Evgenia Ivanova interviewed a well-known sociologist Dr Evgeniy Golovakha from the Institute of Sociology (NAS, Ukraine) about his view on the social changes that befall Ukraine and Donbass. The original version in Russian was first published in Vesti. Translation by Christina Gvozdkova & edited by Michelle Veljan.
We ask Sociologist, Evgeniy Golovakha, what saves a country from new social explosions, and when will Ukraine and Donbass forgive each other?
As we begin our conversion with Golovakha, I notice the table near the open window covered with folders and papers. The renowned scholar also smokes a lot. Whilst referring to the period of the Orange Revolution in 2004, he articulates the disappointment of Ukrainians in the aftermath of the euphoria they encountered, in relation to populism. Such events, he determines will destroy both the ratings of Democratic politicians, and the hope for change. Through the smoke and his explanations emerge the view that all of his predictions came true. According to Golovakha, the current government has already eroded trust among society.
Q: Should we expect a new social explosion?
“War and entitlement are main restraints of the third Maidan”
A: Euromaidan was different from the Revolution of 2004. In 2014, the politicians were not the driving force behind the revolution. They did not evoke confidence or high expectations among society. Even presidents were not elected sympathetically; instead, they were elected to avoid the second round of elections.
Q: What is the reason for disappointment nowadays?
A: There were expectations as well as promises. For many years, politicians have made promises, only to then fail to comply with them, diminishing the people’s belief in them. However, referring to our experience, it takes only 2 years for people to test their trust and those who made promises. In the first year, a trial takes place where people observe the possible changes and failures. Notably, changing the system takes more than a year.
Considering the very high GDP growth (13%) that took place in 2004, people still feel living standards are “bad”. The population has grown poorer during this period, as a result of devaluation with the hryvnia, inflation, and the growth of utility tariffs and additional taxes. Ukrainians understood war to involve the sudden change of government, external aggression, requiring a longer period to implement the necessary reforms. However, it turned out that in the past two years there were only anecdotal talks about reforms. Hence, people have no idea about it.
Consequently, there was a massive disappointment. According to the latest survey results produced by the Razumkov Center, only 11.6% of respondents expressed the view that the situation in the country is developing in the right direction, whilst 73.4% believe that it is in the wrong direction. In contrast, following Euromaidan in March 2014, 32.3 % of the respondents showed a positive attitude, whilst 40.7% expressed a negative view. The rest remained undecided. A closer look at the results of March 2013 showed that only 15% felt the situation was in the “right direction”, whilst 66% expressed it was ”in the wrong.” We may observe the same situation even with the rates of the years being deteriorated.
Q: Is the situation in Ukraine (2004-2016) developing into a right or wrong direction?
Source: Razumkov Centre
Q: What can be the result of these attitudes? Is the there any chance that people will protest again?
A: Sociologists keep asking a very thought-provoking question: “Are implementation of reforms likely to lead to the reduction of living standards? Are you ready to face some of the financial difficulties?” Thus, according to the same survey by the Razumkov Center, 8% of respondents “are willing to encounter difficulties as long as it is necessary”, whilst another 32% responded that are “not ready, because [their] financial situation is already intolerable,” (see graph – ed.). It means that a third of the population is not willing to suffer any longer. This is quite a serious figure, and our research in 2015 showed that the potential for protests is on the rise, but has not yet reached the level of 2013 – when at its the highest. In the past year, it has already reached the level at which serious concerns can result in a third Maidan.
