Ukrainian Investigative Journalist Declares Presidential Ambitions
29 June, 2018

Investigative journalist Dmytro Gnap has announced a career change. After spending nearly a decade investigating Ukrainian corruption, the former and Slidstvo.Info reporter is moving into politics.

“I could do another 1000 investigative reports, uncover another 2000 corrupt officials. But I see how, with each year, they feel more secure,” he wrote in a Facebook post explaining his desire to change the country from the inside.

The 40-year-old announced his ambitions to run for president on June 25. Gnap called for a union of Ukraine’s democratic parties to hold a primary to choose one candidate for next spring’s election.

After he officially resigned from, he told us about the political platform on which he is running.

Politically, Gnap is a right centrist who supports a libertarian approach to the economy. Noting the opportunities for corruption when a state provides free services, he is not a proponent of a welfare state.

“Perhaps we live so poorly because we have such a weird welfare state that provides a lot of benefits, which are taken advantage of by the dregs of society or the corrupt,” he told Hromadske.

Regarding Russian aggression, Gnap believes Ukraine should defend its territory and citizens by relying only on itself and its own resources, following the guiding principle of civic activists. This means militarization of the economy and society, according to him.

Photo credit: HROMADSKE

“People have to be prepared, once we’ve grown our military potential to the degree that we can liberate our territories, for winning back Donbas militarily,” he said.

He considers his allies other young reform-minded MPs, including former journalists and Maidan activists Mustafa Nayyem and Yegor Sobolev. Business-editor-turned-political-expert Vladimir Fedorin is on his campaign team.

Hromadske’s Nataliya Gumenyuk sat down with her former colleague Dmytro Gnap for a frank discussion about his political and economic views, ideas on battling Russian aggression, positions on important social issues, and how he plans to fund his political campaign.

How will you finance your campaign?

There’s a widespread stereotype that politics requires a ton of money. And the politicians in power today, as well as those in the opposition, they constantly reinforce this stereotype. Because candidates have to pay for everything – for buckwheat [a common gift distributed to the pensioners before election season as a reminder to vote and for whom – ed.] and for the work of canvassers and [election] observers… because few people believe in their ideas. So they engage people in politics for the money.

I want to break these stereotypes, together with my compatriots and supporters, first by placing my bets on volunteers. We’re not reinventing the wheel – this is a common practice in Western developed democracies. The second thing is raising funds through crowdfunding.

Photo credit: HROMADSKE

I have some conservative estimates on hand – they’re not correct – that the presidential election campaign [in Ukraine] costs at least $50 million. But I threw these estimates away, just like Elon Musk once did when given estimates of what it costs to build a spaceship. He said, “We’ll do it for 20 times less.”

What are your political views, for example, on taxes?

Taxes should be lowered, for sure, because another poor country has shown by experience that the lower the taxes, the higher the chances of collecting them. That was the case in Georgia. It doesn’t work immediately. The transition to lowering taxes, to reducing tax revenue, takes place over a given period of time. But this allows for moving a significant part of the economy and money out of the shadows.

Who is joining your campaign team?

My political program, political platform and economic platform are still in process, and this involves a lot of different people as experts. I’m talking about myself and my compatriots, those who now form the core of our team. For instance, Vladimir Fedorin, formerly well known as an editor of business publications [founder and editor of Forbes Ukraine from 2011–2013 – ed.] and now a political expert. Now we work together.

Photo credit: HROMADSKE

Certain people are interested, we’ve made the preliminary agreements, but we have not yet held comprehensive team meetings. We’ve already talked about joint actions, and possibly creating a new political project, with Mustafa Nayyem. Although Mustafa told me straight out that he is representing not only himself but their group – which includes him, Serhiy Leshchenko, Svitlana Zalishchuk. I’ve talked with Yegor Sobolev, who expressed an initial interest in coordinating our actions though Yegor cannot leave Samopomich [political party – ed.]. But he and I are old friends, we have the same values, it makes sense for us to coordinate our political actions.

What values? You said on Facebook that your views are nationalistic but in certain aspects liberal. What does this mean?

I’m an adherent of center-right ideology. This means a libertarian approach to economics, in other words, minimal intervention of the state in the economy. At the same time, the position of the state should be relatively strong in the international arena — I’m talking about defending national interests. I am not for a welfare state because I support a libertarian approach to the economy.

How are you going to persuade voters who support the idea of a welfare state?

It’s a difficult process to persuade people, but maybe herein lies the answer: perhaps we live so poorly because we have such a weird welfare state that provides a lot of benefits, which are taken advantage of by the dregs of society or the corrupt. And we don’t know where even our low taxes go. We don’t know how they’re distributed. Often they’re stolen. Nothing can be completely free, because free anything is an open field for graft.

