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Orator Poroshenko and the Dead Souls

On June 4, President Poroshenko delivered an hour and a half long speech “On the Internal and External Situation of Ukraine in 2015” before the Verkhovna Rada. By now, the speech is yesterday’s news. However, I cannot help but write about it since it struck me in several aspects, first of all, by its figurative eloquence.

Poroshenko must have a whole team of speech writers who create impressive figures of speech, unheard of any previous leader of Ukraine. Inspired, probably, by the famous poetic Ukrainian soul, the writers do not shy away from vivid colors and emotionally charged epithets. They present a heart-breaking, soul-wrenching image of poor Ukraine, driven by the “kleptocratic regime” of Viktor Yanukovych to disastrous conditions. The cruel dictator “tried to put an end to Ukrainian history planned beyond Ukraine”.

“One shivers”, says Poroshenko, recalling the national disaster to which Yanukovych was deliberately driving a poor, naïve Ukraine. According to the speechwriters, money wasn’t entrusted to anyone except an enigmatic “neighboring country”, which, like Koschei the Deathless [1], appropriated this money for its “complete disposal”. The “reckless policy of absurd pacifism” of Yanukovych and the “fifth column” of the “neighboring country” had completely destroyed the Ukrainian army, disarming it and leaving it naked and barefooted. Poor bureaucrats in the State Treasury “even forgot the smell of money there” because the Treasury was emptied by the cruel plutocrat who wormed his way into the confidence of naïve European creditors and “borrowed more money in 2010-14 than in all the other years of independence”.

Oops! That seems improbable, even to my eyes of a lay citizen. Let us take a short break from the exciting reading of Mr. Poroshenko’s artistic speech and check facts by looking at Ukraine’s external debt. According to the National Bank of Ukraine, the external debt of Ukraine as of January 1, 2011 was 117 billion USD. As of January 2014, when the Euromaidan Revolution was unfolding, the number was 142 billion USD (Balance of Payments and External Debt of Ukraine in 2014 by the National Bank of Ukraine, p. 91). A simple subtraction operation gives us 25 billion. According to laws of arithmetic, 25 billion is less than 117 billion already accumulated, correct? So, Mr. Poroshenko, you should take some time to view the real figures behind the intricately woven fabric of loaded metaphors of your speech writers.

And how about a “national disaster” in economics? The nominal GDP of Ukraine in 2013 was 182 billion USD. It dropped drastically to 131 billion in 2014, showing a dramatic decrease of 28%. In one of his recent posts, the Ukrainian Prime-Minister under Yanukovych, Mykola Azarov, stated that his government had been projecting an 8% growth of GDP in 2014. Well, of course, what growth can you expect in a country whose government is waging a war against its own people, in parallel destroying its own industry and infrastructure?

After having tried and failed to dismantle Ukraine through its “fifth column”, the “neighbouring country” (Russia), in despair, passed to direct military action, annexing Crimea, invading Donbas and, indirectly through “separatists”, instigating “pro-Russian” manifestations in Kharkiv, Odessa, Mykolaiv, Kherson and many other cities. I cannot help but provide a direct quote from the president to pay tribute to his oratory skills: “The Kremlin expected that bacilli spread by Russian special forces would provoke the epidemic of separatism in all Eastern and Southern regions.” However, the Kremlin’s hopes were crushed. Bacilli did not spread, so the Russians had to replace it with bayonets to sustain the pro-Russian disposition of what the leaders of Ukraine call the “temporarily occupied territories” of Lugansk and Donetsk.

But a heroic Ukrainian army, now 250,000 strong, stopped the aggressor. It was a true miracle because, in Poroshenko’s words, in March of 2014, little more than 5,000 soldiers were ready to perform the required tasks. They had to forage for fuel in order to get to the “Eastern front”. Today, over 50,000 “Ukrainian heroes are defending the country in the ATO [Anti-Terrorist Operation] area”. So President Poroshenko is really proud of his military exploits. Over the course of one year, the number of “heroes” increased ten times. How is it, then, that in the info graphics accompanying President’s speech before the Parliament and aimed at demonstrating the spectacular improvements in Ukraine under his leadership, the personnel of the Armed Forces of Ukraine is said to have counted 162,000 in 2013? Was it that difficult to find five thousand soldiers in March 2014 among those 162,000, an ordinary citizen might ask?

