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Ilya Valeryevich Yashin

Ilya Valeryevich YashinYashin

Overthrow in Ukraine

After the violent escalation in Kiev, Viktor Yanukovych and the political opposition agreed on a compromise. But now, Yanukovych has been overthrown. However, nothing will change in Ukrainian domestic politics – or will it? A background article by Stefan Bernhardt

Since Viktor Yanukovych was elected president in 2010, routine news on protests against the government decreased. Ever since the Orange Revolution, however, each government had to face public anger eventually. Now it has happened to Yanukovych himself. His inept maneuvers during the Maidan protests in 2014, as well as the violent radicalization on protestor and government side, ultimately led to his downfall – despite a compromise after the violent seizure of the Maidan in Kiev with many deaths.

The Ukrainian parliament has unseated him with votes of his own Party of Regions. A transitional government has been designated. An interim president has been elected. Yulia Tymoshenko has been set free and Yanukovych has fled. For Ukraine, it could be the longed-for turning point in its politics, while Brussels simply hopes for a pro-Western government and Moscow fears a turning away of Ukraine.

The problem of political culture


Each and every government since the Orange Revolution had to deal with heavy protests of the people – regardless of which political camp it belonged to –, one must ask what change a new government, a new president or a new parliament can hope to achieve. All of this has happened often enough in Ukraine during the last decade. Nothing has changed; despite new parties and new faces, the political culture has always remained the same.

Too many Ukrainian politicians and oligarchs regard politics as a means of self-enrichment, supplying close companions or destructive expansion of power – at the cost of the people. This is why, during the last ten years, people have taken to the streets over and over again. Whether something will change after the protests in 2014 cannot be answered yet, but the circumstances are giving change a chance. The dead on the Maidan and the violent radicalization on each side showed the politicians and oligarchs, firstly, how far people are now willing to go and, secondly, how fast the situation can escalate.

The new danger from the right


A thus far underestimated force – during the last protests, too – are nationalists like Svoboda or the Right Sector. Vitali Klitschko’s party UDAR and Tymoshenko’s Bloc were only two of the larger opposition groups during the protests. In the forthcoming elections in Ukraine, it is possible that the nationalists will gain strength. This scenario must be dealt with since the nationalists’ role in Ukraine is not insignificant anymore.

A strengthening of the nationalists would be especially disastrous as far as domestic politics is concerned. This would particularly affect the Russian minority in Ukraine. Under Viktor Yushchenko already it was tried to take away the rights of the Russian minority. The transition government's first legislative draft to abolish Russian as a second national language shows the nationalists' potential political direction is targeted and that they are not aware of the country’s unstable situation. Such a proposal could only aggravate the Crimea crisis. The withdrawal of the proposition came far too late, too. The nationalists' call to arms, and the first violent clashes between them and the Russian minority fearing for its rights, reveal the dangers.

All's well that ends well?

Even though Ukrainian politics have shown what constant corruption and self-enrichment can lead to, it is unclear whether the responsible politicians will take necessary actions – one can hope so for the sake of the Ukrainian people. The present presidential candidates do not allow for positive conclusions, either. Yulia Tymoshenko showed that she is just as corrupt and power-hungry as Yanukovych or others. Vitali Klitschko, in contrast, is for many people still too new in politics to be judged – which is, however, also the reason why he has at least the greatest potential for positive change.

The problem of how the Ukrainian state and society will deal with the nationalists, on the other hand, has by now become one of the most important questions of inner politics. A country with a large Russian minority remains unstable if it makes Russia the stereotypical enemy since it excludes a large part of its own population. While the problem of political culture has a chance for a solution for the first time, nationalism is a new and difficult challenge for Ukraine.