Yes, that no magic has made disappear. Anthony Zarka. Might it be wish fulfillment to play the part of a president on screen fighting heroically for what you believe in? In Ukraine, a popular TV president battled endemic corruption. The star was actor and comedian Vladimir Zelinski. And then he won the presidential election for real. Here’s Jonah Fisher on his first year in office. The photo was posted across Vladimir Zilinska’s social media dream team, said the caption on his Facebook page.
The pictures showed four men in smart suits and ties swaggering down a Paris street. Mr. Zwolinski then still technically a comedian in the middle. One of the men is in shades. Another has designer stubble and they’re smiling to each other as they walk to meet France’s president Macron. Imagine a tour poster for a boy band reuniting 20 years and back together for a middle aged money spinning final round of concerts. The picture was taken just before the final round of Ukraine’s election last year, when Mr.
Zwolinski stunned everyone by going from playing the president in a satirical TV show to having the job for real. His political platform was vague at the time, but change and reform featured heavily, as did a desire to take on the rich oligarch class that have dominated both Ukraine’s business and politics since independence 29 years ago. Those worried that Mr. Zwolinski appeared to have little clue as to how to achieve his goals were reassured by the reformers alongside him in the dream team.
Even if the comedian had no clue, there were some wise heads among them. Sitting on Mr. Zwolinski’s right, in that meeting with President Macron was Alex Dannylook, a former finance minister who’s been credited with helping to clean up Ukraine’s rotten banking sector. He was at Mr. Zolensky’s side throughout the election campaign and once the win was secured. Mr. Darnaylook was immediately given a powerful job in charge of national security.
While the comedians left at the Elysee Palace was Ruslan Reeb, a shopkeeper, the guy with the grey stubble. He had a background in law and in fighting corruption and was handed perhaps the most important of all the roles beneath the president. Prosecutor General, for years, the prosecutor’s office in Ukraine has had very little to do with fairly enforcing the law.
It’s notorious as a centre of corruption and is a key reason why foreign investors are so wary of bringing their money here. Ukraine’s Presidents have consistently used the prosecutor general to pursue their enemies and to reward their friends, cutting corrupt deals with oligarchs, in return for favourable TV coverage or a share of their ill gotten gains. It was the rotten heart of a rotten political system risk. Laundry, of a shopkeeper, promised to be independent and different and immediately embarked on an ambitious attempt to clean things up.
There was widespread optimism that Ukraine was making a decisive step in the right direction. You’ve probably guessed it by now. But the dream team and the optimism didn’t last long. The reformer on the president’s right in Paris lasted four months. The one on the left? Seven. I met up with Alex Dannalook in Kiev this week. He quit President’s Lansky’s team in September last year. He still doesn’t regret backing the former comedian or doubt his good intentions and desire to change things.
But he told me President’s Lansky’s ended up surrounding himself with weak, opportunistic, incompetent people. Ouch.
After an initial flurry of well-received appointments, there’s now no one left in the Zelinski administration who could really be classed as an out and out reformer. Those remaining were forced out in a purge this spring, though the President insists he remains committed to cleaning up government. Among those ousted was the stubly face of Prosecutor General Reah Beauchamp. He was unceremoniously shown the door. When I catch up with him, his assessment of what’s taken place is bleak, he tells me.
He had big fishes in his sights, meaning Ukraine’s rich, often corrupt elite. But Mr Robb, a shopkeeper, tells me after initially backing Far-Reaching reforms and the oligarchization, President Wolinsky dramatically lost his nerve. Instead of choosing to fight, Reub, a shopkeeper, tells me with a sigh, he chose peace and consensus with them. The eagle eared among you will remember I said there were three people with Mr Zwolinski in that boyband dream team photo.
The third man, the one in the shades, is Yvonne Backenough. He’s rather different from the other two. Few people think he’s a reformer. Mr back in office from the same southern Ukrainian town as Mr Zwolinski and a childhood friend, he used to run the president’s TV production company. Eyebrows were raised when Mr Buck enough was given the plum role of head of Ukraine’s state security agency, the FSB. It’s a position a year on that he still holds.