Mr. Poroshenko dismisses these doubts with an obvious answer: Russia and its “fifth column” were covertly engaged in the liquidation of the Ukrainian army and special forces. In addition, a Russian citizen was in charge of Naftogaz’ dealings to receive Russian gas via reversing the supply from Europe. Can you believe this? A traitor in the heart of the pillar of Ukrainian energy! Right after the Revolution, the traitor fled to Moscow “together with the entire gang”, escaping the righteous anger of the revolutionary crowds.

As a result of the shameful escape of the traitors in February of 2014, the whole of Ukraine was a total wreck – law enforcers, demoralized by Maidan, had scattered throughout the country and soon hostile, armed persons started acting in the cities. “Under the guise of the sacred names of Maidan activists and volunteers”, they engaged in lawless activities, including robbery and racketeering. “Regionals” (leaders of the former governing Party of Regions) and communists were sabotaging the work of Parliament. “Every day, they’ve been trying to raise their heads”, like the hydra of the counterrevolution in the civil war in the post-revolutionary Russia of 1918-1920. Chaos, horror and desolation everywhere. How can one not shiver at such a scene?

But to return to the real world of Ukraine today, how should a caring person react to the images of dead civilians in the east of the country, buried under the ruins of their houses destroyed by the shelling of the Ukrainian army? Would a person not “shiver” at listening to reports of the sadistic torture practices of the so-called volunteer battalions, such as ‘Tornado’, against their prisoners?[2] How about arrests and interrogations of citizens with a dissenting opinion who do not approve the official nationalist ideology? How about political killings staged as suicides? How about the growing street protests of ordinary Ukrainians, unsatisfied with multiple increases of electricity and gas tariffs, rising food prices, triple devaluation of the national currency, huge arrears in payments of wages, and an average salary equivalent to 190 USD per month? (Wage data from April 2015). In December of 2013, under the “bloody dictator” Yanukovych, the average salary was equivalent to 410 USD.

Protests are being dispersed and dismissed as the so-called agitation by Putin’s agents. Pro-Russian Ukrainians are being killed in broad daylight, such as journalist, poet and historian Oles Buzyna and politician and former Rada deputy Oleg Kalashnikov. Laws have been pushed through Parliament in breach of procedures, without due study of the issues involved and without debate and taking into consideration expert opinions, as required by law. A banal re-division of property holdings among the oligarchs is taking place, disguised as a fight against corruption. Irony of irony, Poroshenko calls the re-division of properties a “de-oligarchization”!

The “Euromaidan Revolution” replaced one dominant oligarch clan with another. Moreover, the new clan is much more versed in the art of hypocrisy, double talk, and dishonesty. Does anyone still remember Poroshenko’s promise to sell his profitable “Roshen” confectionaries enterprise once elected? Well, of course, the master of deception will tell you that he cannot find a buyer – the war in Eastern Ukraine (which he himself launched) has scared away potential buyers, notwithstanding the spectacular increase of Roshen profits, by nine times in 2014.

The master of deception says in his speech that he is not an oligarch, he has been accumulating all his profits in order to personally finance his presidential campaign. “I am fully independent. I have obligations only to the Ukrainian people. It is nice to be independent when making decisions”. Others (meaning fractions in the parliament and political parties) cannot enjoy the same such “independence” because they are not financed from the state budget, as is the president and his office. So, to set things straight, to render the Verkhovna Rada “fully independent” from big money, a new anti-corruption piece of legislation has been introduced in which the financing of political parties and fractions will be done exclusively from the budget. It seems to me a chimerical, unrealistic project in the Ukrainian context, where the common practice is that parties are funded by oligarchs to represent their interests in the Parliament. It remains to be seen whether and when this law is passed, what exact form it will take and whether it will be enforced.

According to Poroshenko, oligarchs are fighting back against his courageous initiatives. They are “clanking weapons of private armies, camouflaged as miners”, provoking rolling electricity blackouts, closing factories and firing away at Poroshenko with “Grad” information rockets via the nationwide television channels they own. Moreover, almost all of them have pet political projects that will “create calm prospects for themselves and a terrible future for Ukraine”, says the President.

