Publication: Prism Volume: 4 Issue: 16

By Volodymyr Zviglyanich


The “communism-anticommunism” dichotomy continues to be the tool used to analyze the politics of post-Communist states, both by Western political scientists and by their colleagues from the newly-independent states [NIS]. In its time, it served as a powerful instrument to interpret the process of democratization in the former “socialist camp.”

But the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of Communist regimes did not lead to fundamental changes in methodology. Analysis continued to be based on the “communism-anticommunism,” (or, in the best case, “post-communism”) dichotomy.

This dichotomy was based on the differences between the two ideologies. It was a useful tool in understanding the first stage of “de-communization” (1990-1994), which took place on the crest of a wave of spontaneous protest against the Communists, the secret police, and its agents, the re-examination of the curricula for teaching history in the schools–in a word, against everything which was connected with communism. A romantic rejection of the past was characteristic of this stage, and this, in turn, led to nostalgia for the past, and “cheap sausages and vodka” on the part of the older generation.

But after the disappearance of communism as a powerful ideology, there was a need for a new tool to analyze the complicated social and political processes taking place in the NIS during the second stage of post-Communist transformation.

This stage was characterized by the return of Communists and leftists to power in many Eastern European countries and the emergence of powerful Communist parties in Russia and Ukraine. Communism, which had ceased to exist as an ideology forcibly imposed from above, “came back” as a social, cultural and moral phenomenon. It remained an important attribute in the people’s everyday existence, especially for those who were unable to adapt to the period of the “primary accumulation of capital,” and such phenomena as corruption, violence and unemployment.

Unlike the first stage, with its romantic idea of anti-Communist revolution, the second stage (1995-1998) is characterized by a combination of two factors–money and the paternalistic expectations of the broad masses of the population.

The Communists have become pragmatists. In addressing the masses, they no longer appeal to Communist ideas, but to more prosaic issues of everyday life–the impoverishment of the masses, corruption, and the high cost of living. This helped them win the 1994 and 1998 parliamentary elections in Ukraine. In the latest parliamentary elections in Ukraine in March 1998, the Communists and leftists doubled their representation in parliament, and on June 7, after three months of behind-the-scenes horse-trading and deals with the administration, an orthodox socialist, Oleksandr Tkachenko, was elected to the country’s second most important post. (1)

Paradoxically, it was not Communist ideas, but their promises to fill the voters’ pockets, which proved to be decisive in the leftists’ political discourse during the campaign.

On the contrary, the rightists and the centrists were more “idealistic” than the Communists; they appealed to the people’s fear of possible repressions if the Communists returned to power, and to the desire to keep Ukraine independent.

The success of the Communists’ pragmatic approach shows the need for a change in the way social processes in the post-Communist countries are analyzed. If analysis continues to be based on the ideological “communism-anticommunism” dichotomy, while ignoring the powerful influence of a factor such as money on social psychology and morality, it will continue to overlook key processes taking place deep within society and lose the ability to predict social changes.

Money, its redistribution, and the processes which take place around it,–all this makes it possible to speak of the appearance of a powerful factor of pragmatism in the everyday life and political culture of the post-Communist countries. Ukrainian politics, at the present time, offers a favorable opportunity to classify the various forms that this pragmatism can take.

Pragmatism varies, depending on the social constraints within which it works. It can be divided into three types: liberal-Western pragmatism, “Ukrainian” pragmatism and Communist (or leftist) pragmatism.


The proponents of this form of pragmatism are people in the government and the presidential administration linked with Leonid Kuchma’s main adviser and close friend, National Security and Defense Council Secretary Volodymyr Horbulin. It is characterized by pro-Western orientation, the promise to fulfill all of the demands of international financial institutions in exchange for the offer of large financial credits, and the desire to develop mutually-beneficial trade relations and Ukraine’s gradual entry into Euroatlantic structures. Its supporters include National Bank of Ukraine Chairman Viktor Yushchenko, new Foreign Minister Borys Tarasiuk, National Committee on Economic Development and European Integration Director Roman Shpek, Deputy Prime Minister Serhiy Tyhypko, and Finance Minister Ihor Mitiukov.

In the case of Ukraine’s moving closer to NATO, the pragmatism of Ukrainian foreign policy, which operates within the constraints of Western liberalism, such as human rights, freedom, democracy, and transparency, has come into conflict with the conservative-pragmatic values of the Russian political establishment, acting within the framework of the neo-imperialist geopolitical priorities of domination and diktat.

