What Ukraine Needs Now

A prominent Ukrainian journalist Dmytro Gnap just threw his hat in the ring as a presidential candidate, and threw a spanner in the best laid plans of the country’s corrupt politicians and oligarchs.

He has been an activist and a victim of the country’s corruption and is running because he’s fed up. He has exposed graft in high places and been beaten by thugs, threatened, and disinherited from his Donetsk birthplace. His disgust matches that of the publics, which is pervasive. Among his journalistic achievements was he led a team that exposed corruption by President Petro Poroshenko and others concerning offshore holdings.

“We are at an important historical moment because we now see huge demand for reforms and my colleagues and I will try to do our best to answer this strong civic demand,” he said in a telephone interview.

A claim last week by Poroshenko that his goal has been to defeat corruption is, frankly, insulting in light of his inadequate track record since 2014.

Gnap’s decision to run was meant to help anticorruption fighters break into the closed shop of Ukrainian politics and to unite people, parties, politicians, and organizations into a mass movement to provide candidates pledged to clean up the government.

He said talks have been underway for a while involving two anticorruption parties, Samopomich and Democratic Alliance, plus dozens of members of parliament as well as former technocrats and professionals in policy and finance about “creating a platform, a network.”

“Why four years after the Euromaidan Revolution do we have to choose between faces that we’d gotten sick and tired of even before the revolution?” he wrote on Facebook. “Why is no one in jail for corruption? Why do enemy agents feel good, and some of them run cities and make business with the president? Why hasn’t a single fundamental reform been carried out? Why do those who were caught stealing red-handed teach us how to live on television and babble about patriotism?”

Gnap is building a small campaign team now.

Not surprisingly, within an hour after his announcement, he was attacked by a Yulia Tymoshenko supporter and others who all said he shouldn’t run because he lacks experience.

“Let’s remember, [deposed President] Victor Yanukovych came to the presidency with experience, a slogan of good state management, and a team of strong managers because he said they were experienced. Look at what happened in this strong management? They looted our country. What we need in Ukraine is not experience only, but we need leaders willing to change the country.”

Gnap will take part in primaries for a single liberal opposition candidate in the presidential election, scheduled for March 2019, and in the fall 2019 parliamentary elections. Independents like him face a rotten system rigged by oligarchs and incumbents who control media outlets.

“So we are going to do things differently than the politicians who say it costs huge money to run an electoral and political campaign,” he said. “They pay off electoral officials all the way to the head of the national electoral process. We have two strategies.”

His team hopes to enlist thousands of volunteers across the country for his candidacy, but also to push the anticorruption movement that he and others— reformers in parliament already—are organizing. “Volunteers will reduce costs and then we will launch a crowdfunding platform for financing,” he said.

Getting coverage to spread the word will also be possible through alternative media, he said. “We realize that most popular TV channels are controlled by Ukrainian oligarchs, businesses, or politicians who are our political rivals. We have no illusions that we would be blocked by our opponents so we want to focus on social networks and sharing video content with political commercials posted on the Internet and YouTube,” he said.

They are also targeting anticorruption efforts in small towns and the countryside. “Corruption is not just about stealing money in parliament, but about paying more money for your electricity, gas, water, and other services because oligarchs control the monopolies,” he said.

Gnap’s platform priorities so far include iron-clad protection for the National Anticorruption Bureau and for the new Anticorruption Court; full judicial reform in all courts to remove corrupt judges; reform of Ukraine’s secret service which preys on businesses and should only deal with terrorism, treason, and audits; and legislation to help local governments break the monopolies held in the hands of oligarchs who overcharge people.

“Last month, we have been working hard uniting into one common political project, a new political movement with Samopomich, Democratic Alliance, and dozens of other democratic Ukrainian politicians,” he said.

He has support from some veteran and militia groups as well as middle-class Ukrainians who use social media.

“So this is the plan, this is the idea, and this is why I decided to participate,” he said.

Not surprisingly, the old guard last week threatened to block social media or websites “that threaten national security,” but this doesn’t worry Gnap.

“Ukrainians would see this as a freedom of speech issue. This is not Russia or Kazakhstan or Belarus. This is a country with a strong civil society and a tradition of fighting for rights.”

Such strong-arming would simply underscore the need to remove the kleptocracy. And, in that light, journalists like Gnap and others are the ideal change agents and may be uniquely qualified along with reformers.

“I know a lot about corruption, which is the number one problem in Ukraine. I know not only the results, but how corruption works. I also have good connections with experts and key people interested in reforming law enforcement, legislative power, and professionals in their fields,” he said.

Clearly, Gnap and the movement are what Ukraine needs—a complete purge—and only such outsiders who know the score can do the job.

After all, the Czech Republic was run by activist and poet Vaclav Havel with a team of technocrats with great success.

Ukraine can, and must, do the same.

Diane Francis is a Senior Fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Eurasia Center, Editor at Large with the National Post in Canada, a Distinguished Professor at Ryerson University’s Ted Rogers School of Management, and author of ten books.

Image: On June 25, Dmytro Gnap announced that he was leaving journalism and becoming a politician. He had been the head of the Slidstvo.info team of investigative journalists. Credit: Radio Svoboda/RFE/RL