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Monday, July 31, 2006

Roundtable Talks Stall on Rough Edges and Soft Utopianism

In a series of powwows continuing well into night, President Yushchenko and parliamentary leaders are toiling to put a handle on a Pandora’s Box of disputes arising from the newly-emerged “anticrisis” coalition.

A cadre of guest speakers attended the opening session, including the founding fathers of Ukrainian democracy such as Leonid Kravchuk, Ukraine’s first President (1991-94), and Ivan Plyushch, Speaker of the VR (1991-94). Also present were renowned poets and academics.

Former President Kuchma was conspicuous by his absence. Kuchma fans watching the live broadcast surely missed out on all the fun he would bring to it. After being a decade of being a captive audience to the genius of Kuchma’s eloquence and insightfulness, the loss they’ve felt is irreparable. Sad enough, except for occasional sightings, the retired pastor seems to shun his quondam parish.

The “salt of the earth” took turns in speaking their minds and troubleshooting hot issues. Each belted a song of his own, replete with barbs and rambling lectures.
Naturally, opinions ranged between two poles. Whether he likes it or not, the President should take the “anticrisis” coalition as a given argued the pro-acceptance school of thought. In contrast, the pro-abstinence school of thought suggested that the President disband Parliament. As expected, prospective membership in NATO and the status of the Russian language became instant sticking points.

Yushchenko stood his ground on these key issues, projecting an image of a tough negotiator. Tymo cruised around in a combative mood, while Yanuke, navigated the conciliatory harbor. Later, his fellow Regs bewailed Yushchenko’s “bait-and-switch” tactics. They expressed disappointment over the President’s demands, which they consider grossly out of proportion with NSNU’s election score. Also, the pointed out that the resolution being drafted, known as the Universal of National Unity, makes no mention of Yanukovych’s Premiership. The Universal owes its name to a series of four declarations (Universals) issued by the government of the UNR, the short-lived independent Ukrainian state squashed by Lenin.

Needless to say, the show sent Maidaners wondering what this was all about. A desensitization infomercial from Yushchenko’s PR shamans? A preamble to the NSNU-PRU prenup agreement, under the guise of piecing together the East and the West? Now that Washington’s eyes are glued to the war between Israel and Lebanon, could it be just an eyewash meant to sweet-talk the Orange audience into believing that this is how things should be?

Where does the government-opposition fault line lie? Is it in terms of issues, in terms of the election results, or in terms of fear of losing power? If NSNU’s joining the “anticrisis” coalition is about national unity, then why does it split the Orange Revolution — the very engine that brought NSNU to power? Two steps forward, three steps back. Welcome to the schizophrenic world of the Orange Counter-Revolution.

Anyway, the talks will resume Tuesday, August 1. This day will mark the 15th anniversary of the notorious “Chicken Kiev” address Bush Sr. delivered during his visit to the capital of then Soviet Ukraine. For those who vaguely remember it, listen to this: “Freedom is not the same as independence; Americans will not support those who seek independence in order to replace a far-off tyranny with a local despotism." Can anybody imagine that this piece Moscow-centric garbage that flies in the face of Wilsonianism actually came from the pen of Condi Rice?

Karmically speaking, the Universal exemplifies the worst of branding choices, considering how the UNR had fared. Why not call it the Universal of National Utopia? The UNR government, run by Socialists, had naively relied on the assumption that the dictatorship of the proletariat would not attack a socialist democracy.

Ukraine remains one of the few nations in the democratic universe where the opposition and the government can’t settle their identities. The Snoozes (NSNU) seem to be lost in the Peter Pan-like fantasy of squaring the circle, keeping the West while shacking up with the PRU. It’s this misguided dreaming, not the Regs’ (Regionalists) dominance itself, that makes this country vulnerable to outside influence.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Format C:oalition
Operation Reg Roulette, or How the Socialists Scammed the Selfish

Just when the would-be government and opposition seemed to have reached a win-win solution, lifting the rostrum blockade and averting mass starvation, something else kicked in. Having co-opted Socialist leader Oleksander Moroz as the Trojan Horse, the Regionalists mounted a surprise counteroffensive that redrew the battlefield to their advantage. These strange bedfellows overran the fledgling ego-sandbagged Orange coalition in a brilliant backstage maneuver (read: backstab), a feat that qualifies Mr. Moroz for Con Artist of the Year.