Source: Razumkov Centre
A: So far, there are two limiting factors: a) an external aggression – which most people understand to mean that any radical actions can lead to increased external aggression; and b) an opportunity to acquire benefits and subsidies as was the system under Yanukovych government. Still most people manage to survive with subsidies. Otherwise, current salaries and tariffs would make their lives horrible. There is another problem. Tariffs are expected to increase by half, which is still unbearable for many people. The majority of the population should get subsidies if tariffs are higher. This will cause a total dependency that will lead to hatred towards the government. The middle class will disappear, considering that those with subsidies do not belong to such class. It is a tragedy when an individual becomes addicted (or dependent on) a system that puts many into a situation where the population feels, relatively speaking, themselves slaves to their own country. There can be no expectations in a scenario where today the government provides support, yet tomorrow they don’t. It may cause an outburst, considering how many weapons are accumulated in Ukraine. As a result of the ATO, the consequences are unimaginable. This circumstance may be worse than the Maidan incident, due to static means for defense and offense activities.
Q: How did the “betrayal trauma” appear, and why did it occur so quickly?
A: Ochlocracy attracts people. Specifically, ochlocracy is a form of democracy, based on the changing whims of the crowd, constantly falling under the influence of demagogues. It most commonly occurs during transition and crisis periods, such as revolutions. In peacetime, they feel they are not able to change anything when authorities become impudent. When on the Maidan, all those people engaged in a struggle for their rights. In this way, there is a desire to dictate terms. Unfortunately, it is impossible to govern the country in that way. Maidan can oust the regime, but not constitute a better one. Therein, everyone expected elections. However, we did have decent elections, but now remain disappointed with the results.
Q: At this strange time, there are no inviolable authorities. Today we praise someone, tomorrow we disgrace and ignore them. To recall, for instance, Vladimir Parasyuk, Semen Semenchenko were selected to be ministerial reformers …. or to take, at least, a new story with Zemfira. Is this situation considered to be normal, and do we still require of authorities?
A: We need authorities to be seen as heroes that deserve respect. However, their heroic act cannot justify corruption and permissiveness. The individual becomes an example. However, if they start to emerge as the worst example, it will attract mass cynicism, such as: “Well, if these people act in that way, if there are corrupted, what you want me to do?” Therefore, it is very important that “heroes” are accountable, especially if they become politicians.
“If we cultivate hatred, reconciliation will be impossible”.
Q: The war will be over, sooner or later, but many are concerned with how the two parts of the country will be able to forgive each other? How to reunite Ukraine again?
A: World experience demonstrates that it is possible. We are in a very difficult situation, especially considering blood and thunder, which will cause a lot of problems. A consistent policy, planned for a very long time is crucial here, and it cannot be done in one or two years.
Q: So for how long?
A: Each stage has its own term. To prevent contention – it may take two generations. Our grandchildren will have to live with a distinct historical memory. Presently, many individuals have a significant trauma, which is difficult to overcome. The next generation will have secondary trauma because of their parents and their memories, conversations.
Second stage – is an experience of peaceful coexistence. This period will last for a longer time. In order to see changes in 10-20 years, we must begin today. If we start in ten years, more conflicts and more problems will emerge. Therefore, reconciliation and rehabilitation programs should be developed now.
Primarily, if we refer to Donbass, as that which encapsulates Crimea issues, we could solve such issues with the global community. Russia annexed the Crimea, which made the return process very difficult. Although, I think that this problem will be solved when the new Russian government takes over. It is possible only in case of liberal turnabout, not imperial, of course. Even so, we must prepare now. We must understand what can be done when this issue is functional, even if it happens in 30 years.
“I think that Ukrainians are not fools and, like many other nations, have chosen the path of reconciliation. Obviously, the need for international observers, a reconciliation process is paramount. And if we cultivate hatred from both sides, then reconciliation is impossible.”
Q: And why, in your opinion, did the annexation of Crimea become possible at all? Why, having lived more than 20 years, Crimean’s suddenly wanted to “die in Russia” as a part of Ukraine?
A: The vast majority of the peninsula population is ethnically Russian. They comprise 62% of the population, many of who are military retirees, and are mostly “Soviet” people. Though, there were no prevailing sentiments to return to Russia in Crimea. The idea of “Russian patriots”, which the peninsula was unreasonably given to Ukraine under Khrushchev govern, was not very relevant for the majority of the Crimean people. However, as soon as the conditions developed, this idea was actualized, and Russia reinforced it with propaganda and the subsequent occupation.
