Political authority in Ukraine, already weakened by months of confrontation between an irreconcilable political opposition and an irresolute president, seems to be disintegrating before our eyes. The country can be compared to a patient who in the attempt to cure one ailment has unleashed a host of others. In this case, the effort to rid the country of corruption and nepotism has led to a highly questionable transition of power, economic collapse, a rash of vandalism and vigilante justice all across Ukraine, the rise of radical nationalism and even the possible loss of Crimea, accompanied by Russian military intervention on Ukrainian soil.
Given the hopes of so many in the West regarding this latest Ukrainian revolution, it is important to clearly understand the radical nationalist agenda. Within the parliament they are represented by the Svoboda Party, which received just over 10 percent of the vote in the last parliamentary elections. Citing Svoboda's "racist, anti-Semitic and xenophobic views," the European Parliament issued a resolution on December 13, 2012, that called upon on all pro-democratic parties in Ukraine "not to associate with, endorse or form coalitions with this party." Today Svoboda holds key leadership positions in the parliament and law enforcement, four ministerial portfolios in the new government and several appointed governorships.
On the Maidan, meanwhile, it is the Right Sector that wields authority. It answers to no one and continues to view the National Revolution as incomplete. As described on its official website, its members are critical of party politics and skeptical of the "imperial ambitions" of both Moscow and the West. The former are easy to identify, but the latter are no less dangerous to the awakening Ukrainian national spirit. With its sweet talk of "dialogue" and "compromise" Right Sector authors say the West is sapping the will of the nation. Ultimately, however, the people will see through these deceptions "and, hardened by the flames of National Revolution, rise up in opposition to the "democratizers' and their local lackeys."
Calls by the new speaker/acting president for the Maidan to disband have been ignored. In recognition of its own weakness, the parliament gave in to demands that the new government be ratified by the Maidan. This, in effect, creates two centers of governmental authority, a sure recipe for paralysis and demagogic populism. It is hard to imagine, for example, that austerity measures proposed by the government will be approved by the Maidan.
* One of its first acts was to repeal the 2012 law allowing Russian and other minority languages to be used locally. While the speaking/acting president has promised to reverse this, its passage was one of the main irritants between the predominantly Russian and the predominantly Ukrainian speaking regions of the country.
* It introduced a resolution to outlaw the Communist Party of Ukraine, which received 13 percent of the vote in 2012, and which, after the collapse of the Party of Regions, is the country's last major political opposition party. Both the Party of Regions and the Communist Party have already been declared illegal in several Western regions by local legislatures that continue to function independently of Kiev.
* It consolidated the powers of speaker of parliament and president in one man, amassing greater powers in a single individual than is allowed under any Ukrainian constitution. It recently went even further, dismissing several justices of the Constitutional Court, and asking the newly appointed prosecutor general, a member of the Svoboda party, to bring charges against them.
* Finally, it created a new Lustration Committee to prevent those who supported the previous government from ever assuming political office again. Lustration, from the Latin term for purification, refers to mass disqualification of those who served under previous communist or Nazi regimes. They were highly controversial in Eastern Europe because of the propensity of political authorities to target potential political rivals. It is likely to prove no less so in Ukraine.
In effect, the parliament now rules without any constraints on its power.
Many had hoped for some signs of compromise in the new interim government, now headed by Arseny Yatseniuk, and it does indeed contain several ministers without party affiliation. Alas, of nineteen ministerial appointments, only two hail from the east (both from Kharkov) and none from the south, severely limiting the government's geographic appeal.
At this point, many in the east and south feel excluded from the political process, and this has brought the situation in Crimea, Kharkov, Donetsk and elsewhere to a boiling point. Their representatives in parliament seem to be excluded from meaningful participation. Given what they have seen of the West's diplomatic intervention, they are also completely cynical about receiving any sympathy from that quarter. Some now hope for direct Russian intervention, and Russia has responded by reinforcing its military presence in Crimea in response to what it calls "the threat to the lives" of military personnel and Russian citizens in Crimea. It says it intends to keep its forces ready to intervene "until the social and political situation in that country is normalized."
Many see this as a prelude to broader intervention, but supporting a collapsing economy in a sharply divided Ukraine is something that not even a relatively prosperous Russia can afford to do. Even more importantly, the regions in the south and east that oppose the Maidan are not demanding to leave Ukraine. Faced with turmoil in Kiev, they seek a more formal recognition of their rights within Ukraine. A popular slogan at a recent anti-Maidan meeting in Kharkov was "We are not separatists. We are federalists."