Serhiy Zhadan: Given the current situation in Ukraine, is anyone still laughing?

Activists in Kyiv hold a rally - “Don’t cross the red line!” - warning authorities not to cross certain limits, Kyiv, July 4, 2019 

Op-ed, Politics, Ukraine

Article by: Serhiy Zhadan – poet, writer, translator, public activist

Today, everyone’s talking about revanchism/revenge. Some are shouting slogans hysterically, at the top of their voice; others are making loud public comments and speeches with undisguised sarcasm and glee. Messages are regularly posted about the triumphant return of some shadowy political figure who should have been jailed five years ago; our information space is constantly inundated with news about yet another betrayal. We could, perhaps, dismiss these manifestations if they were not based on real and concrete cases.

Today, Ukraine is a poorly governed country. The euphoria triggered by the results of the presidential elections and a “new face” in Ukrainian politics seems to be declining. Instead, there’s a general feeling that the president can’t control the situation, and things are going from bad to worse.

It’s absolutely clear that these weaknesses are under particularly close scrutiny by political personalities that “have been lying in ambush” for the past five years, waiting for the slightest opportunity to jump back into the political arena. It’s also clear that they will now make the utmost of their opportunity. Therefore, you needn’t be a great expert to predict that revanchism (in all its possible manifestations – from the rehabilitation of “Yanukovych’s friends” to teleconferences and shows with Russia) will be used to provoke and destabilize our society. Against this backdrop, I fear that any progressive initiatives undertaken by the presidential team will simply be lost. Ukraine now needs some quick answers to security issues, which, to a large extent, relate to our country’s actual existence. The absence of clear signals from the Presidential Administration (or should I call it the Office of the President?)* will contribute to growing dissatisfaction with the president himself.

(*President Zelenskyy renamed the Presidential Administration, changing it to the Presidents Office, according to a presidential decree signed on June 10, 2019-Ed.)

But, can we expect a clear-cut position from the new authorities? No, for the simple reason that they don’t have, and have never had, a clear position, a defined strategy. They have made a lot of noise about their “predecessors”, and many populist statements about ceasing fire in Donbas and fighting against bribery and corruption. In general, everything seems pretty straightforward for them. Therefore, any attempt to declare the president’s position, any attempt to act and turn words into deeds will lead to great disappointment as Ukrainians will gradually realize that their expectations have yet to be fulfilled. The more disappointed Ukrainians become, the more the president will try to hide behind a team of very curious individuals who often make contradictory declarations.

It can be assumed that, despite the relatively short period of rule, President Zelenskyy’s new party – (in fact, a collection of random individuals standing for parliamentary elections in the president’s name) has already lost.

During the rally – “Running out of patience!” – against pro-Russian revanchist tactics in Ukraine. Kyiv, July 2, 2019

Some Ukrainians (let’s call them citizens with pro-Russian views) will finally understand that the Kremlin will not go for any kind of “middle ground compromise” in their negotiations with Ukraine, so it’s better for them to place their bets on the fifth column in Ukraine (there are more than enough of these people lurking in the background).

Patriotic Ukrainians, who took a neutral position in the presidential elections or supported the “people’s choice”, as they were ready to vote for “anyone, but Poroshenko”, have realized that this “young team” has not yet addressed any important issues relating to democracy. So far, it’s been all about dubious staff postings, personnel policy, suspicious party lists and a rather vague foreign policy.

Therefore, with regard to the threat of revenge, I believe that Ukrainians should rely solely on themselves. The president’s position is similar to the case in Kharkiv – renaming Hryhorenko Avenue back to Zhukov Avenue*. I mean, we should figure it out by ourselves! After all, isn’t every man the architect of his own fortune? Don’t expect the president to interfere! In the end, let’s call a spade a spade! Not only did President Zelenskyy fail to clarify his position on this case, but he also avoided any opportunities to influence the situation. In fact, he washed his hands of the whole business. He probably thinks that it’s the best he can do, but it’s difficult for us to imagine what this helpless president will be like in the next five years.

(*In May 2016, the head of the Kharkiv Regional State Administration signed an order on renaming several landmarks pursuant to the law on decommuniztion. In particular, it provided for renaming Marshal Zhukov Avenue (a Soviet Russian war general) to Petro Hryhorenko Avenue (a Soviet general, human rights activist who defended the Crimean Tatars and other deported peoples). On June 19, 2019, deputies of the Kharkiv City Council, supported by Kharkiv Mayor Hennadiy Kernes, voted to rename Petro Hryhorenko Avenue back to Marshal Georgy Zhukov Avenue-Ed.)

During a rally at the Presidential Administration against “Capitulation and revenge of the pro-Russian forces in Ukraine”. The poster reads: “I don’t need the Russian World! I want Ukraine’s victory!”, Kyiv, June 10, 2019

I believe that the tension in society will not go away… neither at the end of the parliamentary elections nor after the “new power vertical” has been fully erected. For the simple reason that it’s quite obvious that the parameters of this vertical are inadmissible for the Ukrainians who voted against any “middle ground compromise” in negotiations with Russia.

There’s nothing funny about this and nobody’s laughing…

Translated by: Christine Chraibi
Source: Radio Liberty

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