Oleh Tyahnybok: “The three opposition parties should not be required to act completely in sync”
The leader of the Svoboda party spoke with The Ukrainian Week, about the “Rise Ukraine!” protest campaign, elections in Kyiv, the blockade of parliament, relationships with other opposition leaders, the struggle against stereotypes and other things
In an interview taken on March 12, shortly before the opposition started its “Rise Ukraine!” campaign, Oleh Tyahnybok viewed its prospects with reserved optimism, noting that trying to stoke sentiments of discontent in society through the campaign “may or may not result in a revolution”. In any case, the opposition will try to “reach every Ukrainian” during the campaign, he said.
Tyahnybok said the three leaders of opposition factions have agreed on a plan of action, but noted that the stance taken by UDAR’s leader Vitaliy Klitschko was conspicuously passive. Klitschko was missing during the first rally in Vinnytsia. Tyahnybok claims that this is not a big concern, because the parties in the opposition are different, particularly in their ways of working with the electorate, and says that “the three opposition parties should not be required to act completely in sync”. Tyahnybok further claims that the opposition leaders have developed very close and constructive relationships. At the same time, he does not shy away from putting pressure on one opposition partner through the mass media, as he and Yatseniuk have been doing, urging Klitschko to make up his mind about running to be mayor of Kyiv as soon as possible. The leader of Svoboda says that if he were offered to run for the seat, he would “agree without any hesitation”.
SCHEDULING A REVOLUTION?
U.W.: Mr. Tyahnybok, the opposition has “declared a popular uprising”. Don't you think you've made a mistake in the very formulation, because a rising cannot, in principle, be declared or appointed?
Of course, it is unreal to plan a revolution for a particular day. But we must prepare the ground for this kind of revolution and create a revolutionary atmosphere. Of course, we can wait for the nation to rise on its own, driven to the edge of desperation by social pressure and injustice. But it’s better for us as the opposition and especially as the national opposition to facilitate the process, boost revolutionary sentiments.
U.W.: In what way?
We need to go to people and hold marches, rallies and conferences and in this way heat up the situation. We need to explain our actions to people, because unfortunately the mass media do not always convey the motivations of the opposition correctly, for example in the case of blocking parliament. Moreover, mass media outlets are largely controlled by the government.
Of course, with the spread of the Internet it is now easier for us to act, but we believe that face-to-face contact is very effective. You must, as Stepan Bandera once said, “reach every Ukrainian”. We constantly use opportunities to speak to people directly – on any day when we are free of parliamentary work, we need to fan out across the country and make contact with people. Twelve of our MPs are working in districts where they were elected, and the other 25 have been assigned to different Ukrainian oblasts. These meetings are very effective, because they are attended by local activists interested in politics, and then these people spread the information and the attitude they have absorbed throughout their communities. The situation is coming to the peak; tensions are rising, and it may all sooner or later lead to an explosion and a pre-revolutionary situation.
U.W.: The Ukrainian opposition has been talking about a pre-revolutionary situation almost since Viktor Yanukovych’s inauguration. A number of events that could trigger a true popular rising have happened in these three years: the passage of the Tax Code and the law on languages, the curtailing of the rights of Afghan War veterans and Chornobyl cleanup workers, repression against opposition leaders, and so on. So why has there been no revolution, and why should it happen now exactly?
The situation may or may not change, but changes will never come if mass protests are not held. True, there were moments two and three years ago when we felt an explosion would follow the next day. But as the opposition acts, the government is not idle either and is pushing back.
U.W.: What measures exactly?
First, it uses its administrative resources which among other things permit keeping the mass media under control. Mass media outlets implement schemes developed in the presidential administration with the help of foreign spin doctors.
For example, take a look at the situation with the Tax Code. First, the government infiltrated the organizers of the tax Maidan with their own people who issued a call for “a campaign without politicians”. They convinced entrepreneurs that they didn't need politicians. But we are professionals in our area. We know better what demands to make before the government, and how these demands should be achieved, just like entrepreneurs have a better knowledge of the nuances of trade or manufacturing.
Second, another disruptive idea was circulated: demanding economic changes only for yourself. So, everyone’s demands were reduced to his own tent or kiosk. In fact, what had to be demanded was a resignation of the government which had come up with such a bad code, parliament which had passed it and the president who had signed it into law.
Third, the government was able to win over many leaders of the tax Maidan by solving their specific business issues.
Fourth, if the entrepreneurs had involved other representatives of the potential middle class who would have come out altogether and pressed for common demands, the result would have been different. Meanwhile, using mass media outlets it controls, the government began to set Ukrainian students against entrepreneurs by painting the latter as fraudsters and profiteers.
