When, on April 4th, the Party of Regions responded to the opposition’s continued blockade of the parliamentary podium by leaving the Rada premises and setting up its own legislature on Bank Street, near the president’s office, it effectively created a condition of what the Bolsheviks once called “dual power.” Russia’s socialists did the exact same thing when, in the aftermath of the czar’s overthrow in the February Revolution of 1917, they established the Soviet of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies in Petrograd. Lenin’s Bolsheviks used the Soviet to launch their own coup in November of that year.
If there’s one thing the Regionnaires know, it’s their Soviet history. Well-schooled in Communist Party lore, they knew that, in moving the Rada’s seat to Bank Street, they weren’t just responding to the democratic opposition’s filibusters. The Regionnaires had to know they were creating what Lenin understood as a “revolutionary situation”—an unstable condition in which the legitimate authorities are effectively challenged by revolutionaries. When I told an ex-Sovietologist of mine about this development, he responded with three short words: “That’s very bad.”
The reason it’s very bad is simple. Dual power is intrinsically unsustainable. You can’t have two parliaments or two presidents or two popes. Once a condition of such “binary opposition” emerges, there is no room for compromise. One side has to cave; one side has to prevail. Or the ultimate power holder, President Viktor Yanukovych, has to resolve the standoff by knocking heads together or by abolishing both bodies.
The Regionnaires will never admit that their rump parliament is illegal—which of course it is—or that the laws it passed are bogus. Quite the contrary, Speaker Volodymyr Rybak has even sent four such pieces of legislation to Yanukovych for his signature. If the Regionnaires wish to define legality in terms of their actions rather than existing rules (which seems to be the case), then anything they do must be a priori legal. End of story. The opposition may eventually back down and thereby acquiesce in the Regionnaire coup, but some democrats will not. If the standoff between the two Radas continues or is ever revived, one side will, by the force of logic of the revolutionary situation, have to repress the other—or, as Lenin put it, “Kto kogo?” (“Who gets whom?”). As journalist Serhii Leshchenko says, “We are entering very difficult times. What struck us as ‘bad’ or ‘illegal’ in the past will now appear to be child’s play compared to what awaits us ahead.”
If and when the regime turns against the democratic opposition à la Belarus, Russia, and Uzbekistan, Yanukovych’s legitimacy, already flagging, will go into negative numbers. Worse, he’ll have to admit that he is a dictator supported by an illegitimate parliament incapable of pursuing reform, promoting European integration, and saving the economy from collapse. Yanukovych will own the entire mess. The European Union will never sign an Association Agreement with Ukraine’s version of Robert Mugabe, while Russia’s President Putin will turn up the neo-imperialist pressure on Little Russia. Yanukovych will finally be completely isolated—from the world and from his people.
Even if Yanukovych has the sense to mediate a compromise between the two Radas, the precedent—and, thus, the ongoing threat—of dual sovereignty will have been set. The only solution to such an implicitly unstable condition is to abolish the existing Rada via a referendum, establish a rubber-stamp institution in its place, and institute a winner-take-all single round of presidential elections, in the hope that the opposition will be unable to agree on a single candidate for the 2015 elections.
This approach could end up destroying Ukraine. If the Regionnaire Bolsheviks exclude a majority of the country from having a voice, and if Yanukovych wins the ballot by dividing the majority, the cleft between the Regionnaire thugs and the democrats will only grow, and the overlapping divides between supporters of Europe and supporters of Russia, between supporters of modernity and supporters of the Soviet past, and between supporters of Ukrainian independence and Little Russian vassalage will deepen. Social, cultural, and economic tensions will increase and large-scale civil disturbances will become likely. Once violence, either from below or from above, enters the picture, as it certainly could in this scenario, Ukraine will become ungovernable. At that point, Europe’s Zimbabwe may become Europe’s Syria.