In short, the Tintin moment is the moment when the new regime seems like the old regime.
Why a cartoon character should concentrate the minds of Ukraine's politicians.
Viktor Yushchenko was last week supposed to be in Poland at an economic forum in Krynica, a relaxing spa-town setting at which, no doubt, to renew Ukraine's claim to eventual EU membership. Instead, he spent a febrile week back in Kyiv watching his government disintegrate.
Finally, in his own words "frustrated," Ukraine's president stepped in and swept away the remnants of the government. Three of the president's closest associates from the revolution are, for the time being, out of power. Ukraine's first post-revolutionary phase is over.
His Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, is surely gleeful. Even before the Ukrainian government fell, he had responded to divisions within the Ukrainian cabinet and allegations of corruption by telling Western journalists that "we said this before and no one wanted to listen to us - and we have to be listened to."
THE BRIGHTER SIDE
Putin could have found good reasons for suggesting Ukraine's Orange Revolution would inevitably flounder. He didn't and instead reached the wrong conclusion: the current problems in no way reduce the justification for the revolution. But, more importantly, he is missing a key point: that
one factor contributing to the government's collapse may actually help Ukraine's democracy.
The argument that the government headed by Yulia Tymoshenko was bound to hit the rocks is simple. From Latin America to the former Soviet Union, opposition groups have realized that often the best way to overthrow an entrenched regime is to unite into a single movement.
When success cuts the bonds that bound them, it is natural that unnatural partners will go their own way (or, when they remain together, like Serbia's one-time 17-party ruling coalition, that they will spend much of their time in enervating in-fighting).
In Ukraine, the opposition was, if anything, particularly likely to split.
FIRST, one of the factors that enabled the opposition to remove the old system in late 2004 was precisely the political system's fragmentation: ex-President Leonid Kuchma and his supporters were always too divided and Ukraine's politics and its system too fractious for them to consolidate
authority in the manner(s) achieved by Putin and Belarus' Alyaksandr Lukashenka.
To watch the Ukrainian political scene before the revolution was to watch a kaleidoscope, with members of parliament constantly moving from faction to faction and new constellations of power forming with every twist of events.
>From the moment the revolution ended that fragmentation began again, with some of Kuchma's supporters gravitating to the new powers-that-be and some of Yushchenko's fellow-revolutionaries - notably, the Socialists - immediately trying to catch some homeless or discontented left-wing
politicians. With the dismissal of the Tymoshenko government, the kaleidoscope is again changing shape and color fast.
The SECOND reason why it was very probable the opposition parties would part ways was that, come parliamentary elections in March 2006, the real power in the country should no longer be Yushchenko but the prime minister. A presidential system common in the former Soviet Union will become a parliamentary system more familiar to most Europeans.
It was perhaps natural, then, that factions within the government would begin, as they have, to clash and accuse each other as they maneuvered for pole position in the election race - particularly when the forces that gathered around Viktor Yanukovych in last year's presidential elections remain weak. The government's fall is, then, partly an unwelcome by-product of a welcome change.
And nor should the accompanying loss of revolutionary innocence be a particular cause of lament. In 1989, the Czechoslovak dissidents who led the Velvet Revolution hoped their movements - Civic Forum and Public Against Violence - would remain political forces, but amorphous organizations with their raison d'etre already a matter of history are hardly an ideal mechanism to cope with dramatic challenges.
If one consequence of the Ukrainian government's collapse and the change in political system is a stronger party-political system, then something positive will have emerged.
AND THE DARKER SIDE
But this assessment somehow rings hollow. Something fundamental is missing. That something could be the fear - or, in Putin's case, the hope - that a Tintin moment has arrived.
When Tintin signed off a cartoon career that had taken him to four corners of a largely despotic world, he did so in the tinpot dictatorship of a South American brass hat, General Tapioca. When he left, the name of the capital had changed from Tapiocapolis to Alcazaropolis, named after the latest
strongman-ruler, General Alcazar.
In short, the Tintin moment is the moment when the new regime seems like the old regime.
