‘Peace, Anti-Corruption, Economy Unite Ukrainians’ - Head of SOTP Party Korniyenko
29 November, 2019

Oleksandr Korniyenko is already the third head of the Servant of the People party in little more than a year of its existence. Korniyenko's predecessors — Ivan Bakanov and Dmytro Razumkov — did not stay for long. The former headed the Security Service of Ukraine, whilst the latter became the speaker of parliament.

Korniyenko inherited a party with 500 members from his predecessors.

However, the new leader will get adequate funding — "Servant of the People" is to receive 114 million hryvnias ($4.8 million) in compensation for the parliamentary elections. Yet another 80 million hryvnias ($3.4 million) of state funding will be allotted to the ruling party.

In an interview with Hromadske, Korniyenko told how he got into the party he now heads, what he wants to spend the record state funding on, which ideology the ruling party follows, and why he does not consider the latest scandals in the faction a crisis.

What is the Servant of the People Party like nowadays? How many members, regional organizations are there? What are the contributions?

We have few members. This point was crucial at one time. We will always be able to welcome everyone to the party, but the quality of these people could differ. When we started the presidential campaign, we had a very large volunteer project called ZEteam. Many people from this project immediately said that they are not interested in political motivation and that they are not going to become officials. They didn’t want to influence authorities. They wanted to change the authorities, namely the president at the time and to improve their future. There aren’t many party members. We haven’t implemented any membership fees yet. There are some donations, which for the most part were used in the election campaigns: first the presidential one, then the parliamentary. Our parliamentary campaign was carried out in such a way that we were left with some spare funds for the large-scale educational project in [the city of] Truskavets which took place at the beginning of August. There were no other large projects, the funding was used for current operations: namely office maintenance, rent and so on.       

To clarify: by few members, you mean 500? Because I heard the figure 500 at the party congress ...

Yes, there are about 500 members in the party.

That is, the party now has 500 members, but it is represented by 250 deputies in the Ukrainian Parliament now.

They are not all party members.

How many of the MPs are party members?

I think, there are now about 50, maybe 60-70 party members who are MPs. The process is ongoing — they are writing applications.

So it’s 20%?

Yes, it’s a normal situation.

And the rest of the deputies?

They are independent.

Is this their committed position? Or are they gradually becoming members?

Some decide [to join], some have basically said: I am a non-party person all my life, do not bother me. Some may even be members of another party, we do not have a mechanism for counting party members in the country. Anyone can be a member of many parties, it is impossible to verify. For example, at one time I also joined different parties, and then I wrote an application for withdrawal, but whether they took me out of them - it is also always necessary to enquire. I think that it is not so important for the deputies here to be formally a member of the party, what is more important is the perception of ideology and being on the same wavelength, as well as some joint action in this regard.

Can you name the main sponsors of the Servant of the People Party now?

We have a number of companies, they are in the report, there are a lot of them. I will not list them now. They are primarily sponsors from our election campaign. We have some money remaining, we spent some on Truskavets, and accordingly, we still have a part left for our current activities. But it is clear that from January 1, we will receive state funding, thus the state will become the main sponsor. Because the amount of funding we get ...

How much will you receive?

We get two sums. One is the so-called cashback for the election campaign. It is being paid since this year. That's about 114 million hryvnias ($4.8 million) — what we spent on the election. And the second amount is state funding. Of the total amount of 260 million hryvnias ($10.8 million), our part is 43 million ($1.8 million), this is what we have earned. That's about 80-90 million hryvnias ($3.3-3.8 million) — 20 million hryvnias ($832,600) a quarter, respectively.

What will you do with this cashback? Will you give it back to people who invested in the party? Will you invest in its development?

No, it is impossible to return it. Unfortunately or fortunately. We will invest [the money]. We have many tasks related both to our current activities and to the development of the structure and the development of the centers that we have promised and set out to do. In reality, all this does not require fantastic sums of money. But when you start to count: there are 100,000 hryvnias there, it’s 20,000 there, so little by little…

200 million is good money.

Yes. And we are aware that once again installing billboards, distributing newspapers — would be a little wrong.

Most of the money will be spent on the creation of additional intellectual value. For example, the center of strategies and decision-making. We have such an initiative. It will actually work as a hub for the accumulation of statistics, information from various think tanks. In January, we will announce a tender for several positions: sociological research, analytics and more.