Where should people go during the annexation? The part of Crimea that did not support Russia wondered why they surrendered and were not protected. If at least 100 people were sent to protect the Crimean parliament, which was seized by 50 people, nothing would happen. Yet the invaders understood that they could act with impunity, blocking other areas.
Russia still does not realize what was done. They took someone else’s unrecognized territory. They joined it to millions of square kilometers, and subsequently illegitimately claimed it as part of the Russian state. They did this because it had a foreign territorial composition. Thus, it planted a bomb in its own history and future.
History can be unpredictable. Who could imagine that during the time of Andropov, or in the five years of Gorbachev, the Soviet Union would collapse? However, it is necessary to be prepared for the positive scenario. Otherwise, we may miss a historic opportunity. Community organizations and government agencies should work to achieve positive results. We must have a plan in case Russia is not able to succeed with the acquisition of the illegitimate territory, and integration with Ukraine. Just imagine how many problems can emerge. For instance, the autonomy of the Crimean Tatars, ethnic Russian with the same retired military, infrastructure, and much more. However, it is possible with a responsible form of government that is able to balance power, and a vision of what the country will be in 20-30 years’ time.
Q: One issue is to forgive each other. What should be done to address the unwillingness of the population to live in Ukraine?
A: We must start the process of desegregation. At the same time, in order to implement such process, we must be very careful, reasonable and balanced. If the mood of revenge prevails, it will lead to disastrous consequences. Instead of reconciliation, a cruel revenge will rule on both sides. What country are we going to have?
In Rwanda, a million Hutus massacred members of the Tutsis population. There was no language or cultural differences between these peoples. Some of them worked on the ground, while others reared cattle. But now they live in one country, trying to reconcile, which will continue for a long time. In Yugoslavia, Bosnia was left full of terror and genocide – today they live in one part of the country under international control. Justice is managed by the International Tribunal, which has been investigating crimes for several years. Karadzic (Radovan Karadzic, Bosnian Serb leader -. Ed.), was caught in 2008, and recently sentenced. For many years, the Tribunal has tried to determine the extent of his guilt, with sentencing as a main the objective.
I think Ukrainians are not fools. Like many other nations, they have chosen the path of reconciliation. Obviously, the need for international observers of a reconciliation process is paramount. Reconciliation is impossible if we cultivate hatred from both sides.
Q: Can we claim that the Minsk agreements are the first steps towards convergence?
A: Let’s be honest, Russia imposed “Minsk agreement” as the result of a military defeat, which we signed after the Ilovaisky boiler and all the horror, when we almost lost our army. History knows speaks of such arrangements. A disadvantageous peace, which surrenders rights and interests, is signed only when a country is actually losing. But it is not a declared war; instead, it is a very complex situation in both legal and social senses. If we had not signed the agreement, they would have taken Mariupol and went on. This is the “peace treaty of Brest-Litovsk”. What could be done?
The government must develop a flexible policy. Russia has its own vision for incorporating Donbass into Ukraine in its present condition. It will always be the center of Russian influence. We should have our own vision. The West admitted that Russia fails to comply with the peace agreement. It is necessary to demand concessions from Russia, put pressure on it, and to bring our borders back under control, using this factor and international support. The sanctions will force Russia to either make concessions, or lose their economic outlook for years to come.
“It will be very difficult without the Western control.”
Q: With regard to Europe … a paradox emerged. The desire of Ukrainians to become a part of Europe became the ruling idea of Euromaidan. But in the end, everything turned into a war on our soil. Now the important question is whether the EU needs a large amount of problems?
A: A rich, democratic, and strong country would be invited [into EU] without a request. They bluntly stated that they do not see us in the union for the next 25 years. Thus, ten years ago, the term was only 10 years. There is another problem at the moment. Europe does not want a country with no agreement and order, or a corrupt country. Only the political mood changed. Only three years ago people were uncertain about their geopolitical preferences. Someone preferred the West, whilst others [preferred] the East, or both sides simultaneously. Presently, the majority see themselves in Europe, rather than in the Customs Union.