U.W.: OK, the situation with the tax Maidan is clear. Why did the campaign in defence of the Ukrainian language have no consequences?
You should give the ruling forces their due: they have a good sense of timing and try to solve their issues at a fitting time. Late July and early August is always the quietest time politically. There are no students in Kyiv; people have gone to resorts or to the countryside. Add the summer weather – all of this has a relaxing effect. But even if an extremely burning issue were raised at such a period, there would be an explosion. But that time people didn't support the cause, and Kyiv residents did not come out to defend the language. The government managed to turn the situation around in the media, and it turned out that people were not ready.
U.W.: Why and for what prize should the people come out precisely now? Stripping Serhiy Vlasenko of his MP status is clearly not a good enough reason for total popular mobilization.
There is no doubt about that. The situation with Vlasenko is just an occasion. This case finally demonstrated to society that there is indeed political repression, selective justice and the total dependence of judges. Every Ukrainian who is unable to have a court consider his issue fairly and in line with law feels it. The latest events in the Verkhovna Rada have shown the government’s attempts to discredit the Verkhovna Rada as a redundant and unnecessary body.
U.W.: We will return to parliament later. Still, why should people come out now rather than in late April or mid-May?
The situation in parliament is just right. The country is in a very difficult socioeconomic condition now; gold and foreign-exchange reserves are being depleted. So far people are not feeling it directly, but we understand what it is leading to. We understand that the economy has been put in an exclusively manual operation mode. Family members and people close to high-ranking bureaucrats stay behind the scenes but have unlimited power. There is a Brezhnev-era situation on the highest levels of the government. The usurpation of power is almost complete.
There are several islands of resistance: local councils in which the Svoboda Party has a large representation – these are the three oblasts of Halychyna. There is also an islet in Kyiv – parliament – in which the opposition is so far holding its ground.
You would agree that the opposition today is not what it used to be. The opposition already has some minor successes and victories in its portfolio. They may not be very significant, but they make the Party of Regions uncomfortable. We have been successful in fighting for individual voting and language legislation. It may seem like a trifle to the average person, but the strategic consequence of this will be the passage of laws in a constitutional manner as opposed to the procedures in the past.
U.W.: The “Rise Ukraine!” campaign has already been dubbed “a war on schedule”: there is an action plan with a breakdown for days and cities and with breaks for plenary weeks, covering two months and ending with a final march in Kyiv. Does that look like a popular rising?
The plan we have made public is preliminary in nature. Of course, we will make corrections, but we have to have it to begin with! The main thing is to go to all oblasts of Ukraine, talk to people and learn what kind of position they want to see. On the other hand, we will be informing people about our actions in parliament, possibly correcting them depending on the demands of our electorate. We will be mobilizing activists and creating a pool of people who, if necessary, will be able to come here for some protest or at least come out to the streets in their own cities. Then we will hand it over to our local organizations which will continue to be in active contact with the electorate.
U.W.: Is Yatseniuk the only one who will join you on the tour? Klitschko does not seem to be active along this line – he was absent from the rally on 9 March.
We have made an agreement with Klitschko as well. We will come out together. We had this kind of experience during the parliamentary election, and these rallies were a great success.
Klitschko had warned us before 9 March that he would be on a business trip. I believe I do not have the moral right to comment on his actions or inaction. I am certain he will do that himself.
Let me emphasize the following: our three political forces are different, not only ideologically but also in the way we work with the electorate. There are parties that work more through television or the Internet, and there are those that put a premium on street rallies. Svoboda is a classical street party. We have always held and will continue to hold street rallies. The main thing is that we have a common goal which is to topple this regime. Our actions do not necessarily have to be completely the same! We have three tasks: eliminating the Yanukovych regime; dealing with the negative consequences of his three-year rule; and launching a process of profound changes in Ukrainian society. After that we have to make sure that the toppled regime does not make a comeback.
How each particular party will try to achieve these goals is its own business. Let me give you an example. Do you remember the fights in parliament at the very beginning of this convocation? UDAR stood aside. So what? We got involved, they didn't, but it doesn't mean that they were against the things we were fighting for. They decided that their electorate would better accept the position they adopted. And we decided that our electorate would better understand the behavioural model we followed. Here’s another example. We blocked parliament. Batkivshchyna (Fatherland) and our party decided that parliament had to be blocked only on working days, because an extraordinary session would have had to be called to open it on off days. This would not have gone unnoticed as our MPs live in a hotel near parliament and we would have been there in half an hour. UDAR, on the contrary, thought it better to stay in the parliament building for the night. But this does not mean that we were not fighting a common cause.
