Friday, November 25, 2005

Ukraine Struggles to Make Orange Revolution Work

KIEV, Ukraine -- One year after our Orange Revolution, many Ukrainians see its ideals as betrayed. Belief in a government answerable to the people and in a transparent market purged of insider dealing no longer guides government policy. Instead, the ideals for which we struggled appear as slogans invoked by those who want to protect their vested interests.

Yulia Tymoshenko (R) speaking at the first anniversary of the 'Orange Revolution'

Cynics explain this by saying that our "Orange" ideals were never anything but the rationalizations of one set of oligarchs struggling to overthrow another. Once masters of the situation, it is said, the zeal of those who promised reform mutated into a zeal to preserve their private wealth and that of their friends.

How did Ukraine reach this state of cynicism? A year ago, everyone gathered in the streets of Kiev knew what we were standing up against: a corrupt government that sought to command life and labor, and to dispose of state property, at its will. In so far as formal legal rights existed, no court could be relied upon to enforce those rights when our rulers saw their interests as challenged.

In evicting that regime, we believed that this form of absolutism was ended. Instead, those who benefited from the regime's corruptions insisted that their rights to the property they had stolen were inviolate. These crony capitalists argue that, if they were left alone to develop their assets, they would make the country prosperous. Tamper with property, no matter how ill-gotten, and no investor will have confidence, they claim.

That is the oldest excuse to justify wrongdoing: The end justifies the means. But power -- be it political or economic -- without legitimate origins is arbitrary. An economy that appears arbitrary and illegitimate in the eyes of the majority of people may, for a time, run on the false confidence of easy profits. Corruption, however, is inevitable because the rule of law, which is the market's ultimate guarantor, depends on the consent of all its participants and their belief in its core fairness.

A radical lawlessness was at the heart of Ukraine's privatization process. So we must not be tricked by the fact that those who gained economic power by looting state assets now employ lawyers, invoke free market nostrums, and claim to follow the letter of the law. For there is such a thing as a lawless legality. It is found when governments deny that in making or interpreting laws, they are bound by the spirit of the law.

In this respect, the oligarchs and their political placemen who insist that their right to stolen property is sacred make the same crude claim as the regime that we overthrew: that they have an indefeasible right to the exercise of power. They reject the principle that there is a law which is superior to presidents, magnates, majorities, or mobs. If their claim is upheld, then the cynics are right: Our revolution was merely about whether one class or another, one person or another, would obtain the power to work his or her will.

Endorsing the claim to arbitrary power is the cardinal heresy of those who say we should certify property stolen from the state as rightfully owned. I call this a heresy because it rejects the supremacy of equality under law and proclaims the supremacy of particular men. This is alien to any and all concepts of liberty. It is the legalism of the barbarian, and the nihilist philosophy that everyone has in reaction against the coming of political and economic liberty to Ukraine.

Legal primitives are not alone in embracing this stance. Many economists also believe that ownership of stolen goods must be recognized. They liken the transition from communism to the state of nature described by John Locke. So they imagine the property rights acquired through cronyism, nepotism and backroom dealing as somehow emerging from a Lockean realm of freedom. When my government questioned this assumption, they cried out that this was interference by the state with legitimate property rights.

Another group also succumbed to this delusion. Some who a year ago displayed great public spirit came to feel, when in government, that they could not vindicate the supremacy of law without curtailing economic growth. Because the grind of government can obscure enduring principle, people inspired by the best motives now find themselves on the same side as their criminal adversaries. They have, I believe, lost their way and taken a path that can only lead back to the supremacy of arbitrary power.

Indeed, the denial that men may be arbitrary is the higher law by which we must govern. Without this conviction the letter of the law is nothing but a mask for bureaucratic caprice and authoritarian will. For when people do not believe that their government adheres to this higher spirit of law, no Constitution is worth the paper it is written on; no business transaction is safe.

For maintaining a constitutional order and viable free market requires an intuitive dislike of arbitrariness, a sensitivity to its manifestations, and spontaneous resistance.

This was why my government sought to recover stolen state property. By doing so, and then auctioning that property in a transparent manner, Ukrainians saw that arbitrary action could be redressed, that the rule of law applied to the powerful as well as the weak.

The lesson is clear: If a president may not act willfully, arbitrarily, by personal prerogative, then no one may. Ministers may not. Parliament may not. Majorities may not. Individuals may not. Crowds may not. Only by adhering to this higher law will Ukraine develop the consciousness of law that true liberty demands.

By identifying the law with their vested rights, the oligarchs who have [for now] derailed the ideals of the Orange Revolution sought to shield their own interests from challenge. But because men pervert a truth, there is no reason to abandon it.

If, as we were taught by Marx, belief in a higher law is a mixture of sentimentality, superstition and unconscious rationalizations, then the predations that incited the Orange Revolution are in reality the only possible conditions in which we can live. We must give up the hope of liberty within an ordered society and market and resign ourselves to that interminable war of all against all of which Hobbes spoke.

Indeed, the policies now being offered seem hostile to the ideals of our Orange Revolution. We are asked to choose between social solidarity and economic growth. To escape from want we are told, we must embrace illegality. To promote truth, we are told that old crimes must not be examined.

These choices are as false as they are intolerable. Yet these are the choices offered by our influential doctrinaires. But to see these as Ukraine's only options is to mistake weariness for wisdom, and to be discouraged rather than to understand. For the search for law has an irresistible energy. No human obstruction can long withstand it. Though we may take a step back now and then, only by adhering to this higher law can Ukraine achieve freedom and prosperity for all. Achieve it we will.

Source: Yulia Tymoshenko

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