Academic journal article Demokratizatsiya

Viktor Yanukovych's First 100 Days: Back to the Past, but What's the Rush?

Academic journal article Demokratizatsiya

Viktor Yanukovych's First 100 Days: Back to the Past, but What's the Rush?

Article excerpt

Attempting to see into Viktor Yanukovych's mindset is not easy, although there are many clues from his social, economic, regional and political background. These factors have been ignored by the majority of Western analysts and journalists writing about Ukraine.

No Reformer

Yanukovych's presidency will not bring reform to Ukraine for two reasons.

Government. The make-up of the Yanukovych administration and government is not, as was promised up to and during the 2010 election campaign, composed of technocrats and reformers, but of former President Leonid Kuchma's officials with disreputable pasts; some have expressed Sovietophile leanings, and half of the cabinet is drawn from only one region, Donetsk. Four cabinet members, including the prime minister and one deputy prime minister, are of retirement age, while another 15 ministers are in their late 50s. The formative years of 62-year-old Prime Minister Nikolai Azarov-and the majority of the cabinet ministers-occured during the Leonid Brezhnev "era of stagnation" in the 1970s.

Additionally, this is the first of seventeen governments over two decades of Ukrainian independence with not a single female cabinet minister. Indeed, both Yanukovych and Azarov have have expressed disdain for women, and Yanukovych made an excuse to not attend a televised election debate with Yulia Tymoshenko because she, like all women, he believed, should "be in the kitchen" and not in politics.1

Following Viktor Yushchenko's election, a generational shift moved Ukraine's ruling elites to the middle generation who are less tainted by Soviet rule and the Brezhnev era, having built their careers during the 1980s and 1990s. The Yanukovych era is developing similarities to the Kuchma era, wherein it was ruled by an older, far more neo- Soviet generation who had emerged during the 1970s. With that generational shift comes an ideological shift to the fetishisation of an authoritarian "vertical of power," "stability" and nostalgia for Russia and the Soviet past.

Policies. As the violent events in the Ukrainian parliament on April 27, 2010 during the ratification of the Black Sea Fleet base treaty-wherein eggs and punches were thrown and smoke-bombs were set off-showed, the administration's policies will bring instability, not stability, to the country. The undertaking of radical and unpopular reforms requires political stability and national consensus, both of which are unlikely to appear in Ukraine.

Instability, Not Stability

Yanuovych will be unable to bring stability to Ukraine for two reasons.

Regionalism. Ukraine's regional divisions will prevent any political force from building a monopoly of power. The Party of Regions is unpopular in Kyiv and central Ukraine, let alone in western Ukraine. The country, divided by language and historical legacies, could never develop the type of nationalism that would unite behind the Party of Regions. This is again different from Russia, where anti-Western nationalism has mobilized around the Unified Russia party led by Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. Democratic and nationalist opposition to the administration will inevitably grow.

Bribery. Ukrainians cannot be bought off; Ukraine is not Russia, where abundant deposits of raw materials are exported and provide a large amount of support for the state budget. Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has been fortunate in being able to buy off Russians by trading stability for democracy through record-high oil and gas prices throughout most of this decade.

The Yanukovych Enigma

During Ukraine's 2010 presidental election campaign, many Ukrainian and Western experts and analysts convinced themselves that Yanukovych had "changed" over the last five years. A Financial Times editorial wrote, "Only a stable Ukraine can achieve economic reform and recovery. Ms. Tymoshenko is the polar opposite of a stabilising force. Mr. Yanukovich [sic], for all his manifest faults, may prove the lesser evil. …

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