Yuriy Lutsenko: I’m afraid of excessive micro leadership ambitions within the united opposition
Previously jailed for political reasons and recently sentenced to two more years in yet another case, the ex-Minister of the Interior offers his opinion on processes within the united opposition, mistakes in selecting candidates for the parliamentary election, the importance of removing the current regime and the wasted chance to reform the law enforcement system when he was Minister.
UW: Arseniy Yatseniuk is essentially taking over the Batkivshchyna party. What is your opinion on this?
Yulia Tymoshenko was and will always be the leader of Batkivshchyna. This is not purely for historical reasons. Even in jail, Tymoshenko is still central to Ukraine’s domestic and foreign policy.
To be honest, I don’t fear the so-called takeover of Batkivshchyna. I’m afraid of the excessive micro leadership ambitions within the united opposition. The crucial task of the Yatseniuk-Turchynov tandem today is to make sure of its leaders’ firm stand as a team and the consistency of future Batkivshchyna MPs. National interest depends on this as does the personal test of Yatseniuk.
UW: Do you see Arseniy Yatseniuk as an opposition leader who has come to replace Yulia Tymoshenko?
Yatseniuk is definitely the leader on the united opposition’s list. Will this lead to him being an alternative to Yanukovych in the presidential election? Only the outcome of voting for party lists will tell. In any case, such status is not determined by party or inter-party lists. If we have taken the lesson of the democratic forces’ defeat in 2010 to heart, we should be planning nationwide primaries for opposition candidates. When the time comes, I will offer an organizational model for this process.
UW: How do you see the future of People’s Self-Defense? The united opposition has virtually deprived some of your allies, including Yuriy Hrymchak and Taras Stetskiv, of the opportunity to get into parliament. Does this signal a victory of opportunistic principles over Ukrainian interests? How were you involved in the formation of the united opposition’s election list?
I was and continue to be confident that unification and regeneration is the only possible strategy to win over the retro-totalitarian regime of the Party of the Regions and the Communist Party of Ukraine. This is why People’s Self-Defense joined Batkivshchyna in March.
Continuing this line, I was a fierce opponent of party quotas and publicly suggested that the united opposition should invite leaders of public opinion to its party list and nominate the most well-known MPs, including People’s Self-Defense members, in the majority constituencies in which they were originally elected to parliament. The only exception I asked for was for Yuriy Hrymchak, an MP from the Donetsk Oblast who is facing criminal persecution for proactive resistance to the anti-Ukrainian Kharkiv deals.
I only found out about the mistakes you mentioned, and others, after the united opposition’s meeting. If I had not been in prison I would probably have had more impact. However, I think there is still time to provide support for Taras Stetskiv, Oles Doniy and other candidates, who are completely loyal to Ukrainian interests in majority constituencies.
On the whole, it’s worth noting that the united opposition has rid itself of scandalous people on their list despite all of its flaws and has become a realistic alternative to the ruling mafia.
UW: Was the nomination of Iryna Lutsenko a joint decision between yourself and your wife?
Nominating Iryna Lutsenko was not our initiative. We don’t need a mandate to remind people of our surname or to pass on food to me in jail. Still, I think Batkivshchyna did the right thing. I hope Iryna will continue to struggle against the Party of Regions’ lies and misdoings as she has for the last 18 months during my legal proceedings.
For us, this nomination is a response to Yanukovych’s persecution. It has failed to eliminate the Lutsenko factor. Moreover, Iryna’s experience, education and principles will serve as a solid foundation in her fight for the three Ds – the de-communisation of consciousness, the de-criminalization of politics and the de-monopolization of the economy.
Just give us some time and you’ll see that the Lutsenkos’ have a common style of attack and openness of evaluations.
UW: You are likely to be transferred to prison soon. Will you promote the united opposition among the inmates? How many votes can the united opposition expect from your prison?
I’m more impressed by the approach of a jailed Symon Petliura. He was at this very Lukianivska prison and still planned a successful overthrow to revive the Ukrainian People’s Republic, although different people were in power back then. Despite orders of the then Hetman Pavlo Skoropadsky to hold Chief Otaman Symon Petliura criminally liable, Skoropadsky’s Minister of Justice and Chief of Staff reported: “Petliura is a not a criminal, just an enemy.” He was released shortly thereafter.
UW: If you could meet with Viktor Yanukovych right now, what would you tell him?
I don’t think that Yanukovych misses me to the extent that he would come to the detention center. And it only makes sense to talk to people who hear and understand what they are told. Over the two and a half years of his rule, Yanukovych has proved to be totally deaf and ignorant of what others think.
This is why I said in my last speech at the Pechersk Court, that Batkivshchyna and the Party of Regions were not two parties. The former is an imperfect democracy and the latter is a perfect mafia. One can criticize democracy and make it resign. With a mafia, there is nothing to talk about. It has to be won over.
UW: How is it possible to prevent mistakes in the selection of partners, such as your links with David Zhvania?
I don’t consider my one-time relations with David Zhvania to be a mistake. I wish that every party could have a sponsor like him with no political, economic or business instructions for the party’s faction in the Verkhovna Rada. in 2007-2009, I worked with David Zhvania, who spoke Ukrainian and believed in Ukraine’s European prospects. Everything that happened after Yanukovych’s victory is David’s personal tragedy – a denial of political and human values.
Sadly, the price paid, was a group of traitors at People’s Self-Defense. And they were not just random people. I knew them all from many years in the opposition and the government. But the new government has brought new rules to politics. It has bought the poor and intimidated the rich. There is just one way to prevent people from switching sides in parliament – choose people whose reputation and principles matter more to them than their fear and money. Such people are few but they do exist.
UW: You have been in power several times. What was your biggest mistake then?
After the democratic forces won the 2007 election, I agreed to head the Interior Ministry with Viktor Yushchenko’s guarantee to remove the Prosecutor General he had appointed, who was blatantly accommodating the Party of Regions, and to reform law enforcement and the judiciary.
My mistake was not in the fact that I believed this, even though within a month, Yushchenko continued his suicidal war against BYuT and completely rejected all these plans.
My biggest mistake was in coming to terms with this. After a few attempts to arrange cooperation with Our Ukraine-People’s Self-Defense and BYuT, I was no longer bothered with politics and focused on the Interior Ministry. Without a parliamentary majority, I could no longer conduct the radical reform of the penal determination system. So I did what I could within the framework of legislation. That’s how we eliminated such phenomena as “thieves in law” and “supervisors” in the Ukrainian economy; banned the free sale of tramadol, which fueled a surge of drug addiction among the young; and reduced the number of people killed and injured in car accidents from 2,000 to 1,500. We caught the most corrupt officials in Ukraine’s history from both the blue-and-white, and orange camps. We smacked Crimean separatists on the wrists and taught Russia’s Black Sea Fleet to coordinate its maneuvers with the Ukrainian government. We ensured free assembly and cleaned up over a million “dead souls” prior to the election.
Still, without an independent court and an objective prosecutor’s office, all of this was temporary. Iwaswrong. I should have taken on more, crawled out of the Interior Ministry trench and publicly demanded that the president and the premier act together to reform the Interior Ministry, the Prosecutor General’s Office, and the courts. Of course, this was the competence of the Speaker the Verkhovna Rada, the Minister of Justice and others. Moreover, it is doubtful whether anything would have worked out under conditions of this irreconcilable “domestic war” of democrats. But I could have at least tried.
For Ukrainians incarcerated in the occupied territories and in the Russian Federation itself, things could get much worse in 2018. Only serious international pressure is likely to make Moscow release these political prisoners