By Mark Zobov, chair of the Moral and Intellectual Choice Association, Ukraine

Translation by Anna Alexandrovna Krapivnik

The Ukrainian people made their choice: they elected a novice as president, and were condemned again as a bad bunch. They had once voted for a “packet of buckwheat”, now they had voted for a laugh — they were not a proper people, but just a population, biomass, cattle. These are descriptions by politicians, political experts and other “educated” worthies following the election of TV comedian Volodymyr Zelensky.

They go on to suggest depriving retired people of the right to vote, and now also the youth, the under-25s. And it is quite possible that they will re-consider the right of women to vote, as apparently they choose according to their hearts, their women’s logic. A more universal simple approach is also proposed — only citizens who have passed an exam to become a Responsible Voter would have the right to vote.

We have never, however, heard them speaking about their responsibility for the current situation. It is they who have intentionally filled the minds of their citizens with political rubbish, often deliberately, to mislead citizens, to stop them seeing the truth, to treat them as fools and prevent them understanding how to really make their lives better.

Anyway the point here is that we do not live in an ideal political world, and we have to think about the citizens of Ukraine — the people as they are. In hindsight, it is easy to recall that the people of independent Ukraine were formed as a “splinter” of the Soviet people – hard-working, forever patient, kind and naive people — but losers according to today’s norms. No wonder that the majority of this “naive” people, moulded by the “mind, honour and conscience of our epoch” for the bright communist future, were at first easily robbed by “reformers”, bringing poverty and loss to them.

Workers build a barricade during the Maidan uprising, February 2014

It would have been a sad end if the new generation, no longer intimidated by the repressive Soviet regime, had not grown up. They have a habit of fighting back and of not turning the other cheek. It is thanks to them that the resistance started. After the first Maidan, then the second one – that led to spilled blood and massacres – the country began to fill up with overwhelming hatred. The threat of total civil war was becoming increasingly real.

At that moment the “intelligent” part of the nation eventually became aware of their commitment to the country’s future. They quickly began the search for a constructive way out of the catastrophic situation. The brightest of the nation were barnstorming all possible ideas (national plans, social contracts, constitutional bills etc), letting their imagination run wild…and without being modest. The most creative ideas featured a far-off global future, where there are no independent states and where humankind is unified. These ideas were good because they stirred the imagination, and generated dreams without which people’s lives are boring and unworthy.

More modest ideas were also put forward by borrowing from the wider European experience: reform of the legislative process, weakening (or abolition) of the institution of president, the development of civil society, its regulatory functions etc. But these modest ideas were offered up in order to preserve the existing representative democracy in the country, which pre-supposes the continued existence of the current elected elites — and of us, the ordinary citizens of Ukraine. The powerful ones continue to do what they want while we try, unsuccessfully, to stop them. This is a typically European model of civil relations, and recent events in France have demonstrated its “benefits”.

Do we need this? I believe we do not; we are fed up with this kind of thinking. What is more, moderate ideas are for moderate people. But we are not modest! Even our political leaders proclaim that we should be the first and the best….put Ukraine first, they say. Therefore we should focus on the sort of “immoderate” middle ground that suggests taking into account both the European democratic experience and its trends of social development, aiming for already visible prospects.

The key aspect of moderate ideas is the securing of democracy, protection of rights and freedoms through the development of civil society. At one time it seemed this developed society could solve all the issues. It was believable, and I also believed in it during those first democratic years. However, I was able to watch Western democracies with these developed civil societies allowing awful crimes to be committed, unleashing wars, abusing human rights and freedoms with truncheons, cavalry, sound bombs, armoured vehicles and other means.

So, I saw that civil society is just a beautiful screen to conceal those who hold the power. They support various communities with grants, creating the illusion of activism. But they fund the development of specific limited projects only, which does not threaten their power, but distracts attention away from the major burning issues. That’s why there is a widespread opinion that all this social activism is corrupted, being dependent on people in power.

Having participated in the development of civil society in Ukraine for 30 years since the memorable Soviet Peoples Deputies Election of 1989, when I today face somebody who wants to make the development of civil society a priority of the reforms, I usually ask myself: who is this? A  fool, a scoundrel or an ignorant person? I ask such a harsh question because for a number of years, I have observed an increasingly bitter fight between the advocates of representative democracy (inevitably leading to oligarchy) and the supporters of the more and more popular, bold idea of real democracy or people’s power.

The advocates of representative democracy call the people “corrupted cattle”, and at the same time prevent them from becoming full agents of social action. But who are they really, these advocates?  The answer is perhaps contained in Alfred Nobel’s quotation on Western democracy: “Any democracy leads to the dictatorship of scoundrels” (or as Plato put it: democracies give way to tyrannies). These words are actually about them.

With people’s power, as full public governance that enables the people and their local communities to determine the rules of their social life together, to set tasks for themselves and for the authorities, and to control their implementation, you get a different outlook that is exactly that immoderate middle ground. This has now become a national idea so much so that it was included as major policy points of some of the leaders in the recent presidential election campaign.

