December 21, 2010

Ukraine's Current Status Quo: Prosperity, Freedom, and Geopolitical Location

    A new wave of political prosecutions, including investigation of the Orange Revolutionary and former Prime  Minister Yulia Tymoshenko (BYuT), provides a clear-cut evidence that the Yanukovych administration curb a political freedom by prosecuting Ukraine's political opposition. The Yanukovych administration steps on a very slippery slope of their policy. If they slip, Ukraine will become a country with curbed civil liberties and human rights like Russia. While the current policy costs Ukrainains their political freedom, it does not come for free to President Yanukovych (POR). He is loosing public support. Kuzio (2010) writes that Yanukovych can increase his public support if he can increase social welfare, reduce inflation and unemployment. I agree that President Yanukovych can play a card of a policy trade-off between freedom and prosperity. In other words, President Yanukovych can get away with his policy by gaining public support if his policy leads to economic prosperity. The Yanukovych administration does not have to go too far in a search for a policy template. They can use their previous experience from the Kuchma administration. Anyways, majority of the Yanukovych administration are the Kuchmists. Or they can follow the Putin’s policy. Either way Ukraine’s economic prosperity will come at the price of political freedom as it happened in Russia.

    In 2009 Ukraine was free as it had never been before. The Polity Score that measures the level of political freedom (e.g. 0 denotes absolute autocracy and 20 denotes consolidated democracy) was 16.36 for Ukraine and 9.22 for the rest of the FSU countries (Polity IV, 2009). Ordinary Ukrainians enjoyed a higher level of political and economic freedom than Belarusians and Russians. Belarus, Russia, and Ukraine were moving in different directions. Belarus and Russia slipped into autocracy. Ukraine became one of the freest countries in the FSU region (Freedom House, 2009). Also, the annual research report “Nations in Transit” released by Freedom House in June 2009 demonstrated that Ukraine’s quality of political institutions was above that of the FSU and Russia. Ukraine had a more independent judiciary than Russia and the rest of the FSU. The independence of mass media and the development of the civil society were very close to the levels in developed nations. The democratic institutions at both state and province were also of better quality. The electoral process was very transparent and up to democratic standards. The rule of law, the civil and the political rights were much stronger in Ukraine than anywhere else in the FSU. Overall, the report showed Ukraine as a free state with a consolidating democracy as compared to non-free and authoritarian Russia and the rest of the FSU, except the Baltic States. Unfortunately, the situation has changed drastically since the Party of Regions came to power.  

    Now the Yanukovych administration is changing a political status quo for the worse. They are prosecuting the political opposition and curb individual political freedom. Eventually, President Yanykovych will have to offer a compensation for his current misbehavior if he wants to retain his public support. Will President Yanukovych try to trade economic stability with Ukrainians for their liberties? Kuzio (2010) writes that Ukrainians cannot be bought off. He writes that “Ukraine is not Russia, where abundant deposits of raw materials are exported and provide a large amount of support for the state budget. Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has been fortunate in being able to buy off Russians by trading (economic) stability for democracy through record-high oil and gas prices throughout most of this decade”. Even if it is true, it does not mean that President Yanukovych will not attempt to use the policy trade-off.

    Will it be a wrong policy? Yes. Will it stop the Yanukovych administration? No. His administration that consists of the Kuchmists knows how wrong policy can pay off. The Kuchma administration gravitated towards Putin’s standards of media and political freedom during the 2004 presidential campaign. Unlike Russia, the authoritarian glitch in the Kuchma administration triggered the Kuchmagate and the Orange Revolution. As a result, Mr. Kuchma and his protégé, Mr. Yanukovych, were ousted from the government by the Orange Revolution. While the Yanukovych administration knows how wrong policy can pay off, the long-term iron grip on the political power demonstrated by Belarus’ Lukashenka, Russia’s Putin, Turkmenistan’s Niyazov, Kazakhstan’s Nazarbaev, and Azerbaijan’s Aliev tell them that it can be done. It is a rare case when Ukraine’s geopolitical position is its curse. If Ukraine were located somewhere in the Western Europe, the Ukrainian government and public would be less exposed to the past and modern period of the totalitarianism of the former Soviet Union region.

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