the war is over - for magda

04/08/2004 | peter byrne
the belarusian oppositioneers in 1995 were a lot better than the bunch of idiots here now. i'm looking on the bright side, though,
because spring is on the way ... and then summer ... and then the


Well, thats it. The war is over.

With constitutional reform expected to be voted through parliament on the day the Post hits the newsstands, the pro-presidential forces have won a political struggle thats convulsed Ukrainian political life. The constitution is likely to be changed, unless the opposition can physically prevent a final vote.

That means that the presidency of Ukraine is no longer going to significantly matter, and a President Yushchenko  if in fact hes elected this fall  will be a figurehead, stripped of powers that will now accrue to the prime minister. In short, the pro-presidential factions have again, unless the opposition can pull off something remarkable  contrived things in their interests. It was a political streetfight, and President Kuchma, Presidential Administration Head Viktor Medvedchuk, the Social Democratic Party of Ukraine (united) and those allied with them seem to have fought harder and meaner than the opposition.

Oh yes, the opposition. At the time of this writing, parliament had just passed the resolution providing for the procedure that will govern the next days crucial reform vote. Yet according to what weve been hearing for months from many in the opposition, the matter was never going to get this far. No, we were assured: all sorts of angry, righteous measures were going to prevent such an outrage from occurring, not excluding the physical disruption of parliament and mass protests in the streets.

Such hasnt quite proven to be the case. On Wednesday, one day before the majority positioned themselves finally to spit in the oppositions collective face, Yulia Tymoshenkos much-vaunted angry street rallies amounted to a handful of opposition supporters wandering around Hrushevskoho, and several lonely protest tents pitched outside the Rada. Thus did what could have been a chance to intervene in the most important political moment so far in the history of an independent Ukraine an aspiring European country, were constantly reminded, with a population the size of Frances  devolve to the proportions of a typical undergraduate political protest on a college lawn.

It goes without saying that those who should be blamed for this blatant and just about successful attempt to rewrite the constitution in their favor are those who launched it themselves. Yet were also obliged to blame the opposition, who will be remembered as having done effectively next to nothing to avert a political train wreck that could ultimately result in Ukraines estrangement from the politically more adult countries of the West, not to mention a decline in civil society and, in a worst-case scenario, authoritarianism.

Certainly the opposition has staged its small rallies (on weekdays, mostly, when no one would show up) and said noisily defiant things in those media outlets that would have them. Indeed, weve certainly enjoyed Tymoshenkos caustic sense of humor throughout all of this. And yet pious invocations of Shevchenko, lofty appeals to human values, and the ex-deputy prime ministers wisecracks dont quite do the trick. Fighting as viciously as the other guy does.

We hope that at the very least the opposition has learned something from this thorough drubbing that it will be able to use in the future political wars that are certain to come.

Good news from Soros (and Pinchuk)
Any observer of the political situation in Ukraine is obliged to be negative much of the time, so its nice to be able to praise something. Quite worthy of praise is the initiative to establish a Ukrainian legal aid fund thats been announced by American philanthropist George Soros and Ukrainian businessman and powerbroker Viktor Pinchuk.
According to Pinchuk, the fund will provide free legal consultation to Ukrainians, and will be staffed by law students, who will benefit from the practical training. At the minimal cost of $100,000 per year  really the price of renting some offices in which ambitious students on stipends can be set free to do their jobs  Soros and his partner are planting an important seed here. Given the success that similar Soros-funded legal funds have had in other Eastern European countries, we think that seed could blossom into something real.
With a forecasted yearly budget of $100,000, the Soros-Pinchuk fund will be a lean way to strengthen Ukrainian civil society. We wish that all the NGOs who have spent years generating paperwork and giving away Westerners tax dollars in Ukraine would take a lesson in relevance and initiative from Soros.
Of course, its easy to be cynical about everything that happens in Ukraine; its even necessary. Were aware that Pinchuk  who is married to President Kuchmas daughter, and is alleged to control the ICTV television channel  is, like many members of this countrys elite, a man of whom it pays to be wary. But Soros is no fool, and in fact has already issued subtle criticisms of Pinchuks alleged stewarding of ICTV. In other words, he has challenged his new partner in philanthropy to behave himself. Good for him.
Of course, the Fund could come to nothing, and the suspicions of the pessimists that Pinchuk is using Soros to gild his louche reputation could be true. Its also true that theres no real deal yet, since Soros and Pinchuk havent done much more than announce their intention. Yet were hoping for the best, and consider this fund an objectively good thing. Ukraine needs more such projects.

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