Friday, August 12, 2005

Is Yushchenko Too Chummy with Old Power?

Some thoughts provoked by two Kyiv Post OpEds that I liked:

1) Yushchenko--too chummy with Kuchma? (Read the Kyiv Post op-ed here)

Are the cynics proving right? Is Yushchenko chummy with the old power to the extent that the cynic's theory that he is just another oligarch, another one of the players in Ukraine's game of gangster politics, is right? Or is there still some critical distance between Yu and the ''old" power? I agree with the Kyiv Post that Yushchenko's call to Kuchma on his birthday is outrageous and much too chummy to go unnoticed and un-commented-upon. I also completely agree that the situation with the Gongadze case is ridiculous and shameful. The as of yet still unsolved case is becoming Yushchenko's primary "orange shame," more so than some scandal over the privileged first brat and his father's defensive overaction to the bad press the kid well deserves. So what is going on?

Yushchenko has, as others have remarked, much too much the tendency to want to be loved by everyone, and I would add to that, much too much the tendency to want to be seen as the perfect gentleman who is the bigger of his adversaries. He eagerly shook Putin's hand with two of his own during his first summit in Moscow, even though there was much consensus that a Russian hand had played a role in his poisoning (remember, right after his inauguration, Yu took off for Moscow, which was indeed wise, but such an eager hand-shake?) . During the OR, he was the handler to Tymoshenko's bulldog, who urged restraint and European gentlemanliness while she wanted to tear things apart. Again, he wanted Ukraine to appear neat, gentlemanly, presumably "civilized" and "European." This, I believe, is how we should be reading this phonecall. Yushchenko loves being in the country club of world-class, wealthy political elites, and it seems to me that he imagines that it truly is a club of genuinely gentlemanly figures; and he seems to want to pretend that those in Ukraine are worthy of the kind of club he wishes he himsef was part of, a club in which elites are, presumably, much more sophisticated and much less cut-throat than Ukraine's elites have been, with their obvious thuggishness and rapaciousness. The fact that this is a bit of a Yushchenko fantasy, in the sense that American and European elites have relied upon thugs and brutes for their wealth and power, abroad if not within their own nations (hence the whole Iraq quagmire), is not to be commented much upon here except in passing. . .

Thus I think the following are his main shortcomings in the case of the phonecall: The desire to play the role of the gentleman, and the will to pretend. And along with that, a corrolary: Yushchenko also seems to me to want to play a kind of father-like role to Ukraine's political elite. Maybe this is kind of outrageous, but he seems to me to want to be looked upon in Ukraine as the example of the gentlemanly, European statesman. He seems to want that people will learn from his example what it means to be a gentleman-politician, or a European bourgeois politician. . .and a polite dandy. Hence the call.

Certainly Tymoshenko, with more populist feelings in her heart than "gentlemanliness," would not have called Kuchma on his b-day. But then mentioning her take me to her feuds with Lytvyn and Poroshenko, and so here's another potential explanation of Yushchenko's failures vis-a-vis Gongadze and his seeming chumminess with the "old" power. Is he playing some political game, engaging in more backroom negotiations as he did in the OR? To keep the coalition going, he's willing to forestall all that is potentially bad for his team by stalling resolution of Gongadze? But isn't that more of the same old thing, as the cynics would say?

No, I don't think that the cynics have it quite right: Yu is a wealthy elite destined to behave like other Euroelites if he ever gets the chance, and is not simply one of them, one of the Kuchmas/Medvedchuks/Pinchuks/Akhmetovs/Yanukovyches/Sirkuses/etc. of Ukraine. He is indeed a wealthy man, an oligarch of sorts, but of a much different persuasion. He may be a bit naive in his gentlemanliness, but he at least would not--I still believe--be trying to protect Poroshenko or Lytvyn for their own sakes or his (Yushchenko's) own, in terms of landing them all and himself lucrative deals that will make them rich and powerful. He wants to stay in power in order to try and make a genuine change in the country's situation. In other words, he wants to work in a political culture whose brutishness and corruption are toned down and watered-down, as it is in the US or EU. This already is a huge distance from those of the old power, who are fine with things as they are or were. . .

You may disagree with how he is going about his reforms, and there are many, many things to disagree with. You may think that such games as chumminess are more of the same, no real change. You may think that, no matter what Yu may want, using such methods are a guarantee that nothing will chage. You may even also disagree with his vision and his theories for a better future-- he is too much a market liberal or naive neoliberal or Eurobourgeois for me, against which I like to juxtapose the populist impulses of a Tymoshenko. But for what it's worth, he is at least this much different from the old power: he is thinking, I still think and hope I am right, about the country, and not just about enriching his cohorts. These are short term tactics, it may be, in his long term design for a better Ukraine. I am not comfortable with them (I want Poroshenko booted and the Gongadze case resolved), but I still think his heart is at least in the right place. . .I hope I am right about that one. I still think that there is not clear enough evidence indicating that his tactics won't work and that he is just another wicked oligarch. . .an oligarch of sorts maybe, but certainly much the lesser of the wicked.

2) "Energy as a Security Threat" Read the Kyiv Post OpEd here. Agreed, completely: Ukraine needs an independent energy policy, and Tymoshenko certainly is a good person to set to that task, with all of her experience working in the energy sector and hostility toward Russian manipulations, and as one who clearly realizes that energy is Ukraine's Achilles heal vis-a-vis Russia. . .

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