Friday, November 26, 2004

Foreign Notes - Seizing the symbols of authority

Scott Clark in Kiev has this to say about the dynamics of the revolution:
"So will Yanukovych be sworn in today? I suspect he will be. There is an authority vacuum out there right now which is being filled more and more by Yuschenko standing at the head of the multitudes on the street.

Kuchma has all but disappeared. He is heard from from time to time in the press but that is about it. I think he wanted to retreat to the background after Yanukovych was elected and assumed power and that is what he has seemed to do. But Yanukovych has not assumed power yet and, with Kuchma out of sight, there really is no one in charge right now.

But not if you look at it from the perspective of the people here. In a speech yesterday, Yuschenko told every institution of government, and the press was included in this, what their duties were under the Constitution and laws of Ukraine. It sounded like he was setting up his government out there right on the street. And he is doing things to take care of the people out there on the street. He has made special pleas for the people of Kiev to take care of those who have traveled here from other areas, to make sure they are fed, that they have a place to stay and that they are kept warm when they are out in the cold. And he has asked for donations of food and clothing and money from the people here to help those down on the square. And yesterday, he asked for medicine to be brought down because some of the people are sick with pneumonia and need medicine. And the money, food and clothing are coming in.

What all of this means to the people is that Yuschenko is, in short, acting like president."
Now, this is exactly what I've been going on about. Max Weber remarked that any form of government needs three things - the means of power (Machtmittel), an administrative staff (Verwaltungsstab), and some degree of legitimacy (Legitimation). Probably the best known consequence of this is Weber's division of legitimacy into three forms, traditional, charismatic and legal-rational. Now, clearly the means of power - the police - rest with the regime, which also still possesses the state bureaucracy. But its legitimacy is vanishing fast. If you consider Kuchma to have held legal-rational legitimacy, this is because rigging the elections breaks all the rules that are meant to provide that legitimacy.
As far as the administration goes, such things as the rebellion at state TV and the desertion of city councils shows that this is shaking. It must be assumed that the armed forces are still available, but there are also signs of slippage there.

On the other hand, the revolutionaries have gone a long way towards seizing the symbols of authority. The swearing-in in parliament was a neat coup in terms of legality or at least the perception of legality. But Weber's framework doesn't really help in understanding this situation because it doesn't really engage with the notion of democracy. What is the legitimacy that the opposition is gaining? It can't be exactly legal-rational, because they have revolted against a state that is operating in illegality. Only a legal decision or a new election could offer that. Weber offers the category of "charismatic" legitimacy, but this isn't enough - it isn't just the attraction of a (Hitler-like?) leader figure who got them out on the streets. We're talking primitive democracy here - the public in action. That's why, by the way, the negotiators and mediators now flocking to Kiev are irrelevant to the issue. What decides this will be the public on the streets - if they begin to trickle away, any dialogue stitched together by the EU or whoever will be fundamentally pointless. If the crowds don't trickle away, if they grow, in the end the diplomats will be overtaken by events.

Apparently, the protestors are now besieging government buildings and kept the prime minister out of his office for a while. Scrolling down, note the report that Yushchenko's side have constituted a government-in-waiting.

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