Faults that force Western politicians to resign sometimes seem comic to Ukrainians, while Europeans perceive them as threats to society
It seems that resignation as a moral choice for a Ukrainian official is an alien concept. If a minister is dismissed for his lack of loyalty to the top leadership or a failure to fit in after a redistribution of the spheres of influence in the highest echelons of power – it’s a norm for Ukraine. However, it is hard to comprehend when a ranking official resigns not for being mandated to do so by law, public or court verdicts, but for being blamed by media reports. Moreover, in situations like these Ukrainian officials can “wait out the storm” while relaxing on his villa in Cyprus.
German Defense Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg voluntarily resigned after being accused of plagiarism, recently. Bremen University Professor Andreas Fischer-Leskano found that more than a hundred pages in the minister’s PhD thesis were copied without being cited. A few months ago, Guttenberg was considered to be one of the most promising representatives of the younger generation in European right-wing politics. It took Guttenberg a bit too long to resign. Nevertheless, this kind of resignation is not a life-time verdict in Germany, so some politicians can make a comeback even being blamed before. Despite this fact, in Great Britain government officials, who are found guilty, are scared from public scandals. Therefore they resign immediately.
Mistakes and transgressions that put Western politicians on the brink of the abyss are in a totally different league than those that would force their post-Soviet counterparts to resign. When only some spots are dirty, you can see them well, but when dirt is all around, it is virtually pointless to fight for cleanliness. Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and Ukrainian Parliament Speaker Volodymyr Lytvyn were caught in plagiarism, but it’s just water off a duck's back to them. Reports about the ruling elite’s violations have become so widespread that individual names simply fail to stick in one’s memory. And the problem lays not so much in the corrupt nature of post-Soviet officials, but in society being passive and not ready to challenge this.
Below The Ukrainian Week cites the most telling examples of voluntary political resignations in Europe and Japan.
In 2009, the United Kingdom saw a parade of resignations, including some voluntary ones. They were triggered by articles in The Daily Telegraph’s carrying information and documents about the expenditures of officials and MPs in 2004–2008 allegedly “to perform their duties.”
In Great Britain, government officials can receive reimbursements from the state budget for expenses that are indeed incurred in connection with their professional activities, but The Daily Telegraph found that some MPs were actively abusing these privileges. Certain government members said they were prompted to resign by the approaching reshuffle, but the Brits themselves are certain scandal played a key role. Here are some of the resignees: Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government Hazel Blears, who asked for maximum compensation from the budget and among other things bought two brand-new TV sets within a year; UK Interior Minister Jacqui Smith, who used taxpayers’ money to pay for the maintenance of two houses; Minister of State for Children, Young People, and Families Beverly Hughes, who admitted to public that her resignation was caused by the scandal. Some other functionaries resigned as well.
In 2006, Swedish Minister for Foreign Trade Maria Borelius resigned after being in office for only eight days. She had failed to pay a monthly fee for TV services, which is something required for every TV user in Sweden. Moreover, she failed to pay the employment tax (employer’s contribution) for a hired nanny.
Cem Özdemir, currently a co-leader of the Green Party, took a tumble over flight tickets when he was a member of the Bundestag at the time. When German MPs go on business trips, they enjoy a special Miles and More programs which give them bonus points for ticket purchase. Mr. Özdemir used this perk for private trips. After reports of the indiscretion surfaced in the media, the standard scenario unfolded: under pressure of an outraged public, he resigned from all offices he held. In 2009, he lost in a parliamentary election.
In 2008, Justice and Institutional Reforms Minister Jo Vandeurzen resigned after the Court of Cassation, Belgium’s Supreme Court, decided that there were evidences of governmental pressure on the judiciary in case of Fortis Bank’s nationalization. Nationalization of the Bank was suspended in the same year.
In 2002, Minister of Culture Suvi Lindén handed in her resignation after she was reported having issued government subsidies to golf courses she co-owned. Ms. Lindén admitted quit immediately but said that she had no clue she was doing something bad during the decision-making. Her resignation happen so quick that media did not even have time to twist a scandal and thus did not damage her reputation. Perhaps, this was the reason why Suvi Lindén was able to return to politics, namely to the office of the Communications Ministry in 2007–2010.
In 2006, Swedish Foreign Minister Laila Freivalds resigned after a scandal surrounding the online publication of satirical cartoons of the Islamic Prophet Muhammed. She was accused in violating norms of the Constitution by turning a blind eye to the affair. Another jab thrown at her was that the Swedish Foreign Ministry lacked professionalism: nearly 500 Swedes died during a tsunami in South-Eastern Asia in December 2004, because of not been evacuated in due time.