No one interested in objectivity (and so Putin can be excluded) could possibly look at Ukraine's current crisis and think that Yushchenko and his government are as yet anywhere close to being doppelgangers for Kuchma and his government.
But a Tintin moment does not depend on objectivity; it depends on a population's well-trained instinct to believe that nothing improves, that power inevitably corrupts, that politics is just politicking.
The danger of a Tintin moment would be particularly strong in Ukraine regardless of Yushchenko's or Tymoshenko's actions. One reason was the heightened level of cynicism about the revolution in some quarters, the notion that the revolution was simply a battle of millionaires (Yushchenko's
supporters) against billionaires (Yanukovych's supporters).
At the same time, there were perhaps greater hopes or idealism (or both) than in Georgia and Serbia. Yushchenko seemed a remarkable rarity, a political leader against whom there were no proven charges (or real hint) of corruption and only the slightest trace of sleaze. For all her wealth and the accompanying trail of questions, Tymoshenko also helped heighten expectations.
As the academic Marian Rubchak demonstrated for TOL, Tymoshenko managed to transform herself into the Marianne of the Orange Revolution, tapping into Ukrainian archetypes and the imagery of the French Revolution.
You may not buy into her imagery, but for many ordinary Ukrainians it was an effective psychological tack - and one that created great expectations of Tymoshenko.
Outsiders too may have harbored unusually high hopes of Ukraine: while Serbia was the political laggard of the Western Balkans and Georgia was but a small country, Ukraine's revolution roused hopes that there might be at least some long-term hope of change in Belarus and Russia.
But the real danger of a Tintin moment now does not come from overly high expectations, but from the actions of Ukraine's political leaders these past few months. Of course, there are the allegations of corruption that Oleksandr Zinchenko, head of the presidential secretariat, and Deputy Prime
Minister Mykola Tomenko leveled at close associates of the president (though not at Yushchenko himself) when they resigned.
There is sometimes also extreme language that will fuel the notion that the Orange Revolution has rotted (two examples from Tymoshenko's advisor Mykhailo Brodsky: "I declare that around Yushchenko - there is only corruption" and "I apologize to voters who I earlier encouraged to vote in the elections").
Those are, though, just accusations at present. Still, even in relatively small ways, Tymoshenko and Yushchenko have both given reason to worry. In Tymoshenko's case, one instance is simply a willful economy with the truth, an incredible stretching of credibility. Tymoshenko's career may have
started from humble beginnings but no one doubts that her career led her to wealth, immense wealth.
Now, "Mrs. $11 billion" (as she has been called) has declared that her only income last year was her salary as a member of parliament.
Yushchenko's problem is in part because of the lifestyle of his son, Andriy. A liking of a playboy lifestyle is in itself nothing exceptional and there are limits to the paternal influence of even a president. The problem is how 19-year-old Andriy is thought to have come to his money (and platinum mobile phone): by copyrighting some of the symbols of the Orange Revolution.
When the president's family effectively privatizes the revolution, ordinary people can legitimately ask whether the president will also privatize the presidency.
There also have to be questions about how much Yushchenko has understood that the revolution involved setting radically better standards. As a recent book* by the Ukraine expert Andrew Wilson indicates, politics in the post-Soviet region is often "virtual politics," a world of manipulation and
But at some point, the world of "virtual politics" ends and real politics begins; some accusations need real answers. At least twice, Yushchenko has failed to understand that journalists have asked legitimate questions about people close to him: first, when earlier this year he labeled questions
about Justice Minister Roman Zvarych "intrigues" and then when he called a journalist "a hitman" when he asked about his son's income (an echo of Tymoshenko, as it happens, as she had accused journalists of acting as "hired killers" in the Zvarych affair).
AND THE NEED FOR SOME LIGHT
To argue that the revolution did bring new expectations and a radical change in attitudes is no idle assertion. According to a survey conducted in February by the Applied Research Center for Democracy and Elections, nearly every Ukrainian (92 percent) was interested in the elections, and nearly three-quarters (72 percent) said they have at least a moderate level of interest (up from 59 percent just before the elections).
