“at the subconscious level, i can accept authoritarian rule…”

following the death of oleksandr razumkov, deputy secretary of ukraine’s national security & defense council, last year, eight top policy analysts led by colonel anatoly hrytsenko retired from the council to work full-time at the ukrainian center of economic and political studies (uceps), a non-governmental policy institute established by razumkov in 1994.

q: what does the center do?

a: we attempt to educate millions of taxpayers about social, economic, political, and security issues facing them, while simultaneously advocating reform proposals to officials in power.

we also criticize authorities when they make decisions we think may result in negative consequences.the center adheres to the tradition espoused by its founder, oleksandr razumkov.

we publicly discuss our research and recommendations with local and foreign experts. some think tanks in ukraine operate on a confidential basis, providing proprietary reports to their sponsors.

one of our goals is to influence decisions made by state officials. we want to see the results, at least in our own lifetime. our analysts have all occupied high posts in important state bodies.

two our analysts are former department heads from at the national security and defense council (nsdc), two worked in razumkov’s office, one is a former assistant to the prime minister, and another worked in the presidential administration.

most of us have doctorate degrees studied abroad, know foreign languages, and published extensively.

q: was your center’s latest examination of military reform commissioned by the government or the nsdc?

a: no, but we kept the door open when we left the nsdc.

we discussed the issue of military reform with the recently appointed nsdc secretary, yevhen marchuk, explained what we planned to do, and explored avenues of cooperation.

prior to releasing our report on national security and defense, we first discussed our findings with over 100 specialists, including 15 generals, and representatives from non-governmental organizations. we sent copies of the report to president leonid kuchma, his assistants, the prime minister, leaders of parliamentary factions, security ministers, foreign embassies, nato, etc.

we next invited them and the leaders of non-governmental organizations to participate in an open discussion of our findings and recommendations. during the second phase of the project, we will meet with decision-makers like marchuk, defense minister oleksandr kuzmuk, and other state officials.

we work on all levels are will be ready to participate in a working group put together by the government to implement our recommendations.

q: what do you think about recent political developments?

a: it was impossible to preserve the status quo and work under a regime where the [executive and legislative] branches of power opposed each another and were incapable of addressing burning issues.

that impasse explains why president kuchma attempted earlier to resolve economic crises by issuing decrees, not all of which achieved the desired result. market forces are dynamic. some trends run several months, or years, but others run their course in days.

often, decisions must be taken immediately, not after parliamentary deputies lobbying this or that interest reach a consensus among themselves. you can not extinguish a fire — and the situation today in ukraine is combustible — by consensus.

ukraine’s transition today, in the philosophical sense, contradicts its own espoused principles of democratic governance.

q: your view on the so-called parliament majority?

a: for me, as an analyst and a supporter of the general structure of the current parliament, it is important to know the principles upon which the majority rests.

even president kuchma, having analyzed past remarks of some deputies, remarked ironically that the new majority could be unstable.many deputies joined the majority because they feared for their future: they were concerned their businesses would suffer, or because they wanted to be reelected.

not all deputies switched camps willingly. for some, fear played a role. others were driven by herd mentality, or by self-preservation.

q: what do you predict will happen next?

a: i am worried that the majority of deputies will start rubberstamping legislation submitted by the executive branch. i foresee problems if, fearing president kuchma’s “axe of damocle’s,” deputies uniformly pass every bill submitted by the government.

for example, recently the government proposed to cut tax entitlements for soldiers, militiamen, and personnel in ukraine’s law enforcement ministries.

the measure will reintroduce income tax, full payment for utilities, paid vacations, etc. it will be a financial blow for hundreds of thousands of servicemen and their families, who overwhelmingly supported kuchma in the recent election.

instead of easing the transition for those who will return to civilian life, the measure will make it much more difficult to make that adjustment.

highly qualified people will leave the services in droves and the state’s intention to solve one economic problem may, in turn, create new political and social problems.

q: do you think that ukraine’s neighbors and partners in the east and in the west pay adequate attention to events transpiring in ukraine?

a: i would prefer, at least in the political sense, that ukraine not be a “hot story” both in the east and west. ukraine today is sick.
we are the most affected by our illness, but our neighbors also are concerned.

each country defends its own principles and interests vis-a-vis ukraine. they all desire ukraine to be a stable, prosperous country.
western representatives have at times displayed certain impatience with the slow pace of reform.

although their impatience is justified when they compare ukraine with poland and hungary, it is helpful to remember that it takes nine full months to carry a pregnancy to term.

q: do the noble ends proclaimed by government justify the means by which they are achieved?

a: our center has analyzed the experience of some totalitarian countries making a successful transition to democratic rule.

adherence to democratic means of governance was oftentimes not a prerequisite.

periods of authoritarian rule often facilitated temporary stabilization, making life more predictable domestically and in terms of international relations. chile, kazakhstan, uzbekistan, and china fit into this category.

russia’s [vladimir] putin and belarus’ [oleksandr] lukashenko — at least in the economic sphere — exemplify two leaders of authoritarian regimes intent on constructing a democratic carcass out of a fortress.

the transition is not accomplished at once, but gradually, step by step. ukraine has endured even more dire stages during its development, for example, in 1933, and 1945–47. then, however, people shared a common vision and trusted their leaders. step by step, goals were achieved.

however, by the 1970s, those goals become unrealistic, people lost faith, and the soviet union fell apart.once a more powerful mechanism [of rule] emerged, its precursor [totalitarianism] faded into history.

after the old [soviet] system broke down, each former soviet republic began fishing in the murky water for his catch. meanwhile, the social safety net fell apart, causing people to lose all hope that democracy would save the day.

democracy is not only freedom of speech. it also means a level playing field for businessmen, fair legislation, rule of law, etc.
without them, freedom of speech becomes an irritant to those who have lost all hope.

q: is the introduction of elements of authoritarian rule an acceptable means to an end?

a: i do not see anyone in ukraine today who is close to a pinochet, a political leader with a strategic vision who can rule the country and force people to work towards the accomplishment of one aim using dictatorial methods.

president kuchma has a different character. he is not a dictator by nature. even when we [at the nsdc] reported to him the direst, most unpleasant statistics and scenarios, he never reacted negatively.

they say brezhnev cried when they brought him bad news, and that gorbachev simply refused to acknowledge them. that kuchma can stomach dire prognostications is a good sign.i see some signs of the “new” kuchma.

for example, his appointment of viktor yushchenko, who independently formed his cabinet.

at the subconscious level, i can accept authoritarian rule, but only if it is accompanied by strategic vision. here, i mean authoritarian in the sense of being a passenger in an airplane. no one asks your permission to go through the metal detector at the airport. you must also turn in your luggage and get on a special bus taking you to the plane.

after boarding, flight attendants ask you to put out your cigarette and turn off your cell phone. these are the unquestioned rules designed to protect you and the rest of the passengers.

one just hopes the plane has fuel and the pilots are qualified…

peter byrne is а рассеянный journalist who spends his free time collecting ideas, running and learning new technologies.