For example, Yulia Timoshenko’s programme called for the abolition of “clans and oligarchs” and the immunity of the president, deputies and judges eliminated. Her manifesto said citizens would have the right to remove central and local authorities through a referendum. Citizens would have the right to propose legislation through petitions and local communities would manage their land.

Volodymyr Zelensky’s programme said his first piece of legislation would be “On people’s power”. He added: “ In this bill we will establish the mechanism under which solely Ukrainian people can set essential tasks for the authorities through referendums and other forms of direct democracy. In modern Ukraine, this should happen using most of the advanced technologies.”

The idea of people’s power is becoming increasingly popular, not only in our country but worldwide, because  Western democracy has reached a crisis in its development, a complete degeneration, and transformation into its opposite – the usurpation of power by a small group of immoral people threatening humanity.

The progressive part of the global community, being aware of the catastrophic nature of the situation, can see the solution in the transition of democracy to a new, higher level, which has already been defined with a new term – real democracy – democracy as the antithesis to the existing imitation democracy. Today it is actually possible to speak about the existence of an international organisation of real democracy supporters, open to ideas and proposals for building real democracy.  As the Real Democracy Movement says, “real democracy is when political and economic power is in the hands of the majority”.

So, the current Ukrainian situation is in line with global developments, and the Ukrainian people have a real chance of becoming leaders of the process of an international transformation with the aim of ending this historic epoch of rule by elites that so dominates social life for the many. This transformation would lay the foundations of real equality of all peoples with regard to the solving of major problems of public governance that determine the prospects of local communities and humanity as a whole.

This transformation is revolutionary, a fact noted by French philosopher, political expert and one of the most influential sociologists of the 20th century, Pierre Bourdlieu. In his article, Delegation and Political Fetishism, he writes: “Thus the final political revolution—the revolution against the group of politicians and against the usurpation potentially contained in delegating — is only to come.”

And this very revolution has started in our country in real time with our participation, in a peaceful manner, in an ordinary election campaign. We see people in power desperately resisting this revolution, having hysterical fits, trying to split the people by various dirty tricks. The objective of the Ukrainian people is to unite, to win the elections. It would be a big achievement to get a constitutional majority of the supporters of people’s power in the Verkhovna Rada in the elections scheduled for later this year.

Ten years ago in 2009, we – 38 Kharkiv public and political organizations – founded the Civil Council of the Kharkiv Region to “establish real people’s power in Kharkiv and the Kharkiv region, promote sustainable development of the region and create all necessary conditions for a decent and happy life for all the local residents via their socially useful self-realisation.”.

Shortly afterwards we began to implement the “Power to the People!” project, whose goal is to set up the bodies of self-organisation of the people in Kharkiv and the region, as a basic principle for the establishment of  people’s power. During each general election campaign we addressed the candidates, the people in power and the common citizens of Ukraine, calling on them to support the idea of people’s power, an idea that was continuously theoretically developed by us; eventually, it was produced as the Draft People’s Power Doctrine. Since 2012, the draft has been further tested and discussed at round tables, conferences and on the Internet so thoroughly that it could be used as the basis for the amendments to the Constitution and the Laws of Ukraine.

Our call to hold the elections on the basic issue of a choice between supporters and opponents of people’s power, rather than as the fight between the imposed Western and Eastern geopolitical vectors, or the problems of mono- and bi-lingualism, did not find a proper response. But then the leading candidates for the presidential election started using the language of “people’s power” as a means to securing victory. Why?

Without doubt, primarily, it was the effect of the long, hard work of promoting the people’s power movement. In addition to that, the people in power led by Petro Poroshenko contributed massively into pushing Ukrainian citizens towards thinking of the need to immediately abolish the oligarch’s regime. The Poroshenko government did it in a very persuasive way – destroying the Maidan ideals of dignity and justice, and deeply offending millions of Ukrainian citizens.

In this respect it is very important to remark that the idea of real democracy, or people’s power, was not imposed from outside. Political experts did not download this idea into the minds of Ukrainians. The concept grew from below, from the roots, and gained the status of a social demand. That way, implicitly, for the first time the Ukrainian people showed their role and significance, setting their own agenda and leaving behind the small space where they were manipulated by the practice of “divide and rule”.

In any case, it is necessary for the people of Ukraine and its local communities to become the key players. Then they will be able to develop, express and enforce their will. Only then  will our people become masters of the country, where communities govern their respective areas within the powers given to them by the people.

The establishment of real democracy turns people and local communities into the key arbiters of the social activities in all areas of social life. The agents, including parties, are becoming absolutely superfluous. They have already played their part in history, and they are to become extinct. They have already decreased in importance tremendously, turning into simple headquarter teams for election campaigns. In their place, civil society in the form of various non-governmental organisations will find their supporters in people and communities. These will help with resources and support any of their initiatives aiming to benefit people and communities.

At this early stage it is necessary to protect people from abrupt turns and leaps. Consequently, it is worth launching the mechanism of direct real democracy smoothly – the first stage being advisory, but not mandatory or binding. Only later, having become confident that the united wisdom of the nation has been gathered and has finally matured to make responsible decisions, will we be able to claim that the people have come of age, and can work normally.