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Nationalist, Atheist and LGBT Rights Supporter: Meet Ukraine’s Most Atypical Presidential Candidate
29 January, 2019

One of the new faces hoping to compete the presidential race is Dmytro Gnap, who was nominated at the People’s Power party’s candidate on January 20. Gnap only entered politics seven months ago, after deciding to leave his successful career as one of Ukraine’s top investigative journalists.

Although it’s still early days for Gnap’s political career – he still needs to raise the $100,000 presidential election registration fee – it’s clear that the fight against corruption is an important part of his campaign, having spent his journalistic career uncovering high-level corruption. But will he live up to his declarations? And how will he deal with the concerning level of poverty and war in Donbas?

Hromadske sat down with Gnap to see what he stands for and why Ukraine’s democrats have trouble uniting.

Why have you decided to run for president, knowing that you have no experience in politics. You were an anti-corruption investigative journalist, you know how to find and prove wrongdoings, but why not just become an MP? Why have this ambition?

Now we are living in such times in Ukraine, where we see a very strong demand for new faces in Ukrainian politics, so this is high-time for me because people really claim refresh a renovation of Ukrainian policy. And this is a good opportunity to get the power and change the country.

READ MORE: Former Top Investigator to Run in Ukraine's 2019 Elections

First of all, in our country, when you come to executive power, you try to change something finally, you can be infiltrated by this corrupted and absolutely failed system. So, this is high-time for non-system politicians.

What are you going to do? What is your policy? Because anti-corruption isn't really a policy or the ideology. A lot of people say that it is enough not to steal, but that's not correct...

This is just one direction. Fighting corruption, for me, as a professional journalist investigator, this is just one way of government and state policy. We need to [look at] this situation in general because corruption is just like a systematic thing, because, in general, Ukraine is now living in a new feudalism way of life. This is a political system. We are not a capitalistic republic, we are a new feudalism country, monarchy, because our president, as the king, he stays above the law and we have no rule of law, and no good governors because this a new federalism system, when every privileged person, for example, a prosecutor, judge, city mayor could be saved from criminal prosecution when they show their loyalty to the president, actually – the king. So, corruption in this system of new feudalism. This is just a way of communication between these new feudalists.

Photo credit: HROMADSKE 

A lot of journalists are saying that maybe this guy is OK, but who are his team? Who are they? Who is the Prosecutor General? Who is the head of the security service? Who is the head of the army? How are you going to do that?

Show your team. Yes, the first question. As you know, I'm a member of the People's Power party and, two weeks ago, I won the party's primaries...

I probably should explain that the party had the primaries...

This is the first party in Ukraine, which started absolutely transparent primaries.

Congratulations on the nomination.

First of all, my team – this is a party, People's Power, and we have a good board of experts, people who are members of city councils, local leaders and experts with good experience in different fields of the Ukrainian economy or executive branches of power.

Any branches of power on a ministerial or higher level?

Not on a ministerial level, but they are trying to change Ukraine during last year, helping to provide new politics for change and for making reforms. This is a good experience, these are strong experts, my party colleagues.

Photo credit: HROMADSKE 

Zero tolerance towards corruption, putting corrupt politicians in jail if they deserve it, less regulations for business – these are things that would help make lives better. That's also what Volodymyr Zelenskiy, the comedian who is also running, says. What is the difference? Because the words are the same.

Not only he says such things. The question every Ukrainian politicians, when it comes to election, to the start of the electoral campaign, they start to say very good things, but the questions is how this politician will do the things that he promised. Try to remember, every Ukrainian politician says very good things during the election campaign, but every time they are elected, they try to steal money from the budget, they try to support their friends in different spheres of economy and so on. All Ukrainian politicians, every time they lie about their future policy after election, we are really tired of these promises – good promises, yes, they are talking about good points, they are good words, but this just a lie.

By the way, how much do you need to collect before February 3? How's it going?

Well, five days have passed since the start of the collection, and we have collected nearly $10,000.

So one tenth? Well you still have time. I'd like to go into more of the economic policy and other parts of your campaign, but, can you identify what the party stands for, and if you were president, the three things you'd do first? And I mean actions, not just the general program. There should be some priorities.