The vast majority (87 percent) said they were very likely or likely to vote in the March 2006 elections, and only a small minority (16 percent) believed that the parliamentary elections would not be free and fair. Many more believed the revolution was legitimate (70 percent) than actually voted for Yushchenko (52 percent), and almost two-thirds (62 percent) though the revolution had played a role in furthering Ukrainian democracy.
One-third (30 percent) believed Ukraine was a democracy and even more believed (43 percent) was moving to become one. A majority of Ukrainians (53 percent) said that voting gives them a chance to influence decision-making in the country (up from 47 percent in October), with young people particularly energized (42 percent before the elections to 59 percent). That is a long list of figures, but no apologies for the list, for because it details what was a comprehensive change.
The question now is what damage recent months have done, and what impact they will have on the parliamentary elections. Already Yushchenko's standing is being affected. A Razmukov Center poll in August noted a sharp drop in the number of people who thought Yushchenko was an improvement on Kuchma (from 52 percent to 37 percent in five months) - and more people now think Ukraine is heading in the "wrong direction" (43 percent, 20 points down in five months) rather than the right direction (32 percent).
The hope at the start of the year was that, like Georgia's President Mikheil Saakashvili and the late lamented Prime Minister Zurab Zhvania, Yushchenko and Tymoshenko would prove a formidable team. That hope has been dashed.
The other hope was that Yushchenko would use his moment of real power to bring big changes; there is probably now little prospect of sweeping improvements in the months that remain before the political system changes. Yushchenko's main challenge now is simply to keep people's faith in
Ukraine's political direction.
To keep the faith (and also to stem the rapid disintegration of his party), Yushchenko needs to bring some transparency. Some light needs to be shed on the corruption charges and the allegations leveled in recent months. More needs to be known about the investigation into the Kuchma-era killing of the journalist Georgi Gongadze.
Gongadze's mother now says "Yushchenko or Kuchma - nothing has changed," but the key issue is to ascertain the truth of the accusation by former Deputy Prime Minister Mykola Tomenko that Volodomyr Lytvyn - leader of a party that backed the revolution, but at the time of Gongadze's murder the head of Kuchma's presidential administration - has been blocking parliamentary discussion of the investigation. And, perhaps most of all, he needs to make sure that the parliamentary elections really are transparent, free and reasonably fair.
That will require Yushchenko changing his self-described role as a "hands-off manager" and also to make difficult choices. One of those lies in his relationship with Petro Poroshenko - the (now former) head of the National Security Council, a major source of funding and, as a TV magnate, television airtime during the revolution, a leading figure in Yushchenko's party, and, as it happens, godfather to one of Yushchenko's children. (Again there is a Tintin moment here: one of Kuchma's key backers was his son-in-law, the magnate Viktor Pinchuk.)
The development of that relationship now that Poroshenko has been forced to resign pending an investigation will also have a bearing on ensuring free and fair parliamentary elections. Throughout Ukraine, thousands of officials (some say 18,000) have been sacked for their role in perverting the
presidential elections. But the process has been geographically patchy. Analysts are pointing fingers at Poroshenko, claiming that he is protecting some officials.
And while the clear-out suggests the elections in March will be less subject to embedded interests, Ukrainian publications such as Ukrayinska Pravda are reporting cases of seats in local government being sold for as much as $70,000. Full-scale reform of campaign financing and local government may be impossible in the next few months, but these are areas Yushchenko needs to focus on.
None of this is unfamiliar from (for example) U.S., French, or British political history, but while knowledge of that history protects against alarmism it is hardly a reason to be sanguine. And, while looking at the structural changes in Ukraine can give reason to be optimistic, the traces of Tintinism give reason to worry how the revolution will turn out.
How it does develop will depend largely on Ukrainians themselves. The French Revolution brought the guillotine and Emperor Napoleon, but its republican ideas lasted longer. It is up to Ukrainians to remember what they fought for and why - and then to vote.
But it will not depend just on the government or ordinary Ukrainians. For reasons of geopolitics and domestic Russian politics, Putin wants Ukrainians to have a Tintin moment, for democracy to be discredited in the eyes of Ukrainians and Russians.
Prague, Czech Republic
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