In 2004, UK Home Secretary David Blunkett resigned after having used his authority to speed up the visa procedure for a governess hired by his ex-girlfriend. The press obtained his electronic correspondence with immigration service officials. The following phrase was recognized as the most reprehensible one: “I am not asking for any preferences. Just do it a bit faster”.
Recently, Japanese Foreign Minister Seiji Maehara has resigned from office over a scandal surrounding donations to his Democratic Party. He admitted that he had received USD 600 in political donations from a South Korean who had resided in Japan for a long time. Japan’s legislation bans donations from foreign individuals and legal entities. Local media reported that the ex-Minister received in total USD 2,400 for his party from the same lady.
Current German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble was seen as a potential German chancellor or president. But this was not to happen, not in the least because of his tainted biography. In 1998, he came to the helm of the Christian-Democratic Union of Germany and headed his party's coalition with the Christian Social Union of Bavaria in 1991. However, in 1999, his political opponents initiated an investigation into donations received by his party during the 1998 federal election. They found that the party had an entire network of secret accounts to which millions of German marks were transferred. These sums were unaccounted for. In 2000, Mr. Schäuble resigned from all his posts but soon staged a comeback to big-time politics and was appointed Minister of the Interior in 2005-2009. This scandal also involved Helmut Kohl, even though he had resigned as federal Chancellor by then. Mr. Kohl said he had promised to his party’s donors their names would not be revealed, but this contradicts the law “On Political Parties” which he signed.
Foreign Minister Ilkka Kanerva was fired in 2008 after the entire country learned that while off diplomatic duty, he had been sending hundreds of text messages to a striptease dancer. Within one month, 200 such messages were identified. The politician said that they were business in nature, but the public remained unconvinced.
In 2010, Swedish Employment Minister Sven Otto Littorin stepped down due to “family circumstances,” as he put it. The politician was in the process of divorcing. The evening newspaper Aftonbladet claimed that he decided to quit his post after a journalist asked him: “Is it true that you bought sexual services in 2006?” Mr. Littorin later admitted his guilt: “True, I had conversations about sex on the Internet with women I didn’t know, but I have never purchased prostitution services.”
Liars and amateurs
Finnish Prime Minister Anneli Jäätteenmäki voluntarily resigned in 2003 after spending as little as two months in office. At the time, she also quit as the leader of the Center Party of Finland. During the parliamentary election campaign she went public with the statement that Paavo Lipponen - at that time Finnish Premier and Chairman of the Social Democratic Party - had supported the Iraq war during talks with George Bush. This was fundamentally against Swedish traditional policy of neutrality. Ms. Jäätteenmäki won the race and formed a coalition government with Social Democrats. But then her newly found allies asked her where she got this confidential information, (essentially a state secret) from? It turned out that she had been tipped by Martti Manninen, advisor to the Finnish President Tarja Halonen. Speaking before parliament, Ms. Jäätteenmäki claimed she was not aware that the information was secret. But Mr. Manninen insisted that she had consciously demanded it. A year later, the Helsinki District Court acquitted the ex-premier on all accounts, but she has never returned to national politics.
In January 2010, Bulgarian Foreign Minister Rumiana Jeleva submitted her voluntary resignation after Premier Boyko Borisov chose her as Bulgaria’s nominee for European Commissioner for International Cooperation, Humanitarian Aid, and Crisis Response. At the hearings in Brussels, something every candidate for this office has to go through, she failed to answer questions about areas she was to oversee as commissioner and those about her own business interests. She left the political stage altogether.
Bozhidar Dimitrov, an office-less Diaspora Minister of Bolgaria, resigned in 2010 after a high-profile investigation proved that he had previously cooperated with the special services of the People’s Republic of Bulgaria. Premier Boyko Borisov emphasized that not a single person who collaborated with the communist special services would be in his government.
In the 2005 presidential race in Poland, Włodzimierz Cimoszewicz, who served as the Prime Minister in 1996-1997 and Minister of Foreign Affairs in 2001-2005, was clearly ahead of the competition. The election campaign coincided in time with so-called Orlengate, an investigation into PKN Orlen, a Polish oil-refining company whose assets were being targeted by Russians. At the time, they wanted to get control over an oil refinery in Gdansk and buy it on greatly advantageous conditions. The Polish weekly magazine Wprost wrote that Mr. Cimoszewicz had purchased a stake in PKN Orlen by using his daughter and son-in-law as proxies. Moreover, his assistant Anna Jarucka testified against him by saying that he had asked her to forge his property declaration. The presidential candidate had to stand before an investigation commission in the Sejm, but refused to comply. Instead he withdrew from the election. Later, the court proved that Ms. Jarucka’s testimony was false.
