Comprehensive Partnerships For A Real Democracy Politics

Essay add: 19-06-2017, 18:27   /   Views: 5

The Orange Revolution was exemplary: a non-violent protest against a rigged election that brought to power a seemingly people-focused and pro-Western president. Although all social groups took part in the revolution, its core was formed by students and young professionals of Ukraine's fledgling middle class. For politically passive Ukrainians, it looked like the nation's great awakening and begging of a new era.

Five years after, the mood is one of indifference and disenchantment. The "orange government" has turned out to be as corrupt and incompetent as its predecessors. It should therefore hardly elicit surprise that Victor Yanukovich, the politician with criminal past accused of stealing the 2004 election, has been voted in for president this winter. Voter turnout in the second, decisive round has been the lowest in the Ukrainian history1.

Moreover, youth participation has fallen dramatically. I myself did not vote in the last election, although I had been on the streets the rainy autumn of 2004 protesting against lawlessness and power-grabbing. The momentum for engaging young people in governance of the country has been lost. Therefore, any subsequent generation of politicians will be faced with the same question: how to win back the hearts and minds of Ukrainian youth?

The Vicious Circle

According to the Economist's 2008 Democracy Index2, Ukraine scores impressively high on electoral pluralism (9.58 out of 10) and on civil liberties (almost 8), yet has a dismal record on government functioning (5.36), political participation (5.5.6), and political culture (6.25). In other words, in Ukraine there are no structural impediments to meaningful participation in institutions of democracy, yet inefficiency of elected officials on the one hand and apathy of citizens on the other have created a vicious circle of mistrust and cynicism. As the Economist rightly observed in the midst of the 2010 presidential race, "Ukraine's free (and frequent) elections are providing neither good governance nor stability."3

It is precisely political culture that is Ukraine's main problem. Party membership is estimated to be lower than one percent of the voting-age population4. The degree of voter ignorance is alarming, although several initiatives to address the unsettling phenomenon have been launched5. The situation is further aggravated by virtual absence of ideological differences

1 The Institute of Politics, 'Election 2010: Analysis of Voter Turnout in the Second Round' (in Ukrainian), 2010, viewed on May 16, 2010, <http://polityka.in.ua/info/353.htm>2 The Economist, 'Democracy index', October 29, 2008, viewed on May 14, 2010, <http://www.economist.com/markets/rankings/displaystory.cfm?story_id=12499352>3 The Economist, 'Five years on in Kiev', January 21, 2010, viewed on May 9, 2010, <http://www.economist.com/world/europe/displaystory.cfm?story_id=15330489>4 V. Sirenko, 'On the imperative mandate and other initiatives of the Ukrainian elite' (in Ukrainian), February, 8, 2008, viewed on June 1, 2010, <dialogs.org.ua/issue_full.php?m_id=12154>5 Examples include civic initiative "Znaju!" ("I Know!") before the 2006 parliamentary elections and "New Citizen" campaign before and after the 2010 presidential elections under the slogans "I'm hiring a president" and "Ask the newly elected president".

among parties. While ideological consensus is increasingly observed in mature democracies as well, scant interest in party politics in Ukraine is a dangerous hangover from Soviet times, when citizens could vote for only one party, the Communists, in pro forma elections. The very notion of ideology has been discredited by the Soviet regime, and discussions of Marxism, communism, and even many features of socialism are still taboo in mainstream politics. Before this taboo is broken, ideas from across the entire political spectrum cannot be debated freely.

As a result, most Ukrainian parties advocate rather similar, internally inconsistent sets of policies: cutting taxes while increasing public spending, liberalizing trade yet supporting national champions, mending relations with Russia and European integration. The Ukrainian public still does not understand that there are painful policy and geopolitical choices to be made, and politics is about making these choices collectively.

In such a situation, parties rely on charismatic, often populist, leaders for electoral success. Former German ambassador Dietmar Studemann called this "personality factor" a fundamental defect of Ukrainian politics; its superiority over ideological platforms has led him to argue that political parties in the proper meaning of the word do not exist in Ukraine yet6.

