Much is being written about this man and even more is being said, both with admiration and open hostility. The Day decided to let the reader pass his/her own judgment on this politician whose influence has soared in Ukraine and whose ordinary appearance most likely conceals a sharp inborn intellect, tough practicality, and a powerful political instinct. He describes his position briefly: “I am Volkov.”
(The following is an abridged version of the interview carried by Den’, No. 14 of January 20, 2000.)
The Day: Do you think that it has become necessary to fold up democracy in Ukraine? Due, say, to complex economic problems facing this country? Numerous political scientists draw parallels between what is happening in Ukraine and what happened in Belarus, in 1996. Yet restrictions imposed on democracy (including minority rights) can be temporary or become chronic, in which case we would be headed in the same direction as Turkmenistan, although Mr. Kuchma said we are oriented toward Europe. Incidentally, perhaps you could comment on your earlier statement that you see no obstacles for Leonid Kuchma’s third term campaign.
O.V.: I think that democracy must not be folded up for any reason, including all those “complex economic problems.” After all, we have international experience to study and it shows that any restrictions on democratic rights and liberties sooner or later cause serious economic losses. Chile is a good example. Its authoritarian military leadership had to surrender power to a civilian government. Thus I consider that a serious threat to Ukrainian democracy lies in the attempts to use economic factors to cast the shadow of a doubt on the legitimacy of the referendum scheduled by the President for April 16. And I stress that this threat is very serious.
As an office-holder — a People’s Deputy of Ukraine has this status under the law On the Status of a People’s Deputy — I do not consider myself in a position to comment on the political situation in countries being our most important trade and business partners, including the countries you have just mentioned. All I can say is that Ukraine’s orientation toward the European Union remains unchanged. Proof of this is found if one analyzes the number of referendums and polls carried out in Western, Central, and Eastern Europe, at both the local and national levels. This form of exercising the power of the people was not invented by us; it is the result of world experience in building democracy. Moreover, we must not forget that Ukraine asserted its national independence precisely by means of the referendum that took place in December 1991. As for my seeing “no obstacles” in Leonid Kuchma’s third term campaign, I think you should look up the interview in the journal Polityka i kultura. Among other things, I am quoted there as saying: “the last word has not yet been said by the head of the state or by the people counting on victory in 2004. It is still unclear under what Constitution we elected the incumbent President... When he was first elected we had no Constitution, while the 1996 Constitution provides that the President may remain in office for only two consecutive terms. The law has no retroactive effect. Hence we have plenty of time. Let the President and his entourage consider this.”
Do you see the difference? I did not say that I see no obstacles Leonid Kuchma’s third term campaign. I just said what I said. I think my words had a proper effect, as usual. For example, on those that think of quietly taking the kudos for economic reform, without even starting it. Once again, the law — and the Constitution — has no retroactive force. Of course, the President will have the final say on whether we should take advantage of this legal collision. Just as the people whose position interests him should be allowed to voice their views.
The Day: What do you think of the Cabinet’s cadre structure and degree of stability?
O.V.: I have been asked this question before. Viktor Yushchenko received an unprecedented credit of confidence from the President. Single- handedly, he formed a government consisting of people whose membership on Yushchenko’s team as such shows only that the Premier trusts them implicitly. I am not sure I can quite understand Mr. Yushchenko’s words, in one of the interviews, that the Cabinet members “must be professionals with clean hands”; also about some “repentance” and “bettering political stand” of some of the Cabinet members. His “must be” means that Viktor Yushchenko contrasts the professionals that “must be” to those that are actually in the government. If so, we have his own precious confession that there are “professionals with dirty hands” in the Cabinet he formed himself, don’t we? Besides, Mr. Yushchenko is not a priest to admonish others to repent. He is Prime Minister. I stress that he is the head of the government. As for his “improving political stand,” I consider this totally irrelevant. One either has a political stand or not.
No matter what terms one uses to describe a political stand, “improving” or “worsening,” the essence is the same; someone or another has a tendency to change his views, meaning that he wants to set his sail to every political wind, turning traitor to his previous political stand. If you lied once, who will believe you now? And how can one guarantee that those changing their views “for the better” today won’t change them “for the worse” tomorrow?
Under the circumstances, I consider it possible to second the views of a person of whose political conduct I do not generally approve. I mean Serhiy Soboliev, member of the Reforms & Order fraction, a political structure that has done a lot to discredit the very notion of reform, and because of which many our citizens consider “reform” and “impoverishment” very close synonyms.
Mr. Soboliev stated in the latest issue of Chas (Rukh newspaper) that “a person was appointed Deputy Premier who has staggering debts to pay the Russian Defense Ministry... This is a very bad mistake made by the new government...” Mind you: even people personally respected by Viktor Yushchenko (as evidenced by his regretting the R&O leader not joining the Cabinet) are already talking about mistakes made by the new Cabinet... Another important detail: no one is blaming the President for everything any longer. Instead, they discuss mistakes made by the government.
Let me stress that the stability of Yushchenko’s Cabinet depends solely on how well it can carry out economic reform. If it succeeds, if people that have been living below the poverty line for so many years in Ukraine see that their living standards are rising, I am sure that this government will have no fears about its stability. Otherwise I am likewise sure that the people will not tolerate any further reform verbiage, just as they will not put up with anyone going through the motions of reform. In other words, Mr. Yushchenko has to roll up his sleeves.
The Day: Many cannot reconcile themselves to the fact that you, a man that only recently stayed aloof from politics, are now number two person in the political elite — that’s the media estimate. How would you explain this sudden climb?
O.V.: I never identify myself using any numbers. I am perfectly content with my family name, Volkov. Nor do I notice any climb. We all know that a high climb means a long fall. I want neither. I have long been in public politics. In 1993, I worked with Premier Leonid Kuchma. In 1994, I worked with presidential candidate and then President Kuchma. Anyone can check this by looking up my interviews with Ukrayina moloda during the period. Now it criticizes Volkov the “oligarch.” Back then it promoted me. Suppose we consider this Ukrayina moloda’s “worsening” political stand.
Maybe some people don’t like how I act in Parliament. Well, I am no top model trying to be loved by everybody. I am Volkov, People’s Deputy of Ukraine, with my own political views which I implement in strict conformity with the law. So someone doesn’t like me? Well, that’s his problem. Anyway, I don’t envy those who regard Volkov as a problem. Of course, there are always people ready to exploit such things, but I would advise everyone else to avoid such “exploits.”
Our correspondent received answers in writing