The long-awaited prefix “Ex” in front of the title President has finally become reality. Ukraine has been released from its wanna-be-dictator Yanukovych. Do not get overexcited, this does not mean anything yet. Here is a short story of what happened and what this means now.
Last week’s developments in Ukraine mark the bloodiest episode in this country’s history since it gained independence in 1991. The three months of Maidan are of historical significance to Ukraine, and will be imprinted in the memory of not one but many generations of Ukrainians. Especially those bloody days, which claimed the lives of more than a hundred people. People who gave their all for a better Ukraine, people who proved more European than many EU citizens, and people ready to pay with their lives for freedom. They have already been named “The Heavenly Hundred” – true heroes of this proud nation. May they rest in peace.
The price of toppling the regime was clearly too high. The blood of innocent people is on the hands of many politicians still in power. However, it goes without saying that the symbol of the whole epoch is the Ex-President himself. Therefore, the final ousting of Yanukovych could not help but be symbolic. The climax of his fall from power took the shape of protesters storming Ukraine´s Disneyland “Mezhyhirya”– Yanukovych’s ridiculously luxurious residence built on the money of Ukraine’s taxpayers. However, in contrast to those amusement parks in France or the US, the Ukrainian one is an exemplification of the highest level of kleptomania, tastelessness and corruption. Protesters streaming into the compound, almost the size of Monaco, rubbed their eyes in disbelief at the sheer scale of opulence: his own golf course, helicopter pad, private zoo, boat collection, church, boxing ring, exotic gardens with ostriches, antiquarian sculptures, a galleon converted into a restaurant, a garage full of vintage cars and motorcycles worth millions and even his own portrait covered with 1kg (!) of pure gold. You name it, he had it. In other words, Yanukovych was the world’s third costliest President to maintain after Obama and Putin. In a country with a per capita GDP of $7,300, this is the peak of cynicism.
The main task now in Mezhyhirya falls on divers and journalists: to rescue and identify all the documents thrown to the depths of his own beautiful lakes – evidence of the huge corruption mechanisms he left behind in his rush to leave Kyiv. The burnt ones will be lost forever.
The King is dead, long live… WHO?
Now that the legendary Yulia Tymoshenko is finally enjoying the blue sky over her head and the wind in her hair – after her release from prison which was authorised by the Ukrainian Parliament on the same day that Ukraine toppled Yanukovych – you might think that Ukraine’s political chess-board is pre-determined. Well, no. This is a misconception that the Western media will most likely turn a blind eye to, taking into account its tendency to idealise this woman. While Ukrainians are happy to see the era of political repression drawing to a close, this does not guarantee their absolute support of Ms Tymoshenko. She, who is also known as the Ukrainian Gas Princess, is a highly controversial (I repeat: highly controversial) figure in both Ukraine’s business and political worlds– areas which are virtually indistinguishable in the Ukrainian reality. Seeing Yulia Tymoshenko just as corrupt and populist as many other Ukrainian politicians, many “Maidaniers” do not want to see her in power either.
During her speech on Maidan immediately after her release, it was curious to observe the reaction both on Ukraine’s main square and on social media. The cheering of the crowd (though with trepidation) was somehow undermined by a very explosive reaction on Twitter and Facebook which were overloaded with numerous negative comments; pictures depicting Tymoshenko and Yanukovych with an equals sign in between, Facebook groups saying “Yulia No” etc to name just a few. Many people wish her all the best and hope she will go to Germany for medical treatment for a while.
The reality is that Tymoshenko does not quite realise that many people in Ukraine learnt from their mistakes during the 2004 Orange Revolution and are not willing to make them again. Been there, done that. The question remains though who will Ukrainians vote for in the Presidential elections scheduled for 25 May (symbolically, the same day that millions of EU citizens will be electing their European Parliament representatives)? Does a decent alternative exist in the current political landscape?