Ecstatic about the course of events in Kyiv was Viktor Medvedchuk, a well-known friend of Russia and the man whose media management skills had worked wonders when he served as Kuchma’s Chief of Staff. From the golden resorts of Monte Carlo, Mr. Medvedchuk blew kisses to his home, sweet home. Needless to say, the Russian Duma, jumped for joy. Russian MPs hailed the freshly-minted Ukrainian Speaker Moroz and “eulogized” the demise of the Orange Revolution. Bursting with candor, Russian Vice Speaker Vladimir Zhirinovsky, the son of a Ukrainian-born Jew, carried the point further. He used the occasion to unshelf his blueprint for better bilateral relations, which, far from being innovative, prescribes partitioning Ukraine into East and West.

Nothing better defines the geopolitical slant of the Socialist scam in Ukraine than this instant rash of endorsements from Russia and friends. Bravo, Mr. Putin! On the eve of the G8 summit in St. Petersburg, the freedom-loving people of Ukraine are sending you a hilarious shipment of joke fodder with which to regale your powerful guests. Less than two years after you prematurely congratulated him, your man regains his potency. What could be more debilitating to critics of Russia’s foreign policy than news of Ukraine reorienting itself on its own volition?

Ukraine’s Burning Questions
It’s the butt of Puttie’s jokes who populate the questions Ukraine’s struggling with. Now that Operation Reg Roulette has sunk the Orange Fleet to the bottom of political food chains, the castaways have a lot of homework to do.

1. Will the austerities they face help BYuT and NSNU rekindle togetherness and regroup into opposition?

2. Or will NSNU, a longtime PRU seductee, leave BYuT stranded and join the club (read: couch), in a departure from their caucus’s preliminary decision to seek repeat elections?

3. What position would NSNU enjoy in this arrangement?

4. Will Yanukovych become PM?

5. If BYuT and NSNU stick together, to what extent will PRU headhunters succeed at Balkanizing them, apart from the several “free radicals” whose voting patterns already smack of defection?

6. Will the powers that be (read: pirates) preserve all the privileges granted to the opposition?

7. What are the pros and cons of disbanding Parliament and are there enough grounds?

Tymo out of a Limo
Obviously, no one feels more upset in the new world order than Tymoshenko. The Joan of Arc of Ukrainian politics still has to recover from the shock of having to kiss good-bye to the prized PM position. There she is — all dressed up and nowhere to go, back to square one. If NSNU, driven by its financial faction, dives into the PRU-SPU-CPU loveshack, she will find herself booked in the Orange Orphanage. Now hear this! In his recent interview, Kuchma, the poltergeist of Ukrainian politics, gave his hearty welcome to this ménage a quatre concept.

Anyway, when the chips are down, such a scenario will only remind her of the fighter that she is. Let there be no doubt: The lady who flies like a butterfly and stings like a bee will make the best of it. Sooner or later, through her endless energy, and with the influx of frustrated NSNU electorate, she’ll break the walls and she’ll take no hostages. This one goes to you, President Yushchenko.

One way to look at her present station is to isolate her own political genes that had contributed to it.

She built her parliamentary campaign around contrasting her virtues with the vices of NSNU tycoons. So restless was her quest for premiership that it lured her into a “one vote stand” with the PRU on a gas-related vote of no confidence to the Yekhanurov Cabinet. At that point, it appeared that her loyalty to the Orange Revolution was gone with the gas.

Right from the start, she knew that the vote would have no legal effect, as the law required that the Cabinet carry on until May. She desired differentiation — a dose of publicity that would favorably set her apart from the shadow of the dominant NSNU brand. That’s where she got carried away. The ‘traitor’ effect she achieved mired her so badly that she took pains to re-Orangize herself. Despite the relative success her after-action whitewashing had with voters, the move had become just another poisoned arrow that exacerbated her ailing relations with NSNU.

Once again, the bad blood between the Orange guys, at work since the Tymoshenko Cabinet’s dismissal, codified the rules of engagement: It’s OK to dump each other. Instead of resolving their differences and reaching out for each other, the Orange Revolutionaries held each other at gunpoint, shredding that very special something they shared.

Bonnie (Tymo) and Clyde (Moro)
In the Speaker tryouts, Tymoshenko stood firmly behind Moroz, and both did their best to keep Poroshenko at bay. Both sought to relive the glory of their past — Moroz as Speaker, Tymoshenko as Premier — all of which made them a tightly knit support group bent on securing those cherished second-coming experiences. But their folie a duex similarity ends right there — once the numbers take center stage. While Tymo garnered a juicy 22.29 percent of the vote, Moro netted a meager 5.69 percent. Statistically speaking, the Socialists hungered for Speakership with a tenacity unmatched by their electoral market share.

As the coalition talks neared breakdown, Moroz, knowing that the ball was in his court, seemed to have changed his ways. tradeoffs, he inked a coalition compact with BYuT and NSNU that irrevocably entitled NSNU to the Speaker’s position and thereby lay to rest his overly ambitious claims.

