On the labors of Hercules

Vitali KLITSCHKO: I know that many people abroad want to help us, but sadly, today’s Ukrainian politicians are a caste that will allow no changes

Athlete Vitali Klitschko is a world-known celebrity. An absolute champion, he has achieved everything you can achieve in boxing. In his own words, the situation looks like the following: “there are plans, but no challenges.” But now Vitali has a new goal, to make himself known as a successful politician. So far he has fared well with it. His popularity in Ukraine is growing. Little wonder: the demand for a “quality alternative” is very high in Ukraine’s society. Last week Klitschko, leader of UDAR (The Ukrainian Democratic Alliance for Reform), visited The Day’s office.


Larysa IVSHYNA: You have been traveling a lot recently, meeting people. What are your impressions?

“The current situation in Ukraine is very complicated. Twenty years ago I was a young man, I was just 20. I voted for Ukraine’s independence and dreamed of a new country. I thought that back then, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, we would at last be able to build our democratic state with the best conditions for life, where everyone would have prospects and a vision of the future.

“In the early 1990s Ukraine and Poland had almost identical baseline conditions, the difference was very little. But recently I went to Poland to fight, and I saw how much our neighbors had changed. I was amazed, since today’s Poland was much more like Germany. The difference between Ukraine and Poland not just has grown, now it’s a gaping gap. Thus, I have a question: why did Poles, Czechs, Slovaks, Hungarians, or Balts manage to do it, while we didn’t? Didn’t we have almost identical conditions? That was because we have been saying the correct things for about

20 years, but we have hardly made a step forward. Again the question arises, why? The answer is simple: our leaders will not do it. Mentally they are still representatives of homo sovieticus, they fail to feel the challenges of the modern world, and they are not prepared to work in the new way. They are quite happy with the status quo: it’s easier to use the country’s potential for personal gain. But I want them to know: it’s impossible to live in a country and be separated from the society.”

L.I.: You can’t hide behind the highest fence. It would be but too naive to hope that it is doable under present-day transparent conditions. This situation is a challenge for the new generation of politicians. It challenges them to introduce quality into politics. You gave a precise description of society’s emotional problems. But what do you think can change the country? One must perhaps complete the deeds of Hercules in order to win people’s support?

“No, you needn’t play Hercules. What you need is just work. True, breakdowns in economy and social and humanitarian policies do resemble Augean stables and need to be cleaned up. People do not conceal that they aspire for a change and are ready to stand up for their rights. They wait for positive changes but, unfortunately, they cannot see the light at the end of the tunnel.

“After the Orange Maidan, people are disappointed. The politicians from the Maidan let them down and failed to live up to their expectations. All of them, both former leaders and the incumbent regime, had enough time and opportunity to implement their promises. These politicians have been holding high offices for years, and they do their best to stay there on and on. It would be self-delusion to think that this political class can change itself and change something in this country. We should alter the system and replace the people in power. Take Georgia, for example. This country started from much worse grounds than Ukraine, being one of the most corrupt former Soviet states.”

“Yet, they were able to implement reforms, and over a very short time at that. Georgia has become a model to follow. Why did this happen? Because there is political will. If a state official declares one thing but lives by totally different standards, like our officials do, people see that. One should start to change oneself first.”

“People often ask me if I have nothing else to do but politics, and why I should get involved in it if I have everything imaginable to enjoy life. Sure thing, I can live a comfortable life in Ukraine, or as comfortable abroad, since the Klitschko brothers enjoy no less popularity there than in Ukraine, especially in Germany. But I don’t want to live abroad. First, to live there you need to be born in the country, have the local mentality, and be a part of that particular society. Otherwise, you are bound to remain a stranger. Second, I love my country. To serve Ukraine is a great honor for me. I cannot move everyone abroad, my mo-ther, friends, and relatives.

“I know that Ukraine has a great potential. This is the best country in the world. We can change it, and we have all possibilities for that. I know that many people abroad want to help us, but sadly, today’s Ukrainian politicians are a caste that will allow no changes. For them, the interests of tycoons and their clans outweigh the interests of society.”


L.I.: Yet how can all this be changed? I insist that this should be a Herculean deed. To me it looks very much like what needs to be done.

