In Anticipation of the Third Ukrainian Republic

July 2012
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The Ukrainian sense of statehood is discreet. In contrast to Russians, whose obsession with historiosophical and state-building continuity drives them into recurrent fits of reshaping history on the guillotine of ideologized myth-making, Ukrainians generally manifest a rather relaxed attitude towards the ‘historical discreteness’ of their statehood. Of course, we are not talking here about “professional” Ukrainians, but about real, average Ukrainians. This may explain why Viktor Yushchenko's attempts at establishing the origins of modern Ukraine directly in the Trypillian culture caused no more than a smirk in most of his compatriots, before soon turning into a real nuisance. 

The crucial difference between Russians and Ukrainians in attitudes towards their statehood has been convincingly demonstrated in a 2011 public opinion poll by the Institute of Sociology of the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine. According to the poll's results, if a referendum for the independence of Ukraine were to take place in April 2011, only 46.6 percent of respondents would have voted in favor of independence.   

In the absence of a sacral-messianic perception of statehood, the legitimacy of power or a regime in the eyes of contemporary Ukrainians is grounded in three practical concerns: first, the regime's ability to enforce certain rules of the game on the population; second, the lack of a substantially better and, simultaneously, realistic and credible alternative to the existing regime and its existing rules of the game; third, the recognition of the Ukrainian state as a subject of international relations, and the Ukrainian government as the legitimate representative of the Ukrainian state on the international stage.      

Could we say that at present the majority of the population is eager to change the rules of the game? In a passive-theoretical scenario, probably yes (that is, if someone suddenly were to turn up and chang the rules for the better). In an active-realistic one (that is, by one's own effort and at one's own cost, like in the early 1990s or in 2004) – certainly not. This is quite evident from the marginal character of protests in today's Ukraine. And although a sociological poll conducted in December 2011 seems to testify that more than one-half of the respondents would be ready to take to the streets should their living conditions significantly worsen (notably, more than one-quarter of all respondents are prepared to take part in unsanctioned meetings and demonstrations), protests in real life under Yanukovych only manage to attract a few thousand people in the centre of Kyiv. All this is in direct contrast to the unequivocal claims of the pollsters: nearly two-thirds of Ukrainians do not approve of the activities both of the President and the Prime Minister, and believe that Ukraine has been not been developing in the right direction

In a somewhat profound sense, then, we can hardly talk of the current regime's loss of legitimacy, but rather about a significant (verging on critical) decline in voter support. However, the decline in support does not signify an increase (or at least the emergence) of mass resistance. And it is precisely resistance that is the main indicator of the non-recognition of a government's legitimacy by a part of the population. If there is no resistance, there is no legitimacy crisis. Or, more specifically, for now the crisis exists only in the intellectuals' imagination.   

And yet, there is a genuine feeling that an important stage of the Ukrainian project (let us call it the “Second Republic”) has nearly exhausted its potential and is coming to an end. This feeling, however, is not caused by the legitimacy crisis, but by the validity crisis of contemporary Ukraine. A “failing state” (I mean precisely this: not a “failed state” but a continuously failing one) would be, perhaps, one of the most apt characteristics of the “Second Republic”: a kickback-based economy, endemic corruption, a preponderance of nouveaux riches in power, a lack of a systemic thinking in policy-makers and a lack of systemic reforms in the country, the continuous degradation of such strategic areas as education, public health, and defence. Ultimately, we arrive at the nullification of all systems of societal values and the transformation of Ukraine into a “kingdom of simulated values.”

How long can the process of “failing” continue? Examples from Latin America, Asia and Africa show that it may take a long time, at the very least--decades. Clearly, however, Ukraine's squeeze between Russia and Europe and the lack of major deposits of strategic natural resources, such as oil or gas, which are instrumental in maintaining a regime, are to catalyse a quicker finale.  

It may be assumed with a great degree of probability that Vladimir Putin (aka "VVP") will be keen to remain in history as the “gatherer of Russian lands.” On the one hand, he will hardly manage to substantially modernise today's Russia (the existing business climate does not allow to hope for an accelerated breakthrough to post-industrial economy); on the other hand, the concentration of power in the hands of the “national leader” and the concentration of valuable resources in the hands of the Kremlin's oligarchic cronies have already reached all possible limits. This gives us serious grounds to suspect that the main project of Putin's “second epoch” will be the revival or creation of some sort of a Eurasian union. It is not for nothing that the VVP [Vladimir Putin - Ed.] at one time let it be known that the collapse of the USSR was the greatest geopolitical tragedy of the twentieth century.

But let us leave aside the scenario of Ukraine's gradual re-integration into the Russian sphere influence through the Eurasian Economic Community (EurAsEC), the Common Economic Space (CES), the Customs Union, or any other Eurasian associations actively initiated by Moscow. Leave aside since, at least in this case, the fate of Ukraine is more and more frequently decided at the Kremlin, rather than on Kyiv's Pechersky Hills.

