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Konstanty Chodkowski

How far apart? Ukraine and Belarus after elections

Although Ukraine and Belarus have chosen opposite directions of political development, their systems remain very representative for the whole post-soviet area. Considering their very essence, those two paths may lead to the same destination. It was visible especially in the context of the last presidential elections.

In both Ukraine and Belarus things are seemingly clear. In Belarus everything revolves around the “essential” president, Alexander Lukashenko, who is doing his best to remain in power as long as possible. His foreign policy, despite some fluctuations, is mostly Russia-oriented, as the nieghbour is the main guarantor of Belarusian internal and external stability.

Ukraine paints the picture of a great struggle to reach status of a fully “European” and “democratic” country. Its whole political agenda focuses on strategy of rapid exit from the zone of Russian influence as well as on the great promise of deep social and economic reforms. Its political system bases on democratic and free market mechanisms. O at least it looks like that at the very first glance.

Ukraine: the gathering storm

Recent local elections in Ukraine reveal an image that western media would rather keep quiet about. The “wild” electoral campaign has exceeded previous standards and the level of political brutality has doubled comparing with elections in 2011. The source is mainly the internal conflicts that tear the country from the inside. Political powers formed during the post-Maidan wave of changes become exactly the same thing that the Maidan was fighting against: exclusive groups of interests taking care mainly of their own posts.

President Poroshenko’s “Solidarity” movement has quickly turned into a typical post-soviet party of power with no ideological orientation, no concrete program and no intellectual base. The President still has not fulfilled his electoral promises about giving up his lucrative businesses. Thus, he has not applied the “anti-oligarchy policy” even for himself. Moreover, his political position is becoming weaker on a month to month basis, what is quite beneficial for the rest of post-Maidan parties.

Ihor Kolomoisky - Poroshenko’s main adversary - is developing a political project of “UKROP” formed under his personal patronage. The “Right Sector” paramilitary organisation (accused of direct connections with Kolomoisky’s industries) seems to be more and more active on the anti-Poroshenko side. To say more, forces like Timoshenko’s “Batkivshchina” and Sadovyi “Samopomich” also gain certain benefits from Poroshenko’s impotence. Like in a classical conflictology case, weakening of one pole creates opportunity for another – a way to a fundamental change goes through conflict, instability and turbulences.

Belarus: stability or stagnation?

Belarus and its people used to be very proud of the so called “social stability” prevailing in their country. The popular claim is that there is no threat of neither a revolution nor any aggression from abroad. Living standards remain on the highest level in whole post-Soviet area, but on the other hand… it is still far from those prevailing in European Union countries.

The model of Lukashenko’s economy bases on the state’s direct engagement. This system is highly ineffective and cost-consuming, and easily falls down into inflation, causing an endless debt loophole. To put it together with a political system that seems to be unadaptive and resistant to any change, it creates a situation that one can describe as more a threat of stagnation than blissful stabilization.

During the last presidential election there has been a clear signal sent to the world that any change in Belarus is possible only under Lukashenko’s authority. It has been proven in western countries that democracies used to be more flexible in terms of innovation and adaptation than their undemocratic counterparts. Therefore that – praised by many – “stability” will not last forever in Belarus. Especially, when the public mood will get radical.

What brings them all together?

The point where those two seemingly different systems meet is the outcome. Walking different paths, both countries were able to achieve mostly the same destination. Average wages in Kyiv and Minsk remain on similar level (around 200 USD per month) and the same goes for increasing prices. Superficial stability is reached by paying very high costs. Economic competitiveness remains on a very low level, no matter if it is because of state governance or maintaining oligarchy. And still, geopolitical positions of Belarus and Ukraine are equally unsure. None of them is free from the threat of Russian aggression.

Recent elections show the most significant features that both post-soviet republics have in common. One of them is definitely worth noticing: the voting process is still used only as a tool of high-level political fight, where interests of people recede into the background.

In Belarus the voting day is mostly described as a celebration or a ritual that allows authorities to build an illusion of legitimacy. In Ukraine it is only one of many ways to regulate a conflict between political or business powers that seems to be unsolvable by other methods.

In the end, in both cases the final price is paid by at the expense of common people.


Konstanty Chodkowski is a journalist for Eastbook.eu and member of the Polish Geopolitical Association.



The background image is a derivative of "Belarus" by Marc Veraart, used under CC BY.