You have successful experience of two election campaigns — presidential and parliamentary. You have won them using unusual methods. On the other hand, you want to build a party. The very concept of “a party” is such a classic concept. Perhaps, you shouldn’t do this, especially if for almost 28 years in Ukraine almost no one has succeeded in this. Instead, you should develop the volunteer network that helped you win the election?

Yes, but when we talk about building a party, we are not talking about building ... At the congress, Oleksandr Kochura, an MP from Servant of the People, spoke about 350,000 people. I would debate this figure. I'm not sure we need 350,000 people. I am not even sure that we need 100,000 party members who will stand as candidates.

Parliamentary experience has shown that 50 party members can control 250 people in a faction.

At the beginning of the parliamentary campaign, we had 20 party members, ok, 100 party members were at the congress. They nominated 250 MPs. I think that is one of those principles that we will apply. I talked about it at the congress.

It is not necessary and in fact harmful that people holding leading positions in the party become either heads of district state administrations or heads of city executive committees. This must be separated.

The party can be a parallel structure that, on the one hand, provides these human and intellectual resources that I talked about. On the other hand, in such a situation, it may have a bit more control. When the head of the party is also head of the district state administration, he is not a state official, but he works for the state, he can’t control himself, it is understandable. In Ukraine, there is this constant merging of power and the ruling party. So far, these cases have been unsuccessful.

What is the main purpose of the Servant of the People Party? What is it?

The main purpose of the Servant of the People's Party is the implementation of our political program.

Formulate for our viewers who have not perused the program what the main 2-3 theses of the Servant of the People program are.

The human is in the center i.e. human-centricity.

What is it? I do not understand.

This is in a good sense both economic and non-economic liberalism. That is, when a person is the focus of the state. It's not about social…

This is not liberalism. May I correct you, liberalism is about freedom. That freedom is a basic value.

Yes, a person that has freedom. A free person should be the focus of the state not so much in terms of social guarantees, though that too. We will continue to be both liberal and a little social, closer to the center. But the main thing is to untie the "ties" that make people less free.

That is economic liberalization -- opening up markets, such as the land market, privatization of state property, concessions.

If we talk about the relationship between the citizen and the state, it is “state in the smartphone” and untangling the knot of problems related to officials, with the apparatus, with administrative procedures, which are now provided poorly.

The political component is ideological liberalization and freedom of communication. If we analyze now half a year of President Zelenskyy's work, what is his ideology? Is there something ideologically based on what has been done in previous years?

I see some attempts to use the anti-corruption agenda as an ideology -- this is the focus of the first six months of Zelenskyy presidency. Actually, this is one of his promises and these deadlines to the security forces and the emphasis on the fact that everyone is equal and that there will be no exceptions and so on. That’s what I see.

This is one of the items on the agenda. It is as important as economic reform. Because the package of the 70 first laws we passed also covered basic things like democracy. For example, the introduction into the Constitution of the people as a subject of legislative initiative. A new package of laws on democracy is under development. A regular working group is meeting today to discuss the issue.

But mostly, these are economic reforms and anti-corruption. But I mean, there is no longer such thing as “a state ideology”. Every person can have their own ideology. Moreover, the attitude towards the manifestation of other positions is very tolerant. Recall the story of "No to capitulation!" protests. They happened absolutely free, people were heard as many times as they needed. Then the president explained it all for another 14 hours.

If we talk about an idea, not a person that can unite the country, what can it be?

I do not think we need to go far: we have polls: we are constantly criticized for over-trusting polls, but there are marker points that can’t be questioned by anyone. This is what worries everyone - peace, corruption, and the economy. These are three things that are now unifying.

When we talk about corruption, it is more about justice. This is also true of corruption and domestic justice, the quality of the law enforcement system. Starting from prevention to investigation and sentencing in courts. It's all one line. At each stage there are problems, there are bottlenecks. We are trying to resolve this as soon as possible. 

Indeed, a powerful anti-corruption package has already been passed, which has not been adopted in the last 5 years.

In other words, justice is the idea that can unite Ukraine now?

Rather it’s one of three ideas. The second is peace, it is a very sensitive and emotional topic, but as much as the president and the public discuss it, there was never such dialogue. With journalists, with volunteers, with military, with us, with legislators, with diplomats, with everyone, constantly. For him, this is definitely a topic of priority, along with economics and justice.

Can you now briefly and clearly explain to me what President Zelenskyy's plan for the Donbas is? You said that he repeatedly stated it to the MPs, to the government, to international diplomats. That means, you know it and can present it clearly.

