Almost 80 percent of Ukrainians would support the proclamation of Ukraine’s independence today, as compared to 62 percent in 2012. Only 13 percent would express the opposite opinion, and another 7 percent could not make up their minds. At the same time, 82 percent of Ukrainian citizens consider themselves patriots of their country, which is as many as in 2017. Only 13 percent held the opposite view, while another 5 percent were unable to answer that question. These are the results of a poll conducted by the Rating Sociological Group in August 2018.
On the eve of the 27th anniversary of the restoration of Ukraine’s independence, Den held a roundtable attended by both guests of our previous roundtables – chairperson of the political council of the Power of People party Oleksandr Solontai and chairperson of the board of the Joint Efforts Agency for Strategic Communication and Development NGO Ruslan Rokhov – and a new participant, namely Andrii Shcherbyna, who co-founded the AvtoYevroSyla NGO. The last-named organization has already managed to make quite a splash nationwide, because, as Shcherbyna himself says, people no longer look at them just as a movement opposing taxes on used European cars, but call on them to enter... politics.
This is the sixth roundtable of the kind which we in Den consider, without excessive modesty, to be a “pretext for holding a nationwide discussion.” The first one, entitled “Trying to Hold a Grown-Up Conversation,” was held before bloodshed engulfed the Euromaidan protest (see Den’s issue of December 20, 2013). The second one occurred after casualties started and before Viktor Yanukovych fled the country, it was named “An Alternative Dialog” and covered by Den on January 23, 2014. The third such event was held in early March 2014, its theme being “Maidan as a Purification Is Still Ongoing.” The fourth roundtable was held on the eve of a legislative election, that is, on September 26, 2014, and entitled “An Opportunity: for Evolution or ‘Conservation’?” Lastly, the fifth one, entitled “The Reasons for the People of the Maidan Getting Defeated and the People of the Maidan Scene Winning,” took place last November.
“We organize these roundtables because we see shaping the right discourse and presenting it to the public as part of our not only journalistic, but also civic duty. Meanwhile, the duty of the public is to listen to people who send them signals,” explained the editor-in-chief of Den newspaper Larysa Ivshyna before the meeting started.
DEVELOPMENT / Photo by Viacheslav RATYNSKYI
This time, the signal came as an analysis of the state in which the country found itself after 27 years of independence, and the outlook for the future elections (presidential and legislative, both to be held next year). And most importantly, the experts shared the recipe of how the society could change the situation, because, according to the opinion survey quoted above, Ukrainians are patriots of their country.
New forces have failed to unite, even though we appealed for unity at our roundtables both during and after Euromaidan. “New faces” have entered parliament separately, assisted by various political projects. But even there, they still have not succeeded in combining their efforts and achieving some significant results. Why is it so?
Oleksandr SOLONTAI: “Despite the fact that some ‘new people’ have sold out to one oligarch for the sake of getting a few seats, and others have sold out to another one for the same purpose (they get angry when I tell them this), intra-generational dialog between us has survived still. Everyone understands that when it comes to some common problems and actions, we find ourselves on the same side of the barricades. For example, on September 6, we will all come to the streets and press for a change in electoral rules, which is embodied in the new Electoral Code. And this is despite the fact that everyone has their own idea of who does the right thing and who does not.”
Keeping communication and dialog alive is well and good. The real issue is your ability to create a real party, not another artificial project.
O.S.: “Ideology should be a party’s basis. Then it will be clear how it will then vote in parliament. Also, a party needs procedures and rules. That is, even if it comes to expelling someone, this should take place in the form of public dialog. Power of People has been working on building a real party for four years now. We also continue to engage in dialog with others. If they have already realized that together we will be stronger and we can succeed on a single platform, then it is time for this generation to enter this election. I think that people who went to help the oligarchic projects after 2014 have only legitimized them by appearing in them, without actually becoming stakeholders. They have got a negative experience.”
Oleksandr SOLONTAI: Ideology should be a party’s basis. Then it will be clear how it will then vote in parliament. Also, a party needs procedures and rules. That is, even if it comes to expelling someone, this should take place in the form of public dialog. Power of People has been working on building a real party for four years now. We also continue to engage in dialog with others
In this regard, the examples of Serhii Leshchenko, Mustafa Nayyem and, possibly, Svitlana Zalishchuk will enter textbooks. So, you can have a wonderful dialog with those who went to join other projects, but we see that opinion polls do not even notice, in fact, either Power of People or other alternative forces. The main battle is fought between the “old” forces – both the current ones, who are in power now, and remnants of the former regime, who have lost it. Therefore, people are saying that there is no real choice for them once again. How to disrupt this situation?
Ruslan ROKHOV: “A politician differs from a pollster in that the former shapes a policy, while the latter then assesses the outcomes of the former’s activities. Today’s opinion poll figures come as the result of politicians’ activities. And the fact that small political forces have low support levels suggests that they have a low level of ability to influence the outcome that people would be able to appreciate. Social capital does not increase in political debate, it increases when a politician obtains a result which they then accumulate in an election. The problem facing voters is their atomization. As long as there is no self-organized body with appropriate membership fees, as it happened with the AvtoYevroSyla movement, we will see no progress. In that case, this organization has its own interest, which its members were able to articulate, then unite and force the political class to respond to their demands.”
