Mikheil Saakashvili, the cyclist
In May 2016, it will be a year since Georgian ex-President, Mikheil Saakashvili first moved to Odessa. In his words, he has become the city’s ‘new landmark’. At the same time, his appointees have failed in local elections – but Saakashvili’s popularity is continuously growing outside of Odessa. Is there anything wrong in Ukraine like there is in Georgia?
Since his very first day in office, Saakashvili declared the fight against corruption a priority of his in Odessa. Below is the list of his major achievements with regard to this:
- Downsizing the personnel of the Odessa regional administration office from 800 to 500 people. The ultimate goal – to have only 400 fulltime employees.
- The establishment of a new patrol police, which would replace the entire militia in the region. Giorgi Lortkipanidze, Saakashvili’s ally and ex-Deputy Interior Minister of Georgia, was appointed the region’s chief militiaman-policeman. Whereas another Georgian national, Konstantin Mchedlishvili, was appointed the Head of the region’s MoI Internal Security Division.
- The scandalous dismissal of the Director of Ukraine’s largest sea port in Ilyichevsk (now renamed Chernomorsk) near Odessa.
- Yulia Marushevskaya, Maydan activist, was appointed the Chief of Odessa Customs, though she has never had anything to do with customs before.
- Replacement of all heads of districts in the Odessa region.
- Opening of Ukraine’s first Administrative Service Center, which was set up based on a Georgian prototype – allowing anyone to obtain a certificate in the shortest time possible without paying bribes at the center.
- “Crusade against illegal fencing on beaches on the sea coast. He built machines that destroyed fences installed around the oligarchs’ villas constructed on the sea shore. The gates of ex-Minister of Environment of Ukraine (during Yanukovych’ presidency), Nikolay Zlochevsky and Ukrainian business tycoon, Vasily Khmelnitsky, were also demolished. Having looked at the situation around them, Odessa border control and Ukrainian Security Service local division administrations removed the gates to their long-closed beaches.
- “Pops embargo’. On Saakashvili’s demand, Odessa canceled all the concerts of Russian pop singer, Stas Pieha, who turned out to be the Russian President’s, Vladimir Putin’s, confidant, as well as those of rapper Timati, who starkly criticized the new Ukrainian government, referring to all of Ukraine as ‘the younger brother, who has gotten hooked on drugs.’
- Based on locals’ complaints, Saakashvili launched an investigation into regional authorities’ actions with regard to the distribution of coastal land. In the Kryzhanovka village near Odessa, it was revealed that the entire coastline was owned by next-of-kin and friends of the local rural administration. Contrarily, local residents could not obtain a single meter of land from the authorities. Saakashvili kicked up a fuss and promised to ‘jail the guilty parties.
How things have turned out so far:
- Administrative staff could not be downsized to 400 people. Perhaps what former Georgian President has realized is that under Ukrainian legislation, it is not that easy to dismiss a person from a public post, unless he is on record for having committed some violation.
- In the course of operation, the new patrol police have encountered problems interacting with the old militia. So far, their role is limited to patrol and inspection service (PIS) duties. In other words, the downsized militia has maintained its former powers, including the right to investigate, begin criminal proceedings and submit a case to a court or prosecutor’s office.
- The scandal at Ilyichevsk (Chernomorsk) sea port has died down just as quickly as it flared up. No one has seen Saakashvili’s promised results of the Ukrainian Prosecutor General’s Office inspection into the sea port’s activities. Meanwhile, the enterprise is still headed by the ex-deputy of the former director.
- The most notable result of Yulia Marushevskaya’s activity as Chief of Odessa Customs Service have been the media reports that she is the wife of Markiyan Protsiv, commercial director of one of the largest Ukrainian TV channels – ’24’ TV and friend of the leader of the Ukrainian “Samopomosh (Self-Reliance) Party and Lvov city mayor, Andrey Sadovoy (it was Sadovoy, who established the TV channel in 2006). However, her rapid career growth could be attributed to an agreement between the Ukrainian President and ‘Samopomosh’.
- The Administrative Service Center, which was opened in Odessa on October 16, still has no legal status. In order to ensure it operates to full capacity, Ukrainian legislation needs to be amended. Thus, the only thing that the huge modern center does now is simply accept applications from citizens and provide consultation.
- Demolition of gates on Odessa beaches has been put to a halt. Whereas at the locations of demolished gates, security guards of the oligarchs and state agencies have put up ‘temporary fencing’ that still block the sea from citizens.
- Ukrainian music channels, such as M1 and ‘Euromusic’ still allot 80 percent of air time to Russian pop artists, including Timoti.
- Saakashvili’s other crusade against the illegal distribution of coastal land to the next of kin and friends of the heads of local administrations has lost its momentum. As Saakashvili promised, the Head of the Kryzhanovka administration was arrested on suspicion of embezzlement of 2.7 million UAH (about $119,000 US) the day after Saakashvili’s visit. However, he was released on 1.5million UAH (about $66,000 US) bail the same day. There haven’t been any other reports from the Odessa regional prosecutor’s office with regard to the case against the Kryzhanovka administration.
But the most serious doubts about the effectiveness of the ‘Georgian model’ of reforms in Odessa have emerged following the regional elections in October.
Despite a huge number of parties and candidates, it was mainly a struggle between two camps – former city owners and new Ukrainian government officials. The first secured a landslide victory.
Saakashvili’s entire activity received just 46.6% of the vote in regional elections. More than half of Odessa population did not turn out for the polls, despite the appeals of Saakashvili’s team.
Is the ultimate goal nothing and the movement everything?
‘For Purification’ – under this title Odessa governor, Saakashvili, started touring with his ‘anti-corruption forums’ across the districts of Ukraine. Talking about corruption and detailing flaws of the existing state system, he is gaining large popularity. He traditionally starts his speech in Ukrainian, then, apologizing, he switches into the Russian language.
Saakashvili talks about a sore subject in simple human language, rather than in a ‘political, bureaucratic’ language, touching upon the issues that an ordinary citizen of the country is facing. His main argument – examples from Georgia from his presidency.
‘My political ambitions in this country are much more than just holding the prime minister’s post. I want to set new game rules and bring a new political elitein Ukraine to power, Saakashvili claimed in one of his most recent interviews.
At the same time, he supports Poroshenko, claiming that the Ukrainian president’s key advantage is his ‘readiness for reform.’
It is too early to talk about the effectiveness of Saakashvili’s new movement, ‘For Purification.’ However, his growing popularity outside of the Odessa region cannot be ignored.
On the eve of the anniversary of his move to Ukraine, for many people Saakashvili has become sort of ‘outsider’, who is not linked to the local oligarchic system and who will probably be able to deal with it.
As for former the Georgian President, he seems to be acting like a cyclist, who knows that stopping is equal to falling down.
Published on 21.03.2016