Similarly, there is little hope that the ratification and implementation of the Association Agreement with the EU can radically change Ukraine's situation for the better or, in other words, "resuscitate" the Second Republic. And there is absolutely no discussion in any foreseeable future of Ukraine's acquiring EU country candidate status, which could promote fundamental social transformations, as has happened in other candidate countries under the EU's oversight.  

Let us imagine a situation where Putin is pushing, but Yanukovych is resisting, Ukraine's entry into the Kremlin-controlled Eurasian associations. We could assume that in this case Moscow would not stop at economic pressure, but would sanction the launch of several projects directly aimed at destabilising the situation in Ukraine. Should this occur, the Ukrainian regime's legitimacy crisis could quickly move from a theoretical into a practical plane, which in turn would provoke the refusal of certain regions (ironically, the base for the Party of Regions) to obey instructions from the centre. The Western regions would quite likely take to similar actions, and only then would a real opportunity for a reset arise in Ukraine. Other scenarios of the Second Republic's agony are certainly possible, but all of them would also require a push from the outside, which could cause a real, not speculative, de-legitimisation of power in the eyes of the major part of Ukraine's population.  

It is hard to predict how bloodless the birth of the Third Republic might turn out to be. And its territorial outline appears no less vague. But one thing is clear: if the suggested scenario were to take place, the new outline would not follow the country's present borders. Moreover, at the moment it is difficult to judge the likelihood of such a scenario. But let us imagine that, for this or that reason, Yanukovych's regime has become so shaky that, instead of providing the official opposition (that is, the former hapless rulers) with a chance to return to power, it creates a chance for Ukraine to reset its whole statehood project.

The first fundamental question to arise (rather, the question that must be addressed) for those who covet the title of future counter-elite, would be as follows: Is it better to find political continuity and legitimacy within the framework of the current constitution, or to make a conscious break with the legitimacy of the Second Republic and begin with a new constitutional building of the country? 

This does not mean that the evolutionary way is worse a priori. The Americans even managed to end the Civil War without a new convent or a new basic law, contenting themselves with a few amendments to the 1787 Constitution. In Ukraine, however, the evolutionary path is associated with two “quiet” defeats in the most inspired battles for modern Ukraine: the "Revolution on Granite” and the “Orange Revolution.” In both cases, the battle was won but the ‘war’ was lost. Moreover, we have all witnessed how ineffective the implant of the parliamentary republic into the body of the 1996 Constitution turned out to be, and how easy and painless was the abolition of the 2004 constitutional reform. I cannot imagine how the Constitutional Court (even a Ukrainian one of the 2010 style) would have been able to recognize as unconstitutional a new constitution, provided of course that the “Orange government” had stopped its five-year squabbling between the President and the Prime Minister and had managed to develop and adopt a new basic law.  

In my opinion, the evolutionary option in Ukraine generally works as the perpetuum mobile of “bad heredity.” When Ukraine made its fateful choice in 1991, it defined itself as the legitimate successor of the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic, not the Ukrainian People's Republic (which, incidentally, was at the time still in a state of war with Soviet Ukraine, from a formal-legal standpoint), making do with a brief mention about a “thousand-years' tradition of the statehood in Ukraine.” Later, Mykola Plav'yuk passed the regalia of the UPR to President Kravchuk, resigned as head of the UPR Government Centre and declared Ukraine as the successor of the Ukrainian People's Republic. All this, however, could hardly change anything in the “genetic code” of contemporary Ukraine. The imperial-Soviet umbilical cord was never completely cut in modern Ukrainian state-building, in either a legal or symbolic sense.

It is probably the unity of the un-unitable that serves as the family curse of the Second Republic; its symbolic example is Petliura Street starting at the Shchors monument in the very heart of the capital. [1] It seems as though the founding fathers of contemporary Ukraine confused tolerance with lack of principles, which resulted in the modern Ukrainian project being the child of two Ukraines – one of them drowned the other in blood, while the latter never recognized the legitimacy of the former one. No wonder that in a country with such a heritage the true “national idea” turned out to be the primary and secondary plundering of Soviet assets, providentially left behind on the territory of Ukraine.

Our European neighbours have deliberately tried to avoid such historical duality. For example, the preamble of the current constitution of the Republic of Poland declares “Recalling of the best traditions of the First and Second Republic” in the Third Republic – the basic law's definition of today's Rzeczpospolita. Similarly, the constitution of the Czech Republic refers to all “good traditions of the statehood of the countries of the Czech and Czechoslovak Crown.” Crucially, both constitutions declare either the “reconstitution of the independent state” or “recovering the possibility of a sovereign and democratic determination of its fate.” In the Ukrainian Constitution, one fails to find references to the origins (and, correspondingly, continuity) of contemporary Ukraine in either Kievan Rus', or the Ukrainian Cossack State (the Hetmanate) or, indeed, the UPR. What is there is only a vague reference to the “centuries-old history of Ukrainian state-building.”  

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