, in those enforcement agencies that seem to be multiplying daily, new elements are introduced that are embedded in the system, such as NABU, and become an irritant, there’s no decision-making point, no individuals who approve such decisions, no posts with responsibility for such decisions, then there is quite naturally no hierarchy among these non-existent points and everybody starts jockeying for position. Having this kind of foundation among enforcement agencies automatically leads to war over cases, mutual conflicts, and the wrong kind of competition. After all, what’s written into the Constitution and the laws of the country is only good intentions. Everyone plays his own top cop—and not only when it comes to the obvious and the visible.

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But all this leads inevitably to the thought that, overall, the government is inadequate, and Poroshenko himself as well, sitting at the top of this power pyramid. Meanwhile, the pyramid lives its own life, regardless of who crowns it. Clearly, as long as this kind of government structure is in place, anyone at the top will be without a chain-of-command and will not be able to operate this system, because that’s the way it’s been built.

And so, the president will look helpless, like some cartoon usurper or schemer, even if he were in reality a super Messiah. Meanwhile, the idea of statehood and a state will continue to be devalued while all the sworn “friends” keep babbling about Project Ukraine not being viable because these Ukrainians supposedly are not a people capable of being a state.

Needless to say, a return to the soviet model of government is not an option today. This would be the height of idiocy and would ignominiously fail. The decommunization process needs to be taken to its logical conclusion. Not through monuments alone, although monuments are needed, but through a new model for governing the country. Ukrainians themselves appear to be ready for this transformation, but not those who govern them. This can be amended, but they need incentives.

Only when this chaos is cleaned up and it becomes possible to build a real system of responsibilities will the circus show finally come to an end and the clowns leave the stage. Only at that point will it be possible to talk about Ukraine’s return to the bosom of Europe and the society of civilized countries. Only this revolution is capable of finally launching the process of developing the country, which has stood at the edge of survival for decades and stumbles like some cursed creature from one Maidan to the next.

Translated by Lidia Wolanskyj  

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