Contrary to the impression he had created, no sooner had the ink dried than Moroz began openly expressing his voir dire reservations about Poroshenko and demanded his replacement. Rumors of PRU-SPU flirtations regarding the vote on Speaker leaked to the press. In response to this dangerous undercurrent, Poroshenko, the scandal scarred NSNU candidate who claims being the victim of a smear campaign, pressed the Socialists’ to honor commitments spelled out in the compact. Even Tymo, who may have silently reveled in the thought of Poro’s replacement, refused to get embroiled.

The Countdown Begins
At the opening of the Rada’s morning session on Thursday, July 6, a day that will live in infamy, Tymo exuded confidence and excitement. The femme fatale unveiled a 50-50 plan that lavished on the opposition as many as 15 committees, or half of the total number. These pockets of power covered banking and finances, corporate governance and privatization, corruption and organized crime prevention. In addition to that crème de la crème mix, the consolation package included chairmanship of the Oversight Chamber, with its enlarged capabilities, and, of course, the almighty secret ballot. And, finally, to promote goodwill and cross-partisan cooperation, Tymo proposed to swap Committee Vice Chairmanships.

She should have saved those outpourings of generosity for her grand kids. When Yanuke ordered a pullout from the rostrum, he had a completely different agenda in mind.

After lunch break, the smell of betrayal, so pervasive in the corridors of the Verkhovna Rada, reached alarming intensity. Yosyp Vinsky, head of the SPU politburo, blew the whistle. He went public with what he said were behind-the-scenes preparations for voting into power a mutually agreed PRU-SPU Speaker. As the media munched on Vinsky’s revelations, Moroz remained tongue seated in the session room, his face an expression of cold-blooded calculus. He and his partners set in motion a chain reaction of reactionism that proved once again that causal encounters in politics happen far more often than Socialism with a human face.

The visible part came to light when a Socialist MP made a motion to nominate Oleksander Moroz for Speaker, the other nominee being Mykola Azarov of the PRU. Now fully away that this was not a drill, Petro Poroshenko assumed a battle position on the rostrum.

In an emotionally charged speech Poroshenko announced the withdrawal of his candidacy and called on Moroz to do the same. Let the Regionalists test their voting firepower with Azarov, Poroshenko thundered. Once they learned their limitations, his logic went, parties to the Orange coalition could safely retreat to the negotiation table and settle the Speaker dispute on their own. Moroz rejected this reconciliation bid, saying that the full support of his fellow Socialists gave him no reason to give up on himself. The smokescreen statement he issued hinted at two possible courses of action:

1. “Different strokes for different folks.” Socialists vote for Moroz, Regionalists vote Azarov. Both get their egos stroked, but yield nothing.

2. “You scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours.” Socialists vote for Moroz, and so do Regionalists. Moroz becomes Speaker, Yanukovych Premier.

Nobody wanted to believe it, but the latter transaction seemed the most practical — the most likely shape of things to come. Before the vote was even passed, PRU messenger Taras Chornovil, speaking in parables, had proudly fed the breaking news to the media.

Bottom line: Moroz won unanimous consent and a standing ovation from the Regionalists. Secret ballot? Forget it. Call it electoral exhibitionism with an obsessive-compulsive component. Under the voyeur’s gaze of Big Brother-style party bosses, SPU-PRU frères d'armes cast their ballots, often showing them in full view of the cameras.

In this “Unite Ukraine” spectacle, as PRU strategists have branded it, the credits are as follows:

1. Azarov acted as a decoy. His nomination, highly praised by the Regionalists, duped the Orange guys into believing he was the real thing, which prevented them from attempting interception early in the attack.

2. Moroz starred as a stooge. His “paid” AWOL, as rumor has it, caught the rest of the team off guard. He offered his services for a good political price, and both seller and buyer got what they wanted.

Excerpts from Moroz’s File
The “Purple Heart” for distinguished service to the PRU now decorating Moroz’s chest hardly signals a new trend in his behavior. Those who have been following Moroz in telescopic detail have more to tell. Below are some memorable moments from his political star trek.

1999 As the presidential campaign gains momentum, Oleksander Moroz drops out of the supposedly anti-Kuchma alliance called the Kanev Four, after the alliance nominates former intelligence chief and PM Yevhen Marchuk for President. Marchuk, a centrist figure, went on to #5 in the first round and readily marched for Kuchma in the run off election in exchange for the National Security Council job.

Although the Kanev Four may have been a trap, Moroz’s runaway profile was forever seared in the memory of Ukrainians. Well aware of his high potential, he just would not wrap his mind around someone else. So, he opts for a lone ranger act — only to have his mission ruined by Petro Symonenko of the CPU, his present coalition partner.