How about the 5 Channel, a national television station, owned by the President himself? How about his own vertical of power which he is building by placing his own people at key positions in the state apparatus and suppressing political dissent?

Poroshenko is an apt disciple of the “bloody dictator” Yanukovych. He has spent so many years in Ukrainian politics that he learned how to survive in its murky and dangerous waters. He switched allegiances when it suited his personal interests. In 1998, he was a member of the United Social Democratic Party of Ukraine, loyal to President Leonid Kuchma. In early 2001, Poroshenko was one of the key politicians who created the Party of Regions, the party of Viktor Yanukovych. In late 2001, he crossed the floor to join the opposition faction of Viktor Yushchenko’s ‘Our Ukraine’ bloc. Poroshenko was among the wealthiest businessman who supported Yushchenko in his presidential campaign of 2004. He was rewarded after Yushchenko’s victory when he was appointed Secretary of the National Security and Defense Council. What a disappointment that was for a politician who wanted to become prime minister! But that posting was promised and given to Yulia Tymoshenko.

As a result of the subsequent political dispute between Poroshenko and Tymoshenko, the Orange Revolution team of Yushchenko became bogged down in endless scandals and mutual accusations of corruption. Near the end of Yushchenko’s presidency, Poroshenko worked as his minister of foreign affairs, from October 2009 to March 2010.

Under Yanukovych’s presidency, Poroshenko switched camps again and was appointed the minister of trade and economic development, from March to December 2012. He defended his posting by claiming that he wanted to help bring Ukraine closer to the Euroepean Union and get Tymoshenko released from prison where she was languishing facing corruption charges.

Poroshenko was a minister under Yanukovych’s presidency for nine months. After becoming president himself, and responding to popular demands for a purging from the state apparatus of the “former people” of the Yanukovych “regime”, Poroshenko pushed for a “lustration” law. In early October 2014, he ratified the law “On the Government Cleansing” which had been adopted by the Rada on September 16.

According to this law, one of the groups to be subject to lustration review is government officials who occupied positions under the Yanukovych presidency (February 25, 2010 to February 22, 2014) for no less than one year cumulative. In their Final Opinion on the Government Cleansing (Lustration Law of Ukraine), issued June 19, 2015, experts from the European Commission for Democracy Through Law (also known as the Venice Commission) puzzled in section 51 “why a minimum period of holding such posts is needed and why this minimum period has been set to one year”. They suggested that some justification be provided for this requirement. No such justification is provided in the text of the law, and, most likely, Ukrainian deputies did not convey any additional explanation to the experts of the Venice commission. After all, deputies of the Verkhovna Rada are not obliged to disclose all of the motives, or are they?

I found an explanation for this requirement in an interview with Egor Sobolev. He is a Ukrainian investigative journalist, activist of Euromaidan and a founding member of the political party “Volia”. In February of 2014, he became the head of a social organization called the Lustration Committee. It was created by a decision of the All-Ukrainian Union “Maidan”, an informal association of Euromaidan activists. In an interview to the Ukrainian web-portal Ukrmedia, Sobolev suggests that this time frame was established at the personal request of President Poroshenko between the first and the second reading of the lustration law. Poroshenko wanted a safeguard that he would not be subject to lustration, as any other state functionary was to be. According to Sobolev, the time limit is “not that unjust” because it limits the number of people to be purged to those who really worked for Yanukovych for a long time and planned and built his regime. But I wonder, how does one define a “long time”? How is it that nine months, the period which Poroshenko worked as a minister under Yanukovych, is “not a long time”, while one year, especially cumulatively, is a “long time”?

Right now, Poroshenko is free from this obligation as President of Ukraine. The office of the president is an elected one. According to the lustration law, people holding elective offices are not subject to verification, the reasoning behind this being that voters already “cleansed” the corrupted officials by not electing them. However, after Poroshenko steps down from the president’s position, and if he decides to continue his political career, he will have to subject himself to the verification, since the law on lustration does not have any expiry date.