Photo credit: HROMADSKE

How can this work when salaries and pensions are so low?

If we’re talking about low salaries, then the only way to increase them is by fighting corruption and reforming the state more quickly to decrease its interference in the economy. That way we can attract investments and encourage free business enterprise, and then salaries will go up.

How do you envision the role of the state in a market, which is dominated by a lot of people currently in power?

The state should be a night watchman, an honest night watchman. In the current situation, we see that Kyivenergo really was privatized. Rinat Akhmetov [who owns most of the company – ed.] took the infrastructure into his hands and now controls the energy supply in Kyiv, producing heat and electricity. But we see that through the state – and his corrupt influence on the state – Rinat Akhmetov, with his close ties to the president, sets inflated prices for electricity.  

What do you think about privatization?

Sell everything but your conscience.

And de-privatization?

De-privatization only in cases related to outright crimes. Like with the privatization of Kyivenergo. When some common property was essentially stolen, like the way that in 2004  [Ukraine’s largest integrated steel company] Kryvorizhstal was fictitiously privatized. Afterward [in 2005], when it was de-privatized and then sold competitively, this had a positive effect – both for investors and by producing serious revenue for the budget.

About the war. Should the Minsk agreements be upheld, annulled, renegotiated?

Annulled. Then, in time, prepare for the possible military liberation of our territory. Depending on how effectively we build up our army and special forces, having the special forces liberate our territory now occupied by Russia could be less painful or more painful.  

What if Russia attacks?

We need to follow the principles of civic activists. There are three principles, all of which are the same: Rely only on yourself. Obviously, we need to reform our army, modernize it, same thing with our special forces.

But that’s militarization of our country.

Right, that’s militarization of our country. In case you haven’t noticed, we have an aggressive, crazy neighbor.

What if we have no international support?

It’s obvious that with a neighbor like Russia, an aggressor state that has captured our territory and kills our citizens, we cannot manage without militarizing our economy and also militarizing society. So, in addition to reforming our army, we also have to create national self-defense detachments… People have to be prepared, once we’ve grown our military potential to the degree that we can liberate our territories, for winning back Donbas militarily.

With Russia, there can be no compromise because it is interested in destroying our independence. What other concessions are we willing to make?

To what extent should politicians adhere to the Constitution (to what’s written there now)?

Of course, they should follow the laws… I don’t support the idea of revising the constitution, as Yulia Tymoshenko recently suggested. I think that if our politicians adhered to the supremacy of the law, the separation of powers, everything that’s already in the Constitution, things would be very good. But they don’t follow even 30% of it.

Is now the time to be concerned with LGBT rights?

Of course. I support civil partnerships. And people who are radical opponents of this, they have to be persuaded.

Will you attend the Pride march?

Yes, I’m ready to attend Pride.

What about abortion?

Regarding abortion, I think it should be legalized, as the prohibition of abortion does not solve the problem.

Photo credit: HROMADSKE

And the Church?

Breaking with and reducing the role of the Moscow Patriarchate in Ukraine is a no-brainer, as this is a political issue and a question of national security. It’s not even a matter of religion. As an atheist, I stand for maximum secularization, for the maximum reduction of the role of the Church in public life, and for maximum enlightenment coming from the position of scientific positivism.

What is your position on the increasing violence – and now murder – toward the Roma in Ukraine?

The state essentially let it happen. Impunity and not protecting the rights of the Roma brought about this attack. Who initiated it? I don’t know. But the state’s inaction certainly encouraged it.

Attacks on minorities should be condemned and such displays of xenophobia should not be allowed. Attacks on Roma settlements are definitely xenophobia.

What about the Azov Battalion?

While the actions of the Azov Battalion [regiment of Ukrainian National Guard notorious for ultraright views of some of its members –ed.] are in many regards sympathetic to me… Azov took part in some of the heaviest fightings to defend Donbas. As far as their efforts to defend Ukraine from Russian intervention, I appreciate Azov. But when some members of Azov – not all, some – support xenophobia, then this must be condemned.

In what situations can the state limit freedom of speech?

Only in the case if martial law is declared on the entire territory or part of it. If war is declared, then I would support it.

What is your position on language?

The second official language could only be English, or in a couple hundred years – some computing code that machines will invent. Russian is the language of a national minority, just like Crimean Tatar or Hungarian. These languages can be taught in specialized schools. Overall we need to support Ukrainianization, as this is a matter of national security.

/By Nataliya Gumenyuk

/Translated by Larissa Babij