''Poroshenko didn’t understand the country’s middle class, and the middle class didn’t understand him''

Viktor Mironenko on the post-election set-up in Ukraine. Part 1

''Poroshenko didn’t understand the country’s middle class, and the middle class didn’t understand him'' Photo: 2000.ua

On Monday, 22 April, Ukraine will know the name of its new president. Surveys predict a confident victory to 41-year-old artist and producer Volodymyr Zelensky. Head of the Centre for Ukrainian Studies of the Institute of Europe of the Russian Academy of Sciences Viktor Mironenko told Realnoe Vremya why such an outcome would be logical, if Poroshenko and Timoshenko's era was past history and if oligarch Ihor Kolomoysky could control the new president.

''In the 90s, authorities provided people with a chance to survive on their own. And once they felt they could do without a state''

Mr Mironenko, the presidential election in Ukraine has entered its final stretch – citizens will have to choose between very unpopular head of the country Petro Poroshenko and, on the contrary, very popular artist Volodymyr Zelensky. One of our experts said that it would be simply unsafe for many smart, competent people to run for president of Ukraine. May we then consider that it's no surprise that the popular and not poor comedian and the current president turned out in the final? Their security staff has no problem.

Any political activity can't be absolutely safe – it's always a responsible decision, but those 39 people who ran for president of Ukraine already were an unprecedented occurrence. In addition, we shouldn't forget that Ukraine's law on election puts both the financial onus and legal restrictions on the candidate, this is why it's unlikely we can say it was fear that impeded someone else from running. The 39 candidates were people to anyone's liking, and I am impressed by how these votes distributed.

Are you surprised?

The result surprised me positively. I will tell you then I've had a scientific hypothesis in the last years, and the election results gave me foundation to confirm it.

The hypothesis is quite simple. To start with, some objective conditions Ukraine turned out in after the denunciation of the union treaty and the dissolution of the USSR was very different from the conditions of Russia after the dissolution of the USSR. In 1991, Russia got rich natural resources of the Union (which then went up in price and were claimed), while Ukraine got only the climate, fertile soil, quite exhausted energy resources of Donbass. But people were the main Ukrainian resource – if population density in Russia is 8 people per square kilometre, it's 80 in Ukraine, and it was that objective condition that made Ukrainian officials look for some solutions in the early 90s.

What solutions? Authorities provided people with a chance to survive on their own – in a garden plot, in some small business, in different kinds of service. And an interesting process began here – people (primarily it was people with a university degree, specialists) who began to work, maintain their families. And some time later they felt they could do without a state. They began to earn, could buy a car, a house, launch another business. And then people began to have dignity.

''People know nothing about Zelensky but they demonstrate the negation of that corporate system previously existing in Ukraine – it doesn't allow them to live and develop.'' Photo: instagram.com/zelenskiy_official

But authorities didn't consider the factor of dignity in the 2004 election – people couldn't accept falsification, as it would be disrespect for their opinion, and it was the year when they felt they were citizens. Of course, the survival mechanism in general was conserved in Ukraine at a low level – it is mainly based on a system of small commodities, but, politically, a layer of independent and responsible citizens began to form in the country. It's called differently in different countries, but mainly a middle class. It's the layer that decides everything in elections in Ukraine.

Look how people have voted this year: 30% for Volodymyr Zelensky say that people can adequately react to domestic and external challenges existing in the country. People know nothing about Zelensky but they demonstrate the negation of that corporate system that previously existed in Ukraine – it doesn't allow them to live and develop. What happened in the election then? The votes between Petro Poroshenko and Yulia Tymoshenko distributed almost equally – they are experienced politicians, with a biography, predictable in some cases, their voters don't have a great desire to set fire to tyres on Maidan. Boiko showed the fourth result – a candidate from the southeast, the Russian-speaking population, and his result also objectively reflects the situation in the country. Then it's two security officials, Hrytsenko and Smeshko, and the votes for people from such structures are also a reflection of the harsh reality of Ukraine.

The main conclusion of this election is that not who the Ukrainian voter will choose matters but that this election took place, was different, was quite controllable – there were almost no violations. And, finally, the election demonstrated society's maturity that has gone through hard trials – social, economic and military. This all confirmed my hypothesis that society in Ukraine is in general sound, alive, part of the society knows where they should move, and a new political force should rely on this part if it arises.

''There is still a long way to go to have a sound society in Ukraine, but this society is alive''

You're talking about the society's maturity, that it's sound. But if, for instance, society were sound, it would have chosen a person with a programme. Zelensky didn't present this programme three days to the election! It turns out that it became more important for people in Ukraine that they are considered as citizens than the presence of the candidate for president a programme to get the country out of the complicated economic and political situation?

Perfectly correct. Another person could have been instead of Zelensky – Vakarchuk or someone else! Do you remember the slogan ''It is No Way to Live'' during the Perestroika? The same protest voting is in front of us – people realise they can't live this way – they don't like the state with clans, oligarchs any more, and they have announced this quite loudly by voting even for a person without a programme.

''In my opinion, a serious change of political generations is about to take place in Ukraine, and Yulia Tymoshenko is a symbol of this occurrence: she is the person who suffered from these elections most because she was the most prepared candidate for the role of president.'' Photo: facebook.com/YuliaTymoshenko

In addition, this voting shows that a smart politician can plan the country's political movement programme further based on people who voted for him and against some things they are fed up with. Probably there is still a long way to go to have a sound society in Ukraine, but this society is alive and, most importantly, it adequately reacts to domestic and external challenges. And it's also important to emphasise that Ukraine's alive society is about 30-40% of its citizens, but the percentage of critical people who express their interests in the rest of Europe is approximately the same.