But let us go back to the ornate eloquence of Mr. Poroshenko’s speech. It is full of strong epithets, unexpected metaphors and innovative comparisons: opaque gas fumes which light up Forbes magazine’s stars of Ukrainian coal and steel barons; “conservative, cumbersome and clumsy governance system ossified since the days of Voroshilov and Budyonny” (prominent military leaders and politicians in Stalin’s Soviet Union); an “unequivocal and irreversible course towards EU membership and a profound Europeanization of Ukraine”; “vain efforts and impotent malice of our former ‘strategic partner’.” True to his confectionary beginnings in business, Poroshenko even brings in a culinary metaphor, inviting his listeners to imagine him as a chef who has already placed many political “dishes” in the cooking oven and is collecting, together with his revolutionary team, ingredients for future dishes whose recipes they did not know earlier, such as the “current status of reforms”. And while chef Poroshenko is busy in the political kitchen, his Georgian brothers and sisters in-arms, pure and determined, such as Ekaterina Zguladze, Deputy Minister of Interior of Ukraine, are showing unheard of courage, as they did in Georgia, in the fight against “legendary bribes” by the road police, corruption and implementing successful reforms.

The President had time in his colorful, passionate speech to touch on the eternal subject of war and peace and how his heart is covered in “a thousand scars” of pain for the more than 6,400 civilians and 1,700 soldiers killed in the war that he himself launched against Donetsk and Lugansk. “Sometimes it seems as if every soul on the path to heaven flew through my office, and I talked to each”, the president confided. How enchanting that he found time in his super busy schedule to say goodbye and wish a good journey to heaven to each and every soul who died under the shelling of the Ukrainian army. Such hypocrisy!

Hypocrisy and lies. Lies about a promised visa-free regime to Europe that has “acquired a fixed place in the calendar for the first time”, Poroshenko says in his speech, in spite of public statements of European officials saying that they cannot name a date of the introduction of visa-free entry to Europe for Ukrainians. Lies about plans to hold a referendum on Ukraine’s joining NATO, which “we would have easily won”, but will not held because “this issue will shake the country” and its unity. So is Ukraine united in this issue or no, Mr. President? How about your promise to bring peace to the Ukrainian land? When will you pass from speechifying to concrete actions? When will you engage in real dialogue with Donetsk and Lugansk? When will you carry out a meaningful decentralization instead of solidifying your presidential powers?

It is easy to impress with flowery speeches, but a tree is recognized by its fruit, said Jesus. What fruits does your presidency bring to Ukraine, Mr. Poroshenko?

The original of President Poroshenko’s speech before the Verkhovna Rada is accessible here. The English version can be found on the same page by clicking on the button ‘Eng’ in the right upper corner of the page.

Halyna Mokrushyna is currently enrolled in the PhD program in Sociology at the University of Ottawa and a part-time professor. She holds a doctorate in linguistics and MA degree in communication. Her academic interests include: transitional justice; collective memory; ethnic studies; dissent movement in Ukraine; history of Ukraine; sociological thought.  Her doctoral project deals with the memory of Stalinist purges in Ukraine. In the summer of 2013 she travelled to Lviv, Kyiv, Kharkiv and Donetsk to conduct her field research. She is currently working on completing her thesis. She can be reached at halouwins@gmail.com.

Notes:

[1] Koschei the Deathless, in Eastern Slavic mythology, is an immortal sorcerer and evil Tsar, often abducting the bride of the hero. He is depicted as a tall, boney old man or live skeleton, and often as a stingy, mean character.

[2] On June 17, the leader of the ‘Tornado Battalion, Ruslan Onishchenko, and seven of his accomplices were arrested by Ukrainian police at the request of Gennedy Moskal, the appointed ‘governor’ of the Ukraine-controlled territory of Lugansk region. They are accused of robbery, extortion and torture. The Ukrainian television program Podrobnosti (TV-channel Inter) aired a story on June 19 containing recorded conversations of Onishchenko with his cohorts in which the bandit leader says, ‘Without tortures, life would not be a life’.

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Halyna Mokrushyna is currently enrolled in the PhD program in Sociology at the University of Ottawa and a part-time professor. She holds a doctorate in linguistics and MA degree in communication. Her academic interests include: transitional justice; collective memory; ethnic studies; dissent movement in Ukraine; history of Ukraine; sociological thought.  Her doctoral project deals with the memory of Stalinist purges in Ukraine. In the summer of 2013 she travelled to Lviv, Kyiv, Kharkiv and Donetsk to conduct her field research. She is currently working on completing her thesis. She can be reached at halouwins@gmail.com.

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