“Klitschko alone can’t change anything, this must be a team game, with support from entire society. We want to let everyone know who we are, what our platform is, what kind of idea drives us, and what our principles and values are. If people share our views, then we will be able to include society in our team. Of course we must rely on the young, they are our future. For example, recently I had a meeting with the Ostroh Academy students, and I loved it. In that hour and a half I didn’t hear a single question concerning sports. This means that the young people who enjoy watching our every fight are interested in politics, in my vision of the country’s prospects, of the tendencies in its developments, and of our values.”

L.I.: The Ostroh Academy is indeed a place which every fan of Ukraine tries to visit. I remember the impressions of the former German ambassador who, having read an article about Ostroh in The Day, paid a visit to the Academy later and said, “I had never thought before that Ukraine had an academy in the times of European Renaissance.” This means that not only prospective politicians, but our diplomats as well should know the history of this country. Ukraine has its own thousand-year-old history. In this connection I want to pre-sent this book to you, which bridges this gap in history. Its title is Syla miakoho znaka (The Power of the Soft Sign). It tells how the soft sign [a character in the Ukrainian alphabet used to indicate palatalized (softened) consonants. – Ed.] dropped from the name Rus’ and everything Rus’ eventually became Russian. This book is an absolute must-read today. I believe it will help you answer a lot of questions which you have probably asked yourself before.

“Thank you. A book is by far the best present ever. When everyone sees the New Year in, I’m going to use this time for getting ready for the next fight, and I will also have time to read.”

L.I.: The main thing is to pick several trends in the sea of the books, and concentrate on them. This will help build a stable political platform. For example, take one of the illustrations from Syla miakoho znaka, “The Eyes of the Saint” (a mural from Desiatynna Church). A politician must know this. How can the capital’s government decide the fate of Desiatynna Church if the legislators don’t know the first thing about it?

“I’m sure that many people do not know that at a certain point in time I worked as a tourist guide. There was this international youth travel agency Suputnyk at Myr Hotel. So in 1985-86 I had this summer job working as a guide in Kyiv for other school kids who came from all over the Soviet Union. That is why I know a lot about Kyiv and Desiatynna Church in particular. How can anything be built on the site of Desiatynna, if there are no designs? We cannot reproduce what we have no idea of.”


L.I.: You said you are going to make your own team and you will involve society in it. Why should people believe you?

“Because a lot of people understand the things I declare. But this is not the only reason. I do not want to advertize myself and say that I’m the best. You know, there is one popular adage which says, ‘If you want to see a man’s future, look into his past.’ And there is another proverb I like, it fits so many Ukrainian politicians: ‘A fox can change its fur, but not its nature.’ Whatever our politicians may say, no matter what bright pictures they would paint, their nature remains the same. I can give one real-life example. Chernovetsky’s faction in the Kyiv City Council exists no longer, it has split into smaller groups with beautiful names, such as ‘The Just Kyiv,’ ‘Social Initiative,’ etc.

“We believe that a new generation must enter the Ukrainian political world, new people who will assume responsibility and will be able to prove that they have strong character and will to implement reforms. We form our team following three key principles: desire for a change, professionalism, and responsibility and devotion to the common values. The third factor is the most important, as it deals with moral qualities. Without these three factors we can’t do anything. And every day more and more people are coming to us. We are working together. Our mission is to let everyone know who we are, what we are, and where we are moving.

“Many experts today envisage various scenarios for Ukraine, in particular, the Egyptian or Tunisian scenarios. These options are inadmissible. The best choice is to have an election. We hope that the future parliamentary election will become the litmus test for everyone.”

L.I.: Could you dwell on this more? The new election law provoked an emotional response, and the reason is quite obvious. Even at this stage the regime succeeded in setting the opposition parties against each other. Why did this happen?

“I was surprised at the new law, which was passed with gross violations of the procedure, without any open discussion at the parliament, and against numerous recommendations from the Venice Commission. But what struck me was the opposition forces. Before they voted together with the majority, they had been making quite different statements, about open lists, and about the election being non-democratic without Yulia Tymoshenko and Yurii Lutsenko. I want to emphasize that UDAR will overcome the five-percent election threshold, and even a higher one. We are sure of our force and hope for the voters’ support, but we are for fair elections and believe that the new law is an obstacle for them.”