Bottom line: Moroz made #3, Symonenko #2, and Kuchma #1. Both helped Kuchma’s reelection by playing into his hands alongside the 1996 Yeltsin-Zyuganov scheme.

The major egomaniac episode described above laid down a marker for further attention-seeking adventure.

2000-2001 Moroz steals the spotlight with clandestine recordings of Kuchma and his inner circle allegedly made by Mykola Melnychenko, a right-minded officer on Kuchma’s security detail. From what can be deciphered, Kuchma ‘sings’ of strongarm action against distinguished opposition journalist Heorhiy Gongadze missing since September. Gongadze confronted Kuchma on talk shows and slammed him with editorials. The sudden stream of low-fi recordings in Moroz’s possession, heavily punctuated with Kuchma’s foul language, shakes society to its core. Shortly afterwards, the beheaded body of the missing journalist is discovered in the forest near Tarashcha, Moroz’s home village. Amid street protests that continued into 2001, Kuchma denies role, saying the recordings are fabricated, and increasingly secludes himself in the Crimea, where he dates Putin.

2002 What sounds like a dialogue on the sale of the Ukrainian-made Kolchuha radar system to Saddam Hussein marks a new spike in the Kuchmagate. Following the release of this recording, Washington examines it and finds the material to be authentic. Street protests rock the Ukrainian capital with renewed vigor. With the blink of an eye, Leonid Kuchma gets grounded diplomatically by an America whose heart still bleeds for the victims of 9/11 and whose public opinion and leaders link Saddam Hussein to Osama bin Laden.

Kuchma desperately tries to disassociate himself from his pariah status — but only at his own peril. At the NATO summit in Prague in 2002, he received a lesson he’ll never forget. Despite the clear indication that his presence at the event would be unwelcome, Kuchma decides to gatecrash. To prevent the UK and US delegations from the discomfort of sharing space with the Ukrainian delegation, the protocol officers embarked on a creative approach. They switched the seating chart from English to French. Under this “French Kiss” arrangement, Ukraine remained unchanged, while the UK metamorphosed into Royaume Unis and the US into États-Unis. What a view! Kuchma suffered in silence, sealed from Blair and Bush by a linguistic cordon sanitaire.

Ironically, neither WMDs nor Kolchuhas turned up in Iraq.

Bottom line: Mystery surrounds this geopolitical X-File and Moroz’s role in it. At best, it was that of a DJ who spun the LP collection to his own benefit. At worst, it was that of an agent of influence who utilized Ukrainians as guinea pigs for the benefit of a foreign country. In fact, many experts have thoroughly debunked the underlying events as a Kremlin plot to weaken Kuchma and draw him closer. Anyway, the Kuchmagate affair cost the life of journalist, brought misery to his family, and boiled into a national drama.

2002-2003 Moroz partners with Medvedchuk on the so-called politreforma, a Constitutional amendment that would transfer the bulk of the power from the President to the PM and Parliament. Both look to it for a coping strategy in the face of the upcoming presidential election.
Undoubtedly, Medvedchuk sought to prolong the Kuchma regime by reemploying his patron as PM and installing a bicameral Pavlovian legislative. Although the bicameral concept did not withstand the opposition’s pressure, the politreforma lived on.

Moroz argued that the politreforma would facilitate Kuchma’s retirement and would provide the best safeguard against tyranny no matter who won the presidential race.

2004 After Yushchenko carries the first round of the election by a thin margin, Moroz conditions his endorsement in the run-off election on the candidate’s full commitment to the politreforma. As Ukraine verged on civil war, Yushchenko had to reaffirm this commitment to keep the hotheads in the Kuchma regime from cracking down on the Orange Revolution.

Moroz has come a long way. Throughout his career, he has established himself as a glib guy who knows what he wants and may be willing to get his goals accomplished at all costs.

Moroz and Morality: Points of Intersection
When asked whether he had any feelings of guilt to share about the recent events, Moroz skillfully surfed on the public’s dismay over the vicissitudes of Orange coalition-building. Trying to deflect torrents of criticism raining on his parade, he argued that tears his ex-partners shed were crocodile tears. According to Moroz, when the PRU and NSNU had almost clinched the deal, Tymo disrupted its consummation in the nick of time and resuscitated talks on the Orange coalition. But NSNU ballerinas, fixated on mating with bigtime PRU machos, just couldn’t stand her. So, he continued, they embarked on a strategy of sabotage aimed at derailing Tymo from the PM track. Had she taken the reigns of the Cabinet, they would have had quite a motive to contribute to her speedy failure. The fallout from her “leadership failure” would have paved the way for a PRU-NSNU coalition and would have cast BYuT and the SPU overboard.