Conspicuous post-Soviet cheaters
In February 2009, the public learned that Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin had copied 16 pages from someone else’s textbook, as reported by The New York Times journalist Andrew Kramer. In 1997, Mr. Putin, at the time deputy mayor of Saint Petersburg, earned a PhD degree in economics by defending a thesis on the economics of natural resources. Scholars at the Brookings Institution analyzed his text and found that the author had copied, without any reference, a fragment from a 1978 American textbook Strategic Planning and Policy by David Cleland and William King of Pittsburg University.
Few Russians ever learned about the fact then or later.
On 19 January 2002, Volodymyr Lytvyn, head of the Presidential Administration and leader of the “For a United Ukraine” bloc at the time, published an article entitled “Civil society: myths and reality” in the newspaper Fakty i kommentarii. It turned out that this piece was copied, with minor revisions and cuts, from Foreign Policy, Is. 117, Winter 1999-2000, pp. 18-29. The original author is Professor Thomas Carothers. Mr. Lytvyn offered but a lame excuse by saying that his was a synopsis, not a copy, of the article. However, this academic sin did not lead to any real consequences for him apart from public shame.
In 2005, the then Ukrainian Justice Minister Roman Zvarych found himself in the center of a scandal: an investigation launched by journalists affiliated with Ukrainska pravda showed that he did not have the academic degree he indicated in his biography. Later, in an exclusive interview in The Ukrainian Weekly, he admitted that he indeed did not have either a MA or PhD degree from Columbia University or the title of professor at New York University.
In early February 2010, the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine stripped nine MPs of their mandates for keeping, in violation of the Constitution, a seat in the parliament while working in the executive branch at the same time for as long as a year.
These MPs cost Ukrainian taxpayers at least 2-3 million a year. It is a known fact that 13 MPs, mostly from the Party of Regions, kept their MP seats and executive posts for nearly a year. They missed plenary sessions and gave their voting cards to others. Many of their colleagues believe that they simply milked the budget for their own benefit. Furthermore, part of them took advantage of privileges reserved for MPs and those for high-ranking officials, including transportation, recreation in special resorts, and personal staff. Some of them may have been smart enough to get salaries in both places at the same time.
On 7 September 2010, the Ukrainian Ministry of Internal Affairs purchased a Subaru Outback, 10 Sang Yong Actyons, and 10 Toyota Camries, paying UAH 345,000 to Ukrainian Automobile Holding Ltd. and UAH 533,250 Autocenter Kharkiv Trading House, according to the Ukrainian mass media. Previously the Kyiv Oblast Directorate of the Road Inspection Police bought a Cadillac Escalade for nearly one million Hryvnias. The state-owned enterprise Information Center, subordinated to the Ministry of Justice, added a Mercedes worth UAH 1.11 million to its car park on 3 August. The top government bodies now have cars worth a total of over USD 5 million, according to various estimates.
Entertainment for the ministry
On 10 September 2010, Kyiv’s Ukraine Palace hosted festivities dedicated to Oil, Gas, and Oil-Refining Industry Day. The concert featured Russian popular singer Filipp Kirkorov, noted opera singer Volodymyr Hryshko, famed Ukrainian signer Taisia Povalii, and the Pavlo Virsky Academic Dancing Ensemble. The entire event lasted 4.5 hours and, considering the performers’ fees, must have cost at least USD 200,000.
In March 2010, SBU, the Security Service of Ukraine, marked its 18th anniversary in the same venue and paid to see and hear celebrated artists including Taisia Povalii, Tina Karol, Valerii Meladze, and Kvartal -95. Experts estimate that their fees alone amounted to nearly USD 135,000. Add to this rent and refreshments, and the total is about USD 180,000.
In the summer of 2010, a celebration of Medical Worker Day (17 June) was held. Ukrainian signers Ivo Bobul, Mykola Mozhovy, Viktor Pavlik, Katia Buzhynska, and Natalia Valevska were invited to perform there. The MCs were poet, actor, and TV persona Petro Maha and actress Olha Sumska. Experts estimate that the organizers probably ran up a bill of over one million Hryvnias (USD 125,000).
It’s no surprising, taking into account an example of Viktor Yanukovych’s birthday party in July 2010, where invited Ukrainian and Russian artists were paid a total of nearly one million Euros for performing.