L.I.: I was wondering if the Front for Change or Fatherland had consulted you before the vote.

“No, neither of them did. But as far as we could see from the official statements in the media, quite a different stand had been discussed at the KOD [the Committee for Resistance to Dictatorship. – Ed.] sessions. The opposition parties had publicly spoken against the majoritarian system, which allows for the maximum abuse of the regime’s financial and administrative resources. Each of them had made statements in the media (by the way, in line with the public sentiment) to the effect that even in the worst case, 75 percent has to be given to party lists. They had also been talking of open lists. In reality everything was quite the other way round. That is they had little else to do but trumpet the opposition’s great achievement. However, the achievements themselves are hard to see. Each politician has a future if he or she stands up for the interests of the majority of society and is consistent in doing this. In this case the discussions, which had been held, have nothing to do with the law that was passed afterwards. This law is contrary to the interests of most Ukrainians. The parliament elected according to this law will not reflect Ukrainians’ political sympathies. This law perpetuates the situation and halves the number of opposition factions in the next parliament. It is obvious that now we will have to play an away game, with puppet opposition.”

L.I.: … which complicates the mission.

“The mission is not an easy one. I meet a lot of Europeans, including diplomats. They are astonished. Today we live in a globalized world, so the European community is interested in having a democracy across the border, with a stable political situation and a sustainable economy. Otherwise, such a country can pose a threat for the EU. Europeans help with consultancy, they want us to become more democratic. But what democracy can we speak about if such a law gets passed, and if there is no dialog between the government and the opposition? Instead of being engaged in a dialog, the opposition is pushed out of the way or, even worse, behind the bars. If this continues, there will come a day when we all will find ourselves behind the bars. But this will be the bars of international isolation.”


Mykola SIRUK: Today there are a lot of talks concerning the possibility of the EU-Ukraine summit on December 19. What do you think both parties must do, and the regime in particular (you know this from many

European politicians), so that the summit can take place?

“I’m convinced that unless we sign the Association Agreement now, the situation will be frozen for years to come. No one will tell you when we will be able to come back to this question. Our politicians’ big problem is that they never practice what they preach. They talk of European integration, priorities, and values, yet at the same time they keep doing things which are totally incompatible with any European standards. This is true both of policies and society on the whole. Europeans fail to understand how an opposition politician can be jailed. They should be held liable for their policies, but not persecuted like a criminal. This is an acknowledged standard in the democratic world. But authoritarian regimes live by different rules. There is a lot of talking about possible sanctions on the part of Europe – but in my opinion, these sanctions should apply to those individuals who are responsible for the situation with Tymoshenko, rather than to the entire nation.”

M.S.: What is your forecast, will Ukraine’s regime lend an ear to Europe’s concerns?

“I do not claim to possess Nostradamus’ vision, but I hope that we will sign the Association Agreement (AA) with the EU. Europeans should not give up, they must try every way to influence the situation in Ukraine. At least, I will do my best to impress on the EU representatives the necessity of signing of the AA before this year is out. What worries me is the fact that Ukraine has already sent messages about a possible ‘pause’ in the European integration process, to the effect that there could be no signing of the Association Agreement at the summit. Such statements and actions are contrary to Ukrainian society’s expectations and sentiments.”

L.I.: The president of Ukraine obviously respects you, he never fails to congratulate you on the next achievement. Have you ever thought of trying to explain to him your vision of how this problem could be solved? Because the president gives an impression of a man who lacks communication and unbiased information. Do you also have this impression?

“Yes, it looks as if the president were given limited portions of information on the situation in the country. We have seen this before in our history, when the milieu creates such comfortable conditions for the president that he is unable to assess the real situation. He is losing touch with reality. Now it is not yet late to change this situation for the president, but if it continues like this, we can reach the point of no return.”


Ivan KAPSAMUN: I would like to cite an extract from Lina Kostenko’s Notes by the Ukrainian Madman, which deals with you…

“I read this book. But I couldn’t help thinking (it’s my personal impression) that this was not male style of thinking. This is a different psychological set of mind.”