An example of the positive role of the liberal-Western version of pragmatism in Ukraine is the ever-growing desire to correct the situation in the economy by carrying out the programs of international financial organizations such as the IMF, the World Bank, and the European Bank of Reconstruction and Development [EBRD]. The conception of a strategic partnership between Ukraine and the U.S. plays a key role in the development of contacts with these organizations. And this raises a logical question: what kind of a partnership can there be between two countries, one of whom has a GDP 73 times bigger than the other? This fact reveals the non-traditional nature of a partnership between two countries which cannot be reduced to economic interests. The strategic partnership between the U.S. and Ukraine is based on adherence to shared ideals of Western democracy and the liberal ethic, which, in turn, give a conceptual and semantic framework for the Ukrainian version of liberal-Western pragmatism.

Ukraine’s “Westernizers” are, on the average, people who are 40-50 years old, with a professional education, and, as a rule, are people who did not belong to the top ranks of the Soviet-era party or state nomenklatura.


“Ukrainian pragmatism” began when Leonid Kuchma, after his victory in the 1994 elections, said that for Ukraine, the state was not an icon to pray to, but an instrument of social transformation. (2) For his predecessor, Leonid Kravchuk, the ideological and nationalist (read: anti-Communist) aspect of politics prevailed over pragmatic orientations. Kuchma was no such idealist. In October 1994, he produced a radical economic reform program in the spirit of the IMF’s recommendations. It was not carried out, and in the end, was replaced by a “Ukrainian” model of reform, oriented toward the traditional peculiarities of the Ukrainian national mentality and psychology, which each politician understood in his own way. All this led to rampant corruption, inconsistency in economic transformation and a drain of foreign investment away from Ukraine.

Lip-service to radicalism and reform, combined with the traditional Ukrainian unhurried wiliness and the desire to get the better of one’s partner are characteristic of the “Ukrainian” version of pragmatism. Its adherents look, first of all, for personal benefit for themselves, and care little about collective success. It is a contradictory combination of certain ideas of modernization with the characteristic Ukrainian khutoryanstvo, or small-town mentality–not exactly provinciality, but an alienation from one’s neighbors, and the absence of any sense of “team effort” or “team spirit.” (3) This “lonely philosophy” leads one segment of society to have paternalistic expectations, and gives another the desire to rule everyone and run everything.

One indicator of modernism in Leonid Kuchma’s most recent decrees is his decree introducing a single tax rate for small business. The decree on small businesses set a monthly tax rate of no more than 200 hryvnyas ($100) for private businesses employing fewer than ten people and of six percent of revenues for small companies employing about 10 workers. According to the president’s first deputy chief of staff, Pavlo Gaidutsky, this decree would stimulate small businesses, many of whom now prefer to evade taxation, to come out into the open. (4) The decree abolishes 13 existing taxes on small business, according to Oleksandra Kuzhel, the head of the State Committee for Business Development. A company earning less than $125,000 a year would now pay some $7,500 in annual taxes, instead of about $26,000 previously, she said. (5) Kuchma also introduced a single tax rate for agricultural production, similar to that now set for small businesses.

But at the same time, the draft decree “On Certain Measures to Regulate Barter Operations in the Economy” prescribes administrative measures to reduce barter transactions by five percent each quarter and ultimately to reduce the total amount to 25 percent. The decree prescribes the exchange of products by barter, at market prices, but [sic!] “market prices are to be defined by the Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine.” (6) This draft decree means more state interference in relations between businessmen, contrary to Kuchma’s stated objective of deregulating the economy.

The “Ukrainian” model of pragmatism is defended by people in their late fifties and early sixties, who belonged to the top ranks of the Communist nomenklatura. Such people include Leonid Kuchma, Yevhen Marchuk (the former head of the Ukrainian KGB), Prime Minister Valery Pustovoitenko, and Stanislav Gurenko, the last first secretary of the Ukrainian Communist Party, who is now the chairman of the parliamentary committee on economic policy, property and investment.


As has been noted above, the Communists have developed a taste for money. For them, money is a means towards reversing political reform and returning Ukraine to the “Soviet path,” according to Petro Symonenko’s speech at a Ukrainian Communist Party plenum. (7)

The specificity of Communist pragmatism and the vagueness and duality of the policy of “Ukrainian” pragmatism is leading them to cooperate with each other.

