On July 9, Ukraine witnessed the emergence of a serious push to form a European liberal political party.
The new initiative is being led by Mustafa Nayem, a former journalist and now legislator, whose Facebook and Twitter postings helped trigger the Maidan Revolution of 2013-2014; Sergii Leshchenko, an investigative journalist who has exposed some of Ukraine’s largest corruption schemes; Svitlana Zalischuk, a former civic activist turned politician; and Deputy Minister of the Environment, Svitlana Kolomiyets. Vasyl Gatsko is the leader of an activist political party, the Democratic Alliance, which will become the platform for the new liberals. Gatsko and Zalischuk were elected as the party’s co-chairs on July 9 in Kyiv.
All of the new party’s leaders are in their twenties and thirties. And all are committed to the creation of a political party that unites the center and the center-right and backs free market approaches, is steadfastly libertarian on matters of personal choice, and is a staunch proponent of tough anticorruption measures.
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Liberal values are in decline in Central and Western Europe, but they are a relatively new political option in Ukraine, which despite two mass protest movements has never seen a serious European liberal political project congeal since communism fell in 1991.
There are many reasons for this. Ukraine has lacked serious ideologically based-political parties. Post-communist Ukraine was riven by a deep cultural-political divide that pitted a Russo-centric identity in the east and south against a western-oriented narrative rooted in the Ukrainian language and culture that dominated in the west and center. This meant that political parties focused primarily on cultural politics, often laced with populist economic appeals, rather than offering measured and sober values-based programs.
Russian President Vladimir Putin’s recent aggression in Crimea and the has largely consolidated the Ukrainian nation, bringing together Russian- and Ukrainian-speakers around a new spirit of patriotism and national pride. This has meant that politics is no longer operating on an east-west or Ukrainian-Russian-speaking axis, but around fundamental political principles, thus opening the door to more programmatically oriented political discourse.
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