To continue the diplomatic policy of resolving this situation through the Normandy and Minsk formats. That's how it sounds right now.

The President has already voiced the issues that will be addressed at the forthcoming Normandy format summit - this is an exchange, a further separation of forces, a revision of the attitude to ceasefire and the introduction of certain sanctions, as far as I understand the President, if you violate it, you should be held accountable for it.

It is also possible elections in the occupied territories will be further discussed, but after gaining control of the border, as has always been said. In principle, there is nothing fundamentally new here. This is a political and diplomatic path under the Minsk Agreements in the manner in which they correspond to the national interests of Ukraine.

Will the president raise the issue of the continuation of European sanctions against Russia at this meeting?

I'm not sure about this yet.

In December, the parliament should either extend or not extend the Law “On Special order of local self-government in separate regions of Donetsk and Luhansk regions”, the so-called “Special Status Law”. What is its fate? Is the faction now preparing a new law? Will the old one be extended? What is your position?

[Chairman of the Parliament and Servant of the People MP] Dmytro Razumkov rightly said that this is a matter for the whole parliament, not just our faction, because it is a matter for the state and all factions must be involved.

You have a single-party majority ...

In this case, it doesn’t matter.

It is good that you involve other factions, but the responsibility will ultimately rest with the "Servant of the People" …

Of course. It will be the responsibility of those who press the green button. We are waiting for the outcome of the Normandy format meeting, and then we will swiftly decide on it.

So you do not rule out the possibility that you will change the current law?

The president earlier suggested drafting a new law.

Is there an alternative bill?

No. We don't have it in the Rada yet.

I want to understand whom to contact, who is in charge, who is responsible for the Donbas fate.

It will be clear when we start discussing the details in this.

Regarding the law that is currently in force and that will soon expire, it is actually our committee, the Committee on State Building, Regional Policy, and Local Self-Government [that is responsible].

Maybe it will be our committee. There is a special commission of inquiry, which we have set up with colleagues from other factions under the chairmanship of Serhiy Rakhmanin (MP from the Golos party -- ed.), I am the deputy chairman there. It will take on certain responsibilities.

In the President’s Office, there is a deputy in charge of this area, Ihor Zhovkva. There is Vadym Prystaiko, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, and there is Mr. [Andriy] Yermak, assistant to the president who oversees this area. I think there are enough people to ask here.

And this process will definitely be as inclusive as possible because it is a topic that needs to be discussed with people as widely as possible.

While preparing for the interview, I could not find any critical statements made by you in relation to Mr. Kolomoisky.

You probably have not seen any non-critical ones either.


Firstly, no one asked me, and I usually answer what I am asked. Secondly, to comment on the personal life of private individuals is...

The thing is that Mr. Kolomoisky says that he communicates with the president, with [the head of Zelenskyy’ staff] Andriy Bohdan. Bohdan acknowledges it, as well as the president. Did Ihor Kolomoisky call you?

Me personally? I do not think that I am such a big person in this world for one of the top businessmen to call me. What can we have in common?

And Kolomoisky is one of the top businessmen. Or is he an oligarch?

Generally, I had not been using the term “oligarch” much in my life prior to entering politics. I think this term is overused by the press. It’s clichéd, it does not completely reflect what’s behind it.

Classically, an oligarch is a businessman who influences politics, he owns the media, and he has a certain monopoly. If we start analyzing all our top businessmen, it would turn out that not everyone matches these definitions.

[Rinat] Akhmetov matches, as well as Kolomoisky, [Viktor] Medvedchuk, [Dmytro] Firtash, [Petro] Poroshenko and [Viktor] Pinchuk.

Kolomoisky and Akhmetov match. With Firtash, there is a question if his monopoly is in his hands – but this is kind of operational. The rest seem to match, but again, monopolization is shrinking these days. It is shrinking in the energy sphere, as well as in others. 

I think that step by step we’ll be achieving that this main feature – the monopoly – will be dwindling.

Yet, for you, Ihor Kolomoisky is a top businessman, not an oligarch?

I don’t call these people oligarchs. I think the term now has emotional connotations, and is overused.

And what do you call them?

They are businessmen. In this country, in these circumstances, they are businessmen.

That is, Kolomoisky, Akhmetov, Poroshenko, Medvedchuk, and Pinchuk -- they are all businessmen?

When there is a rating of “Top 100 businesspeople”, for instance, the NV magazine does not write “Top 100 oligarchs”...

The richest Ukrainians.

