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Posted by on 4. mars, 2015

«Mezhygirskyj syndrom» i Oslo

«Mezhygirskyj syndrom» i Oslo

I siste utgave av det polske magasinet «New Eastern Europe» kan man på side 176-179 lese en anmeldelse av Sergii Leshchenkos nyeste bok «Mezhyhirskyi Syndrome. A diagnosis of Viktor Yanukovych’s power».

Boken handler om oligarker og korrupsjon i Ukraina.

Leshchenko vil presentere boken i Oslo på Fredshuset, 10. mars kl.17:00.

Investigation Corruption and Greed

Межигірський синдром. Діагноз владі Віктора Януковича (Mezhyhirskyi Syndrome. A diagnosis of Viktor Yanukovych’s power). By: Sergii Leshchenko. Publisher: Брайт Букс (Bright Books), Kyiv, 2014.

Mezhyhirskyi Syndrome (Mezhyhirskyy syndrome, Diagnoz Vladi Viktora Yanukovycha), the title of the latest book by Sergii Leshchenko, a Ukrainian journalist turned politician, could be considered somewhat misleading. The book’s subtitle, A Diagnosis of Viktor Yanukovych’s Power is much more accurate. Even though the narrative concentrates on Mezhyhirya, the infamous residence of Ukraine’s former president, Viktor Yanukovych, this short book is in fact a telling account of the essence of Ukrainian politics in the quarter of a century, which special attention paid to the last decade. Enormous, luxurious, yet lacking the slightest sense of good taste, Mezhyhirya is nothing more than an illustration and an exemplification of the real ambitions of the Ukrainian political elite.

When we look back at the events that took place in the last decade, we realize that the phrase “Ukraine at the crossroads” was probably the most telling expression that was used to characterize the situation within this post-Soviet state. The problem with such thinking, however, is that it suggests that the Ukrainian political elite were facing a permanent dilemma in choosing the right direction and path of development while maneuvering around obstacles to arrive at a strategic destination. Having read Leshchenko’s book, we might have the impression that these dilemmas were exclusively virtual, which is also a perfect confirmation of British analyst Andrew Wilson’s thesis about virtual politics in the post-Soviet world. At the same time, the well-hidden essence of the system (i.e. fights to control the state’s financial resources, with the ultimate goal of increasing a ruler’s personal wealth) was too often neglected by western observers. From this perspective, “crossroad” could actually be regarded as a goal of Ukrainian politics.

People collect discarded paperwork from water at Mezhyhirya (Mezhigorye), an out-of-town estate of Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovich, some 15km north of Kiev, on 22 February, 2014, Yanukovych abandoned his residence and left the capital amid violent antigovernment protests. Photo by Mikhail Pochuyev/Itar-Tass/ABACAPRESS.COM
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People collect discarded paperwork from water at Mezhyhirya, some 15km north of Kiev, on 22 February, 2014. Photo by Mikhail Pochuyev/Itar-Tass/ABACAPRESS.COM

Leshchenko, popularly known as the star of Ukrainian journalism, is undoubtedly one of the most accurate observers of the Ukrainian political scene.  Consequently, with his newest book we receive a piece of high quality investigative journalism. The foundation of the book is the collection of documents found by civic activists at Mezhyhirya after Yanukovych fled Ukraine in February2014. The book, however, is not a mere complication of facts discovered in the recent months, In fact, the documents that were found at Mezhyhirya only complete the bigger picture and the important pieces of evidence supporting the author’s analytical investigations carried out since 2000.

