Ukraine and Poland: spitting image
Ukraine and Poland: spitting image

Ukraine and Poland: spitting image

11:34, 27 September 2007
4 min. 2205

Poland and Ukraine are partners in hosting Europe`s 2012 soccer championships, and Poland is Ukraine`s staunchest advocate in the European Union. It turns out the two states have another important similarity as well...

Poland and Ukraine are partners in hosting Europe`s 2012 soccer championships, and Poland is Ukraine`s staunchest advocate in the European Union. It turns out the two states have another important similarity as well.

With parliamentary elections looming in Ukraine on Sunday and in Poland next month, the political campaigns in these countries are remarkably alike.

Both races are making it clear that such issues as corruption and morality have become the prism through which many voters are judging the dynamic post-communist world of rapid, market-driven growth.

In each country, the legacies of recent history bitterly divide the political elites and, to a lesser degree, the public. In Ukraine, a political morality play surrounds the rapid accumulation of wealth by a handful of allegedly corrupt oligarchs since the fall of communism.

In Poland, the political schism isn`t over how to handle the post-communist era but the predations of the communist past. The central question there is whether citizens and politicians who may have collaborated with the old security services should be exposed.

Poland`s political divide occurs along sociological lines. The better-educated middle-class voters prefer to move forward, while the lower-middle classes and rural voters are more inclined to support a full accounting.

The latter group are drawn to moral arguments because they tend to be more religiously conservative than their urban counterparts, and because they harbor resentments that many who "made it" in democratic Poland had links to communism.

Ukraine`s fault lines have a more geographic cast, with voters in the Ukrainian-speaking west and center inclined to back those seeking to settle scores with oligarchs, while voters in the Russian-speaking east support their rich native sons who made good by turning around formerly decrepit enterprises, even if these were ill-gotten.

In both countries, the leading anti-establishment parties are paradoxically headed by consummate political insiders. Poland`s Law and Justice party is led by combative Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski, whose more moderate twin brother Lech is Poland`s president.

In Ukraine, the insurgent anti-establishment tone is set by the eponymous bloc of Yulia Tymoshenko, herself a former energy oligarch and ex-premier.

The center-right, populist and "anti-oligarch" campaigns of Prime Minister Kaczynski and Ms. Tymoshenko may not be successful in the end, but they are setting the terms of political debate. They also have contributed to the near-total disappearance of the traditional communist and socialist left in each country.

Poland`s ex-communists have vanished as an independent force. They have been replaced by the Left and Democrats bloc, a social-liberal coalition  that has shed politicians with odious links to the communist era and includes budget-balancing economists and anticommunist activists from the Solidarity underground of the 1980s.

That bloc, along with the conservative Law and Justice party and the Civic Platform -- the major centrist, liberal party, led by the bland but reassuring Donald Tusk -- will most likely dominate the Oct. 21 election.

In Ukraine, the hardline Communist party looks set to get no more than 5% of the vote. The Socialist party, which betrayed its coalition partners from the 2004 Orange Revolution and backed the ruling Party of Regions last year, won`t even get the modest 3% needed to enter parliament.

As a result, Ukraine`s voters will choose among three major parties, two of which are Europe-oriented forces with roots in the Orange Revolution: the centrist, free-market Our Ukraine/National Self-Defense grouping of President Viktor Yushchenko, and the more populist Tymoshenko bloc.

Their common opponent is the ruling Party of Regions, whose billionaire business leaders say they favor a liberal agenda of tax cuts, deregulation and membership in the EU.

Still, the Party of Regions has numerous politicians who support a state-directed economy, are linked to the voter fraud that sparked the Orange Revolution, and seek economic integration with Russia rather than the West.

Led by Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych, the Party of the Regions was comfortably ahead in mid-summer public opinion polls. But with recent surveys indicating that he has lost ground, Mr. Yanukovych has lost his nerve and adopted a shrill and bitter tone that castigates the "Orange


Why has all this happened? And why are Ukraine`s and Poland`s politics dominated by culture and values as opposed to policy prescriptions?

First, both countries experienced major revolutions in the last quarter-century. In Poland, Lech Walesa`s Solidarity was a civic and labor movement that marshaled high moral principles and achieved unity through nonviolent tactics that led to the defeat of communism in 1989. The effects are still reverberating, as Polish society continues to reshape itself.

In Ukraine, the Orange Revolution of 2004 was similarly driven by lofty ideals and a commitment to rigorous nonviolent civic resistance. These principles and commitment have been tested in the last three years as the "Orange" coalition splintered.

It was perhaps inevitable that, once in power, personal political ambitions and political differences that were suppressed in the struggle against authoritarianism would divide these broad-based movements and impede their agendas.

Still, the inability of both Solidarity and the Orange forces to meet excessively high public expectations for rapid change created a residue of deep bitterness that influences the political culture of both countries.

A second reason why questions of morality and identity are dominating politics in Ukraine and Poland is the strong state of their economies.

Both countries are in the midst of longstanding economic booms with rising living standards. Poland`s GDP grew by more than 6% in 2006, and has achieved an annual growth rate of over 7% in the first half of this year.

In Ukraine, the GDP has expanded by an average of more than 7% per year since 2000. As a result, all major parties in both countries reject dramatic shifts in economic policy and, electoral promises notwithstanding, are likely to pursue centrist, business-friendly policies.

Politics and political campaigning in Poland and Ukraine today suggest a bitter twilight struggle and are filled with dramatic charges of "crisis," "corruption," "immorality" and "criminality."

But after the dust settles in both countries and the votes are counted, the influence of free media, civil society, a growing middle class and a powerful business elite will constitute a moderating force on politicians.

So, too, will the steadying influences of Ukraine`s centrist President Viktor Yushchenko and Poland`s moderate President Lech Kaczynski.

For the moment, politics in Warsaw and Kiev make for fascinating theater. But in reality, it is the storm before the calm.


Mr. Karatnycky is a senior fellow with the Atlantic Council of the U.S. and president of the Orange Circle, a nongovernmental group working to build support for reform in Ukraine.

This article was monitored by the Action Ukraine Monitoring Service for the Action Ukraine Report (AUR), Morgan Williams, SigmaBleyzer, Editor.

COMMENTARY: By Adrian Karatnycky

The Wall Street Journal, New York, NY, Thu, September 27, 2007

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