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Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Yushchenko Wrestles With a Democratic Question (Updated)

On Tuesday, President Yushchenko threw a grand Putin-style annual press conference. With Ukraine being more democratic than Russia, he had to answer the most democratic question.

Serhiy Leshchenko, Ukrayinska Pravda: The question that drew the greatest amount of feedback — on all of the three web sites — I think most people present here know it, as do you, Viktor Andriyovych. The question reads as follows: “Dear Mr. President, please tell us how much we, the ordinary people, should pay you so that you, along with all the MPs, ministers, and government officials, will leave the country forever and will not stand in the way of Ukraine’s normal development?” This question generated 85,850 votes and the greatest number of votes on our sites as well. Thank you, in advance, for answering.

President Yushchenko: Thank you, Mr. Serhiy. Well, first of all, I was thinking whether I should…answer it in as humo…in as humorous a manner as this question is being asked. Obviously, this question is a provocative one. Obviously, it’s being asked for posturing. It’s not all that important how one answers it. But I would like to add a somewhat serious note here. You know, dear authors of this question…though, let me tell you a secret: two-thirds of the authors of this question are not from Ukraine — or represent non-Ukrainian outlets. But that’s alright. That’s how in Ukraine they got used to viewing various aspects of domestic policy, which solely pertains to the affairs of this state, this government. Very often, we can’t even formulate a question without “tips.” But, alright, let’s set emotions aside. We’re talking about people, dear nation, dear journalists, whom you elected. I think you elected every single MP who’s in Parliament today. Every minister who works today is a person who, as a rule, previously worked as an MP in the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine and who received electoral support, including the support of those people who are asking these questions, apparently.

This question is not as banal as it seems. It’s a question that spurs the creation of common responsibility of those who were elected and those who elect. It’s a rhetorical question: The government merely reflects the people, although I don’t accept this notion because the government, a true government, I am convinced, should be a few steps ahead, showing the nation, showing the people, the way — perhaps today some may find it impossible or infeasible — or showing the answer to the questions that are not popular. But born by the elite is a new politician who tells the nation every day: “Our choice is this. We must go there. Tomorrow, we must be there.” Like it or not, we should discuss the things that perhaps are emotional and unacceptable to some, but in the absence of this truth in the life of society, we are reverting to Asiatic society. We are reverting to feudalism. We are reverting to yesterday.

I am happy — I genuinely want to say — that you, Serhiy, have the right, as a journalist, to voice this question, because I believe that in many countries, including neighboring countries, such questions would never even get off the ground. And not only are we here today asking these questions, but we are also trying to gi…to give an answer to…for whom it is a challenge and how to deal with it.

And lastly…speaking of pay…it's corruption. Such propositions won’t cut it. We should improve relations between the government and the voter. I am convinced that a better formula for answering this question is…democratization. We should never fool around with democratic processes. We should be watchful of the processes taking place. And the fact that today is not an easy time for Ukrainian democracy — that the whim of some today to portray democracy as ineffective, that today we should revert to the mode we had four, five, six or seven years ago — this…this is also one of the contexts of our discussion today: so that we won’t have second thoughts after abandoning democracy, so that we won’t be witness to the scene of 47 million common sense people being sent on the same route.

He just didn’t get it, did he?

It was not a provocative question! It was a practical question. It was not about posturing. It was about problem-solving. It concerned the entire government machinery and political elite, including his arch-enemies and arch-friends.

A straight question needs a straight answer. Instead, we got a rambling lecture, replete with peripheral thinking. The President totally withdrew his persona from the story, unless, of course, he referred to himself as the “new politician” born by the elite.

Now, the President maintains that two-thirds of the question voters came from abroad, alluding to Russia. According to Ukrayinska Pravda, more than 66% of the question referrals came from the Ukrainian segment of the web, as supported by sitemeter data.

Moving on, the President addresses Serhiy Leshchenko by the informal pronoun ти instead of the polite Ви, as required by the basic rules of ethics. (Well, that’s a great leap forward considering how the President lashed out at Leshchenko in 2005 for probing his son’s luxury lifestyle.) Anyway, not only does the President patronize the reporter, but he also makes interesting compliments about the advantages of democracy.

Speaking of democracy, shouldn’t we distinguish it from plutocracy and kleptocracy? Speaking of corruption, wasn’t it in the office of the President’s representative in Lviv oblast that The Hon. Ihor Zvarych harvested some of his bribes?

And what about that "ambulance for every village" promise championed by the President’s party in 2007? What about "lifting parliamentary immunity?" What about "one law for all?"

47 million common sense people? Mr. President, as of December 2008, we only have about 46.2 million people left in Ukraine.

