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A Revolution is in the Air

August 8, 2012 - Zbigniew Rokita - Interviews

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An interview with Volodymyr Ariev, a member of Ukraine’s parliament in the political block “Our Ukraine-People’s Self Defence”

ZBIGNIEW ROKITA: Let’s start with the EURO 2012 football championships. Do you think that Ukraine succeeded?

VOLODYMYR ARIEV: There are three answers to this question. First of all, a big thank you to our Ukrainian players who played very well. We can’t say the same about our judicial system, however. We can see what is happening to Yulia Tymoshenko and Yuri Lutsenko. And now a different type of “judge” has not accepted what was an obvious goal for our team. There is definitely something wrong with our karma. We clearly have bad luck with judges.

The second issue here is the social dimension of EURO 2012. Normally it’s quite difficult, due to visa restrictions, for Ukrainians to leave their country and visit the EU and meet Europeans living there. So instead, Europe came to visit us and we’ve had an opportunity to meet many interesting and friendly people. It is possible that those among us who cannot make the trip to the West have changed their attitude thanks to EURO 2012 and maybe we will stop fearing the West so much. In this sense, the EURO 2012 championships have been a great success and bore its first fruit. It is enough to read some social media networks to see that Ukrainians are becoming more aware that it is probably better to turn towards Europe than to Russia.

The difference between these two worlds is clearly visible when we look at the fans who came to visit us. Let’s look at Kharkiv: the Russians who came there were often drunk and looking for trouble, when the other fans were celebrating the events. This is a metaphor of a choice that the Ukrainian society is currently facing: an aggressive versus a happy-go-lucky, open attitude. I am hoping that the EU itself will help us make that decision and will start issuing visas not only for our government officials and businessmen but also average Ukrainians. Just so they could see what Europe is really all about.

The last dimension is less optimistic. EURO 2012, in addition to all of its glorious moments, has also brought us moments of shame: mass-scale thefts and even the murdering of animals…

There had been reports of killing stray animals to “clean” the streets.

Sadly, yes. I even made a short film about this (you can watch it here with English subtitles: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dT05XhOX5TQ). When it comes to corruption, however, even the minister responsible for the organisation of EURO 2012 admitted that the government put large sums of money simply into its pockets. He said that over three billion dollars had been spent on roads. Even if we were charging European rates, this amount of money would give us two thousand kilometres of highways. The question is: where are they?

For example there is no highway between the Polish border and Lviv.

All in all, not a single highway had been built during preparations for EURO 2012. At most some short sections of highways were built, in other places and some roads were fixed, but that’s it. An attempt to push the government to present the total costs of the EURO 2012 championships to the parliament has failed. The parliamentary majority, controlled by the Party of Regions, has blocked the motion. That’s why I have mixed feelings about this event. It has had its pluses and minuses for Ukraine.

A big problem that we now face is that people are scared to make investments in Ukraine, especially since they’ve realised what the current government is all about. It was quite different when Tymoshenko was in power. Because of the lack of flow of investors’ money, all the developments have to be covered with state funds. But that’s not a bottomless bag either. To give; someone else needs to lose. 

This is what happened to a children’s hospital in Kyiv which, in a large part had lost its funding because the funds that had previously been used for its operations had been allotted to the organisation of EURO 2012.  The result: the hospital ran out of medication and the parents had to chip in to cover the treatment costs of their children.

Would you say that the government did not contribute to EURO 2012?

Okay, so the stadiums had been built. But with the amount of money that was spent on one, we could have built three stadiums. Should we be grateful that our government managed to build something and not steal everything?  According to our estimates around 50 per cent of the funds that had been allocated for EURO 2012 had been stolen.

Let’s look at this problem from a slightly different perspective. Would Ukraine manage to organise such a large event without offering any kickbacks? Maybe anyone other president would also have to come to terms that this is the way this country operates…

Of course, even the least corrupt countries have the same problem. This is simply written into our human nature. But in this case, we are talking about the scale of the abuse. To steal 50 per cent of funds is something more than giving a minister a bribe. It is a threat to the country’s security.

Which of Ukraine’s cities would you say were best prepared to host the foreign fans?

Only Lviv. Those who after seeing a match in Donetsk or Kharkiv and then went to Lviv would agree that Lviv was a completely different world. They felt as if they arrived in a different country.

It seems to me that Poland has gained much more from this event. If you ask yourself the question “why do we organise such events?” The answer is quite simple: to create this whole tourism infrastructure so that people come back and visit our countries at least one more time. And what has Ukraine gained out of this? The tourists will for sure come back to Lviv, maybe somebody will want to see Kyiv again, but Kharkiv or Donetsk? I doubt it.

And what about the Ukrainians who live in western Ukraine? Do they venture to their country’s eastern parts or not? And the Ukrainians who live in the country’s east? Do they like to go west?

Some do. But overall, Ukrainians do not travel throughout their country in order to spend vacation. But when indeed somebody from eastern Ukraine arrives in Lviv, all his myths disappear. But it is not the other way around. To prove it, just go to Donetsk and make a short trip outside the city. What will you see there? Poverty and ruins.

Last winter I participated in a TV project called “Without a ticket”. The purpose of the project was that MPs had to live in a Ukrainian household to get to know the problems of the people whom they represent. I was assigned to a mining village, deep in an eastern province. There I met wonderful people but they understand what is going on and they do not see a light at the end of the tunnel. For them there are no alternatives. What’s more, they don’t even want to seek them. They are focused on making ends meet and have no time to engage in thinking on how to improve their country. They know that there is a hierarchy and they are on the bottom of it. This is the East. A completely different world.