While studying in Europe, I was often amazed at how often politics came up in my classmates' Facebook statuses and how many of them were active in organizations like Young Fabians7 or Conservative Future8. Quite to the contrary, politics is conspicuously absent from interpersonal conversations among young Ukrainians. Parents also do little to socialize youngsters into the political process. As a result, politics is seen as too distant and too corrupt by ordinary Ukrainians.

These perceptions are, of course, not groundless. A unique phenomenon in post-Soviet countries is the emergence of the so-called "industrial-financial groups" that unite powerful regional business interests. While they behave like lobbies, they throw much more weight around and have representatives in government and parliament. As a result of conflicting interest among such groups, constant political infighting is a norm of Ukrainian political life.

Rather than trying to see through the complex web of power relations, Ukrainians blame the government for all ills. For instance, approval ratings of the outgoing Tymoshenko's government nosedived on the back of the 2008 economic crisis. Few gave themselves the trouble to find out that the contraction had been caused by the vagaries of global commodity markets, namely by the 30 percent fall in the price of steel, Ukraine's main export9. In reality, Tymoshenko has been cunning enough to win "an IMF bail-out without fulfilling the fund's demands to raise gas prices and cut public spending"10. Thus, Ukrainians suffer from both reluctance and inability to see the bigger picture and evaluate politicians' performance carefully and objectively. There is a clear and consistent need to raise political culture in the Ukrainian society.

6 Kyiv Post, 'Former German Ambassador Studemann views superiority of personality factor as fundamental defect of Ukrainian politics', December 22, 2009, viewed on May 7, 2010, <http://www.kyivpost.com/news/politics/detail/55635>7 The under-31s section of the Fabian Society, Britain's Labor think tank. 8 The movement for under 30s who are members of the UK's Conservative Party. 9 K. Oksamytna, 'Eastern Promises: Ukraine and the IMF's Costly Assistance', Unpublished MA thesis, City University London, May 2009. 10 The Economist, 'Five years on in Kiev'…

Encouraging Youth Participation

Engaging youth in public life in general and political life in particular is the key to raising political culture and building democracy that delivers. Some of the solutions presented here are youth-led, while others require action on the part of national or international organizations.

1. Engaging Youth NGOs in Democracy Building

Ukraine has a strong network of youth NGOs. Kyiv antenna of AEGEE, the European Students' Forum, is among the most active in Europe. I am a member of the local branch of the European Youth Parliament. However, NGOs shy away from politics, perhaps because the issue is too polarizing or out of fear of political pressure. While it is understandable that youth NGOs are keen on preserving their autonomous, non-political status, there are many ways in which they can advance democracy, for instance, by organizing round tables with politicians or drafting position papers on issues of the day.

2. Strengthening the Independence of Student Councils

Most universities in Ukraine have relatively well-functioning student councils; the association of these councils is an advisory body to the Ministry of Education and Science11. The councils provide students with an opportunity to learn how to manage their affairs in a collective fashion, elect their own leaders, and prepare for a political career. Yet it is necessary to note with regret that the independence of student councils is often constrained by actions of university administrations. Ensuring both de jure and de facto autonomy of student councils is important for teaching young Ukrainians how to handle bureaucracy and challenge power. Moreover, student councils acting on behalf of respective student bodies are a guarantee that the Ukrainian educational system meets students' needs. Strengthening the independence of student councils can be done by introducing public oversight of university administrations.

3. Reversing the Brain Drain

In the immediate aftermath of Ukraine's independence, a large proportion of its scientific elite have emigrated. Every year, many talented students still leave for abroad to pursue education or academic career. Recently, the Open Society Institute has launched the Returning Scholars Fellowship Program offering financial support to academics returning to university positions in developing countries after studying abroad12. Although I would consider making use of this fellowship myself, I have totally lost contact with my university over the years. To reverse the brain drain, universities should stay in touch with their brightest students and graduates studying or doing research abroad. This can be done by creating alumni networks and societies. This measure will have a positive spillover effect of increasing social capital and weakening incentives to leave in the first place.