As I said, we need to destroy this new feudalism system, first of all. We need to establish rule of law in our country, real, not fake like today, but real judicial reform, this is the first point, and the first problem that we need to solve.

Photo credit: HROMADSKE 

You've talked about the party which, indeed, has members around the country, but a lot of people will say that today that we have the war with Russia, the Ukrainian economy is heavily dependent on international partners, donors, and this is probably where you have less experience, would you agree?

I've heard many times that I need to get more experience, even in international affairs or internal affairs. If I have no experience in some field of government relations or government management, first of all, I've tried to find good experts and good drivers of reform in this field. So I'm interested in allocating good, strong professionals in every field of reform. I'm really interested in creating a dream team for changing Ukraine. So, first of all, this is my first hope and source for allocating these people. This is the People's Power party.

READ MORE: Ukrainian Investigative Journalist Declares Presidential Ambitions

If we go through the policies, for instance, what would you say about relations with the IMF? Because the People's Power Party says that we probably should be less dependent, everybody says that, yet, what about real actions?

Let's start cutting the stealing of money from the government budget. And we will have strong resources for declining this dependence from IMF.

But how would you make the deal with the IMF?

Absolutely, yes. What is the question? What's the way with our current debts?

Yes, current debts and current program.

We need to start negotiations for the restructuring of these debts. But if we provide an anti-corruption budget with cutting the stealing of money from the budget, we will have nearly $3-4 billion for our income.

But we are still in the process of getting the tranches, getting the money which we desperately need...

Today, yes.

So it's still too early to talk about restructuring the debts. Is there anything about fixing the current program? And do you think there is a need for that?

If we are talking about restructuring, this is absolutely possible. Yes, so try to remember the Georgian experience. But if we are talking about cutting this dependence on the IMF credits, it's really possible. Let's do this. Let's do this anti-corruption budget, where we have, as I said, $3-4 billion dollars that is drained from our economy every year by these corrupted officials.

So what should our relations with the international partners at this stages? There are still conditions. That's life.

Absolutely, yes. So, if our European and North American partners will see that we have an absolutely new kind of politicians, transparent and very honest and principled, I think they will change their position in negotiations in Ukraine and we will see more warm [relations.]

Photo credit: HROMADSKE 

What would be the driver for the Ukrainian economy, besides having this money in the budget? You have said that there should be lower taxes, so where is the money for budget going to come from?

Ok. How much money do you need? How much do you need for Ukraine?

I don't know, you're the one who's running.

Yes. Let's find money in the Ukrainian budget right now.

How would you find it if you want to lower taxes, which, as I understand, is what you would like?

We need some compensation for these declining taxes, yes? Let's try to find money in the Ukrainian budget. As Ukrainian Prime Minister Groysman said, every year, we are losing near 90 billion hryvnias from smuggling. This is nearly $4 billion. So we will have $4 billion if we fight against smuggling in every Ukrainian state customs office. Second, there is illegal gambling that you see in even every small village. Illegal gambling covered by top officials in the Ukrainian government. Every year, we are losing nearly $2-3 billion from this illegal gambling, you know about this problem. Thirdly, there are energy schemes. For example, Rotterdam Plus and corrupted fraud of oligarch Firtash in local gas companies. We could allocate almost $1 billion from this. So now we have nearly $6-7 billion of this extra income.

It's still just a portion. The budget is usually made up of taxes, and when the taxes are low, there should be something else. How do you create an economy?

You asked about compensations for during the process of tax decrease? I'm talking about this compensation. We have nearly $6 billion drained from our economy, from our budget, every year, so this is the first source. The second source, this is the tax declining and cutting of expenditures because we have absolutely inefficient state management because we have many government structures, which we don't even know what they do.

But when you really look at the polls, one of the biggest issues for people is still poverty. It's not just about the money that's stolen, there are no services provided. This state does not really provide these services, so it's hard to imagine how it could provide less. Pensions are a super low. There are a lot of services you still have to pay for. It's not just about bribes. You know that, if you live in a small town – and this is the majority of the voters – this is not very appealing, because people have no security.

Absolutely yes, so let's help people live easily. Let's support every Ukrainian citizen with nearly 50-70,000 hryvnias very easily.

You mean like a salary of this size? What do you mean?

Ok. Do you know how many state enterprises we have?

