Ukraine: Politics Overdose

Global Voices Online
Saturday, May 26, 2007

On April 2, Ukrainian president Victor Yushchenko dissolved parliament and called early elections, but prime minister Victor Yanukovych and his allies disputed the president's authority to do so (see here and here for earlier Global Voices translations). This week, Yushchenko dismissed the newly reappointed prosecutor general, Svyatoslav Piskun, who is the prime minister's ally. Interior minister Vasyl Tsushko accused the president of usurping power, and riot police stormed the prosecutor general's office. Yushchenko responded by placing interior ministry troops under his direct command. Yanukovych condemned the president's order, and the interior ministry said it would defy it. After a day of confusion over who controlled the interior ministry's troops, Yushchenko ordered extra units to Kyiv, but most were stopped on the way to the capital by traffic police acting on behalf of the government.

The outcome of this highly complicated conflict is yet to be seen, but one thing seems clear: many Ukrainians, on whose behalf the politicians involved in the current feud claim to be acting, suffer from politics overdose (and from unusually hot weather).

Here's what two journalists of the Ukrainian weekly news magazine Korrespondent wrote about this political and climatic heat on their blogs (RUS) on May 25.

Vitaliy Sych, Korrespondent's editor-in-chief:

I've a feeling that our politicians and ourselves have turned into parallel realities. And that our paths no longer cross. That's it. It's over.

Here's what you see on TV: the parliament wants to impeach the president, the president wants to fire the premier, the Constitutional Court's judges have been accused of taking millions in bribes. You watch it and think: So what? It doesn't mean anything anymore. The amount of important political news has grown so huge that it has practically lost all value. If tomorrow they show on TV that the premier or the president strangled and then ate three infants, everyone will say: How amusing.

Ukrainian politics has turned into a TV soap opera that never leaves the screen and no longer has any effect on the people's lives.

Local businessmen have understood this too already. Upcoming elections used to freeze most significant projects for a year, but now no one pays attention to the elections anymore. They have become routine. Yesterday, I looked through the English-language newspaper Kyiv Post, where I worked once myself. Never before has Ukraine seen such an influx of foreign investors. We used to run an item on arrival of a big investor in the market once a month. Now, there are five or six every week. Even the international ranking agencies have stopped downgrading Ukraine in their economic forecasts.

You'd think that the events like this should cause anxiety. No. No one gives a damn.

That's it, politics has strayed away from the people.

But please tell me one thing: if I [leave the city] for an overnight barbeque tomorrow, will they let me back in if the emergency state has been declared?

Olga Kryzhanovskaya, editor of Korrespondent's The Country section

Sleepy Kingdom

The country has found itself on the brink of emergency state, two of the three branches of power have basically become illegitimate. Amazing, but there is no sign of it in Kyiv. There's no tension in the air, people are calmly discussing their weekend plans, no one hurries to turn on the news. After two months of political confrontation, it looks like everyone has simply lost interest to what's going on up there on the top. Summer, heat, beer in the open air. To hell with all this politics. The economy is working, banks are giving out money, stores are giving out food, subway is giving out tokens. This creates an illusion of everything being okay, and the TV news about the storming of the prosecutor general's office resembles yet another Jackie Chan action movie. Wake up, people! A healthy cynicism towards politicians is good. But at some point it becomes dangerous to be apathetic and carefree. Think of 2004. What would have happened if thousands of people hadn't come out into the streets and taken control over the situation? If only 300 paid extras had gathered at Maidan, instead of 300,000 citizens, there would have been no round table and no compromise. And now, until we turn into citizens again, politicians would continue making empty sounds with their authority, instead of looking for a way out.

UPDATE: Several hours after this translation went up, Ukraine's leaders reached an agreement to hold an early election on September 30. According to president Yushchenko, the political crisis is over.

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