11 Web-portal of Ukrainian Government, 'Constituent conference of All-Ukrainian Student Council under Ministry of Education and Science held in Kyiv', May 30, 2005, viewed on June 2, 2010, <http://www.kmu.gov.ua/control/en/publish/article?art_id=17291258&cat_id=32598>12 Open Society Institute , 'Returning Scholars Fellowship Program', 2010, viewed on June 5, 2010, <http://www.soros.org/initiatives/hesp/focus/afp/grants/rsfp>

4. Tracking Campaign Promises Online

A very useful website that monitors Obama's fulfillment of his campaign promises exists in the U.S.13 Such websites should be launched in all countries, tracking promises of elected officials on all levels. For example, the incumbent Ukrainian president ran with an ambitious program of five-year tax holidays for small businesses; cutting VAT and income taxes; public housing for teachers, medical workers, service members, and police officers; free healthcare and introduction of family doctors; monetary incentives for companies that hire young specialists; elections of judges by general suffrage; and professionalization of the army14. An obvious question arises how the proposed expansion of social programs can be financed given the lowered taxes, yet it seems like the Ukrainian public does not even expect politicians to work towards the realization of their campaign promises. In Ukraine, a website tracking campaign promises could be run by a youth NGO, like the Alliance of Young Political Scientists, Political Technologists and Politicians.

5. Plurality Voting in Local Elections

The 2004 political reform has introduced party-list proportional representation instead of plurality voting in both parliamentary and local elections, i.e. independent candidates cannot nominate themselves for elections, only parties can. Given the extremely low political party membership and lack of ideological differences among them, the reform failed to fulfill its goal of accelerating the transition to an effective multiparty system. As the speaker Volodymyr Lytvyn notes15, manufacturing political parties has become a lucrative business for some people: they sell places on party lists to candidates who, in turn, agree to service their sponsors' interests. Thus, young and underprivileged (or truly public-spirited) candidates cannot stand even for local elections. Furthermore, inability of deputies to form a majority in local councils often stalls their work completely, since up to 40 tiny but very similar parties compete in small districts16. Thus, plurality voting in local elections should be reinstituted.

6. Ban on Paid Political Advertising

Political advertising calls attention to certain parties and candidates yet conveys surprisingly little information about their actual programs. Paid political advertising is banned in many Western liberal democracies (UK, Germany, France, Ireland, Sweden, Malta, Norway and Denmark, to name a few) as a discriminatory practice that gives rich and well-established parties

13 The website 'PolitiFact' is run by the St. Petersburg Times newspaper based in Florida. It aims to "sort out the truth in politics" and has won the Pulitzer Prize for its coverage of the 2008 election. See 'The Obameter: Tracking Obama's Campaign Promises', viewed on April 9, 2010, <http://www.politifact.com/truth-o-meter/promises> 14 V. Yanukovych, 'Ukraine for the people', October 26, 2009, viewed on June 2, <http://www.president.gov.ua/docs/udl_ua.pdf>15 Official website of the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine, 'Parliamentary hearings on reforming the legislation on local elections in the interests of local communities' (in Ukrainian), May 12, 2010, viewed on June 6, 2010, <http://www.rada.gov.ua/zakon/new/par_sl/sl120510.htm>16 Ibid.

unfair advantage over minority and recently created parties17. This practice should be prohibited in Ukraine for at least three reasons. Firstly, incumbent politicians often embezzle budget money to pay for their re-election campaigns. Secondly, political advertising engenders the power of industrial-financial groups and discourages new, young politicians and parties from entering the race. Finally, advertising creates an ignorant voter by turning citizens into passive consumers of flashy images and sound bites. The ban would make voters search for information themselves and read campaign manifestos. Also, politicians would rely more on old-fashioned campaign tactics, such as touring the country, giving speeches, soliciting support from advocacy groups and trade unions, and making themselves available through the Internet and public hearings. It would help politicians stay in touch with everyday concerns of their constituencies.