Ukrayinska Pravda and Korespondent today issued a joint statement, demanding a clarification from the Presidential Secretariat.

They claim that more than 82 percent of the Internet questions posed to the President, and the votes they generated, came from Ukraine.

According to the latest geolocation report released by Ukrayinska Pravda, the most popular question drew 70,663 votes from Ukraine (82.31%), 9,126 votes from Russia (10.63%), and 821 votes from the U.S. (0.96%).

Other countries:

Germany, 776 (0.9%)
Belarus, 406 (0.47%)
UK, 260 (0.3%)
Canada, 256 (0.3%)
Moldova, 214 (0.25%)
Estonia, 182 (0.21%)
Czech Republic, 130 (0.15%)
Norway, 129 (0.15%)

Moreover, because the presidential press service attributed its "two-thirds" figure to "state intelligence agencies", Ukrayinska Pravda and Korespondent demand a thorough and independent investigation of the matter. No such numbers would have been available in the first place without unauthorized access to their computers, the two news engines said.

At the same time, the two rejected the idea of an SBU investigation, citing visitor privacy concerns.

We demand that the Secretariat of the President clarify the statements made at the live-broadcast press conference.

We will deem the absence of a response as a violation of freedom of speech. Unfortunately, it has become accepted practice in Ukraine to leave socially newsworthy information made public by journalists unanswered.

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elmer said...

The guy just does not get it - although a long time ago he sounded like he did.

"I think you elected every single MP who’s in Parliament today."



Due to Ukraine's "party list" system, people only know that they are voting for a party or a faction, and only the top 5, or at most, the top 10 on the list are known.

If Ukraine had voting districts, with INDIVIDUAL candidates who would have to respond to the voters in their district, that would be a different matter.

And why do the members of parliament have immunity?

They should not.

As a practical matter, the "rationale" put forth is that the immunity is to prevent "political persecution."


Bribery, corruption, insider privatization deals - that has nothing to do with "political persecution."

Even the member of parliament don't trust the courts.

The reason they have immunity is to continue robbing and stealing - and they don't trust the courts.

The people get it - Yushchenko does NOT.

Anonymous said...

It seemed a pretty juvenal question to me like people checking if you're really allowed to ask anything you like. Surprise you are but then what is the guy supposed to answer? What could you expect any politician to answer? Or any human being on television in front of millions of people? It got a much better answer than it deserved in my opinion.

Taras said...


This #1 question gathered 70,663 votes from Ukraine (82.31%), 9,126 votes from Russia (10.63%), and 821 votes from the U.S. (0.96%). Sorry, but that’s as good as democracy gets.

If the President wanted to look like someone who understands Ukrainian, he should have answered the question. He should have named the price or explained his failed leadership.

He’s not just a human being. He’s not just a camera-shy celebrity. He’s the guy I voted and rallied for during the Orange Revolution. So he should have explained to his voters how he got to a point where they asked him such questions.

Instead, he did his best to look like the guy out of touch with reality that he is, the guy in denial. His press service attempted a coverup.

He’s the guy who talks about frugality and responsibility but lives in a world unto himself.

No wonder he doesn’t even know how many people we have in Ukraine.


You said it right!

The people get it — Yushchenko does NOT.

Anonymous said...

He should have named the price or explained his failed leadership.

What price should he have said then? A dollar? to show how little it will cost. The price of an airline ticket? That's fair. But then which destination? or how about a nice hefty sum - come on lets be honest a million dollars minimum why should I take less? Then what does he answer for the others - what price would Tym for instance take.

As for the second part - explained his failed leadership. He obviously does not think he's failed. Firstly like everyone else he thinks it other people's fault, Tym, the Rada etc and that even if he were to leave the country it wouldn't imporove anything. Just an opinion but to me it seem onbvious that Tym in charge would be a disaster. Secondly that because stood out in the freezing for him they expected a lot more than was possible for anyone to deliver. It's true he's obtuse and a brickhead sometimes but that doesn't mean the answer it so throw him out and pin hopes on someone else without looking at them critically beforehand which should have been done with Yush - he wasn't and was never going to be a saviour. Just out of the two alternatives in 2004 he was probably better (and still is) and it was definatately better than the election wasn't stolen if that would have been the case if there had not been any demonstrations.

Taras said...

Whatever price that would get him and the entire political elite out of the country for good. Nothing personal.

The people who asked that question don’t have time for the President’s on the job training. We no longer have 47 million people in Ukraine. We only have about 46.2 million.

The current political deck of cards has long outlived its usefulness. They don’t care about the people. All they care about is the power they get from the people.

Unless the people take that power back, they will keep dying.

elmer said...

It seems to me that one easy way to explain it is by analogy to the abolition of serfdom in Russia (and Ukraine):

The king abolished serfdom, largely based on influence from The Enlightenment in Western Europe.