Can we say that the fact that famous candidates became too old politically, they make people get bored with their frequent empty talks, promises, and voters just needed a fresh face, it's what also helped Zelensky's leadership in the first round?

Undoubtedly. They are fed up with such politicians, these politicians haven't taken advantage provided by the citizens after 2004 and especially after 2014. In my opinion, a serious change of political generations is about to take place in Ukraine, and Yulia Tymoshenko is a symbol of this occurrence: she is the person who suffered from these elections most because she was the most prepared candidate for the role of president. But, as you correctly noted, mistrust in politicians of the previous generation is really one of the brightest results of the election.

Why did the current president finish the first round with so sad numbers – 16%?

Poroshenko's main mistake is that he didn't understand what we talked with you about at the very beginning – that the period of tough survival is over, and now it's time to give a chance and initiative to ordinary people, not only oligarchs. People weren't given this economic freedom, freedom to work on their own in 2013, and they staged a protest then. Mr Poroshenko didn't get it.

But Poroshenko should be paid tribute – he came to power at a very complicated moment and he managed to do something for five years of presidency anyway: Ukraine approached European integration in transition, the country switched to European standards in many ways in legislation, people can go abroad to work without a visa and transfer over €12 billion to the homeland annually, he managed to solve the problem of local churches and obtain a tomos, the army was created that at least can protect itself, and many recognise this factor.

''Why didn't he feel this layer of citizens? Because unlike these people, he has a different biography – he one of the big owners, he got his property, let's say, not only due to his work but as a person adapted to another political system, he doesn't understand problems of citizens underneath.'' Photo: Vadim Chuprin / wikipedia.org

I understand Poroshenko's offence – he says like he gave the country so many important things, while people don't want to choose him. But he didn't understand and feel the layer of citizens that can drive Ukraine to a normal social, political and economic state. Why didn't he feel this layer of citizens? Because unlike these people, he has a different biography – he is one of the big owners, he got his property, let's say, not only due to his work but as a person adapted to another political system, he doesn't understand problems of citizens below.

Moreover, he is a businessman, it's often a person who is a dictator, not democrat, by nature.

I agree, but let's keep in mind the situation Poroshenko worked in. The country, as it's considered in Ukraine, was subjected to aggression, a separatist rebellion arose there, and it's hard to make reforms, widen the scale of freedom in this situation – you will be accused of weakening the country. But the main reason is that Poroshenko didn't understand the country's middle class anyway, those who should push it forward, while the middle class didn't understand him. The rest of the people simply reacted to that social level they were at. Ukraine is the poorest country in Europe, and people suffer, it's hard for them economically.

But not that hard as Russian TV propaganda features. As I often go to Ukraine, I can say our countries' quality of life is the same: our salaries are higher, but the Ukrainians' prices are lower, too, and there is good state support for people, as the country has many pensioners, the money sent to the budget by the same International Monetary Fund, started to be allocated to pensioners as subsidies to put utility bills in order, as the European Union asked. But the middle class has lost a lot because of the decision on tariffs.

Is Tymoshenko and Poroshenko's era finally over?

The country has just covered a certain path. And Angela Merkel whom I respect expressed well in this respect when she's recently met with Poroshenko: ''Ukraine has made progress here, but certainly is not at the end of the road but in the middle.'' And old politicians can't make progress in the second part of the road any more because they don't think in a new way. Moreover, they have a big and unbearable barrier in front of them: Ukraine has a critical part of people who want to move towards a right and democratic state, effective economy, but there is no political force nor politician who would adequately formulate these things in practice. The expectation of such a politician in Ukraine is very high now, I personally feel it.

Zelensky, the probable president of Ukraine, isn't a politician yet but people are voting for him. Can we say that he is an advance anyway (though big) that he is now just a personification of some of their hopes for an easier life? Or are people ready to see him as a politician who will dramatically change the country?

Why advance? Yes, people are pinning their hopes on him – Zelensky has a good education, he achieved successes, even in his own business, he has an excellent family and parents, he hasn't stolen anything, he has achieved everything he has due to hard work. For instance, his team Quarter-95 – a thousand people work there, that's to say, Zelensky rules very serious staff with a big number of people. But the most important thing why people voted for him is that he has nothing to do with that the total dissipation of resources political elites dealt with in Ukraine in the post-Soviet era. In people's opinion, Zelensky is, first of all, an honest person!

What about the couple Zelensky- Kolomoysky?

There are two perspectives to consider a political process. There is a closer perspective – to look who is behind Zelensky, what Kolomoysky will do and so on. And this all is very important. But as a scientist, telescopic optics concerns me, that's to say, where society is going to in general.

Yes, the relations of Zelensky and Kolomoysky are an important factor, but not significant in the next years. Yes, Ukraine had Yanukovich and Akhmetov, there is Pinchuk, there are other oligarchic clans. But, first of all, these people have already become poor, and, secondly, most importantly Ukrainian society has matured, and oligarchs can't influence it as they used to do. This means the importance of any oligarchs will fall, not completely, of course. Moreover, a dangerous period is coming now when some centrifugal tendencies might arise in regions, and a period of some divided power reigns.

You know, there is such thing in politics – a service provided isn't expensive. Yes, you can provide a candidate with a lot of services, but at the moment he will be chosen and get full power it's not a fact he will pay you in promissory notes. This is why the forecasted influence of Kolomoysky on Zelensky is a simple theory.

To be continued

By Sergey Kochnev