7. Teaching History of Political Thought

Ukrainian school leavers report lack of knowledge about how the political and party systems are organized, how NGOs function and how to participate in their activities, what taxes are levied on citizens, and how budgets are formed18. While there is a need to improve their competencies in these areas, it should be supplemented by educating them about major political ideologies from a socio-historical perspective. I have listened to a course of legal studies in high school, but the only thing I remember from those lessons is that parliaments can be either unicameral or bicameral.

A very welcomed EU-funded project introducing civic education in some schools has been recently implemented19. Yet without understanding cleavages between left and right (and green) - on social justice, redistribution, solidarity, and private property - students' participation in public life will remain only formal rather than substantive. This can already be seen in students' opinions about active citizenship. When asked what active citizenship entails, most of them name formal attributes of citizenship, such as defending one's rights and respecting rights of others (89 percent), following the law (78 percent), and honoring national symbols (75 percent). Very few mentioned substantive features of active citizenship, such as participation in self-governance (22 percent), civil disobedience (25 percent), and political party membership (11 percent)20 .

Educating students about ideologies that have had a considerable impact on the course of world history would, without doubt, ameliorate the situation and spark interest in politics. A practical way of doing so would be to invite representatives of political parties to schools and universities, making sure that every political force gets a chance to speak by applying the same rules as to allocation of public broadcast time.

17 E. Machet, 'Working Group 2: Political Advertising', 16th Meeting of the European Platform of Regulatory Authorities, Ljubljana, October 24-25, 2002, viewed on June 6, 2010, <www.epra.org/content/english/press/papers/EPRA200209.doc>18 Democratic Initiatives Foundation, 'Contemporaries of independent Ukraine: ideas, interests, and citizenship. Nationwide survey of 11th-graders' (in Ukrainian), December 10, 2008, viewed on June 7, 2010, <http://dif.org.ua/ua/poll >19 Cambridge Education Ltd., Step by Step Foundation, Deutsch Russisch Austausch, Center for Citizenship Education, 'Civic Education - Ukraine', August 2, 2008, viewed on June 5, 2010, <http://www.civiced.org.ua/eng/index.php>20 Democratic Initiatives Foundation, 'Contemporaries of independent Ukraine'…

8. Debate as a Tool for Citizen Education

In addition to history of political thought, students have to be knowledgeable about contemporary policy controversies. Introducing debate into high school and university curricula has proved an overwhelming success in many countries, most notably the U.S. Teaching argumentation, public speaking and critical thinking would make Ukrainian students more informed as citizens and more successful as future politicians. I took part in many international championships myself, which was an immense contribution to my personal development.

Topics debated at the last year's World Universities Debating Championship were whether to ban gambling, whether to allow publication of political opinion polls, whether quotas for domestic players in national football leagues should be introduced, whether the International Criminal Court should prosecute crimes against the democratic process, and whether governments should subsidize private home ownership21. These questions can easily become voting issues of the next elections in Western Europe or the U.S., but Ukrainians rarely stop and think about them. Debate is a powerful tool for encouraging young people to reflect upon moral, ethical and political dilemmas of our times.

9. Internships at Public Institutions in Ukraine

At the moment, a rather successful internship program that allows students and graduates to gain work experience at the Ukrainian parliament is being administered by USAID22 . However, the number of interns barely exceed 100 annually, and the stipend they receive is puny, EUR 80 a month for full-time and EUR 40 for part-time (before the crisis, the cost of living in Kyiv was the same as in Rome or Vienna23). For comparison, young Europeans can intern at the European Commission, EC delegations, the European Parliament, various committees and agencies, lobbies and political parties, offices of individual MEPs, and, in most cases, national parliaments and governments, receiving on average EUR 1000 a month.

In the Ukrainian context, the rationale behind expansion of the existing internship program is two-fold: firstly, it is a unique opportunity for young people to get a taste of life in politics and jumpstart a political career; secondly, having young people around might make seasoned politicians less prone to engage in murky schemes out of fear of disclosure.