On the one hand, Moroz’s woebegone story has its merits. The halo effect has long vacated the top brass of the Orange Revolution, especially during the last couple of months. One has little moral standing if one’s claims of injustice can be offset with attempts to push one’s neighbor off the cliff. With that in mind, what’s wrong about breaking off a negotiation if one no longer finds his partners trustworthy? What’s wrong about selling to the highest bidder? Nothing. Unless, on the other hand, you agreed to provide advance notice of your decision and unless you sell what’s not yours to sell. The farmers and smalltown intelligentsia in Central Ukraine, who entrusted Mr. Moroz with their votes have been done a disservice. Had they (his electoral base) known that Moroz would sell them down the river, most of them would have run him out of town in the first place.

Having volunteered himself as the surrogate mother to the predominantly capitalist coalition, Moroz drew catcalls from European Socialists like Jan Marinus Wiersma, Socialist Group Vice-President in charge of EU enlargement issues. It is against this background that Mr. Moroz takes his chances with domestic audiences. He waxes eloquent in an effort to sell the Ukrainian people on the idea of himself as a solution seller/icebreaker, a nice guy who did a job for which he will receive credit only with the passage of time.

However, recent polls and call-in shows, as well as the screenfuls of hate mail he gets on forums, suggest that many people, his voters included, think otherwise. In their eyes, Moroz threw himself into the soul seller/promise breaker category.

To wield something of a scandal silencer and to project positive emphasis, PRU-SPU-CPU strategists have couched the coalition in missionary overtones. They christened their brainchild the “anti-crisis coalition.” For many unsuspecting Ukrainians, that brand name still defies logic: The economy has expanded at the annual rate of 5 percent, and incomes have risen 20 percent. Based on these field reports, it is safe to conclude that the RegiSociCommunists are in the business of creating crises where there are none. Put another way, they have applied for a “Ghostbuster” role in the theater of public opinion.

Several script discrepancies that have emerged in the postnatal period of “anticrisis coalition” building may dash cold water on the integrity of its parents. Whereas Moroz has described his decision in spur-of-the-moment terms, his colleagues have supplied a different picture. The dark side of Moroz has repeatedly confessed that it was the result of premeditated activity.

Of course, the dog-eat-dog atmosphere of the negotiations in no small part had shaped Moroz’s AWOL. But the final choice was his to make, and his disappearing act in the Bermuda triangle of the Orange Revolution may become the lethal flashback that will send the Socialists into oblivion in the next election. He may pull his hair out in the name of “uniting Ukraine,” trying to camouflage his greed, but that sort of ritual will hardly divert his parish from trying to divine where morality ends and Socialism begins.

Trading the Lost Marbles of the Revolution for the Hot Coals of Cohabitation
President Yushchenko has his own share of hair-pulling to do. He and his henchmen spent months unable to come to grips with losing to BYuT.

The agonizing downhill slide Yushchenko’s ratings had taken kept him flip-flopping from Orange to Blue and back. Instead of feeding the nation with Saturday night pop corn addresses, he should have assumed a hands-on moderator role. He should have rolled up his sleeves and put the Orange coalition to work. Politically, nobody was home upstairs.

Downstairs Ukraine witnessed Tom & Jerry-style turf wars, beggar-thy-neighbor negotiations, on-again, off-again subscription to the proportionality principle in dividing Cabinet seats. The Orange guys could well contribute their learn-the-hard-way findings to a case study titled “The Dos and Donts of Team Play.”

As they juggled their overblown egos, little did they know what was coming to them. Not for a moment did the Blue guys waving their laundry list of complaints stop scheming their way into power.

Ukraine gave the Orange guys another chance, and all they did was make their leadership the laughingstock of nations. First, they disgraced themselves with a prolonged power struggle over Cabinet seats, quite an ugly sight to see. Second, they fell victim to backstabbing, which, too, ate into the stock value of the Orange Revolution.

And now BYuT lionhearts are rallying for repeat elections, and NSNU lizards are scanning the “anticrisis” pyramid for niches. Tymo should entertain no illusions about her repeat elections initiative. She should be fully aware that the sword swallowing act she has announced, even if enforceable, may be lost on a society caught in the midst of the vacation season. Over the last months, the Orange audience has grown weary of watching its heroes’ silly games in a show called “How to Lose a Government in 10 Ways.” Whether she denies it or not, the pendulum of public opinion has slightly swung in favor of the Blue guys. In light of this extreme exhaustion, should a rerun be made anytime soon, it may be overtax the Orange audience’s interest in democracy as a full time job and adversely affect turnout.

Starting July 25, Yushchenko has the authority to disband Parliament if the Cabinet continues vacant. However, due to waning support for his party, he will most likely choose not to exercise that option. Repeat elections will result in greater failure for NSNU, or so the mainstream argument goes.

