A Game of Buckwheat

Hello, everyone, and The Ukraine Today (your best che tam u khokhlov source on the Interwebs!) is back on air to cover the Chernihiv parliamentary constituency elections, which took place today and which Gennady Korban, Kolomoyskiy’s right-hand man, apparently lost. The Chernihiv elections were top news in Ukraine not only because of the scope of voter fraud (a pretty common thing in Ukraine), but because they were, by and large, a rehearsal of the upcoming local elections. Frankly, I fear for local elections because today they had to have militsiya deployed at the polling places to prevent provocations of any kind – especially armed. Hromadske’s Nastya Stanko said people were actually afraid of going to vote today. This is not democracy, this is a sham. It is even more of a sham because people hiding behind a ‘patriotic’ agenda are doing it – we’re not even talking about the Party of Regions or some other pro-Russian bogeyman, no, we’re talking about Privat Group, which brands itself as being ‘patriotic’. Their ‘patriotism’ mostly comes down to forcibly acquiring assets, not voting in the Rada, flinging shit at opponents and threatening to sue the government for $5 billion as revenge for taking back the (government-owned) Ukrnafta company. Privat’s been digging its own grave for quite some time since March 2015 (ironic seeing how their popularity exploded in March 2014), but the last two months were the most egregious, including, but not limited to:

– the heavy-handed privatization of UKROP, complete with the shoulder patch. Since Armed Forces personnel are forbidden from being politically affiliated (even though Colonel Mikats of the Desna training center also ran in Chernihiv, with no success), most soldiers flat out refused to wear the patch afterwards;

– bribing voters. In Ukraine this thing is most often done by giving voters free foodstuffs, usually buckwheat; thus ‘buckwheat’ is an euphemism for ‘bribing voters’. Korban’s buckwheat giveaway was particularly generous in Chernihiv, to the point where people actually fought to get a packet of the grain. If you brought a child, you were entitled to a kilogram of sweets.

Buckwheat bribing is traditionally associated not even with the Ancient Regime (which usually relied on its factory worker thralls to get votes), but with blatant, balls-to-the-wall no-holds-barred populism, which is the prime reason Privat got so much flak for it. Instead of apologizing, though, they decided to fling even more shit at everyone, in essence making the whole electoral campaign into a single big shitfest.

There are also minor things, such as Borys Filatov going completely bonkers on Facebook (best UA Twitter experts suspect Filatov is now permanently stoned on cocaine), UKROP banners all over the whole country, Kolomoyskiy’s Ukrnafta shenanigans and, oh, Right Sector, which is at least tacitly supported (if not outright financed) by Privat. However, it seems that Facebook followers don’t translate into real world votes, and there are only so many of those you can buy with free buckwheat. Which is why Korban lost. Which is why Privat lost, as it did on Wednesday, with new Ukrnafta management being appointed. Its politics stunt may very well suffer a similar fate.

The question is open how many votes UKROP would get on local elections – Kolomoyskiy is also tacitly financing several other sham parties, just to have his bases covered – but so far they started this fight, and they lost. Korban’s opponent, Berezenko, is no angel, not by a long shot… but what matters is that he won, and Korban lost. Berezenko is also affiliated with BPP, the ostensibly presidential party bloc, but BPP is a VERY circumstantial thing, so that doesn’t mean much. Privat made it into a struggle with the bloody Chocolate regime, but the Chocolate regime did not actually notice it much, so it was pretty one-sided.

I’m not sure we’re seeing the end of the Chernihiv affair, too. But whatever Privat does now to disrupt the counting process will only make it worse for them.

And all in all, I’m mildly optimistic. Of course, Chernihiv ballot wasn’t ideal by any means – it was choosing between one evil and an another, slightly less nastier evil, but this is what Ukrainian elections usually boil down to. But Chernihivians turned out to be less gullible and easily bought than many thought. At best, they swindled Korban for free buckwheat and then proceeded to flip him the bird by not voting for him: a taste of his own medicine, if I might say so. Maybe it is a sign that Ukrainians, as a whole, are getting smarter and less prone to voting for whoever has more buckwheat. Maybe rampant populism is becoming more and more unpopular by the day, and the populist voters are indeed a minority, in which case we should expect a bloody shitfight to the death for those coveted 5% (10% if you count the Communist Party’s voting base). And maybe people just refused to be intimidated, which would be even better. Refusing to be intimidated was what drove Maidan forward, something Privat Group apparently missed. Refusing to be intimidated is why Ukraine is still standing, after fifteen months of war. And if Ukraine wants to survive, it is what it must do.

And Privat Group should take the hint, too – that times have changed. While there are still things money can buy, what it can’t buy is support – no more than it can be bought for buckwheat.

It is a good sign.

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A Game of Buckwheat

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