Local officials are the most enthusiastic toadies, because they depend on the president for their offices
Ukrainewas outraged when journalists found that the State Agency for Forest Resources had allegedly forced 300 local forest services to buy UAH 15 million worth of Yanukovych’s portraits. At the same time, many local officials did not have to be asked twice. Wanting to demonstrate their loyalty to the government, they find their own ways. For example, Oleh Hrebeniuk, chief of the Education Department in the Lutsk City Council, ordered school principals to hang Yanukovych's portraits in all their offices. Remarkably, he is not an official in a state administration dependant on the Presidential Administration, but represents a self-government body.
The heads of state administrations have the biggest interest in winning the favor of the president. First, he determines whether or not they will keep their offices. Second, it is a simple way to obtain subsidies for their regions. So the most common way to please the president is to hold grand receptions and imitate popular love for the head of state. This is, in essence, a brown-nosing competition. So far Chernivstsi Governor Mykhailo Papiyev is clearly ahead of the pack. In the best of Soviet traditions, Yanukovych was welcomed in Chernivtsi by hundreds of “grateful” residents lined up along the central street and holding placards like “Yanukovych is the guarantor of a successful Ukraine.” “It was their own initiative,” Papiyev said, trying to convince his boss. Then he was taken to a machine building factory whose staff unanimously supported the anti-Yanukovych movement back in 2004. This time around, the workers “greeted their president in one enthusiastic wave.” The local mass media reported that the plant’s director general, Viktor Sidliar, explained that the reception orchestrated in the plant’s territory was “an expression of respect for the head of state and proof that the enterprise is doing well and earning good profits, which means reforms are making progress.” He also authored an address to the president which has become the talk of the town: “We owe you for your visit to us. And we will owe for five more years as long as you are president.” Preparations in Chernivtsi took on such a massive scale that the local traffic police even called on the residents to avoid driving in the streets: “Dear traffic participants! In connection with a working visit of President of Ukraine Viktor Yanukovych to Chernivtsi Region on November 8, 2011, we ask you to refrain, if possible, from driving in the city of Chernivtsi.” Local journalists joke that Yanukovych now has a new pseudonym – “temporary inconveniences.”
Brown-nosing is not only difficult but also humiliating. In February 2011, Yanukovych was in Odesa on a visit and rudely scolded Eduard Matviychuk, chief of the Odesa Regional Administration: “I told you to let people in. Are you not in control of anything here, or what?” With schoolboy obedience the latter rose and went to fix his mistake. It would seem that a man of honor would submit his resignation after an incident of like this. Not Matviychuk. This extremely “flexible” politician at one point was an Our Ukraine MP and then defected to the Party of Regions. Public humiliation does not keep him from continuing to sing his patron’s praises, even in private conversations.
Brown-nosing to the president means not only rounding up people with placards along his itinerary. There are other, unconventional ways. For example, the Ukraine Trophy 2011 car rally crossed the territory of Rivne District in July 2011. The local authorities were suspiciously quick to provide the participants with portable toilets, shower cabins and autonomous car washing equipment. A stage was set up and a choir was specially brought from a district civic house to perform at the event. Rivne Region Governor Vasyl Bertash made a 4-to-5-hour trip from Rivne to personally welcome the participants of the hitherto unknown car rally. This unheard-of scale of support that the local authorities provided for an unofficial event had a simple explanation – one of the ralliers was MP Viktor Yanukovych Jr., the president’s son. Brown-nosing hit the mark.
Signals of loyalty from state administration chiefs reach the president also through his wife. For example, Mykhailo Vyshyvaniuk of Ivano-Frankivsk sent the president a gift via Liudmyla Yanukovych with an unsophisticated message: “This is a Hutsul box for Mr. Yanukovych to fill with his state decorations.”
One regional official admitted in a private conversation: “Lack of attention to the president may cost you dearly. No one wants to be another Tsymbaliuk.” Many officials are convinced that Mykhailo Tsymbaliuk lost his office after Yanukovych’s recorded address was met with boos at Lviv’s soccer stadium. There is some “homespun truth” to this worldview.
The Ukrainian Week talked with French cybersecurity expert Christine Dugoin-Clément about mechanisms for fighting fake news, the prospects for certifying true information, and the likelihood of separating propaganda from journalism once and for all.