In the latest opinion poll by the Razumkov Centre-Democratic Initiatives, former Defence Minister Anatoliy Grytsenko is the second most popular candidate in next year’s presidential elections receiving 9.4% support (https://dif.org.ua/article/viborchi-reytingi-traven-2018408346). In first place came Yulia Tymoshenko with 13.3%.
In the 2012 elections, Civic Platform was supposed to be part of the Batkivshchyna-led United Opposition, but personality clashes prevented Grytsenko from running in the list. By the 2014 elections Tymoshenko and Grytsenko had fallen out with one another.
Although Tymoshenko and Grytsenko fell out they have a number of factors in common. The 2019 elections will be both of their third attempts at winning the presidency. This is a very non-Western and non-European approach to elections: in Europe, Canada and the US if you stand for elections as president or leader of a political party (to become prime minister if you win more seats) and lose you then do not stand again (presidential system) or you resign (parliamentary system.
In Ukraine, which is supposedly integrating with Europe, this approach to politics does not exist. Political parties are the properties of their leaders and the leaders do not change if they do badly in elections. In the 2014 elections, Batkivshchyna came last of the 5 parties that entered parliament with 5.68% while Grytsenko’s Civic Platform failed to win a place in parliament, coming tenth with 3.10%.
Western academics writing about populism emphasize their anti-democratic nature. Jan-Werner Müller writes that it is, “crucial to understand that populists are not simply anti-elitist: they are also necessarily anti-pluralist.” Stefan Rummens adds that the most dangerous feature of populism is a firm believe only they are right coupled with a disrespect for alternative opinions.
Many Ukrainians have strong views of Tymoshenko’s authoritarian traits. This is not as true for Grytsenko, although not all Ukrainians are attracted by his stiff and militaristic style.
In a recent interview, Grytsenko said he believes Ukrainians should not be afraid of ‘authoritarian regimes’ (https://daily.rbc.ua/ukr/show/anatoliy-gritsenko-nuzhno-boyatsya-avtoritarnogo-1524633586.html). This is a surprising statement to make in a country where over a hundred protestors died for European integration and which has an Association Agreement with the EU.
Grytsenko confusingly mixes up authoritative leaders and an authoritarian political system. Any political science textbook will tell you that these are very different concepts. Grytsenko is convinced that “Authoritarianism has the same roots as authoritative.”
Grytsenko lists many political leaders who politically authoritative, such as French and US Presidents Charles De Gaulle and Teddy Roosevelt and Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. Grytsenko confusingly includes in the same list authoritarian Singapore Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew and Chilean President Augusto Pinochet. The latter two were never democratic leaders as seen by their dictatorial rule over Singapore and Chile for 31 and 26 years respectively.
Grytsenko then says, “I want people to understand one simple thing – there is no need to be afraid of an authoritarian regime. This is not a dictatorship that greatly suppresses the rights and freedoms of people.”
While Singapore was a moderate authoritarian regime it was not a democracy and abused human rights. Pinochet came to power through a military coup that overthrew a democratically elected government. His military dictatorship murdered an estimated 3,000 people, tortured tens of thousands of political prisoners and forced nearly a quarter of a million people to flee into exile.
If Grytsenko wins the 2019 elections is this the type of authoritarian regime that he really wants to introduce in Ukraine?
Perhaps attracted by the military style regime in Chile, Grytsenko believes that
“Enlightened authoritarianism brings a country to a new, higher level and improved economy, and on this basis – democracy. Authoritarianism has two components: the first one is professionalism and the second is personal responsibility.”
There is no tradition of military coup’s or junta’s in former communist countries and it is therefore unclear where Grytsenko expects to find examples where
“enlightened authoritarianism” leads to an improved country and democracy?
The one former communist country where there was a military coup was Poland in 1981 after which a junta ruled the country until 1988. This economically and politically stagnant and repressive Polish communist regime under Russian tutelage is not an example for Ukraine to emulate.
Grytsenko has a naïve view of the positive aspects of paternalistic authoritarianism:
“Understand, in our life we are constantly facing an authoritarian government, and rejoice in it, because it gives results because people understand and accept clear, intelligent rules that improve their lives. There is no need to be scared of authoritarianism, we must instead fear irresponsibility.”
I would make three reading proposals to Grytsenko.
The first is to read a handbook on political science terminology in order to overcome his confusion between authoritative and authoritarian leaders.
The second is to read a copy of Leonid Kuchma’s book ‘Ukraine is not Russia’ where he will see that Ukrainians and Russians are very different. Russians revere a Tsar and prostrate themselves to the cult of Joseph Stalin. If Grytsenko was elected president and sought to introduce an authoritarian regime, Ukrainians will rise up against him as they did against Viktor Yanukovych.
The third is to read about the Chilean military dictatorship under General Pinochet and Polish communist junta under General Wojciech Jaruzelski and thereby come to understand that neither examples are good for Ukraine to emulate.
The latest opinion polls show the top two most popular presidential candidates are a socialist populist (Tymoshenko) and a former military officer (Grytsenko) who craves an authoritarian political system. Is this really the best that Ukraine can offer its voters in the 2019 elections?
Taras Kuzio is a non-resident fellow at the Center for Transatlantic Relations, Johns Hopkins-SAIS and the author of “Putin’s War Against Ukraine” and joint author of “The Sources of Russia’s Great Power Politics: Ukraine and the Challenge to the European Order.”