Did the people you stay with knew that you were an MP?

Of course. I lived in their house for five days.  

Did all MPs take part in this project?

The majority of them did not want to.

And what are the problems faced by families in this mining village?

I was involved in a case of a man who was hit by a car when he was driving home on his motorcycle from working in a mine. The accident was serious to the point that the miner could have become handicapped for the rest of his life. And yet the police did nothing to take care of this case. After my intervention, the driver of the car who had caused the accident was sentenced to imprisonment for three years. 

Sounds like a great project.

Unfortunately it died a natural death. Quite soon it turned out that there were not enough politicians interested. I personally know this region very well. My grandfather comes from there, but it should be those from the East who should come to the West and abolish the myths and not the other way round.

Is it also a myth and a simplification to divide Ukraine’s political scene into the “eastern” Party of Regions and the “western” Tymoshenko, Arseniy Yatsenyuk and Victor Yushchenko?

Yushchenko is now a party only for himself. The support he receives is around maybe one per cent.

And he has no political chances?

No.

In that case, Our Ukraine does not want to join with the United Opposition?

Yes, they wanted to but they didn’t do it. Maybe this was due to internal problems and plans to say “good bye” to Yushchenko. Maybe this should have been done a long time ago as he clearly betrayed all of his previous partners. And many MPs indeed left Our Ukraine once they understood the games he played; for example during the 2010 elections he supported Yanukovych.

This is unacceptable, even if Yushchenko personally does not like Tymoshenko. She does not like him much either, but at a key moment she was willing to join forces with him. This is not a fight between the neighbours over a shared path. Here concerned the fate of an entire state and Yushchenko betrayed his partners and allies just to get revenge on Tymoshenko. And it was the state that paid him for his sick ambitions. Many later wanted to approach him and ask: “Are you happy now?” He’s got no future as a politician.

Not even as a symbol?

No. A social protest against forgery and lies will be the symbol. Many indeed regret that they joined the Orange Revolution in 2004, but not me. The French needed three revolutions to finally get on the path to democracy and we complain after just one? I believe that the disappointment will soon disappear and the world will see another Ukrainian revolution. However, I also doubt that it would be as peaceful and beautiful as the previous one. 

What do you mean?

Simply another revolution – an eruption of social discontent. I don’t know if its eruption will be the result of election forgery or due to the economic crisis. Or maybe it will be something else that will force the people to the streets.

Are Ukrainians ready for another mass protest?

For quite some time. According to opinion polls in May and June the protest mood was at its highest level since the collapse of the Soviet Union. We will see what the decisive issue will be. In late autumn we will probably see some serious problems.

But it will be difficult to find someone to lead this protest… like Tymoshenko and Yushchenko did in 2004.

True. Yanukovych has done everything he could to create a situation when the opposition has no leader. He imprisoned those who could play the role of the leaders. That’s why I don’t think a new leader will emerge and it may even erupt into an uncontrollable situation which could lead to the collapse of the state.

Yanukovych will of course want to somehow channel this social discontent and turn everyone’s attention to a different issue, for example the Church, since he has already taken care of the language issue. He will be driven only by his own personal interests without any limits. Just like anyone who comes from the world of organised crime.

He won’t allow the opposition to win these elections?

No. And when he won’t have a choice. They may be ready to even take such drastic steps as to cancel the election results. I know that the Party of Regions is considering such a scenario. Hence, the opposition is faced with an even greater challenge than in 2004.

Are you hoping that Vitali Klitschko or Natalia Korolevska will join the United Opposition?

With Klitschko, we can agree on coordinating some activities. But with Korolevska, absolutely not – she is Yanukovych’s project: an opposition which is controlled like a dog on a leash, nothing more. The most important political forces are already united and Yushchenko will be supporting the Party of Regions. Recently, the media revealed that the same French PR firm is in charge of the campaign of both presidents.

And what are the everyday, human, relations between the opposition and the Party of Regions. For example in the hallways of the parliament? Do you talk, shake hands?

Of course I talk with many of them, but there are also people with whom I don’t even shake hands. The atmosphere is very tense. The other issue is that even among the Party of Regions rank and file, many are not aware that the top took advantage of them and that real politicians are starting to leave the party. This summer is the beginning of the end for this party.

Is it true that in Ukraine the MPs are paid to change political colours?

Of course. I myself got such an offer. They came to me first after I became an MP in 2007.

Who precisely came to you?

The common technique is to use friends. For example, they ask you not to come to a parliamentary meeting. I remember that when the vote over dissolving Yanukovych and designating Tymoshenko as prime minister was on the floor, the MPs were offered 10 million.

Hryvnas?

No, dollars. The fight was for two votes. The Party of Regions needed to get two opposition politicians not to come to the vote. The second time they came to me was after the presidential elections in 2010 and then they asked me to join the Party of Regions. They offered me 1.5 million dollars: 500 thousand, cash, right away, and the remaining amount in instalments spread out into two years…

Many get tempted…

Many do, but fortunately there are still a few of us left…

Volodymyr Ariev is a deputy of the Supreme Council of Ukraine (Verkhovna Rada – Ukraine’s parliament) and a member of the political bloc Our Ukraine-People’s Self-Defence. Until 2007, he was a TV journalist.

Translated by Iwona Reichardt

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