Disillusionment in Ukraine: The Sad End of the Orange Revolution
Part 3: Living in a Feudal Oligarchy
"We Ukrainians don't love ourselves, and we don't respect ourselves," says Mikhail Brodsky; who is running for president once again. "We traditionally eat bacon in the morning, but we don't know that it's unhealthy, and we don't even live to the age of 70. And many of us still don't even want to work hard."
Brodsky, a bald 50-year-old, is Ukraine's mattress king, one of the country's minor magnates who, together with his son, owns 200 retail stores nationwide and an Internet site. He once owned a bank, which got him into difficulties, as well as the Kievskiye Vedomosti, a well-known newspaper. But he was forced out of the newspaper business by people who were more powerful than him.
Brodksy is sitting in the Kalina pastry shop, across the street from the Arsenal, a former weapons factory in Kiev, which he also owns. He says he is worried about the fusion of business and politics, a development that stands in the way of real reform.
"We have put the totalitarian regime behind us, as well as the post-totalitarian regime, and now we live in a feudal oligarchy," says Brodsky. He wants to see all those brought to justice who have amassed vast fortunes in recent years but are unable to account for the source of their wealth. Four hundred of the 450 members of the Ukrainian parliament are said to be millionaires.
"I think we should put the thieves to the acid test," says the mattress king. Unfortunately, he adds, the worst crooks of the post-Soviet era have fled abroad. One of them is the former head of the oil and gas company Naftogaz. According to Brodsky, an international warrant was issued for the man's arrest, but he now has a Russian passport and lives in Moscow. It isn't surprising that the economy isn't improving, he says, when there is so little security for investors.
In fact, foreign direct investment grew fivefold after the Orange Revolution, but now more than $30 billion of that foreign capital has been pulled out of the country again. Ukrainian exports to the United States declined by 90 percent last year.
Brodsky is a living example of how quickly political loyalties change within the Ukrainian elite. He once supported Yushchenko and Tymoshenko, but he has since turned away from the two politicians, particularly the prime minister, because she "has brought the old Kuchma cronies into her team, sells off slots on her register of voters and bribes judges on the constitutional court."
Brodsky has formed his own party, called the Free Democrats, which has about 1,000 members, a modest number that is reflected in his showing in the polls. According to the latest figures, 0.87 percent of Ukrainians would vote for him as president. This doesn't trouble him, however. In the 2004 election, he was referred to as a "count candidate," a term used to describe those who sell their votes to one of the two leading candidates in the important runoff election.
He did it for Yushchenko in 2004. Does he have a deal with Yanukovych this time, or perhaps even with Tymoshenko? Brodsky smiles -- and says nothing.
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