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The Difference Between the "Right" and "Left" in Ukraine and Europe, - Valentyn Gladkykh


Ukraine is only rethinking the "left" and "right" in the context of the current understanding of these concepts in Europe and the United States. Valentyn Gladkykh, an expert at the United Ukraine Analytical Center, wrote about this in an article for The Gaze. The text of the article can be found below.


Sooner or later, Ukraine's Euro-Atlantic aspirations will culminate in full membership in the European Union, which will raise the question not only of harmonizing the legal framework and synchronizing political processes. It will require a deeper understanding by Ukrainians of the political reality and practices of other European countries, and by Europeans of Ukraine's political diversity. Our common future will depend on this.


At the moment, it can be stated with full responsibility that Ukrainians' perceptions of the policies of individual EU member states and Europe as a whole are very superficial, sometimes even mythologized. The same can be said about the perceptions of most Europeans about politics in Ukraine, which are usually limited to a set of stereotypes and clichés.


A serious obstacle to solving this problem is the fact that the same words and terms that are widely used both in academic and professional circles and at the household level often have completely different meanings in Ukraine and Europe.


This problem becomes all the more noticeable the less legal certainty a term has. This is most acutely manifested in the use of concepts whose definition is not unanimous even in the academic environment and whose meaning is itself a theoretical problem of political science. However, conflicts arise even in relation to fairly common concepts, such as "populists" or "right" and "left". The use of the above words to condemn political opponents does not add to the clarity, and further distorts their meaning.


It should also be borne in mind that all these concepts have undergone a certain evolution, during which their meaning has also changed.


European Practice

For example, the European "left" and "right" can be distinguished since the French Revolution, when the "left" was considered to be the advocates of radical changes in all spheres of socio-political and socio-economic life, and the "right" was considered to be more conservative supporters of preserving "traditions" and established social institutions, both organizations and practices.


Marxism made its own adjustments to the understanding of the "right" and "left," the watershed for which was the attitude to capital and labor, as a result of which the "right" was considered to be the defenders of the interests of capital and those institutions that served these interests (of course, in the Marxist sense of the word), and the "left", respectively, those who defended the interests of labor. For the former, the cornerstone was the "nation," for the latter, the "class." Today, the watershed between the "left" and "right" is mainly in the field of identity politics, determined by the attitude to the protection of various minorities.


However, it should be borne in mind that all historical approaches to understanding the "right" and "left" did not replace each other, but rather overlapped, continuing to exist today.


Ukrainian Realities

In order to adequately understand the origins of the post-Soviet, Ukrainian perception of the "right" and "left," it is necessary to take into account the fact that the political struggle against the communist regime in the USSR was closely linked to national movements that took place under the slogans of national revival and democratization.


Later on, this led to the fact that political forces of this particular spectrum were positioned as conditionally "right-wing", regardless of their socio-economic views, although, of course, at the beginning, most if not all of them supported the "liberalization" of the economy, transition to market relations, privatization, etc.

As a result, the first two criteria for positioning certain forces as "right" or "left" were formed.


The "right" stood for national revival and democratization (recall the very revealing phrase "national democratic forces"), while the "left" opposed them, accusing them of nationalism and categorically opposing "decommunization" and "de-Russification."


The second criterion for distinguishing between the two was the attitude toward economic liberalization, the market, and capitalism. The "right" defended the market economy, privatization, and capitalism. The "left", on the other hand, was perceived as more or less open supporters of the "Soviet past", who, if not radically opposed the market economy and capitalist relations, at least declared their readiness to defend the interests of "labor" as opposed to "wild capitalism".


On the Way to Self-Identification

Currently, the determining factor in the further evolution of the concepts of "right" and "left" in Ukraine is the emergence and formation of such a phenomenon as "identity politics" in the Western world, within which the distinction between "left" and "right," as noted above, begins to shift from socio-economic issues to the problems of identity and protection of various minorities.


In Ukraine, until recently, these issues did not have a serious political impact. However, just as it has already happened in Europe and the United States, it will soon become another criterion for distinguishing between the modern "right" and "left." At the moment, the Ukrainian "right" and "left", in comparison with their European and American counterparts, stand on the same side of the barricade in terms of "identity" - the "right" side. However, soon our "right" (national democratic) forces will have to make up their minds on this issue. So will the "left".


The next criterion for distinguishing between the "right" and "left" is the attitude to globalization and membership in various superpower entities. Paradoxically, in this issue, too, the Ukrainian "right" and "left" may find themselves on the same side of the barricade - this time on the side of globalists, due to the current political, economic and security situation.


***

To summarize, it should be said that in fact, Ukraine is only rethinking the "left" and "right" in the context of the current understanding of these concepts in Europe and the United States, so any attempts to categorize and schematize Ukrainian political forces as "right" or "left" (in the European sense of these words) will be futile and will confuse the situation rather than clarify it.


Source: "The Gaze"

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