One can articulate something only when some work was done beforehand, I mean common values, a shared platform, and a dialog, which society should conduct within itself through the media. It is easier to unite around specific interests, while staying principled and consistent when there is a political interest involved is more difficult. What is the agenda for the alternative?
R.R.: “There are policy designers, and then there are hired representatives of a particular group. Their motives must be fundamentally different. If one is a politician, then they should think in terms of the public good. The Magna Carta Libertatum in the UK was not made for the sake of the public good of all, at first they simply did not want to surrender more gold than was the norm and send their men to the war. And then they agreed what rules they would employ from that point on to avoid conflicts. Quite naturally, when a group will appear that will say ‘we want to live according to certain parameters,’ then such parties as Power of People will be able to say: ‘We have a vision of how to achieve it.’
“In my opinion, such understandings can evolve into the social contract, and this is not what Yuliia Tymoshenko offers. The social contract emerges when different groups with differing private and corporate interests agree with each other that ‘we help you in getting what you are interested in, and you help us in getting what we are interested in,’ that is, when civic interaction and solidarity appears. Going forward, these groups will be able to form a common concept of what they want to see in the future. Precisely this will be the demand that genuine parties will have to meet. As long as there is no demand for it, even parties such as Power of People will not have high support levels.
Ruslan ROKHOV: Today’s opinion poll figures come as the result of politicians’ activities. And the fact that small political forces have low support levels suggests that they have a low level of ability to influence the outcome that people would be able to appreciate. Social capital does not increase in political debate, it increases when a politician obtains a result which they then accumulate in an election
“Today, the political demand is formed by oligarchs who have monopolized this space and it is they who call the tune. As soon as an alternative appears, the situation will start to change. We hope greatly that, say, AvtoYevroSyla will not stop at market liberalization, but will be ready to work together with other groups to form a vision of the country in which they want to live.”
Andrii SHCHERBYNA: “We have behind us a colossal experience of ‘breaking through’ the iron information curtain. AvtoYevroSyla or the movement of used European car drivers, as we are known otherwise, has become a kind of bogeyman which has forced our citizens to act. But thanks to this, we have recruited reliable people, kind of selected the best individuals who have an iron will and want to go forward. There are hundreds of various NGOs in Ukraine now, but most of them are inactive. We traveled across different regions of our country, communicated with different people. There is great disappointment in politicians, in their promises that are not fulfilled. At first, people also told us: ‘You are just regular politicians who want to get to the trough.’ But over time, the situation has changed. Why? Because politicians talk and we act. And when a community sees the result, it starts perceiving us in a completely different way. People come and say without prompting: ‘Enter politics.’”
But politics needs to be learned.
A.Shch.: “Whether we want it or not, we have already entered politics. I understand it perfectly. Our entry is not officially registered, however. People look at us as politicians, wait for us to take appropriate steps. And of course, we still have a lot to learn. We will do it.”
How old is AvtoYevroSyla?
A.Shch.: “It will turn two on September 6.”
Andrii SHCHERBYNA: There are hundreds of various NGOs in Ukraine now, but most of them are inactive. We traveled across different regions of our country, communicated with different people. There is great disappointment in politicians, in their promises that are not fulfilled. At first, people also told us: ‘You are just regular politicians who want to get to the trough.’ But over time, the situation has changed.
Mr. Solontai, how many members has Power of People party acquired over four years?
O.S.: “We have already processed about 3,000 applications, and we have set a Ukrainian record for the number of people who contribute money for our political activities. The total number of Power of People’s donors exceeds the aggregate number of donors of all parliamentary parties taken together.”
So how many of them are there?
O.S.: “We have counted about 1,700 people who donate regularly.”
Power of People has 3,000 members, AvtoYevroSyla – 12,000 members. Combined, it is 15,000 people who are ready to support a different kind of politics in their country, including from their own pocket. It is a meager figure.
O.S.: “This thinking is not entirely correct. The demand for an alternative politics comes from 10 to 15 percent of those voters who actually come to cast their votes. Moreover, if there were a real political party on offer, and not just another project, then this percentage would be even greater.”
R.R.: “People who want change are much more numerous than we would think at first glance. To avoid relying on ‘maybes,’ one needs to build relationships. It should not be a one-time transaction along the lines of ‘I promised, and you voted.’ There must be a relationship. AvtoYevroSyla provides a good example of one. For instance, membership fees make for a relationship. When a person pays a membership fee, they demand certain things in return and want to have a feedback. As long as political parties do not build such relationships with voters, ‘one-time transactions’ will prevail in Ukraine.
“As long as the society will follow the paradigm ‘maybe this time we will be lucky, and we will elect those who promise and do what they promise,’ there will be no progress. We need to grow up. The first priority is to clearly decide what we want and to agree how we will get to it.
“It was critical for people who created AvtoYevroSyla to maintain their right to use their cars in that legal way which we have now, or, if the government insists on registration, get the import duty decreased, and they got organized, contributed 700 hryvnias each, and began to fight for that.”