That’s why oppositionphobic attacks have overwhelmed NSNU to the point of nonsense. The plausible excuse behind NSNU’s cohabitation with the PRU is that it’s impossible to have a President who’s opposed by Parliament and the Cabinet. Maybe Yushchenko should seek counseling from Clinton, who dealt with a Republican Congress in 1994-95, or from Chirac, who endured Socialist PM Jospin in 1997-2002.

Certainly, Yanuke craves a more solid footing for his throne, which would stem from having NSNU on board. At the same time, Operation Reg Roulette has severely reduced NSNU’s bargaining power. While in the preop phase the formula “Yanukovych Speaker, Yekhanurov PM” supplied the common ground for negotiation, in the postop phase the PRU will yield no ground, except for maybe asking the CPU to leave. Yet, however desirable NSNU’s presence may be, it is hardly critical. This means that NSNU’s position no longer counts all that much. The tables have turned: Beggars can’t be choosers, and Yanukovych is nonnegotiable. One of the carrots planted to induce NSNU to agree propounds that the “anticrisis” coalition can be rebranded as the “coalition of national unity.”

Yushy and Tymo have little room for conventional maneuver and thus have applied the good cop/bad cop tactics themselves.
In a manner consistent with their situations and capabilities — and probably in the hope of extracting some seats on first-class committees — both have issued disbandment threats.

The Regs, in turn, gave Yushchenko until early August to finalize the Yanukovych nomination. In case their chief does not get pampered, the Regs have promised to respond in kind, unleashing the wrath of Donbas on the corrupt city of Kyiv and impeaching President Yushchenko. On closer observation, the moral stature of their crusade bogs down in the mechanics of impeachment. Mustering the 300 votes required to overcome the presidential veto cannot be done without exporting talent from NSNU and BYuT. Experts believe that this procedure would involve financial stimulation. In fact, there’s a body language video suggesting that the cash-on-the barrel approach to voting may not be science fiction, after all.

Anyway, escalation continues. As of Wednesday, July 26, Yushchenko remains in his meditation pagoda, praying for divine intervention. Yanukovych is spitting peace-and-harmony sound bites on the public while breathing fire on the President, awaiting nomination for PM. His magi have stalked Yushchenko, and Speaker Moroz has courteously called the President on the carpet.
Time is running out on the President. Unless he decides to use the weapon of last resort, he cannot stonewall the PM nomination indefinitely. Besides, he needs the Rada’s cooperation in appointing Justices to the Constitutional Court’s, whose opinion he is determined to seek in order to play down the politreforma.

In the western Ukrainian city of Rivne, two maverick Socialists, including the brother of Internal Affairs Minister Yuriy Lutsenko, burned their member cards in protest to Moroz’s adventurism. Minister Lutsenko himself has revoked membership in the Socialist Party.

Communist leader Petro Symonenko flew to Moscow for a hush-hush tryst with Putin.

Yanukovych supporters broke camp near the Rada. Regionalist MP Oleh Kalashnikov, tasked with coordinating camp activities, lashed out at reporters filming a rally and seized the video. Slapped with a scandal at a time when its image should have radiated immaculacy, the PRU had Mr. Kalashnikov apologize. Somehow, the apology Mr. Kalashnikov squeezed out of himself sounded like a mock one. Instead of confessing to having a short fuse and a poor grasp of democracy, he actually blamed the journalists for dong their job in the wrong place, at the wrong time.

The flavor of his reconciliation statement only made the scandal spiral upwards. Finally, Yanukovych went out of his way to expel the berserker from the PRU roster. Relax, deontologists. He did this for more than purity’s sake. He did this for the purpose of publicizing his dazzling “love affair” with the freedom of press. How else could a fine liberal like him ward off skepticism from all those pervs who dare deem otherwise?

And who says that clemency should elude a strong leader’s character? No way! So, the expulsion was a mock one too: There’s hardly a law on the books that says Kalashnikov should be out of his job as a result of expulsion from the PRU.

Paradoxically, the new-fashioned coalition has lumped together Ukraine’s richest man and the champions of the proletariat. Observers are wondering how exactly Yanukovych Socialists and Communists are going to square the slashing of taxes with the promise of a robust welfare state. Those poor folks who voted for a bright future under the never-setting sun of Marxism-Leninism should take a hike. Except for ultraviolet exposure — that’s what you get when you mix blue and red — they won’t even find trace amounts of that future.

Attention fun lovers! The soon-to-be-released “Banana Republic” by Nouveaux Riches feat. Commie Oldies (remix) can best be enjoyed with vodka and pot.