Yes, they write “the richest Ukrainians”.

Everybody's been talking about the need to unify the country. This is on a macro-level. You have experience of a micro-level of the biggest single faction in the parliament of more than 250 MPs. There are too many scandals. I don't want to spend all of my interview time or much of it, I will just briefly list them: the story between [David] Arakhamia and [Oleksandr] Dubinsky with the lie detector, Mr. [Bohdan] Yaremenko's correspondence, Roman Ivanisov's conviction for statutory rape, the [Telegram pranking] story. It turns out that even your 250 people cannot be united by the topics of economy and peace? They are at each other's throats, getting into arguments. However, there is no one in your party who can replace you as the head. Why is this happening? I’m not gloating. I want to understand: if these people can’t agree on the conditions that everybody has agreed upon – freedom, fairness, and economic growth … So, why are they behaving like this in the parliament?

Everybody makes mistakes, including our MPs. We made mistakes when we selected them, to a certain extent. Speaking of statistics, these aforementioned scandals regard five lawmakers tops, which is 1/50, 2%.

Journalists have not yet studied the biographies of all the MPs...

If we talk about the scale of the country, 2% is not a figure that can affect the unification or non-unification of people.

Speaking of the essence, in fact, two processes are occurring simultaneously. One is of acclimatization.

We realized that in a group size of 250 people there would definitely be those who oppose [certain things]. Those who, despite saying “we’re all for it” while running for office, would come into the parliament and behave differently. Okay, there are such people.

Among these 250 people, there are definitely people with unclear backgrounds -- let's call it that. Okay, there are such people.

Among these 250 people, there are definitely people with an active position. It’s not that they disagree… They agree in principle. Like Mr. Dubinsky, for example, he is generally our ideological supporter, but his methods are slightly different from those of the government, or of the Prosecutor General. But this is a matter of finding consensus and a common solution.

Regarding the result that’s on the scoreboard, as they say, then this faction that is “torn apart by scandals” inside the heads of the journalists of telegram channels, that is “about to collapse” according to popular journalists ... This faction then goes and votes for the land reform. We voted for the land reform using our efforts, with 229 votes in support. Non-factional MPs joined, it was their choice.

This faction voted for the [state] budget with 240 votes. This faction came to a consensus with the Prime Minister, with the Minister of Finance in just 40 minutes, on excise duty, balancing the budget and balancing the resulting disproportion. This faction enacted the law on illicit enrichment and so on.

That is, you are united by economy after all?

The worldview things unite, the reasons we started this.

President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has hinted several times that he is ready to dissolve the parliament a year later. 

Why won’t he dissolve it now?

No, it’s clear that he can’t dissolve it now because the parliament has a one-year immunity after the elections. Judging by your words, you are generally satisfied with the work of the faction and the parliament, more or less.

So far, yes.

And it seems that the president is more or less dissatisfied. What is the main complaint of Volodymyr Zelenskyy about the parliament and the Servant of the People faction?

It's best to ask him. Of course, there is always the potential to work better. If you do not deal with internal showdowns and search how things should not be done, instead of doing them.

The president is worried about the reforms that are about to happen, that are already happening. We understand his concerns that these could be done faster, better, without wasting time on behavioral and moral ethics stories.

But I do not think that anybody is talking about the dissolution as a solution [to this]. Most likely, this is a reaction, an understandable emotional reaction of the president to what is going on. The other day, he seemed to have said this to kids as a joke. So I don’t know how seriously we can take this.

I understand that there is a deadline for the parliament, which is a year. I think that for each of the areas he has the criteria that an official needs to comply with to stay in the office and to complete the task. What two or three key tasks does President Zelenskyy set to the parliament for [their first] year? What should the MPs do to prevent the parliament from being dissolved?

Fortunately, there is no such conversation. Parliament must do what it promised to the people. And it promised to implement the reforms that the president and the parliament stated in their programs. This is a very simple criterion. 

If you draft bills, vote for the bills, and then the government implements specific reforms that change people's lives for the better, then this is a clear criterion.

And if you don’t vote, if you miss, if you don’t go to the committee meetings, don’t work in the committees, don’t implement the reforms, then it is not an effective parliament.

So, there was no situation when he said, if you don’t approve the land reform, or if you don’t reform the anti-corruption legislation, or if you don’t approve the bill on the Naftogaz Unbundling, then you're done? There is no such criterion?

No, there isn’t.

/Interview by Maxim Kamenev

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