Yes.

How many?

We're talking about a few hundred.

No, no, no. 3,400.

You mean there are 3,000 smaller ones.

Yes. We will sell all these state enterprises that we could calculate the profit to share among the citizens. We could easily allocate nearly 50-70,000 from selling state enterprises. For every citizen. And we need to give this money to the people.

Photo credit: HROMADSKE 

The other point is about the war. You came here when you first entered politics and back then you said that you would be in favour of cancelling the Minsk agreement. So what would happen?

Nothing will happen. Nothing will happen.

So this is what you really want to do?

I don't know. This Minsk agreement doesn't work.

They uphold the sanctions, for instance.

So what sanctions will help us fight Russia?

What would help?

I mean, we have no serious effect, no serious profit from this Minsk agreement and these sanctions. We are still losing soldiers.

If we cancel the agreement and imagine there's an attack from Russia...

So do you think the Minsk agreements are stopping Russia from forcing...

No, I'm asking you. I know what the actual battle is. You have been a reporter, you know I have been, we spent the first year on the frontline. And I know that we have this almost frozen conflict, where there are still shootings, but it's not an actual battle, where the forces move in and things happen to the local population.

As I think, just the Ukrainian army could stop Russian aggression in Ukraine and go ahead.

You mean just standing there and securing it? What would you do with Donetsk and these territories?

Really, really hard question. Solving this problem depends, first of all, on economic growth here in Ukraine, and economic growth depends on fighting corruption and establishing a rule of law. So we are returning to the first point: establishing rule of law.

You yourself are from the Donetsk region. What are your policies towards the population, which has been living under the separatists for five years already? They are Ukrainian citizens, what do you think the Ukrainian state should do for them and how do we act on this?

We need to show them a bright and good example of Ukrainian development.

One of the parties, like Samopomich, where one of the candidates will go on to the elections and whom you may support if they are united. Sadovyi says that these territories should be cut down, we shouldn't care about them, we shouldn't provide for them. What are your views on that? What do you suggest for this population?

We need to help all people who are now in these territories and want to live here in Ukraine, or to visit Ukraine. We need to help them, first of all. Secondly, as I said, just developing Ukraine, this is the best weapon and the best way of solving the problem.

It would be interesting to go into detail on that because we are talking generally, but this is the everyday life of people who don't understand what Ukraine is suggesting. What is the message for those people?

Actually, with this problem, we are trying to provide the best plan for solving it and we are now in the process of developing a good plan for solving the problem of the occupied territories. The first issue for me is just collecting the money to participate in this campaign, and then you can be sure will show a good plan for solving this problem.

Without being too repetitive, when you were here before, we talked about ideological views. You said that you're not a religious person, but obviously we all respect the rights of religious people, especially now with all these issues of Autocephaly. You also said that you are a nationalist...

In [security] questions.

However, for instance, you can accept LGBT rights, go to Pride, like you said.

Now, really it's too cold for Pride.

It will happen after you win, you know. It's usually May or June.

I'll go, yeah.

You said that you are not for some family values, however, if I look at the People's Power program, in western terms, it would be more conservative because it's about civic patriotism. Civic patriotism, as I understand it, it's not about your ethnicity, it's based on values. Here you say that it's respect to tradition, culture, ethics. It's about preservation of Ukrainian traditions. They even say that we are for the cultivation of family values? How do these go together? How can you discuss this part of the program with your party, with your views, how are they all aligned? Where do you stand?

Maybe you are trying to get this point from the general context. Ok, so, civic patriotism, this is a normal European value...

Photo credit: HROMADSKE 

Yes, but what does it mean? I'm not against it, I'm just saying...

Respect to tradition, to history. Respect.

Tradition?

To tradition, culture, ethics and law. This is good. Respect. Respect yourself, respect everyone.

It's still a framework. I'm not just challenging...

Respect from people to people.

If you speak ideological issues in the People's Power, it could be compared to the National Democrats, Christian Democrats, or am I mistaken? It's not good or bad, it's a position. It's about pluralism. However, I would like to know, would you discuss LGBT issues with your party? Because for some people, it matters. How would you mention the issue of Ukrainian language? Or nationalism -- what it means and saying that some of the far-right are legit.