Who opposed the abolition of serfdom?

The aristocrats - who were benefiting from it.

Ukraine has a "political elite" which has enriched itself, uses government to enrich itself. It is an oligarchy system, and the disparity between the few at the top, who are worth billions despite the economic crisis, and the vast majority of people (70% below the poverty line, according to Halya Coynash, Kharkiv Human Rights) is ENORMOUS.

They are not going to eliminate the system of corruption that feeds them, and literally destroys the rest of the Ukrainian population, unless they are forced to leave, or give up what they control.

Put another way - just try to start up a business anywhere in Ukraine, if you're not an oligarch, or if you don't have Western resources behind you, like Ernst and Young, or Microsoft, or McDonald's.

I dare anyone to try it.

See what happens.

Here's an example, from the Kyiv Post - see any UKRAINIAN businesses there, except for the law firm????

The question was put to Yushchenko, but it applied to ALL of the "political elite," including the thugs in Donbass who salt the Parliament with party hack/parasites like Yanukovych's son - without shame.

It is time for them to go.

Anonymous said...

Get rid of this lot and who would replace them? Everyone would have a different opinion - at the moment nobody has more than about 5% and there are a lot of people with ratings like that. And even if someone emerges why should anyone of them manage any better. None of them have proved themselves in any high exectutive political job. Perhaps the problems are more than just the political elite who just reflect the divisions and corruption in the country.

Taras said...

If no one can do better, then why have elections in the first place? Why have democracy?

In a democracy, you don’t keep a corrupt government. If you keep it, you’ll never get rid of the corruption.

In Ukraine, we need to elect people who can do better.

Anonymous said...

Sure - the idea is to try to elect better people but the original internet question was saying something completely different. The first was that if only we got rid of all these polticians everything will be fine - it's all their fault. Just get rid of them and we'll manage fine by ourselves. The second was that it was asked of Yushchenko as if he is responsible for everything including all the bad and corrupt politicians. The bad politicians are his opponents and in my opinion are putting spokes in the wheels for their personal gain. Despite all the disappointments the President has done some things right things which are now taken for granted by might not have been upheld by others and that were even against his personal political interest.
The third point about the question was that really it would have been asked in a country with a democratic tradition and did really look as if it had been formulated in Russia. Yush's answer was that in a democracy you don't have to pay, next elections you can vote them out. Furthermore electing better politicians is the responsibility of the electorate which was also Yush's point ie: You're the ones responsible for chosing (and don't get hoodwinked by candidates with great oratory skills promising the world). It's not so easy electing better politicians for various reasons and can require a lot of effort on the part of people (look how hard the Americans worked at their election) but it's still the electorate resonsibility and if it doesn't acknowledge it then no democracy.

Taras said...

I think the democratic question addressed Ukraine’s dystopia.

It grabbed the bull by the horns. It did not single out Yushchenko on partisan grounds but, rather, targeted the entire government hydra. It did not promote anarchy but, rather, aimed to demote oligarchy.

Sure, we can't blame Yushchenko for everything. We can’t blame him for circumstances beyond his control.

But we can blame him for failing to carry out his job responsibilities.

The President sets the ethical tone for his chain of command. In Ukraine, we have a president who caters to special interests, bestows awards on officials with bad reputations, and fails to practice what he preaches.

Does he set a good ethical tone?

No. On the contrary, he corrupts the entire chain of command and does a disservice to everyone who elected him.

Let me quote from the Constitution of Ukraine.

Article 102, Section 2: “The President of Ukraine is the guarantor of state sovereignty and territorial indivisibility of Ukraine, the observance of the Constitution of Ukraine and human and citizens' rights and freedoms.”

Article 47, Section 1: “Everyone has the right to housing. The State creates conditions that enable every citizen to build, purchase as property, or to rent housing.”

Now, how can the President guarantee those rights if he doesn’t even know how many people he presides over? How can he possibly contribute to those enabling conditions if he and I live on different planets socially?

That’s the heart of the democratic question.

Yes, I elected Yushchenko. Yes, I elected Tymoshenko. Yes, I elected them, but they elected not to do their jobs. It's now my job to fire them and hire better ones.

If ordinary Ukrainians can't buy homes while their elected officials harvest bribes, funnel taxpayer money into luxury cars, and reside in upscale mansions, then this government has no right to exist.

In Ukraine, every elected official must learn democracy the Greek way. Didn’t Greeks invent democracy, after all?

Bottom line, we need good citizens for every job: better than Yushchenko, better than Tymoshenko, and better than Yanukovych. Sorry, but I won’t settle for less.

I want to live in Ukraine and I want Ukraine to live.