Wanted: a kamikaze Cabinet of Ministers
What society is, however, united about is the need for a complete reset of the whole political system. Naturally, this is a very unthankful task, since those who will step into the top positions of power will also have a collapsing economy to deal with. Ukraine needs unpopular and painful reforms which won’t bring the politicians much credit in the run-up to the forthcoming elections. Therefore, what is needed now is not only the arrest of fugitive Yanukovych for mass murder, but also, more importantly, the appointment of several dozen suicide politicians, ready to implement reforms and step back thereafter.
The main priority now has to be curing the whole system soaked through with a Ukrainian cancer called corruption. Whether it is the upper echelons of power, militia, educational or medicinal institutions– only transparency and justice will truly decapitate the old regime.
Ukrainians in the meantime will have to satiate their cravings for accountable power and transparency by introducing new Maidan-faces into the reshaped political spectrum. Statements made by Maidan about the mistrust in mainstream politicians who claimed to represent the masses are already a good sign. It seems Maidan will keep standing as a guardian of change.
#SochiProblems for Ukraine
Obviously, all this talk of a transparent, democratic system in Ukraine is not only a nightmare, but also an existential threat to Russia’s political elite. Putin is furious. And this is why:
- Maidan itself. He hates it. He is afraid of it. He doesn’t want a Maidan in Moscow or a Bolotnaya Square II. This reminds him of 2004, when he lost against the Orange Revolution. Russia’s state propaganda has been pumping out from state media at an incredulous rate – a clear sign of Putin’s panic and fear.
- Sochi Spoiled. While the world was mocking all the #SochiProblems on Twitter, for Putin, Sochi’s biggest problem was that the Olympic Games were being overshadowed by those revolutionary Ukrainians. Instead of a celebration of Russia’s power and “Kremlin Wealth-Expo 2014”, the headlines were bombarded by Ukraine’s bloodshed, the release of Tymoshenko and the miserable end of Yanukovych. If you don’t believe in karma, this question is for you: remember the Russia-Georgia war during the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games?
- A weak protégé. It is always regrettable to see your project fail. Your little creation you have been hand-feeding for so long, your child you have been carefully raising – sometimes with a stick, sometimes with a carrot – now a fugitive, afraid of coming out on the political surface.
And this is what should make Ukraine even more aware of the challenges it faces. Now, that the Olympic Games are over and the Eye of Sauron will be focused on Kyiv, the “Games” are just starting for Ukraine. All the patterns of Russia’s hard power tactics are well-known and have been repeatedly experienced by Ukraine: most probably, gas prices will rise again in geometrical progression, trade bans will be imposed, huge discrediting campaigns in media will be launched and puppet politicians with agents of influence will be parachuted into Ukrainian politics – nothing new for Ukrainians, in other words. Yet, the biggest concern is the South-Ossetia or Transnistria-scenarios in Ukraine. The invasion of Russian troops – via its trump card, the Black Sea fleet located on the Ukrainian peninsula Crimea – is a real threat nowadays. Behind the major euphoria which took over many people in Ukraine, cautiousness cannot be lost. Division propaganda in Crimea has been increasing during the last couple of days and should be a warning sign for all.
Hence, though on the back foot, Putin will not just walk away. The geopolitical tug-of-war is far from being over.
It’s about you!
Euromaidan proved once again that no one except for yourself can change the course of your life, your history and even your nation. Change starts with individuals. Expectations of real support and assistance from abroad in solving your own problems are a sign of immaturity and naivety. Ukraine has learned this painful lesson, left alone in a humanitarian disaster. Western sanctions were too late, after blood was already flowing down the streets of a European capital.
European values are very well protected on paper. But the EU is not the same as it was in the Eighties and Nineties, when it was ready to stand up for these values. Now, do not be surprised by the absence of EU flags fluttering on Maidan Square in contrast to November.
Undoubtedly, there is a very long and bumpy road ahead for Ukraine. The complete reset of the system is an incremental process which will not happen overnight. Each and every citizen has to understand his or her own responsibility in contributing to the successful outcome of the project called New Ukraine. Ukrainians might have won this battle. But the war is only starting: the change of the country by changing yourself. There is a war against a little Yanukovych sitting inside every single Ukrainian to be won.