Ukrainian Sovereignty between Civic Activism and Oligarchic Renaissance

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The terrible and bloody year of 2014 was a time of huge shocks to Ukrainian society, not least because we were not ready – neither psychologically nor institutionally – for events on such a scale.  It is important to understand the lessons of the heroism and wrongdoing, the decisiveness and cowardice, the wisdom and stupidity of both leaders and citizens in 2014.  Among these lessons is the need to come to comprehend the political factors that affect the possibilities open to us: the demands of our partners and the intentions of our enemies.

Throughout 2014, a group of analysts from the Foundation for Good Politics examined political processes in Ukraine.  Drawing on weekly polling data and monthly analyses of political events, we discovered three main tendencies in our country’s development in 2014 that will certainly continue to affect events in 2015, namely:

  1. Crisis of state sovereignty
  2. Growth of influence of civic associations
  3. Strengthening of oligarchy

Crisis of State Sovereignty

This is the first time since Ukraine became an independent state in 1991 that we are faced with such a grave crisis of sovereignty.

Sovereignty is a necessary condition for statehood; it is manifested in a politically and legally self-reliant domestic government and the independence of the state as a subject of international law.  Beginning in fall 1991, Ukraine’s sovereignty increased and was strengthened through political, legal, socio-economical, and cultural-symbolic institutions, the effectiveness of which continued to grow up until the first crisis of sovereignty in 2004.  In 2004 Ukraine was in danger of losing its unity and sovereignty.  The Ukrainian elite managed to mop up after the crisis in 2005-2006.  To a large degree, they overcame the crisis while rejecting the institutional development of democracy and rule of law in favor of national unity.  Once again Ukraine became an overly centralized, exclusionary, and corrupt political system.

The government of Viktor Yanukovych aggravated conflicts within the country and eroded all social support for the Ukrainian state in its existing political form.  Having “reactivated” the 1996 constitution, Yanukovych’s administration hastened the process of delegitimization not only for its own political regime, but also for the political project of the “Third Republic” overall (counting the political experiments of 1917-1922 as the “First Republic,” and the Ukrainian SSR as the “Second”).  (Here we must reject the usual enumeration of Ukrainian republics, whereby the first is identified as the competition between Ukrainian political projects in 1917-1922, and the second is the Ukrainian political system after 1991.  Disregard for Soviet Ukraine is one of the sources of the current crisis.  Contemporary Ukraine was created on the foundations of the Ukrainian SSR, and the ideology of achieving a “second Soviet republic” only highlights the inadequacy of a national-patriotic vision of statebuilding.  Furthermore, the chance to build a post-oligarchic democratic Ukraine is worth terming a “fourth Ukraine.”)

This ruler, whose popularity declined annually and who increasingly concentrated power in the hands of a single financial-political group, even pushing aside allied oligarchic groups, passed the peak of his administration’s effectiveness in 2012.  After that, his authoritarian regime resulted in a build-up of errors, which arose as a result of low levels of engagement of different groups within society and the elite in decision-making processes.  The worsening of the economy in fall 2013 compounded ineffective administration and the government’s extremely low level of legitimacy, which led to a...

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Originally Published in This Issue of Krytyka