Yanukovych Birthday Video Reflects What Is Angering Ukrainians Now

Kyiv Says It Fires 39 Officials as Voters Show Frustration Over Continued Corruption

Eight months after Ukrainians forced the ouster of President Viktor Yanukovych, they will elect a parliament amid rising public anger over the persistence of government corruption under the still-new regime of President Petro Poroshenko. Public discussion about how many new leaders are the same as the old crowd has fueled the wave of attacks in recent weeks in which groups of men have accosted politicians on the street, accused them of graft, and heaved them into street-side trash dumpsters.

Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk’s office said it decided yesterday to dismiss thirty-nine officials, including “heads of central executive bodies” and “deputy ministers” after initial investigations of corruption allegations. That statement, on the Cabinet of Ministries website, also laid out a fourteen-month schedule for anti-corruption investigations of thousands of officials, starting with the top ranks.

The government’s move shows that it’s paying attention to voters’ anger over corruption in the final days before the October 26 vote. Poroshenko’s bloc continues to hold a solid lead in opinion polls, which also show Yatsenyuk’s party likely to hold a significant position in the next parliament.

The Ukrainian newspaper Vesti this week posted a two-minute video from an elaborate 2011 birthday party for former President Viktor Yanukovych that dramatizes a the interweaving of Ukraine’s new and old leaderships. In the video, the regional and commercial power barons of Ukraine who show up bearing gifts and toasting the president’s health are among those now prominent in the anti-Yanukovych power elite.  They include Dnipropetrovsk governor and banking billionaire Ihor Kolomoisky, and the pro-Western, liberal-backed mayor of Lviv, Andriy Sadovyi.

These post-Maidan leaders line up to offer greetings, gifts, and toasts to the president, along with Yanukovych officials or allies, such as former Deputy Prime Ministers Andriy Klyuyev and Serhiy Tihipko, and Communist Party leader Petro Symonenko.

The interweaving of Ukraine’s old and new leaderships feels like a betrayal to many of the millions of Ukrainians now growing increasingly angry and radicalized over what they say is the failure of the new government to begin uprooting corruption. The Associated Press reported this week on the wave of “trashcan lustrations” against politicians seen as corrupt. (“Lustration” is a favored, post-Soviet term for the purging of the corrupt, old guard.)

Lyashko’s Radicals Gain Support

“A recent surge in support [measured in public opinion polls] for the abrasive Oleh Lyashko, whose Radical Party is expected to be one of a handful that will get into parliament in the October 26 election, marks a distinct turn against political order,” the AP notes. “Last month, not wanting to be left out of the wave of dumpster lustrations, Lyashko enlisted supporters in the city of Kirovohrad to seize a newly appointed regional governor for allegedly supporting Yanukovych’s previous government. Unable to locate the governor, the mob instead disposed of a lesser regional representative.”

The hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians who energized last winter’s pro-democracy and anti-corruption Maidan movement were heartened by the appointment of a clutch of Maidan-approved high-level officials who pledged to clean up the government. But most of those reformers have quit those positions, in some cases declaring frustration at being unable to fire powerful and corrupt bureaucrats who ran the machinery of government agencies, Kyiv-based commentator Olena Tregub noted this week.

Those grievances won’t be helped by the video images of Yanukovych standing under a carpeted canopy at a Crimean villa (Vesti reporter Varvara Kvitka identifies it as the former mansion at Foros of Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev). There he receives gifts from government officials and other guests who are disgorged in a crowd from buses at the bottom of the driveway and then line up to make their offerings.

Protocol for Presidential Gift-Giving

One quirk explained by Kvitka: the guests do not bring their actual gifts. These are deposited elsewhere with the leader’s minions. “In the tradition of ceremonies for the leading state figures,” the guest “does not present the gift itself, but rather a photograph of it” mounted in a folder (preferably leather-bound, to judge by the video).

Kvitka notes that Sadovyi—who is leading the Samopomich (“Self-Reliance”) party in this month’s parliamentary elections—was one of few who departed from the protocol. He handed Yanukovych a book that he has identified as a collection of letters by the early 20th-century leader of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, Metropolitan Andrey Sheptytsky. The Kyiv Post reports that Sadovyi has taken some political criticism over his appearance in the birthday video, and responded on his Facebook page that Ukraine would have suffered less this year had Yanukovych absorbed the churchman’s message.

James Rupert is an editor at the Atlantic Council.

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Image: In a newly released video from his 2011 birthday party, President Viktor Yanukovych, right, holds his glass under a canopy at his villa in Crimea while a line of government officials offers him a congratulatory toast. Ukrainians are angry and radicalizing over continued corruption, analysts say. (Vesti/www.vesti.ua)