[Putinada] The worst political class in Europe

Andrew Wilson in conversation with Łukasz Jasina · 31 January 2015
“Twenty three years of having the worst political class in Europe can’t leave no mark on the society”, claims a British historian, expert on Ukraine.

Łukasz Jasina: Your book, The Ukrainians, was really important for my generation.

Andrew Wilson: Really?

Yes. I’m from so called „generation of Orange Revolution”. Your book was one of the most important books written around this moment. And that is why my first question of course will be naive. How can you compare the present situation in Ukraine with the situation described in your book? Ten years is sometimes a very long period.

I actually wrote two books. In 2006 I published Ukraine’s Orange Revolution. It was written in a justifiable spirit of optimism, because it was written quickly. An intelligent student asked me many years later, whether I would change it in the light of disappointing events in Ukraine.

Would you?

No, that would be dishonest.

People tend to say there have been three Maidans already in the last ten years.

It depends on how you define a Maidan.

I mean three sets of demonstrations physically located on that central square. What was very distinct and hopeful this time was that many people in February were talking in terms of lessons learned. What went wrong last time, how can we do better this time? We don’t know what would have happened without Russian intervention. But at least people really wanted to learn from the mistakes of the past. Viktor Yushchenko was one of the worst presidents in history. That was quite surprising, because he campaigned very well in 2004. Yet he turned out to be a completely different man after the campaign.

Yes, he was very ill. Much more than his associates admitted. The poisoning contributed probably to his “Messiah complex”. But your question is really about general problems.

And it needs a general answer.

It is well known that Ukraine is regionally a very divided country. But there is less known stuff, that’s been a constant problem. Why Ukraine has the worst political class in Europe? It is still the case – even now, year after the greatest revolution. Political class in Ukraine are rent-seekers and pretenders. Political technology there was very corrosive and at the same time deeply rooted in the Ukrainian system. And it is still there.

Arseniy Yatsenyuk is doing pretty well as prime minister, but in 2009 he was running for the presidency on the Eurasian ticket. We shouldn’t forget that. There were also plenty dirty tricks used in recent elections campaign.

Plenty of new faces, too.

Yet, twenty three years of having the worst political class in Europe can’t leave no mark on the society.

But right now we are after parliamentary and presidential elections, first completely democratic elections in the Ukrainian history. Will there be any change of this class?

I wouldn’t say those were the first democratic elections. These in 2006-2007 and even 2010 were more or less democratic. Then there was a regress. But what are the prospects of change in the political class? Better than they might look a few months ago. It is very interesting that many Maidan activists are now inside the political class. For example the well-known journalists, Mustafa Nayyem and Sergey Dolzhenko. Mustafa Nayyem started everything off with his famous tweet back in November, calling people to demonstrate on the Maidan. Nayyem and Dolzhenko underestimated their support level, because they both tried different parties. They eventually went to the Poroshenko block, like a lot of other activists they accepted places in the traditional parties. That is one route Ukrainians got a few new faces in the Parliament.

The other is this famous phenomenon of veterans of battalions and commandos. They are radical but I’m not quite sure in what way. Some of them want to change the system, some of them just want more resources for the army. 

Everyone has an individual policy.

Exactly, and there are big differences between them. People like Nayyem and Dolzhenko underestimated the level of tensions within the society. It seems that on the elections day people came to see them as two good guys surrounded by all the rest of the old guard. So they looked for the newest and cleanest party they could find, which is why „Samopomich” got such a big share of the vote.

And that is probably the reason for the success of Poroshenko and Yatsenyuk parties.

Poroshenko and Yatsenyuk success was similar in a different way. In the final weeks of the campaign they put more emphasis on patriotism and tough line against Russia. But that did not resonate with the society, because the other campaigners were pushing this message more forcibly. So in the last week Poroshenko and Yatsenyuk switched to a campaign against the old politics. As a result the voters gave more support to these fresher faces that looked new a few months ago. That is obviously good.

It is ironic, because Yatsenyuk is an Ukrainian version of Leszek Balcerowicz and this man is winning the election in a country at war. He is the man who will be probably responsible for very severe economic reforms, but at the same time he is not very charismatic.

Yatsenyuk is an academic, he is a son of academics. I think it was Balcerowicz who created the phrase “extraordinary politics”, which we have seen enough in the Ukraine. Balcerowicz said quite rightly: do things quick when you have political cap, before your enemies re-gather.

Now we are almost sure the Ukrainian Prime Minister will not have this opportunity, because there is no more time to do this quickly.

Which leads us again to the lesson of elections we had last year. There was too much politics as usual and a lot of voters wanted to see more and quicker changes.

Many Polish politicians and pundits claimed the Ukrainian revolution would present a possibility for Poland to return to the European main political stage. Sadly, so far it does not seem to work. How do you assess the Polish role in this conflict?

Poland played very important role during the beginning of the conflict. Now its role is much weaker. You are not the part of the „concert of superpowers”. I think this is an important moment for Poles to find their real place in Europe. You can find out how really important and strong your country is. There are many problems which could be known as checking – your relations with Britain where Cameron is doing his policy, Ukraine, Russia. But of course Poland is not so weak as you sometimes seem to think.


Piotr Szymański, Iza Mrzygłód, Anna Olmińska, Łukasz Pawłowski and Konrad Kamiński contributed to this interview.

Special thanks to Piotr Buras for his kind help.