People's Power -- this is a classical liberal party and has liberal values, and a liberal platform, but we're not so narrow in this analysis. So if we are talking about questions of national safety, yes, People's Power, this is a right-centric party because we are at war now so we need to protect our country, we need to protect our country to establish these liberal values. If we had no country, we will not establish this liberalism and liberal values. In terms of personal and civic rights, this is a classical liberal party. In economic liberalism, in economic fields, this is a classical liberal party. The party also declares respect of minority rights, and this is just one party who are talking very loudly about respecting minority rights.

It's good that we have this discussion because it rarely happens in Ukraine...

Yes, but this political analysis can't be so narrow. If we are talking about safety questions, this is one position, if we are talking about economics, about the role of state regulation, this is absolutely a liberal position.

Going back to the campaign -- we have two other candidates: Lviv mayor Sadovyi, the leader of the Samopomich party and Anatoliy Hrytsenko, who is running for the presidency yet again, he is considered to be the candidate from the democratic forces. And the idea is that if they unite, you are ready to step away to support them.

To support this one candidate.

But what are the conditions? And aren't there issues with these politicians because, for instance, yes, Sadovyi is the mayor but there are some accusations about corruption. I mean that the circle of people around Sadovyi is not perfect. You can always find something for every single politician.

Who, for example?

I'm speaking about the business in Lviv. With every politician in Ukraine you can find something hidden in their closet. Or do you not have any questions about Sadovyi and Hrytsenko?

I have many questions for them, yes.

So what are those questions?

First of all, show your donors and your sponsors when you get the money for registration and participation in this election campaign because I, as a candidate, and we, as a party, we are trying to be absolutely transparent and we are collecting money in an absolutely transparent way. No one -- Sadovyi and Hrytsenko -- have done it that way.

Have you had negotiations or was it just a public announcement that you would support them?

After my party's nomination, I made a statement that we will support this united candidate, this one candidate from the democratic camp, but now we are not in the negotiating process, we are waiting until Sadovyi or Hrytsenko decides who will be the one.

Will it happen?

I don't know. I'm not a political expert. Yes, I'm just a politician and I'm making my campaign.

You are running from the People's Power party, it's a party, it was established a while ago. The question is though, we know a couple of journalists, also one of our co-founders  Mustafa Nayem, who joined, who is currently an MP and part of the Poroshenko party, and who is a critic of him today. Serhiy Leshchenko as well. Still, there are a lot of optimists who are united by this idea. Why haven't you created an alliance together? That's probably a question that a lot of people on the outside have.

This is a good question.

It's been five years, there has been time.

This is a good question for them because I asked them: Guys, why don't you join People's Power party? Because this is a grassroots party, this is a party of liberal values, so I made this example, I made this step, I showed that I don't want to be separate and I united with People's Power party, so I propose this for them.

You asked, but that was a question. Now you are in the position of a politician. It's up to you, to all of you, it's not "them" any longer, it's you all who have to do something.

This is an old question of why democrats can't unite not even five minutes before death. Can you answer why it's so hard for democrats to unite? Why?

Photo credit: HROMADSKE 

It's up to you to make this process. I'm not running! Maybe that's also a political talent, that's actually part of what politicians do, so maybe they are not good politicians? It's not always the case that democrats unite, globally speaking. The best ones are probably those who can unite. What work should you do?

Every democrat is really sustainable person, every democrat has a personal view on life, view on changing the world. So that's why democrats are really hard to unite. But our enemies, our opponents, the members of this corrupted system, they actually are really easy to unite...

For a bad cause.

For a bad things, yes, so we are trying to unite these guys. I do my best for uniting Democrats because, look, People's Power party started an absolutely competitive and transparent primaries procedure. Let's take part and let the people decide who are the best democratic candidates from our democratic camp. No one agreed. From the beginning, some of our colleagues from Euro-optimist camps, from the Euro-optimist group, they were very interested in participating, but it was just me that started in these primaries campaign. You need to ask Mustafa and Serhiy.

I will ask. The point is that it's not just about having the will, it's a job to organize the process.

It's not the job of another politicians. First of all, the politician's job is to share personal views, or a personal vision of changing life. That's the first job. And I have my vision.  

/By Nataliya Gumenyuk