Ukrainian Elections: Bold, funny, and just a bit scary
First of all, I admit I have a pretty good life. I try to give back to those less fortunate, and sometimes that lands me in foreign countries in turmoil. Since I am not only a student of politics, but also of human behavior, I find it fascinating when I visit these countries during election time. This trip, it was Ukraine.
I went this time on the promise of being able to interview some candidates. Like most politicians, they over-promise and under-deliver. Ukraine is no exception to this rule. As I sat in my favorite pub in Kiev, waiting for word on an interview, I happen to notice riot police showing up and the national guard rolling by in their new “Razor” missile launchers. Honest. It’s a “Razor” with a missile launcher on it. Imagine my panic. Being resourceful, I immediately grabbed my camera, took a bunch of pictures, recording what can only be described as the friendliest cordon by police I have seen.
Keep in mind, not three weeks before this, someone had bombed a police line just like this one, about half a block away from where I was. And the scorch marks from several tanks set on fire during the revolution still mark the Maidan.
Right Sector, the far right wing political party, was having a parade. Followed by Opposition Bloc, the Pro-Russian separatist support group. They were shouting at each other, chanting slogans, and it was a peaceful rally. Other coalitions were there, as well, but since there are 28 parties vying for the Mayor’s chair in Kiev, I didn’t know all of them.
So what the heck, I went outside and interviewed some of the locals.
“Klitschko’s a fool. Have you read what he says on the internet?” said one young lady.
“It’s just more Oligarch’s trying to be more corrupt,” a young man said, referring to several millionaire’s running.
“I don’t care who’s running the government, they will all be trying to screw us again. It is so corrupt here, there is no hope of change,” said my favorite babushka on Kreschatyk street.
“Do you plan to vote?” I asked several people.
“Oh, yes, we vote. It is our only opportunity to help our country,” was the common response.
Nearly 50% of the people voted in the local elections across the country. 50%. Doesn’t sound like a lot, until you consider Americans only turned out at 42%.
My favorite story has been the Internet Party. Here’s their website. http://www.ipu.com.ua/ Their platform is pretty Republican: Cut government waste, reduce taxes, wire the entire country, eliminate the VAT, and make the education of citizens better. I also love the “Star Wars” themed candidates. Chewbacca was arrested for not having his driver’s license while driving Darth Vader to a political rally.
You can’t make this stuff up.
The billboards were all around you. It is worse than internet ads for politicians, since you can’t look away from a giant yellow Rhino telling you to vote. No one could tell me what the rhino stood for, or what it meant. It was a lot like Mitch McConnell.
So off to Odessa I go, seeking another interview that didn’t pan out. However, I did manage to find my way to a wonderful Hookah bar for an evening, and that was pretty wonderful. I had a magical discourse on politics with a woman on the differences between “collectivism”, communism, socialism, and freedom. She got it. But, she says, she only understood how bad the “Russian” system was compared to the rest of the world when she went to Greece this last summer to work. Greece. Yes, that Greece. She talked at length about how great everything there was compared to St. Petersburg, or Odessa. (For those of you that don’t know, both of these cities is the equivalent of NYC and Miami, respectively.) Better roads, better housing, better food, better everything. Better pay, lower rent, and especially the friendliness of the people.
Goodness. When you start thinking Greece is the best in the world, imagine where you have come from.
Talking with the people in Odessa, I pretty much had the same conversations as I did in Kiev. More pro-Russian, but not by much. I ask about the 40 pro-Russian people burned alive last year in a warehouse, and the continued bombings in Odessa.
“The Russians are keeping their heads down, because no one wants them here,” said one taxi driver.
But not as interesting as meeting Darth Vader, near his statue, in Odessa. Of all times not to carry my camera. I missed my photo op, but it was rather neat watching Mr. Vader being cheered as he stood near his statue.
Somehow, I thought he’d be taller.
Update: Darth Sidious won his election for a seat on the Odessa, Ukraine city council, the first such election for the Internet Party of Ukraine. Seriously.
AKA J. Patrick Bertroche