I.K.: So, “The twelfth year of Independence… In the evening there was a concert in the Maidan, under the slogan ‘True Ukrainian Quality’ – and, just like true Ukrainian quality presupposes, it was generously diluted with die-hard Russian pop stars. Yet the boxing intellectual, world champion Vitali Klitschko did show what Ukrainian quality is, as he beautifully sang the National Anthem of Ukraine together with a famous singer. The moved Kyivites presented him with the hetman’s mace, and he kissed it to the storm of applause from the Maidan. Why, he could make a good hetman, or president, in modern terms. Maybe he would just knock them all out.” Kostenko is often dubbed a prophet. Do you aspire to become president?

“I don’t think this is a timely question today. My goal is to let Ukrainians live in a normal European country, where everyone can make the best of themselves and get social protection. Many our politicians go to the West, but just as tourists. Meanwhile, I have lived there and I thank my stars for it. Now I have the first-hand experience of the ordinary Europeans’ life: what laws they live by, what their living standards are, and how the state protects its citizens.

“When I was only starting my business in the US, I was amazed: there were no taxes at all during the first year, and preferential taxation during the second. The state promotes business. I know how public utility services, health care, or education system work in various countries. For me politics is a tool. Moreover, I have never dreamt of being a politician. Frankly, it is a very hard job, without breaks and days off, but I’m sure we will do it. The two recent decades just flashed past. So will the next two. The main thing is to make sure that we won’t have to speak of this time as the time of lost opportunities.”

L.I.: What kind of tool? How is it going to work, via parliamentary or mayoral elections? Or even (albeit not now) the presidential election?

“This is not a question for today. Every politician must understand and compare his or her personal ambitions with real possibilities. Today, our political force ranks fourth in this country. Meanwhile, we are the youngest party, only one and a half years old. Our goal is to rise at least to the third position, or the second at the most, have a large representative faction in the parliament which will form the majority, and force out the mercenaries, who use the Verkhovna Rada only to lobby their own business interests, or those of the groups they represent. If those individuals remain in the parliament, the country is going to stall. So in this respect we indeed set a very ambitious goal. I know from experience that defection problem in parliament can be solved. Today, our faction at the Kyiv City Council is the largest, and there has been no migration in this convocation.”

L.I.: What did you learn from the experience you gained at the Kyiv Council, as you were let down by the others there? How can faction defection be prevented?

“I have to admit that I started my political career wearing rose-colored spectacles. My first faction defected in 2006, as they hunted posts and money. But then, at the early election, we formed a new team, which still remains unbreakable. You must state your course clearly. Each legislator, belonging to a certain party, must declare his or her values. If we trust one another (because trust is indispensable), we then have a possibility to cooperate. This is my message I want to put across: only united we stand. We have come into politics to stay.”


L.I.: The new election law has effectively split the opposition. However, a part of the opposition MPs, who voted for the draft, maintain that the amended law is a stimulus for unity in the next parliamentary election. Do you share this opinion? Who could be your potential ally?

“Our ally is the people. Why should we pick our allies among the politicians who have compromised themselves more than once? We are convinced that we must negotiate, stand up for our own principles and, of course, act consistently and in line with our major ideas, in particular, European integration. We will call upon journalists and NGOs to carefully monitor all the lists, every candidate to the parliament. It is a great initiative from NGOs, to carry out such a monitoring and give society more information on all the politicians and candidates involved, and we fully support it.

“The problem of freedom of speech and media is becoming especially important. It will be no exaggeration to say that journalists are responsible for shaping the public opinion. But this is a very demanding work. If someone declares something but never keeps his or her word, then society has to evaluate this individual.”

Viktoria SKUBA: Is it doable for a political force or an individual politician in today’s Ukraine to do well in an election without having to flirt with tycoons and industrial and financial groups?

“Yes, it is. Money is very important for campaigning, especially under Ukrainian circumstances, but it is not all. I have said many times that our political force unites with ideas, not with money. Experience shows that if someone has fully accepted an idea, they are ready to even sacrifice their life for it, and there is no pomp in these words.”

I.K.: You recently wrote in your column that sport had taught you to play by the rules, overcome difficulties, and pursue your goal with perseverance. What is politics teaching you today?