Not only should the number of interns be increased but also the list of hosting institutions should be widened to include the Supreme Court of Ukraine, the National Bank, various agencies (such as State Statistics Committee of Ukraine or National Space Agency), and local governments. Political parties should also offer internships to attract students and recent graduates and establish well-functioning youth wings. This should be accompanied by raising the profile of the internship program: at the moment, only students of political science are aware of this opportunity. However, involving students of all specialties, especially technical ones, will

21 A. D. Mateo, 'Motions: 2009 WUDC', Debate and Issue 101, January 9, 2009, viewed June 6, 2010, <http://parliamentarydebate.blogspot.com/2009/01/motions-2009-wudc.html22 Internships Program at the Verkhovna Rada and central executive bodies of Ukraine (in Ukrainian), viewed June 6, 2010, <http://www.interns.org.ua>23 Kyiv Post, 'Rising Living Costs Place Kyiv High On List Of Expensive Cities', June 28, 2006, Kyiv Ukraine New Blog, viewed June 4, 2010, <http://news.kievukraine.info/2006/06/rising-living-costs-place-kyiv-high-on.html>

weaken the perception of politics as something too distant from real life. As Pierre Bourdieu24 argues, citizens' cynical views of politics are the consequence of the monopoly of professional politicians over the field. Furthermore, involving students and young professionals from a wide range of disciplines would allow the government to benefit from their technical expertise. This is the first step towards evidence-based policy.

10. Internships at European and International Institutions

Ukrainians could learn about good governance by interning at European or international institutions. While citizens of all countries are eligible for European Commission and European Parliament traineeships, the number of interns from outside the EU cannot exceed 5 percent of the intake. Under the existing scenario, Ukrainians compete for extremely scarce places with highly qualified students from around the entire world, including the U.S., Canada and Australia. If the EU is truly interested in spreading democracy and stability in its immediate neighborhood, a special quota for interns from the Easter Partnership25 countries should be introduced.

A similar situation is observed with NATO internships which are open only to nationals of the Alliance's member states. In special cases, citizens of Partnership for Peace (PfP) countries can apply, but their chances of acceptance are slim. As a consequence, Ukrainian youth is unaware of NATO's role in the post-Cold War world, which makes it easy for pro-Russian media to portray NATO as an aggressive bloc threatening Ukraine's security and sovereignty. Few know that NATO assists Ukraine in disaster management26 and finances its research institutes27. More internships at NATO and EU institutions would promote a more favorable image of these organizations and accelerate Ukraine's Euro-Atlantic integration.

It is particularly deplorable that Ukrainians cannot even intern at international NGOs since they need a work visa for that. Such visas are granted only if the applicant is to receive a living wage, something rarely offered by NGOs. Visa regulations for interns and hosting institutions should be relaxed.

11. Free Legal Advice for Youth

Young Ukrainians often fail to defend their rights at court simply because the costs of hiring a lawyer are prohibitively high. Unable to do so, they develop an impression that lawlessness reigns in Ukraine and start distrusting the legal system. Free legal help is available to young people in many developed countries, such as Denmark and Australia. Such advice can be provided by a Ukrainian youth NGOs, for example, by the Coordinating Council of Young Lawyers.

24 Cited in L. van Zoonen, Entertaining the citizen: when politics and popular culture converge, Rowman & Littlefield, Boulder, 2004.25 Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine. 26 Ukrainian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 'NATO-Ukraine cooperation in emergency situations' (in Ukrainian), viewed on June 10, 2010, <http://www.ukraine-nato.gov.ua/nato/ua/publication/content/16560.htm>27 Ukrainian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 'Civil dimension of NATO's activity in Ukraine' (in Ukrainian), viewed on June 10, 2010, < http://www.ukraine-nato.gov.ua/nato/ua/1543.htm>

A few concluding thoughts…

Of course, most of the solutions proposed in this essay are not entirely new; they have been tried and tested elsewhere. However, it is their combination that can address Ukraine's most pressing problems. The findings should be extrapolated to other post-Soviet counties with caution, since the situation in all of them is uniquely different.

Article name: Comprehensive Partnerships For A Real Democracy Politics essay, research paper, dissertation