It is the same scenario now. We have talked and decided that we need to go to the people. It is up to each party that will join us to decide how it will do so, who will participate and how much party activists will be involved. The three opposition parties should not be required to act completely in sync.
U.W.: Once unblocked, will parliament be able to return to a normal mode of operation after three months of nearly continuous confrontation?
If it hadn’t been for these three months of war, the opposition wouldn’t have had its accomplishments. Every blockade was caused by our own demands. If the majority acts the way it did in the previous convocation, parliament will not work – we will not let it work.
U.W.: A thought has recently been circulated in the media that because parliament is blocked and useless and is only wasting money, it can be done without. Have you noticed that?
Absolutely. When I spoke about parliamentarianism being discredited in Ukraine, I meant precisely that. With the presidential election looming, the government is trying to exploit the opposition “good president vs. bad parliament”. In other words, the government is undermining the very institute of parliamentarianism and all its allies in parliament in order to create the image of a successful good president who is trying to do at least something out there in spite of parliament. This plan looks good to the government, but on the other hand, the execution is quite wanting.
We understand it all. We block parliament, demanding that MPs abide by laws and the Constitution on the one hand, and do everything to still make it work on the other. We take some risks, but it is only to create a truly fully-fledged parliament.
U.W.: Can the country find itself in a situation when, to paraphrase a famous Bolshevik statement, “a truce is not to be signed, war is not to be waged, and parliament is to be disbanded”?
In this case we will appeal to society, something we're doing already. We understand that the Party of Regions may intentionally incite us to block parliament. But if we make the electorate aware that this is merely a technological scheme run by the government, it will backfire against the government itself.
When I met with voters in the past, do you think anyone told me: Stop blocking parliament? Quite the contrary. People demand even more resolute and radical actions!
U.W.: What are your maximum and minimum objectives for the “Rise Ukraine!” campaign? What is it most likely to end with?
The maximum that we expect is snap presidential and parliamentary elections. The minimum is stirring up sentiments in society that may – or may not – lead to a revolution.
Speaking of revolution, the government is now trying to dumb down the concept by reducing it to bloodshed, murder and looting. In their understanding, a revolution means a Lenin on an armoured vehicle and a revolt of drunken sailors. In our understanding, a revolution is a fundamental transformation of the system of power. And this is what we are working on now.
A DIFFICULT CHOICE IN KYIV
U.W.: What is Svoboda’s thinking on the best way for the opposition to take part in the Kyiv elections, if these were to take place soon?
When we discuss a candidate for the mayor’s seat from the opposition, we cannot skip the question of elections to the Kyiv city council. If a party nominates someone for the mayoral race and this candidate is supported by its partners, this party has a lesser claim to seats in first-past-the-post districts. Moreover, there are also the offices of the council’s secretary and committee chairmen. All of them are part of the package to be negotiated. It is a huge chunk of work, but we need to urgently make decisions.
There is another nuance. If we take the three leaders of the opposition forces – Klitschko, Yatseniuk and Tyahnybok – Klitschko stands the best chance of beating [current Head of Kyiv City State Administration acting de facto as Mayor] Oleksandr Popov. If he is supported by Svoboda and Fatherland, his success is guaranteed. But if Klitschko, precisely as an individual politician rather than a candidate from UDAR, refuses to run, it makes sense to offer the spot to Yatseniuk, again not as a representative of Batkivshchyna but as an individual. If supported by Klitschko and Tyahnybok, he will win, too. If Yatseniuk turns down the offer, it makes sense to ask me to run. Similarly, with the support of Klitschko and Yatseniuk, I don’t think there will be any problem in winning the mayoral election.
If I refuse to run, then every party will nominate its candidate or a pair, and we look at all of them to decide who has the highest chance of winning. Given consolidated support from the opposition, any opposition candidate will win the election. All candidates, both in the mayoral and in the council elections, must be agreed upon, including the offices they will take in executive bodies of the Kyiv city council. This is the pragmatic and correct approach that will secure victory for us.
If, however, someone not named Klitschko, Yatseniuk or Tyahnybok becomes the consensus candidate, he will need time for promotion, so we need to make a decision as soon as possible.
U.W.: What if Batkivshchyna nominates Petro Poroshenko as their candidate – according to the sources of The Ukrainian Week, that is a possibility, even though it has become less likely? Will Svoboda throw its support behind him?
Let me be frank: it will be extremely painful for Svoboda to support any other candidate except ours. Considering the sentiments inside our strong Kyiv party organization, which has authority in the eyes of the electorate, there are a handful of nationally-minded people who are not members of our party but whom Svoboda will be less pained to support.