One example of this cooperation–and at the same time, of “Ukrainian” pragmatism–is the election of Oleksandr Tkachenko, perhaps the most conservative figure in the Ukrainian political establishment, as speaker of parliament. Tkachenko has no popularity among the Ukrainians. Asked in a June poll to name a good candidate for speaker, only 0.8 percent of Ukrainians chose Tkachenko. (8) He was the agriculture minister of Soviet Ukraine and left his post soon after independence. In 1992, he founded the agro-industrial firm Zemlya i Lyudi (Land and People), which he directed until his election to parliament in 1994. In 1995, Tkachenko was formally accused by prosecutors of embezzling about US$70 million in Ukrainian government and U.S. Eximbank funds intended for Ukrainian farms, and using his position as deputy speaker to obstruct their investigation.

Tkachenko is known for tempering his leftist rhetoric with pragmatism, when it comes to his personal interests. (9)

As Tkachenko was being elected, Prime Minister Valery Pustovoitenko signed a degree clearing debts between Zemlya i Lyudi and state enterprises. The timing suggested that the government knew in advance that Tkachenko would be prevail.


As a result of the interplay of these three types of pragmatism, Ukrainian politics demonstrates the limits of the methodological scheme of rational action, which presupposes a goal and rational means of achieving it, based on cost-benefit analysis.

For example, the key goal of Ukrainian policy today is to get an EFF [Extended Fund Facility] loan from the IMF, to ward off a financial collapse. At the same time, Ukrainian politicians–the parliament’s passage of an ambiguous budget resolution on July 24, which avoids coming up with an exact figure for the budget deficit (one of the IMF’s key demands) (10)–are doing all they can to make it harder to achieve these goals. Although declaring a rational goal–attracting investment–in reality, Ukrainians are doing everything they can to complicate the achievement of this goal (in particular, abolishing tax holidays for investors). (11)

Is this policy irrational? From the point of view of Western methodology, yes. From the point of view of the interaction of the types of pragmatism described above–it is another type of rationality, which presupposes a combination of formal and informal–socio-cultural, historical and psychological, factors.

Thus, the liberal-Western type of pragmatism prescribes that Ukraine must comply with the IMF’s demands and get an EFF loan. But “Ukrainian” and Communist pragmatism, proceeding from the peculiarities of the national mentality and psychology, simply do not accept the formal model of rational action, and prefer the traditional Ukrainian “waiting game,” appealing to Ukraine’s unique significance, which “must be preserved,” and putting off real action.

The future of these three forms of pragmatism will depend on who is able to exploit the factor of money most successfully. If the population see that the credits allotted by the West continued to be squandered without any perceptible direct benefit, it may choose in favor of Communist pragmatism and undermine the modernizing tendencies of “Ukrainian” pragmatism. To prevent this, the West must combine giving money for economic reforms with a thoroughgoing program to help create solid democratic institutions in Ukraine.


1. The Communists and the leftists control one-third of the parliament’s 21 committees, including such key committees as the committees on legal policy, state construction, economic policy, agrarian policy, foreign policy, agrarian policy, foreign policy and ties with the CIS countries, national security and defense, veterans, pensioners and invalids. Tkachenko’s first deputy is Communist deputy Adam Martyniuk, and his second deputy is Viktor Medvedchuk, a representative of the left-centrist United Social Democratic Party of Ukraine [SDPU(o)]–Vechirnii Kyiv, July 14, 1998 2. Holos Ukrainy, July 20, 1994 3. Yulia Mostovaya, “Khotya by na chasok pokinut’ ‘khytorok'”–Zerkalo nedeli, June 20, 1998 4. Kyiv Post, July 7, 1998 5. Ibid 6. Zerkalo nedeli, June 20, 1998 7. Kyiv Post, July 14, 1998 8. Kyiv Post, July 10, 1998 9. Ibid 10. Interview with Yulia Tymoshenko, head of the parliament’s budget committee, Vechirnii Kyiv, July 25, 1998; Monitor, July 27 and 29, 1998 11. Interview with Serhiy Tyhypko in Washington, July 9, 1998

Volodymyr Zviglyanich is a senior research fellow of the Ukrainian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Sociology, a research associate at George Washington University, and a Senior Fellow of the Jamestown Foundation.

Translated by Mark Eckert