Saturday, March 24, 2007

It’s A Circus

KIEV, Ukraine -- This week’s approval of a foreign minister following months of stalemate may initially appear to be a victory for political unity in Ukraine’s otherwise divided parliamentary arena.

Viktor Yanukovych

But don’t be fooled! Ukrainian politics continues to be conducted in backroom dealings. At best, the spectacle of bipartisan consensus can be characterized by outsiders as a circus act.

Without a doubt, Ukraine’s reputation has suffered due to the months-long tussle to control the Foreign Ministry.

In act one of this show, we witnessed how Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych’s governing coalition, viewed as pro-Moscow by many, ousted pro-Western Foreign Minister Borys Tarasyuk.

Ukraine’s increasingly sidelined president, Viktor Yushchenko, cried foul, arguing that foreign policy was the president’s domain, including ministerial appointments.

Yet Yushchenko’s efforts to reverse or prevent the dismissal were fruitless, much like his poor record of implementing political reforms, the fate of which seems already written into a script.

Months of wrangling over the Foreign Ministry has left many diplomats in town wondering who is in charge and where they are taking Ukraine.

The unfortunate reality seems to be that nobody is in charge and there is no master plan.

It’s just a messy democracy, or more accurately, a cutthroat wrestling match over power, with national interests as one of the cards on the table.

This week’s approval as Foreign Minister of Arseniy Yatsenyuk, who beat out a clearly qualified career diplomat, Volodymyr Ohryzko, is perfect evidence backing this unfortunate, yet accurate analogy.

With more than 20 years of experience in diplomacy, Ohryzko was the obvious choice.

Yet for Yanukovych’s coalition, he wasn’t acceptable, as he was caught speaking Ukrainian, the state language, to Russian counterparts.

Their opposition to Ohryzko is ridiculous and likely nothing more than a symbolic show of force.

Ironically, Yanukovych’s coalition wasted little time this week endorsing the candidacy of Yatsenyuk, despite his lack of diplomatic experience.

Yatsenyuk, who until recently served as deputy head of the president’s Secretariat, is not a bad candidate. The 32-year-old is young, but has a lot of experience, mostly in banking and economics, not diplomacy.

His sharp English-language skills do not alone make him a diplomat more qualified than Ohryzko. Yanukovych’s coalition, which was initially stunned by Yatsenyuk’s nomination and questioned his experience, has little chance of explaining their logic, or lack thereof.

Such decision-making is more of what Ukraine has been getting lately – inconsistent, unprofessional and not good for the country.

One theory is that the coalition agreed to Yatsenyuk’s candidacy for fear that Yushchenko would dissolve parliament in retaliation for parliament’s inability to form a fully-seated Cabinet.

Yushchenko’s representative in parliament warned that the president would have this card at his disposal within days, yet we are inclined to doubt that Yanukovych fears repercussion, as it is the president who has shown himself the more hesitant, incapable of taking a stand.

His motto has been to maintain stability and rule of law, both of which are important and lacking in Ukraine.

In fact, however, Yushchenko has to take some of the blame for the lawless tendencies spreading through the country like a cancer.

In recent weeks, he has refused to abide by a Supreme Court ruling that cancelled his decision last year to replace the governor of Kyiv Region, putting a closer ally in place.

This is not a good example, unlike Yushchenko, and worrying. Maybe his candidate for Kyiv Region governor is the better choice, but Ukraine’s highest court clearly ruled that the firing of the previous one was illegal.

In case Yushchenko forgot, Ukraine’s Constitution requires him and all citizens to abide by court rulings, particularly Supreme Court decisions that can’t be appealed.

The decision-making in Ukraine’s echelons of power, particularly the appointment of top officials, is, indeed, more of a circus act.

The question is who is balancing themselves on the ropes, whether they will fall, and if there is a safety net this time around to catch them.

Moscow is watching, and possibly orchestrating this show, which is leaving Ukraine once again divided and susceptible to hegemony.

Ukraine’s divided politicians must get their act together soon, showing some consideration for their fans, for national interests. If not, the seats might end up empty, or the fans could steal the show as they did in the Orange Revolution.

Source: Kyiv Post

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