UkraineprotestsjpgWhat is so not-awesome about our news media is its propensity to relay to us news and events without the background context necessary have said news event make sense.  Go take a look at the CBC’s reporting on what is happening in the Ukraine.  I’ll reproduce the headlines here for sake of argument.

  • Parliament votes to oust President Viktor Yanukovych
  • Security forces now declining to take part in conflict
  • Jailed opposition figure Yulia Tymoshenko may be released soon
  • President and opposition sign deal meant to end crisis
  • President Yanukovych leaves capital for pro-Russian eastern Ukraine
  • Yanukoych accuses opposition of conducting a coup
  • MPs replace speaker, interior minister

Fascinating stuff. But what does it mean?  I mean, who is Yanukovych and what does his party stand for?  Heck, what sort of political economic system does the Ukraine possess for starters.   You can read all of those articles on Auntie Ceebs and not have even a fog-eyed view of what the hell is actually going on.  The reporting we get suffers from what I’ll call the ‘keyhole syndrome’.

11931192-keyholeKeyhole Syndrome is when people watching the news are presented with a important event but not the details surrounding said event that would allow them to make a decision, critical or otherwise about said event.  Wow there is a coup attempt in Ukraine – how about that.  How do we get from the Orange revolution to here?  Do you even remember the orange revolution?

What is needed, honest readers is context, and I strive to provide a slightly larger keyhole looking into the events happening in the Ukraine.   Read more in the full report  at the Council for Foreign Relations website.

Economic Structure and Policies

Ukraine has a classic rentier curse. Oligarchs and politicians, often one and the same, extract rents from the transit of energy and other scams. Some prices are market based and others controlled, creating huge opportunities for arbitrage. Various licenses and concessions depend on political favor, facilitating corrupt lobbying, and oligarchs have manipulated the political process to ensure a supply of subsidized gas, coal, and electricity. Bursts of market reform in 1994–95 and 2000–2001 were only the minimum necessary to prevent international lenders from withdrawing completely. After 2004, the Orange Revolution’s leaders enacted populist measures rather than tackling systemic problems.

Notwithstanding relatively liberal privatization laws, the process came to benefit oligarchs. Most big enterprises were sold by closed discount cash sales. Today, without an effective legal system, all property remains insecure. Violent corporate raiding is widespread; oligarchs use mafia muscle to take over each other’s firms and scare away most foreign investors. The black economy accounts for 40 to 50 percent of official GDP. Ukraine has received support from international financial institutions, but these funds have been small relative to Ukraine’s GDP. The country’s failure to enact reforms has repeatedly marred its relationship with the International Monetary Fund.

Civil Society and Media

Ukraine’s civil society, though stronger than other aspects of democratic governance, remains weak. After the Orange Revolution, cohesion and engagement quickly disintegrated as people grew disillusioned by elites’ broken promises. Today, only 5 percent of Ukrainians belong to nongovernmental organizations (NGOs). The current Yanukovych government has curtailed freedom of assembly and used the security and tax services to harass activists. Despite this (or perhaps because of it), however, NGO activities are rising. Some elites, exasperated by the divided political opposition, are organizing civil society groups instead of pursuing political power.

Ukraine’s media have generally functioned as an instrument of power rather than an independent force. Many media companies have long been left in private hands under “reliable” oligarchic control, fostering self-censorship. The Orange Revolution allowed a window of media freedom, but today many journalists face bullying and bribery. By contrast, the internet remains lively and free, with growing social media and anticorruption sites.

Legal System and Rule of Law

The law in Ukraine is deliberately capricious and its application arbitrary. Because the population must constantly break the law, authorities can decide whom to prosecute, and they wield this authority to consolidate power. Punishment is used to disable anyone who challenges the system; forgiveness is used as patronage. Most judges are holdovers from the Communist era and continue to respond to instructions from officials. Conviction rates top 99 percent.

Reforms passed in 2010 have increased executive control over the judiciary. Yanukovych created two new courts to bypass relatively independent ones and he purged the Supreme Court and Constitutional Court. Other executive bodies gained control over judicial appointments. The ease with which authorities launched political prosecutions in 2011 and 2012—most prominently against Tymoshenko—showed the new system’s weakness. Today, politicians routinely take bribes from oligarchs or are oligarchs themselves. Members of parliament are immune from prosecution, making public office a gravy train. A place on an electoral list is estimated to cost $5 million in bribes to party leaders.

Government Structure and Division of Power

Ukraine has made almost every mistake imaginable in its institutional design. In the 1990s, it built ministries that recreated bad habits of the Soviet command economy. Prosecutors, tax police, and the former KGB were given too much power. Kuchma also expanded presidential authority but used it to act as the oligarchs’ patron. The constitutional changes to weaken the presidency agreed to during the Orange Revolution were therefore not necessarily bad ideas. However, they were hastily drafted and poorly implemented, allowing oligarchs to build an alternative power center in parliament. Nonetheless, the reversal of these changes in 2010 was unwise. It restored the status quo ante, rather than keeping the best of the reforms, and its aim was not rebalancing the system but entrenching Yanukovych’s administration.

Oh. So the Ukraine, despite its residual media memory as a ‘democracy’ is actually a oligarchy that thrives on looting the country of its wealth and maintaining its power through any means necessary.

A brief aside:this is the kind of system we inhabit here in North America.  When you finally come to this conclusion (or not, please continue to consume the bread and circuses arranged for your leisure) the decisions our respective governments make become much more understandable and do have a rational, just not the type this is going to benefit *you*.

Ah, so now we can begin to understand what is going on in the Ukraine and start asking more reasonable questions to further our analysis of what is transpiring over there.