In Memory of the Orange Revolution
Maidan, now occupied by BYuT and Pora tents, is but a shadow of its former self. In the cold winter of 2004 people flocked to it with their hearts warm. In the hot summer of 2006, many of those same people pass it by with their cold hearts. It takes time to put one’s expectations out of the refrigerator again.

Repeat elections can be a risky business. But this is not the worst course of action for the President to take, provided (1) enough time has elapsed for people to recharge their batteries and (2) BYuT and NSNU become one. Anyway, as long as Yushchenko keeps all options open, spoilers will be hard to come by.

More likely than not, by allying himself with Yanukovych, Yushchenko will hit the last nail in his political coffin, rather than achieve a healthy cohabitation.

For Yushchenko and, to a lesser degree, for Tymoshenko, the Orange Revolution has evolved into an inconvenient term, almost a taboo. Not only do they refer to it with detachment but they also do this on a declining basis, similar to the Pavlovian procedure of extinguishment. One never speaks about revolution in the house of the hanged.

Life goes on. A country standing at the crossroads needs no narcoleptic leaders. Somebody has to dust off the Ukrainian Dream, and that somebody is you. Or, if you’re too tired, simply hold your breath.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Star-Starved Regionalists Threaten Hunger Strike

The entire mankind can’t hold back the tears as it stands witness to the courage and resolve of a few principled men who refuse to surrender their humble passion for power.

At war with the results of the election they failed to barnstorm and unsatisfied with the proposed consolation package, Regionalists are only a few steps away from the decision of their lifetime: biological warfare. These lovelorn legislators have now come to the horrifying threshold — and this time the laws of biology would be directed against their very selves. That life cannot do without nourishment remains a fundamental law of biology and aptly sums up the war effort be undertaken.

Dedicated to the benefit of all Ukrainians, so the Rada Regionalists argue, operation Starving Stardom, as it may be called, promises to break new ground in the study of political food chains. The object of the longitudinal study about to commence is to determine how slim Ukraine’s fattest cats can be.

Undoubtedly, the impending anorexic attack will revitalize Ukraine’s waning academia, supplying students of political science and dieticians with fresh food for thought.

It’s a bitch, isn’t it? Few believed that the Regionalists, whose appetite for power swelled day-by-day to as many as 14 committees, would end up in the confines of self-imposed hunger.

SOS to Putin. Operation Starving Stardom on standby. Request immediate media backup and full-coverage humanitarian airlift.

Monday, July 03, 2006

Just the Three of Us
Together We Stand, Divided We Fall

Whew, they finally did it! Or did they? More likely than not, the Orange ones have mended fences, ending months of edgy negotiations that had the entire nation suffer from fatigue. ‘A stale sitcom whose characters outlive their popularity day by day’ would be the best synopsis for the BYuT-NSNU-SPU coalition talks. Both critics and supporters of the Orange coalition have spared no epithets in denouncing the way the talks were handled. Smelling a ‘divide and conquer’ opportunity, the Regionalists relentlessly pounced on the lack of chemistry in the Orange trio.

For those who grew up thinking the ‘Orange coalition’ was one word, a totally different emotional canvas unfurled itself. It felt like losing one’s religion — standing on the postelection sidelines, watching the three of them anxiously divvy up the political bacon. Somehow, the public pressure to perform brought them to their senses. By and large, they rose above the trench war of recriminations and retracted the hydraulics of last-minute demands. So much for the Hollywoodization of Yanukovych, the coalition-seeking desperado. In a classic winner-take-all arrangement, the Orange coalition now claims all the Oscars, a bitter truth which sets Mr. Yanukovych free to test his talent in an underground role. Yet, because his associates had expected nothing short of full reinstatement to the upper levels of government, they find it hard to accept a second-class role.

A minor flashpoint arose when SPU leader Oleksander Moroz suggested that the coalition would be better off if NSNU reconsiders its decision to nominate Petro Poroshenko for Speaker. This, he said, would help prevent a repeat of the tug of war between Poro and Tymo. Observers believe that the most likely alternative candidate, Anatoly Kinakh (NSNU), has the blessing of both the SPU and BYuT. Sensing an unwelcome advance into its private political territory, NSNU quickly responded that parties to the coalition had agreed on a no-veto policy.

Meanwhile, to prevent the coalition from ordaining either of these the Speaker of the Verkhovna Rada, the Regionalists have staged all-night vigils on its premises. In the daytime they resort to blockading the rostrum, effectively preventing the Rada from convening. Quite understandably, the third highest post in the country represents something of a holy grail to the Regionalists, who can’t bear the thought of excommunication from the high priesthood of government.

Also, at stake is chairmanship of key parliamentary committees. The Regions Party maintains that committee chairmanship should be allocated proportionate to the election results, which would entitle the Regionalists to as many as six committees, a sizeable chunk of the legislative machinery.