But then there is political advisability. Even if we don't have the desire or ideological incentive to support one candidate or another, we will be forced to support him. The latest parliamentary election is a good case in point: in many districts our partners nominated candidates who were totally unacceptable to us, but we supported them for the sake of the main goal. Another important thing is that a candidate needs to have more than the consensus support of the opposition. We need to be sure that he is knowledgeable in the economy of the city, to say nothing of his loyalty. If we subscribe to a certain candidacy, we assume responsibility for him before our constituents.
U.W.: Yatseniuk recently said that the Kyiv mayor’s seat would be a perfect springboard for the presidential race and Klitschko’s mayorship would only increase his chances in 2015. Do you concur?
U.W.: But this is a step back – now he is a national-level leader, and the mayor’s office will take him one level down.
If I were asked to run as the one opposition candidate for the mayor of Kyiv, I would agree without any hesitation. And this is something I have told Klitschko. I can give you many examples from Europe when mayors of capital cities were eventually elected presidents.
U.W.: You would agree that the mayor of, say, Paris or Prague does not have to face so many chronic problems with the utilities as his counterpart in Kyiv. Whoever takes this office in the Ukrainian capital will be buried under issues like horrible roads, old utility lines, etc. In the time that remains before the presidential election, Klitschko will not realistically be able to resolve them adequately.
You have to be inadequate to bury your popularity rating given such opportunities and such an office. No one will demand a mayor do things he will not be able to do in principle. If in the short time that remains the mayor succeeds in stopping corruption and embezzlement and installs at least elementary order in budget appropriations and land parceling, this will not be lost on residents of Kyiv.
U.W.: Klitschko has said that if Yulia Tymoshenko possibly runs for president, he does not see the need to withdraw his candidacy in her favour. What will you do? And in general, what is the best format for the opposition’s participation in the presidential election?
Let us not engage in guesswork. When there is a fact, we will proceed from it. The plan for the opposition’s victory in the presidential election is very simple – we need to have one candidate supported by all others in the runoff. Moreover, there is no guarantee that Yanukovych will make it to the runoff stage. It may happen that two opposition candidates will advance. I think that everyone still remembers the example of Viktor Yushchenko. Moreover, Yanukovych is competing for his electorate with others – Symonenko and Viktor Medvedchuk, who will steal the votes of pro-Russian, pro-Putin constituents.
U.W.: Does this mean that every opposition leader should run independently in the first round?
This question is very much unclear. We don’t know what will happen in the next two years. We can only sit and talk about it in detail when the time comes. Any talk on this topic today is simply irresponsible. If Tymoshenko is released, she will participate in the election and will advance to the runoff. We will, of course, support her if Yanukovych turns out to be her rival at that stage.
U.W.: But competition between the three opposition leaders with a view towards 2015 does exist, right?
Of course, there is competition. But no one except Yatseniuk, Klitschko and Tyahnybok knows anything about the true relationships among our trio. Now we simply laugh at what others say and write about our cooperation. Any disagreements that we may have had have been minor and have been resolved with a single phone call. No one has slammed any doors or banged any fists on any tables.
IMAGE, OLIGARCHS AND UKRAINIAN PRODUCERS
U.W.: Why does Svoboda fairly often scatter its efforts on issues of secondary importance, such as ethnic or sexual minorities, while failing to articulate more important problems (monopolization of the economy, the predominance of Russian-language cultural products and a lack of independent mass media) with the same degree of urgency?
It is not Svoboda that is scattering its attention to such issues. It is our political opponents who are clearly working against Svoboda and who are raising and circulating the issues you are talking about in the media. Svoboda has submitted ultra-revolutionary economic laws that, if passed, will change the economic system dramatically by bringing back money from offshore zones, eliminating private monopolies, erasing the deficits of the Pension Fund and settling privatization issues — yet, no one talks about this for some reason…
U.W.: The Ukrainian Week has addressed this issue and spoken with a member of your party on this exact topic.
True, I am grateful to your magazine for that. But if you read other periodicals… Our Programme to Protect Ukrainians contains hundreds of provisions but they pick one controversial point and run with it. This results in the impression that Svoboda does nothing but fight against Lenin monuments, for the Ukrainian language or national identification, although this is completely wrong. As a matter of fact, we have many recommendations regarding the protection of the media space, freedom of speech, language policy and more. But spin doctors who are working against Svoboda suppress these topics by promoting some clearly secondary issues through mass media outlets controlled by pro-government forces.
U.W.: Then perhaps it would make sense for you to completely ignore the sensitive topics of minorities and others to prevent your opponents from blowing them out of proportion in the media?
