Have Ukrainians been fooled again? Rarely are the aspirations of a revolution fulfilled overnight. There are plenty of recent examples to prove that and it appears that Ukraine’s Maidan Revolution ranks among them. Chief editor Gary Lakes reports on a new study from a US democracy-building NGO suggesting that Ukrainians are not happy with the results of the Maidan, or with their new pro-Western leaders. Ukrainians first thought they had dealt with their problems in the 2004 Orange Revolution, but corrupt officials and oligarchs continue to call the tune.
UKRAINIANS do not believe the aspirations of the 2014 Maidan Revolution have been fulfilled and, in addition, most think the present political leadership lacks any commitment to solid reforms that would eliminate the country’s deep-seated corruption. This is the gloomy conclusion of a poll that the Washington-based International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES) conducted in September. However, a majority of the people do remain committed to steering the country on a democratic track based on the rule of law.
The study, Two Years after Maidan: Ukrainians Committed to Democracy, Disappointed with Unmet Aspirations, polled a sample of 1,558 people across Ukraine (Donbas and Crimea excluded). Ukrainian aspirations still “reflect a liberal political order that values closer relations with Europe, public affairs conducted with integrity, and democracy and rule of law in the country,” according to the study which was done with the help of the Kiev International Institute of Sociology (KIIS).
It listed the top three aims of the Maidan as cutting corruption (60 percent), integration with Europe (54 percent) and limiting the influence of oligarchs (44 percent).
President Petro Poroshenko and Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk entered their respective offices on a post-revolutionary high with pledges to achieve those high aspirations. But the promises have failed to materialize, leaving critics to wonder if both leaders are too embedded in Ukraine’s traditional culture of patronage and corruption to initiate any changes. Oligarchs have controlled the Ukrainian economy and politics since the dissolution of the Soviet Union and, sidestepping the revolution, they continue to run the show with no sign that either Poroshenko or Yatsenyuk can break the mold.
Before local elections in Ukraine on October 25 Western media reported that few parties were walking naively into the election. Oligarchs and powerfully connected business groups continued their old tricks, including openly buying votes. Ukraine ranks 142 out of 175 countries listed on Transparency International’s 2014 corruption index, scoring 26 out of 100.
“The fact that at least a plurality of Ukrainians remains committed to the realization of these ideals is indicative of the significant changes that Maidan, at least theoretically, made possible,” the report says. “But the survey data indicates that the lack of realization of these changes combined with the economic situation in the country have contributed to a consistent, slow erosion in the initial positive momentum that was seen in Ukrainian public opinion on heightened hopes for political and social reform after Maidan.”
It suggests that unless significant efforts are made to address important issues, momentum will be lost and the country will slide back into the cynicism and political disenchantment common before 2014.
The data the survey collected indicates that the political and economic ineptitude is wearing Ukrainians down, crushing their faith in democracy. This new study shows 49 percent of those polled saying democracy is preferable to any other form of government, compared to 65 percent who expressed this opinion in a September 2014 study. But the study concluded that 41 percent of Ukrainians may be characterized as “strong democrats.”
The previous IFES study from a year ago reported that 42 percent believed Ukraine was headed in the wrong direction. That jumped to 56 percent in this latest survey, with a mere 20 percent of Ukrainians saying the country is on the right path.
As for corruption, 40 percent of Ukrainians said they had paid a bribe for a public service or to avoid a fine in the past 12 months. The most common form of bribe (32 percent said) was paid at a hospital or clinic and 58 percent of people consider corruption a fact of life. However, in 2011 71 percent of people polled stated this, suggesting that Ukrainians are increasingly unwilling to accept “the fact” and that perhaps there are slight improvements.
On politics, 49 percent of Ukrainians preferred closer relations with Europe, against 8 percent who preferred closer relations with Russia – 64 percent have a positive view of the European Union. On NATO, 45 percent have a positive view, but nearly as many are negative.
Only 12 percent have a positive view of Russian leadership, and 68 percent are negative. “Positive views on Russia’s leadership are at their lowest level in two years,” the study says. But the most disconcerting attitude may be the significant lack of confidence Ukrainians have in their own leaders.
Only 32 percent of those questioned expressed confidence in President Poroshenko, compared to 62 percent who expressed a lack of confidence. This is a setback from the 69 percent who were confident of him last year’s survey. Yatsenyuk has lost considerable ground – confidence in him has plunged to 20 percent from 60 percent a year ago. These are worrying statistics for a supposedly transformative leadership in power for less than two years. Even worse, Ukrainians no longer believe the leaders can live up to the revolution’s aspirations or carry out reforms.
Instead, a significant 72 percent of Ukrainians believe that a whole new generation of leaders, who are not tied to the status quo, will be needed to address their aspirations and reform the nation.