Only experienced liars will now speak confidently about what awaits Ukraine after the presidential election. The unknown is scary, but such is the price of democracy. Attempts to build a tsardom of stability and predictability a-la Belarus in Ukraine have failed bitterly. Anyone dreaming of restoring the might of the Power of Regions 0r a return of Azarov and Yanukovych is wrong: such a scenario can only repeat in a farcical form. A judge can be found who will come up with a justification of such return, but this scenario is highly unlikely to happen in practice. Any of these political emigrants would get a bad welcome at any of Ukraine’s airports. Politicians can establish whatever coalitions they want and accept any compromises: Ukraine’s civil society will remain the key safeguard against their miscalculations.
It is imperfect, fragmented and squabbling, but it is here. It’s something like Makhno’s army – dispersed in quiet times, it quickly mobilizes in the face of the first threat. Civil society was not stronger under Yanukovych than it is today, yet it proved itself in the best way possible during the Maidan. Unfortunately, Ukraine has failed to build strong institutions in the past five years that could check and balance the ill-thought through activity of the president elected “as a joke”. Because of this, the street remains the most effective factor. The next president will have to consider this and refrain from putting things like the geopolitical vector, humanitarian policy or concessions to the enemy at risk. Regardless of what their supporters are saying on social media. Five years of Ukraine’s fight give no reason to question the purpose of the sacrifices, and there will be plenty of people ready to remind anyone of this.
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The street factor is not a simple one. Enemies will try to use it wherever possible, but for a different reason: to destabilize Ukraine to the point where the “Putin, bring in your army” slogan will sound as convincing as possible. It is quite possible that the elections, or more precisely the pretence fight against falsifications, can become a prologue to such a scenario. In reality, pro-Russian forces were never good at street protests. Examples include the anti-Maidan with the people corralled into it, and the failed “Russian spring” where no “tourists” from Russian cities were brought in or Russian soldiers badly disguised as local self-defense forces. So, such “exports of revolutions” are only possible with holes in Ukraine-Russia border. In this sense, Ukraine’s hope lies with the border guard, the Security Bureau of Ukraine, the National Guard, territorial defense and the Armed Forces. While the chiefs of law enforcement agencies plunge into the political struggle and ride the wave of opportunism, units on the ground have enough patriotic soldiers and officers who remember about their duty and their allegiance to the state.
The media will remain. We carry the huge burden of responsibility. We can point to the flaws in the work of the state, or the Ministry of Information to be more precise. But people read, listen and watch specific mass media, not ministerial reports. In 2014, Ukraine’s information space was filled with stories of our soldiers, volunteers and IDPs. Today, the media mostly broadcast brief reports from the military headquarters in their daily news. This is especially true of television where comedians, psychics, models and dancers have replaced people in uniforms in prime time. It is easy to understand rhetoric about how the introduction of martial law could damage Ukraine’s economic situation, already difficult enough. But it would definitely sober up the media community. It’s not about censorship bringing some positive fruit in the country (although we could endure it for some time in order to clear up the media space from the mouthpieces of the fifth column, including outlets like Vesti, 112 or NewsOne. It’s about shifting accents to the understanding that war is the top theme in the country from discussions about whether it’s acceptable to combine concerts in Russia and representation of Ukraine in Eurovision. The media have seriously contributed to the fact that people who have not heard the artillery but “have grown tired of war” by making news from the frontline something not much more important than weather forecast. For the audience whose main source of information is TV (which is true for most Ukrainians, sociological surveys say), the war is something that’s not really about us, so why not vote as a joke? Still, there are other media who put values first and prices second. Even if their audience is small, they have gone through serious challenges and have developed good resilience.
Ukraine’s western partners will welcome any candidate who wins the election fairly. They will not voice the slightest concern if Ukraine’s new leader is not determined in the policy of European integration. If he hints at the possibility of returning to the orbit of Russian influence, many will meet that intention with relief, naively believing that Vladimir Putin can be appeased. Populists are actively fanning up the myth of involving London and Washington to the Minsk format. The task is to make people believe that Donald Trump and Theresa May will rush to Ukraine to sign a peace agreement, bringing Putin along, as soon as they head the name of the new president of Ukraine. Part of Ukrainian voters have no doubts about this. In reality, Ukraine can count on countries like Lithuania as allies – the countries that fully feel the nature of Russia’s threat.
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A lot of homework on decolonization remains unfinished. The return of the seemingly toothless Svaty (In-Laws) series to Ukrainian television can be followed by the rehabilitation of a series of good old soviet films. Then a discussion will emerge about the purpose of renaming streets. Then, “the language you speak does not matter”. It’s very easy to lose position in the humanitarian space when immunity against imperial influences in the country is not strong enough. If the president has no antibodies to attack this virus, it will affect the entire government apparatus while the enemy will get an upper hand in doing whatever it deems necessary to restore “historical justice” and geopolitical balance. In order to prevent the relapse of the colonial disease, Ukraine needs to preserve those who are currently implementing decolonization and desovietization policies. If the president tries to undermine those, civil society will have to block such efforts.
The end of the election cycle will not bring forth calm and wealthy time. We have done too little for that. Whatever the outcome of the presidential race is, every committed citizen will have loads of work to do. But Ukrainians were always known for being hard-working, especially when they work for themselves.
Translated by Anna Korbut