Vaudeville in the rear, or how politicians can stop living in 2019

© The Ukrainian Week

ANDRIY HOLUB, The Ukrainian Week

What will the face-off of the two biggest political camps result in?

News of the frontline are still in the limelight. It is doubtful that people who read this piece need an explanation. Another important course to take is diplomacy and international relations as a whole. There are a lot of important occurrences due to one simple cause: we are totally dependent on the West for weapon deliveries and financial support and henceforth, this concerns the prospect of victory. The World Bank forecasts Ukraine’s GDP to drop by 45%, while the state budget deficit is at $15 Billion. There are some good news regarding the latter figure, as this sum has already been collected from international donors. However, there are bad news as well: we’re talking about only one quarter during a full-scale war. This quarter is ending at the end of June. As a new quarter begins, the budget would require another $15 Billion to cover the deficit. Therefore, those who have shown strong reactions to the high petrol prices should rethink their strategy and not lose their nerves as they will be necessary when the true economic cost of the war will hit everyone. Donors can inject money in three different gears: ‘extra ’, ‘enough’ or ‘they won’t starve to death’. It will cause a direct influence to public sentiment across the country. The same holds regarding weapons: there are different levels such as: ‘throwing back the enemy all the way to Kuban (southern Russia), a rather astronomical aim, ‘drive the enemy out’ and ‘solidify the front line’. In other words, the victory is impossible without our own efforts, but the proximity of victory is not determined by us.

The information field overall reflects this situation altogether. However, there are more unusual deviations than before. Various political camps, their advisers, political experts and political activist circles have started to become more distracted and focus on domestic political quarrels. Usually, this would have been comical but now, it is best to see this as nothing more than political idiotism. There are too many cases to ignore. After 10 days of war, the author writing this started observing and coming across users’ comments such as ‘the green clowns are betraying Ukraine’ (i.e Zelensky’s camp). The comments have been left mostly by a very homogeneous set of accounts with patriotic emblems as profile pictures instead of personal photos. In the end of May, there was another worrying affair. Viktor Medvedchuk provided his testimony, which was unlikely to have been beneficial given the set of laws of criminal proceedings of the Ukrainian judiciary system. In his testimony he barely fell short of claiming that all the harmful things that he has done from 2014 and onwards, were all done on the orders of Petro Poroshenko. This recording was cause for alarm with more emotional distress as it was constantly played at the national TV telethon. The list of such incidents is endless. The countless verbal testimonies given about the previous government’s attempts to usurp power combined with the fiasco of Poroshenko trying to temporarily leave the country. If we abstract ourselves from this ‘eternal struggle’, then the advertisement of Rinat Akhmetov’s Foundation on TV can only be seen as part of the same category of problems. Or the constant mention of the ‘Ermak-McFaul group’, which has the ‘Ermak-McFaul plan’. And the problem is not even that the team is officially called the International Working Group on Sanctions against Russia.

The matter is different. Someone seems to think that if you mention the word ‘Yermak’ in the media as many times as one possibly can, then Yermak will become a popular and well respected individual. Others are convinced that if a person is labelled as a ‘clown’ or ‘green’ many times, eventually, that person would lose their popularity. The leaders of major political camps still live in the painful and ghostly past of the 2019 presidential campaign.

Overall, this is the usual and old ‘disease’ of Ukrainian pre-war politics. Many prominent figures in different times (perhaps unconsciously) have repeated the same mistakes multiple times, in attempting to restore the times of their largest successes which were left back in the past. This can be compared with a personal form of a cargo cult. Viktor Yanukovych was holding to the end to remain the ‘governor’ of the Donetsk region, even though he should have understood that he was the president of Ukraine. Yulia Tymoshenko always tried to initiate a new ‘new course’ multiple times, even though the electorate was never interested in any of the old ones. Other individuals lived constantly convinced that the more advertisements and political PR one would invest in, then one would be unbeatable, even though this strategy has been proven wrong over and over again.

These games are unlikely to cause a defeat in the war. Yet, they still force us to distract ourselves and temporarily focus on something unimportant and hence, waste time and are harmful. Political competition, everything that is related to it and what existed before the 24th of February, has all hopelessly aged.  One can resort to the usage of ‘bots’, use Medvedchuk, or release PR clips on TV. However, in the case of a Ukrainian victory, politics will be different.

The new type of politics would not be ideal either. However, it would be more appropriate to its time. The notion that ‘there is no politics in wartime Ukraine’ is simply not true. It’s just that the main political events are happening not to where we are used to it. Overall, there is a list of crucial items on our agenda: the front, diplomacy, economy, humanitarian aid and infrastructure. Infrastructure is ultimately dealt with by so-called ‘regional managers’, no matter how we do not like the context of this term here.

Those who are really close to these realms, receive political dividends in return. If frontline fighters and diplomats collect postponed political capital which is intended to be materialised after the war, then ‘managers’ are accumulating and materialising capital today. After all, the ‘bots’ and Medvedchuk – exist in social media, but if you take a peek out on the street, you will see utility workers replacing windows in buildings, previously destroyed by shockwaves from explosions. The notion of ‘utility companies – mayor’ is self-created in one’s head. The transfer of real political capital from ‘talkers’ on political talk shows to those who act on the spot has already begun long before the full-scale Russian invasion. This was confirmed by various elections, when local politicians or prominent individuals beat politicians branded from the capital.

This process entails a lot of political ‘filth’. Numerous mayoral campaigns with the renaming of everything that exists, their attempts to display their names on every building or monument they have restored are unlikely to be better initiatives than the feud between Volodymyr Zelensky and Petro Poroshenko. However the tendency is there, regardless of whether we like it or not. It is most important that ‘old politicians’ do not necessarily have to leave the stage. The key question here is whether they can direct their efforts towards partnership with the heroes of today and find their spot in the new arrangement. This is a complex task and it is unknown whether it can be accomplished. After all, in order to succeed, it would be mandatory to build partnerships rather than work towards the name of a franchise, run by a single individual.