But we cannot stop beings ourselves! People have voted for us precisely because we are what we are. Even if we put a ban on discussing such things, they would bring something else, for example, the issue of child adoption which has been on our programme for 20 years. Our programme is a worldview, and it remains constant, based on Christian values, the rejection of various deviations, etc.
U.W.: Don’t you sense that your team lacks specialists in certain areas, such as economics?
I would not want to conceal the fact that everyone always lacks specialists. But I don’t believe that if there is a “widely known specialist” in some area, we necessarily need to have him. This is because the majority of such “specialists” became corrupted a long time ago, and I wouldn’t cooperate with them even if there were strong incentives to do so. We have a number of qualified economists: Mykhailo Holovko, deputy head of the Economy Committee; Oleksandr Myrny, chief of the Svoboda faction’s analytic service and deputy head of the Fuel and Energy Committee; Yuriy Levchenko, chief of our party’s analytic service who was educated in the London School of Economics. All of these are great specialists who help us improve our party programme.
U.W.: How is Svoboda fighting against the fairly widespread stereotype in Europe that it is a Nazi party?
There was a certain period which we missed – not because we forgot about something, but because we didn’t have the influence we have now in Ukraine. When Svoboda began to grow and assert its ambitions, our opponents launched a mud-slinging campaign. When we did not have a parliamentary faction or normal channels for contacting influential groups in the European Union, a very negative image of Svoboda was created and in an extremely crude fashion. For example, there was a resolution of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly. We read it and saw that it was complete nonsense which contradicted reality. We analyzed the situation and began to actively seek contact with European MPs through our centres in other countries. We found a way to reach the President of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly. We submitted our documents and started full-fledged dialogue with ambassadors of European countries. All of them later admitted that they had received completely different information about us. The same applies to the infamous resolution of the European Parliament inspired by Moscow agents working through a Bulgarian socialist MP.
In general, we are beginning to shatter the stereotype you have mentioned. We are actively meeting with European politicians, holding press conferences and giving interviews to the Western mass media. We have found ourselves in a disadvantageous situation, having to vindicate ourselves regarding things that do not actually exist.
U.W.: Is the story about Svoboda being expelled from the Alliance of European National Movements a provocation?
Absolutely. There is an official statement from the Alliance which says that this is complete nonsense.
U.W.: How does Svoboda propose to improve the situation for Ukrainian cultural products, particularly book publishing, in the short-term?
Above all, we propose cancelling taxes on Ukrainian-language products – films, music and literature – and instead imposing taxes on foreign-language products. The proceeds obtained this way will be channeled into developing Ukrainian-language products.
U.W.: If you take one specific area, book publishing, this market has been monopolized by Russian publishers. To them, operation in the Ukrainian market is a priori not about making profits. Rather, it is about establishing themselves in our territory. This suggests that economic mechanisms, such as taxation, may turn out to be inefficient in this case.
The solution is for the National Defence and Security Council to consider ways to protect the national cultural space. In any case, it will all depend on political will – even if we succeed in passing the laws we insist on, this in itself will not change anything as long as the current government has power. We have a draft law on protecting Ukrainian cinema under which one-sixth of box-office receipts generated by foreign films should be spent on Ukrainian film production. Even if it enters into force, it is unlikely to trigger a rapid development of Ukrainian cinematography as long as current managers stay in their offices.
U.W.: Svoboda’s package of initiatives regarding the demonopolization and de-oligarchization of Ukraine’s economy has already been submitted. Does it stand a chance of being adopted in the current circumstances?
We definitely need to replace the government. For example, we have an excellent law on bringing back money from offshore havens. Do you think the Party of Regions will ever vote for it? So we need to replace both parliament and the president. In other words, real changes along this line can start only in 2015, or in 2014 if we have early elections.
U.W.: What sectors should be a priority for Ukraine’s economy? What should be our calling card on international markets?
Above all, we need to win energy independence. Without it, an independent national economy is impossible in principle. Second, Ukraine needs to be in possession of its strategic enterprises; they must be returned to the state. Speaking about pilot sectors, our programme calls for the development of competitive branches, particularly food processing. We maintain that Ukraine needs to ban the import of the food products that are also produced inside the country and import only exotic food that is not domestically grown. Other sectors include aircraft engineering, shipbuilding, machine-tool construction, machine manufacturing, the military industrial complex and the aerospace industry.
Senior Fellow at the Brent Scowcroft Center on International Security on the way American political establishment sees Ukraine today, the stance of the Obama Administration on Russia and expectations of the NATO Summit in Warsaw