Former BYuT MP Natalia Korolevska is everywhere in the mass media. Billboards featuring her face outnumber those sporting the Party of Regions logo. Unlike other politicians that place themselves in the ranks of the opposition, she has no problems accessing voters. This fact, among others, leads many to believe she is acting in the interests of the government and stealing votes from the opposition. Sociologists contacted by The Ukrainian Week indeed confirm that Korolevska’s popularity is rising due to her aggressive billboard campaign, paid-for media coverage, regular presence in talk shows and the novelty effect. According to the Razumkov Centre, as many as 5.4% (4.1 according to KMIS) of potential voters are ready to support her Ukrayina – Vpered! (Ukraine – Forward!) party.
HOW “NEW LEADERS” GROW
Luhansk Oblast native Korolevska, 36, came to politics from business. At 18, she managed a company set up by her older brother Kostiantyn. He was credited by the press for playing a key role in inviting the then Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov to the infamous 2004 separatist congress in Severodonetsk. Remarkably, Korolevska embarked on a political career with the support of the Party of Regions when she was elected to the Luhansk Oblast Council in the early 2000s. Eventually, she made a career in BYuT thanks to Yulia Tymoshenko despite the files brought to Prime Minister Tymoshenko’s table with allegations that Korolevska-controlled businesses were embezzling funds allocated to purchase equipment for state-own mines and selling illegally mined coal.
It is likely that the Ukrainian Social Democratic Party (USDP), which Korolevska came to head in December 2011, was also prepared and delivered to her with the government’s support. The USDP, part of BYuT at the time, was run by Yevhen Korniychuk, son-in-law to former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court Vasyl Onopenko and ex-Deputy Minister of Justice. Korniychuk was put under considerable pressure. Unlike Tymoshenko and Lutsenko, he was eventually amnestied. MPs say off the record that the price was his father-in-law's resignation, but some opposition MPs do not rule out that the USDP was an additional part of the deal. In late October 2011, police searched the apartment of Viktor Poltavets, former Minister of Coal Mining, who is thought to be linked to Korolevska. Anatoliy Mohylov, Minister of the Interior at the time, claimed then that the search was part of an investigation into financial fraud. Soon after the search, Korolevska began to openly distance herself from BYuT.
The landmark USDP congress took place the same day the Kyiv Court of Appeals upheld the guilty verdict against Tymoshenko. Korolevska’s rise to a leadership position in another party had not been approved by either Tymoshenko or Oleksandr Turchynov, who leads the Fatherland party and BYuT in Tymoshenko’s absence. Korolevska initially said through the mass media, including The Ukrainian Week, that she did have BYuT’s blessing. Finally, Turchynov publicly denied it.
On 14 March, Korolevska was expelled from the BYuT faction. The formal ground was that her card did not vote for the PACE recommendation to have Tymoshenko and other political prisoners released. Korolevska accused the faction’s leadership and Andriy Kozhemiakin personally of having stolen her card. The BYuT faction members said that the true reason was her “cooperation with the regime”. Yevhen Suslov and Oleksiy Lohvynenko followed Korolevska and quit the faction. The USDP political board took the decision to withdraw from the Dictatorship Resistance Committee. In response, BYuT expelled the UDSP from its ranks. Finally, on 21 March, the party was renamed into Natalia Korolevska’s Ukraine – Forward!
Obviously, Korolevska’s advertisement campaign seeks to sort of replace the image of Tymoshenko. Moreover, the excessive personification of BYuT has made Korolevska the most popular figure in Tymoshenko’s team, while her political project is balancing on the parliamentary threshold level. According to a Razumkov Centre poll, 4.8% of potential voters would support Korolevska as the leader of the united opposition compared to Turchynov’s 4.2%.
Korolevska is a valuable find for the government interested in diluting the opposition. The anti-Yulia project was launched a long time ago, but Korolevska fills the bill more than anyone else by far. She triggers a whole range of subconscious associations: Tymoshenko’s former comrade-in-arms and favourite who went against the Turchynov-Kozhemiakin tandem which in a backstage deal delivered Tymoshenko’s much-cherished party to Arseniy Yatseniuk, Viktor Yushchenko’s protégé, a friend of oligarchs and the “favourite oppositionist” of the current government.
NO NEED FOR A PLATFORM
Instead of an election platform, Korolevska offers voters a collection of populist buzzwords and slogans. She declares that her goal boils down to “bringing new leaders into politics who will change the quality of Ukraine’s politics”. Voters are being urged to vote for the pretty woman who promises to bring these fantasies to life.
Despite its rebranding, the USDP has kept its social democratic declarations. “A social democratic party like the ones found in Europe is the only way for Ukraine to develop,” says Suslov, Korolevska’s closest aide. Korolevska indignantly condemns privatisation which “has revealed its true face in the 20 years of Ukraine’s independence” – and this despite her family having been involved in the process. The party promises to relieve small and medium business to the maximum possible extent, forgetting to specify how they will be relieved. Its platform also calls for “an active part of a fair and efficient state”, “securing social justice and high social standards”, “more welfare” and counteraction against “societal rifts along cultural, linguistic, religious and national lines”. Then there is the recently mandatory mantra on the role of citizens in political life. Korolevska takes it to maximum heights and commits to introduce “total citizen control on all government levels”, no less.
The issues of national identity, the state language, geopolitical choice and Euro-Atlantic integration are completely ignored. This is only reasonable because Korolevska attracts, according to opinion polls, a paradoxical electoral mix – her popularity ratings are the highest (and almost the same) in Southeastern and Western Ukraine, where they are two to three times higher than in the central oblasts.
BREAD AND CIRCUSES
Korolevska’s election headquarters spares no money on advertisement. Artem Bidenko, expert in advertisement communications, told The Ukrainian Week that according to Doors Consulting, Korolevska face now stares at Ukrainians from 320 billboards in Kyiv alone and 900 across Ukraine. The price tag for this luxury is UAH 2.5 million per month. Advertisement specialists point out that the stylistics of her election campaign bears too close a resemblance to the Party of Regions’ PR technologists. The impression is that the slogans, colours, etc. were produced by one centre.
At the same time, she is trying to come across as a modern European politician. She has already spoken at the Davos Forum, and the Korolevska Foundation organised a meeting for friends of Ukraine in Brussels which was attended by such noted MEPs as Britain's Charles Tannock and Poland's Marek Siwiec.
Retrospectively, there are a number of parallels to be observed between Korolevska and one old project – the Team of the Winter Generation. That force was led by Inna Bohoslovska and Valeriy Khoroshkovsky who also insisted they were politicians with new quality and European worldviews, capable of successfully combating the country’s backwardness and post-Soviet chaos. What they did in fact was steal votes cast by supporters of the opposition in the 2002 parliamentary elections. Its representatives eventually found themselves among the most zealous followers of the current regime.
The congress of MPs took place in Severodonetsk, Donetsk Oblast, on 28 November 2004, as a response to the refusal of authorities in Lviv, Volyn, Ternopil, Ivano-Frankivsk and Kyiv Oblasts, as well as Kyiv City, to acknowledge the rule of Viktor Yanukovych elected as a result of massive fraud that sparked the Orange Revolution. The congress was seeking to declare autonomy for Eastern and Southern oblasts they referred to as the Autonomous South-Eastern Ukrainian Republic.