“In politics I use the same qualities as in sport. Moreover, they also help me outside politics, in everyday life. Ukrainian politics teaches you to be cleverer, make arrangements fast, and play without rules. You can get away with it once, but that’s it. Politics makes you learn every day, and I’m not ashamed of having to learn, although it is not so easy, and life sometimes is a harsh teacher. But I know one thing: where there is a will, there is a way. If you are sure of yourself, of your strength, and of your cause, and if you really want to do it, you will.”

M.S.: Are you ready to confront the regime’s administrative resource which may be used against you? For example, at a recent meeting the German ambassador said that you were an honest man, therefore he saw you as a budding leader. But a German journalist objected. She said you had been involved in black property schemes.

“When I started to make my first steps in politics, I immediately understood what the real black PR was. I discovered a lot about myself: that I was a gangster, that my father, a career diplomat, used diplomatic mail to traffic guns and drugs, or that I suffer from Parkinson’s disease. I just keep ignoring it all.”


V.S.: Ukrainian Internet media say that you and your brother are going to produce a musical based on the famous movie, Rocky. In particular, that you are developing the boxing content for the music. Is this true? Why are you interested in this project? As far as we know, the film is not limited to boxing alone, it also has a strong social component.

“Yes, that’s true. Recently we held a presentation of this project. But I’ll tell you how it all started. During perestroika, in 1987 or 1988, we got an opportunity to watch Hollywood movies which were not allowed in the Soviet Union. One of the first films I saw was Rocky. I had never heard of this actor, Sylvester Stallone. But the movie amazed me. It gave me a huge impact and a lot of motivation as it showed the inner world of a man whom no one believed, who fought for the world champion’s title with a black champion, and won. I fell in love with this film. When I was a teen, there was a Stallone poster on my wall. Of course, back then I couldn’t even imagine that many years later Rocky himself would sit in the front row cheering for Klitschko. That was the fight with exactly the same scenario as in Rocky. A guy who was no more than a dark horse fought against the world’s strongest black boxer, Lennox Lewis. For me it was a very dramatic fight. Stallone then told my wife Natalia, who sat next to him, ‘I have an impression that I’m watching Rocky.’ Since then, 2003, we have been friends. If Stallone can, he often flies in to cheer for me or Volodymyr when we fight.

“Then a couple more years have passed, and the world’s largest concern Stage Entertainment, which stages musicals in Las Vegas, Europe, and Broadway, offered us to stage musical Rocky and to co-produce it. In our opinion, it was impossible to do without the “main Rocky,” so we went to Stallone. What resulted was a powerful union of Stage Entertainment, the

Klitschko brothers, and Sylvester Stallone. The musical will carry the same energy and emotions, so the audience will be charged with them, too. There is a great saying, “if you want to be the best, you have to work with the best.” We are happy because Stage Entertainment is the world’s best company, Stallone is one of the world’s best actors, and the Klitschko brothers are the best boxers. The musical will be presented in Germany and the US. We have no doubt that it will be a success. I hope someday I’ll be able to bring this musical (with the text in German and English) over to Ukraine. We will do our best for this.”

I.K.: By the way, public activities and charity became for you a sort of bridge from sports to politics. What projects is the Klitschko Brothers Foundation busy with nowadays in Ukraine?

“This year we have carried out a large-scale project ‘Go for Success!’ The money was raised at a charitable auction. It allowed us to renovate six sport schools for children and teenagers: in Kyiv, Horlivka, Kamianets-Podilsky, Khotyn, Siverodonetsk, and Sevastopol (this last one opened just a few days ago). As far as our new projects go, on Students’ Day [November 17. – Ed.] we announced a contest for young people active in student self-government. The winners will get grants and go to an international congress on local self-government.”

L.I.: And what are your plans concerning the Olympic Sports Center?

“There are plans, but no challenge.”

L.I.: Are you involved in the preparations for Euro-2012? If so, then what exactly are you doing?

“At a certain point in time, we made a presentation for our country and defended Ukraine’s ability to fight for the right to host the championship. I am also a member of the coordination board. Once Nelson Mandela said a phrase which became world-famous: ‘Sport has the power to change the world.’ I’d like to paraphrase Mandela:

‘Euro-2012 has the power to change Ukraine.’”