Q: The level of corruption in Ukraine remains the main concern for Europe. For many years, some institutes, centers, and anti-corruption bureaus, have grown active. Thus, the situation does not change significantly. Is there any possible way to overcome this problem?
A: Firstly, it is important to defeat vertical corruption. Horizontal corruption (which occurs between people of the same level) is typical around the world. From top to bottom, corruption is common for most backward third world countries, post soviet countries, and us.
Numerous anti-corruption agencies are now established on Europe requirement. However, should they work superficially for the authorities, they will perpetuate more disappointment. These agencies have operated for one year since they were newly established. If they do not comply with their aims – it will be a complete disaster. After all, no matter what is established, or how much money is spent on the battle against corruption, there are no visible results.
Q: What if Ukrainians realize that Europe is not waiting for them, and not willing to take them to the union? Would it influence an appetite for European integration?
A: If we can create more appropriate living conditions, we can live more independently. However, the 25 years of independence raises doubts. I have been studying society for more than 30 years. My personal opinion is that [change] will be very difficult without the West’s support.
It is crucial that Ukraine has consensus on the issue of European integration. The vast majority of local parties, including the opposition, want it. But they think: “If we are still not in the EU, we can continue to act corruptly.” The European Union, in turn, offers the European choice over ending up with an elite hunger. Meanwhile, our governors are trying to avoid it. Once they realize there is no escape, they begin to change. If Europe refuses to accept Ukraine, politicians will become ideologically bankrupt. Local civil society must take a powerful role in reinforcing by overcoming the control of the media, and the influence of the intellectual elite that remains in Ukraine.
“The European Union, in turn, offers the European choice over ending up with an elite hunger. Meanwhile, our governors are trying to avoid it. Once they realize there is no escape, they begin to change.”
“The Soviet Brotherhood is no longer relevant to Ukraine.”
Q: For many years, Ukrainians hold on to the idea of the “little brother”. Now, when “big brother” betrayed us; can we say that the little brother complex is indefinitely ruined?
A: Yes. Brotherly relations between Ukraine and Russia are destroyed. In the nineties, there were only 13% of citizens with Ukrainian passports, who still considered themselves “citizens of the USSR”. Before the events of the Maidan, there were only 5% citizens [with Ukraine passport]. “The Soviet brotherhood” is no longer relevant to Ukraine, and Russians are primarily seen in most Ukrainian regions as citizens of an aggressive state.
Family relations are based on emotions, which are built on a rational relation to each other. If in the distant future our countries remain in partnership, this is good. And it is good that there will be no “family relations” anymore. It will be easier to remove already accumulated tension. Although reconciliation may last for many years, there is no other way because we border with that country.
Q: What other positive changes emerged as a result of the last two years’ events?
A: The initiatives of young people have grown. They have become more active. But the current disappointment can destroy this base. I conducted research in the early 90s, when the youth was democratic, market-oriented, pro-Western. Ten years later, in the early 2000s, when they became 10 years older, they were not as democratic and market-oriented. Life under extreme economic conditions in 90s led to a generation loss, many broke on survival. It is important that it does not reoccur. This is why it is necessary some reforms be introduced, in addition to the double tariff, which increases every six months.
Q: Yanukovych became part of history, and then returned. Now people say that a party of regions will never regain authority. Is the revenge actually possible?
A: High hopes may end with big disappointments. It is better to have smaller hopes that may end with slight disappointment. Yanukovych together with the events of 2010, are the consequences of the 2005 policies. Leaders of the first Maidan began to share power instead of changing the country. Now all is revived. The recent political uncertainty negatively affects the psychological atmosphere of society. Still, I hope that a way out of the political crisis will be found before the current elected officials lose credibility, and trust in their ability, to change the country for the better.