Three main themes can be identified in the book. The first one referstothecore of Ukrainian politics – its oligarchic system. The book starts with a short, but very informative, analyses of the Ukrainian oligarchy, which includes information on the main “clans”, their background and roots and the scope of their influence. This part could be of special interest to anyone keen to understanding the phenomenon of post-Soviet oligarchy without getting into too many details. Probably the most remarkable conclusion that can be drawn from a reading of this section of the book is that there are no permanent unions or patterns between or within the oligarch clans. Conversely, the picture presented by Leshchenko  shows a complex system of relations as well as evolving mutual dependencies, resembling the European power system of the 19th century where the overall balance of power helped maintain a general patchwork of different interests without major conflict. Thus, while the oligarchy will most likely remain a serious problem of Ukraine’s democratic transition, any attempt to analyze its political impact, as Leshchenko’s analysis suggests, should be done in a dynamic perspective rather than through a simple deconstruction of a snapshot taken at any particular moment.

The second main topic of the book is the rise and fall of Viktor Yanukovych as a politician, In this section, Leshchenko has again managed to tell the story not only of one political figure but has also detailed some of the idiosyncrasies of post-Soviet politicians. Yanukovych’s rise cannot be explained by merely focusing on his competence as a politician leader, on the contrary, in Leshchenko’s analyses, Yanukocych appears as a political “product” or an “instrument” created by one of the oligarchic clans – the Donetsk “Family”. However, Yanukovych should not be regarded exclusively as the result of the political and business games that took place in Ukraine. An obvious political instinct and ability to use circumstances to maximize personal benefit were among Yanukovych’s strengths. Looking back on the former president’s career, we notice a clear sequence of cause and effect relationships. Yet, at the start of 2005, it would have been extremely difficult to predict the developments as we know them now.

From this perspective, Leshchenko tells the story of the mutual relationships between Ukrainian politicians, who often represented camps theoretically hostile to each other. Due to the lack of clear ideological divisions, which had been replaced by business interests, Yanukovych managed not only to politically survive defeat after the 2004 Orange Revolution, but also to finally triumph in 2010. Leshchenko clearly suggests that it was his unrestrained ambition that finally brought down Yanukovych in February 2014. Yanukovych’s political instinct clearly failed him and this failure ultimately led to the destruction of the fragile balance of power between Ukrainian oligarchs.

The third topic of the book may help us understand the source of the failure of Yanukovych’s political instinct. It is the topic that lies at the surface of the book and is presented to us in the story Mezhyhirya. The scale of abuse and fraud of a financial, legal and moral nature that took place during its construction is almost beyond comprehension. From this perspective, the Mezhyhirskyi Syndrome is the first step into uncovering the tremendous extent of the industry of robbery that embraced the whole state. Anyone who is familiar with the analyses of another Ukrainian star journalist, Vitaly Portnikov, may have a sense of déjà vu when reading Leshchenko’s book. It provides perfect confirmation of Portnikov’s thesis that in order to understand the essence of Ukrainian politics one should use the tools that are necessary to understand the functioning of a limited liability company.

One of the rooms at Mezhyhirya
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One of the rooms at Mezhyhirya

The book does not tell us anything about the future of Ukrainian politics and its possible transition to full democracy. However, the general impression, as well as the rich factual material provided, leaves the reader a pessimist at worst and a cautious realist at best. Evidently, it is not the tremendous challenges that have been brought upon Ukraine by the recent war and the severe economic crisis that pose the bigger threat to the state. It is rather the society’s tolerance of corruption. Even if Mezhyhirya is regarded as excessive, its very existence would not have been possible in any society that refuses to accept corruption on such an unimaginable level. A general pessimism towards human nature (not expressed directly, but discernible between the lines) is probably the only reservation that can be directed towards the author. Nevertheless, would it be possible to conduct investigative journalism in Ukraine without such pessimism?

Leshchenko’s book is certainly a must-read for all students of contemporary Ukrainian politics. It may not provide complete explanations or theoretical deliberations on the quality of post-Soviet politics, but these shortages should not be seen as a weakness of the book. Instead, the book gives the reader an opportunity to understand the logic of Ukraine’s decision makers. Such an understanding is probably even more important than a deep knowledge of the formal dimensions of the institutional setup of the country.

Igor Lyubashenko

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