O.S.: “I see the unmet public demand for solving key problems. So, the goal I set myself and the people whom I pick for the next parliamentary election is to meet this demand.
“The first problem was nicely outlined by some of my activist friends as ‘leaving or staying.’ It is about one’s ability or inability to earn some money in Ukraine. The economy is an issue that concerns Ukrainians. They make this clear in every opinion poll. The typical answers sound like this: inflation, low wages, and ‘unemployment,’ meaning not the absolute lack of jobs, but the lack of decently-paying jobs. All these are economic issues that can be concisely formulated as ‘will I ever have a prospect to earn some money in Ukraine?’
“The second problem is corruption. Despite the fact that I am recruiting the most honest people for my team, I do not believe that people will trust us to be really opposed to corruption. Rather, they will say that ‘you just have not got to the trough yet.’ And having iconic mayors, public figures, MPs on our roll is not a proof either. Therefore, I will offer the public digitalization. People take it well. Electronic procedures that replace a human official will get support.
“The third part of the overall problem, or as I call it, the third ‘E,’ is real European integration. I plan to work with these key messages during the election campaign.”
What are we approaching the 27th anniversary of Independence with? And what are the chances of alternative healthy forces getting into power?
O.S.: “Power of People is under tremendous pressure. We are being pressured from all sides as they demand that we establish cooperation with ‘healthy, right, constructive, good’ forces. We are being attacked by intelligentsia, analysts, journalists. Prospective sponsors are attacking as well. But no one ultimately answers the question of who these ‘healthy’ forces are. How to make a distinction at all between those healthy and those ‘unhealthy’? This is a huge problem.”
But you have set some criteria for yourselves. Do they disagree with them?
O.S.: “We have not set any criteria. We analyze, ask, openly appeal. We collect information, call for discussion. So far, it is completely unclear to us whether this or that force is healthy or not. The public that attacks us, on the one hand, give us a compliment, because they say that we are normal and they have to cooperate with us. On the other hand, they denounce us as feckless, because they convey the imperative that ‘you cannot do anything by yourselves, and therefore you need to unite with someone.’ And everyone who speaks about it always means someone different. We need national authority figures who must provide the criteria, principles, and program foundations.”
R.R.: “We do not have a political nation yet, because a political nation exists when there is a vision of the future and what needs to be done to make it happen. And most importantly, it is when people do not expect that someone else will do it, but make efforts to achieve the goal themselves, and moreover, when there is a long-term interaction with each other, that is, the social contract is in force. In 27 years of independence, we have not succeeded in this yet. And when they say today that we will not repeat the fate of the Ukrainian People’s Republic, it is too optimistic. If we enable the ‘fifth column’ to emerge and return to power, then it is quite possible that we will return to the embrace of Russia. To stop this happening, a political nation must be formed. That is, people should realize that they are not subjects. They are not merely inhabitants of some territory. Then they will consciously begin to think of themselves as citizens and understand what kind of country they are building. We are pushed in that direction by certain circumstances. If everyone sees that a judge is unfair and should be convicted themselves, but it does not really happen, then this evidently causes indignation. It also affects the police and other institutions. A politician is a professional, just like an architect.”
With the election approaching, we are effectively stuck with the old system. That what you speak about is unlikely to happen in the next six months. Mr. Shcherbyna, does your group plan to become a political force? What are the chances of new forces making an impact?
A.Shch.: “Regarding creating a political force, I think that there is no other way at this point. And we have to achieve some understanding and vision together, because everyone has to take part in building up one’s country. Regarding the chances, we will not make forecasts, to avoid stooping to the level of politicians who promise something, but fail to make it happen. I think that chances are there, and they are not that low.”
Are forces such as Power of People and AvtoYevroSyla capable of uniting their efforts today?
A.Shch.: “We thought out this idea something like a year ago. The goal is to bring together a large number of political and civic organizations and move together towards a common goal of changing how things are done in this country. It should be such a huge ‘trade union’ which would be able to influence processes in the country.”
Mr. Solontai, even when you talked about the ability of different negotiating parties to unite, I thought that historically, leaders played a major role in this process. How visible are such leaders in Ukraine?
O.S.: “We need a specific presidential candidate, and key figures and leaders should unite around one. But I still do not see a presidential candidate around whom everyone will unite. And this applies to both the coming presidential election and the next one. Therefore, I would like to see Ukraine transitioning to a nation of communities and a parliamentary government. We need to move towards eliminating the presidential, Soviet-modeled vertical power structure formed by Leonid Kuchma on the basis of the old Soviet regime. All these powers must be transferred to businesses and communities. Economic powers should also be transferred to the Cabinet. That is, we must lower the stakes on the national level and increase the role of the public. The public is ready for this.”
R.R.: “In my opinion, we are not ready for making genuine deals yet. And we run the risk of creating a parliamentary dictatorship. Therefore, I disagree with Mr. Solontai. We suffer from a leadership deficit. That is, we lack people who are capable of taking responsibility. Are there such people? There are enough of them. But we lack favorable conditions for them to fulfill themselves in politics.”