A procedural jihad ensued. The Orange ones insisted on an omnibus vote on Prime Minister and Speaker, while the Blue ones argued that the Constitution and the rules of order clearly prohibit such practice. Instead they are demanding a secret ballot, a view surprisingly shared by the SPU. (Rumor has it that undercover agents have approached shadowy starlets from the Orange camp with lavish pay-per-vote offers.)

NSNU has since dropped the omnibus preference and agreed to a roll-call vote, emphasizing the public’s right to know who’s who in the Ukrainian legislature.
Regardless of the current tussles, a healthy checks-and-balances system needs to be in place. Following this logic, President Yushchenko has already given the opposition the green light to run the Freedom of Speech Committee.

As of July 3, the situation showed no signs of improvement. The Blue ones, themselves hardly sterile of spin, carry on with their quarantine of the rostrum. So far, the round table talks initiative suggested by the Orange coalition in a bid to lift the stalemate — so that, through media coverage, society can hear both sides of the story — have elicited meager response from Yanukovych and Co. Instead, they pulled a no-show and sent word that their hit list has expanded — and quite dramatically so. It starts with the Vice Speaker’s seat, includes a vast array of positions in local governments, and demands that Constitutional Court Justices be appointed with the advice and consent of the Regions Party. On top of that, Yanukovych has urged President Yushchenko to join the talks and has insisted that they be held in closed-door mode. Until these conditions are met, he warned, the Regions Party will stay the course.

On Ukraine’s electoral map, the Regs hardly ever advanced to the other side, that is, beyond their home base in Southeastern Ukraine. The March parliamentary election proved just that. Under the therapy of American PR consultants, the double-F ‘Proffessor (sic) of Economics — that’s how the man had defined himself on the 2004 candidate application form — carried the tear-jerking torch for the Ukrainian economy amid record industry growth rates, roaring car sales and slight deflation.

Again, it’s the economy, stupid. In his campaign, Yanukovych made it clear that renegotiating a better gas deal with Russia would be his ‘comeback’ Cabinet’s top priority. He teased the public with his good standing in the Kremlin and deplored all the wreckage the 95/230 deal would bring for the economy. For some reason, with his dreamboat out of reach, he seems to have quietly abandoned his assessment as well, a classic yo-yo maneuver that fits the Regionalist ‘scorched economy’ policy.

The newly appointed US ambassador William Taylor has stated that Washington would back Ukraine’s renegotiation initiative, and Yuliya Tymoshenko, the would-be Premier, took the lead in promoting the idea.

Given the Regs’ spiteful propensity to act as termites to Ukrainian statehood, every time they fail their entry exams, they have little appeal in the bigger and less Russified part of the country. Their ‘ends justify the means’ philosophy goes way beyond 2004.

Initially, the March 2002 parliamentary election was hardly a windfall for Kuchma vassals. The pro-government ZaYedu and SDPU duo barely harvested 20 percent of the vote. (Actually, the one and only region where ZaYedu prevailed was Donbas.) What happened next merits the term ‘paranormal postelection activity.’ By threatening to expropriate their businesses through the bureaucratic coercion of so-called ‘adminresurs,’ the hallmark of the Kuchma regime, ZaYedu and the SDPU were able to round up independent MPs into a marionette majority. In this manmade twist of fate, NSNU and BYuT, which mustered up to 30 percent, discovered themselves in the ranks of the opposition. Later on, even some of their card-carrying fellow men were sighted off Kuchma’s ‘Cape Canaveral.’ The MP transfer business thrived; folks made fortunes for walking out on the opposition.

Under the weight of these memories, the Orange guys are more than willing to give the Blue guys a taste of their own medicine. Still, the focus should be elsewhere.

Of course, the Regionalists should learn to take no for an answer and quit asking for multitasking. The history of modern democracies provides few examples, if any, of parties that, within a single branch, combined both government and opposition tasks.

Democracy involves both upward and downward mobility. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. As long as contestants enjoy a level playing field, there’s nothing abnormal about losing two times in a row. What should be invented is some kind of consolation prize, a political pacifier that would help the Regionalists cope with their ADHD and would cushion them into an opposition role.

But, above all else, the Orange coalition has its own homework to do. The weary voters won’t stomach another false start and the road ahead requires talent and team play. Short of these performance drivers, nothing can defuse such choke points such as gas. Amending the budget to make an allowance for increased energy costs in the public sector remains a key agenda item. The trio should upgrade their crisis management skills before it’s too late. By all accounts, they can do better than they did in 2005.

Ukrainians should be able to make a decent living, without necessarily promoting their leaders’ families to the Forbes billionaires list. And remember: The only way to deal with the Regionalists is to speak with one voice.