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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Ukrainians Do Not Live by Bread Alone

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What are the criteria by which people determine the effectiveness of their elected officials? There is no simple answer to this question, and often many people rely upon opinion makers -- the press, academics and opposition politicians among others -- to tell them if officials are good or bad.

Anders Aslund's comment in The Moscow Times on Sept. 14, "Why Tymoshenko's Figures Didn't Add Up," was an attempt to examine the effectiveness of the government of former Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko. His attempt falls way short of the mark, however, because his methodology seems to be based on only one criterion.

Aslund's main argument against Tymoshenko's government is that "This has been a miserable year for the Ukrainian economy. Last year, Ukraine enjoyed economic growth of no less than 12.1 percent, but that declined to 3.7 percent during the first seven months of 2005."

If Ukrainians were enjoying themselves so much throughout 2004, then why did they vote President Viktor Yushchenko and his supporters into power? Was it because they expected that economic growth would rise to 20 or 30 percent under Yushchenko? If so, why are there no mass demonstrations on the streets today protesting the fall in industrial output?

In fact, Ukrainians, like most other people, do not live by bread alone. Ukrainians cared more for democracy during the elections of 2004 than for economic performance percentage points. Democracy -- along with freedom from fear and freedom of the press, the sight of Tymoshenko appearing live on television to defend herself, for example -- is something which Ukrainians find very refreshing today. It is something that cannot be measured by statisticians.

For 10 years, Ukraine suffocated under the regime of President Leonid Kuchma, a regime which, by late 2004, was so hated and discredited that even the 12.1 percent growth rate could not help Kuchma's hand-picked successor, Viktor Yanukovych, get elected. Wide-scale electoral fraud and President Vladimir Putin's political technocrats sent to help Yanukovych also could not do the trick. Yanukovych could not get elected simply because he was viewed as a Ukrainian version of Al Capone.

But there seem to be far too many consultants and economic prophets who are able to judge good versus evil on the basis of only industrial production figures. If 12.1 percent growth is fine and 3.7 percent growth is wrong, then surely the Chinese people should be pleased to live under a dictatorial regime. Hitler also gave the Germans bursts of economic growth: Are we to conclude from this that he was a good ruler?

Aslund often uses the terms populism and populist when referring to the Tymoshenko government and its policies. What do these in fact mean? One example of implementation of populist policy is would be when the common people are oppressed by the elite in society and the instruments of the state are to be grasped from the self-serving elite and used for the benefit and advancement of the people as a whole. Not a terrible concept by any means if we recall what went on in Ukraine during the Kuchma regime and the oligarchs in his close circle who benefited hugely from dubious privatizations of state-owned industries.

Was it evil for Yushchenko and Tymoshenko to rally their supporters with populist rhetoric during the Orange Revolution?

The polls showed that despite impressive economic growth, Ukrainians needed something more -- honesty and openness -- from their elected officials. French lawyer and revolutionary Alexandre Ledru-Rollin once said, "There go the people. I must follow them, for I am their leader." This was his definition of populism, and it fits the way Tymoshenko acted. But Kuchma, Yanukovych and Putin, along with Aslund, do not buy this argument and insist on hammering on about how good it was when factories were pumping out widgets and people were able to buy food and vodka.

In the case of Tymoshenko, Aslund no doubt knows that her policies were set by Yushchenko during the Orange Revolution -- as prime minister, she was implementing his pledges. This is an important fact to keep in mind when trying to make sense of the current divorce proceedings in Kiev. Tymoshenko did what she and her boss promised to do. Kuchma was accused of several crimes -- implication in the murder of journalist Heorhiy Gongadze, corruption, cronyism, illegal wiretapping and so on -- but never populism. Does this lack of populism make Kuchma a decent person and an efficient manager? If we follow Aslund's logic, then the answer is most definitely yes.

For some inexplicable reason, Aslund is troubled by the fact that the Tymoshenko government tried to recover property stolen from the Ukrainian people by members of the Kuchma clan.

Here again Aslund winds up on the wrong side of the fence, defending the interests of the discredited former regime. What is illegal about taking back property from men who stole it and then putting it back on the block? The state has the legal right not only to take back stolen goods but also to resell them at their market value to others. This applies not only to Ukraine but practically everywhere.

Aslund writes: "In short, this government has been an unmitigated disaster of socialist populism. On top of everything, it has maintained a revolutionary discourse of vehement public attacks against individual businessmen and politicians, including members of the government."

Who are these "businessmen and politicians" about whom Aslund writes, who are so unjustly being attacked? They are oligarchs Viktor Pinchuk, Renat Akhmetov, Borys Kolesnikov and a handful of others who in the past have been accused of plundering the Ukrainian economy. The vast majority of businesspeople in Ukraine are not under attack from the government.

Aslund further writes that, "Sensationally, Kuchma's former chief of staff, Viktor Medvedchuk, and his Social Democratic Party are suddenly favoring Tymoshenko, as is Ukraine's first president, Leonid Kravchuk. Curiously, the real agitators of the Orange Revolution and some of the more disreputable oligarchs appear to be coming together in Tymoshenko's bloc." Aslund for some reason fails to mention that the leader of the "disreputables," Kuchma, has come out in defense of Yushchenko and attacked Tymoshenko, as has Putin.

Aslund's is at best a simplistic approach to Ukrainian problems. Tymoshenko has publicly distanced herself from the Social Democratic Party and it is pointless to try and tie her to the old gang. Honesty should have forced Aslund also to mention what Tymoshenko replied to their offer -- that she rejected it openly and clearly.

It might be useful to recall a passage from "On Bullshit," by Harry Frankfurt, professor of philosophy at Princeton University: "It is impossible for someone to lie unless he thinks he knows the truth. Producing bullshit requires no such conviction. A person who lies is thereby responding to the truth, and he is to that extent respectful of it. For the bullshitter, however, all these bets are off: He is neither on the side of the true nor on the side of the false."

Roman Kupchinsky is a former director of the Ukrainian Service of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.