This week on Facebook I was attacked as not being a “Western expert” because I am critical of Petro Poroshenko’s biography and have a preference from the two leading presidential candidates for Yulia Tymoshenko. Such attacks say more of course about those who launch them than they do about those such as myself who are attacked.
Somebody who believes in such a way is a Homo Sovieticus who is intolerant of anything that he or she does not agree with. In their world the only way I could remain a “Western expert” is by supporting Poroshenko and not investigating his biography. Such people wish to dissect every aspect of Tymoshenko’s life but not their candidate’s and believe there is only one true candidate. This reminds me of the Soviet Union where voters also had only one person to vote for who was placed on a high platform and could not be too closely scrutinized.
There are three reasons why the real world is a very different place to this Homo Sovieticus world.
Firstly, each candidate (just like each person) has a personal history as nobody enters an election without historical baggage. It is the job of experts, journalists, and civil society to analyze and scrutinize this baggage in as objective way as possible. In the case of Tymoshenko there are two episodes in her life that arouse criticism – the Pavlo Lazarenko era and the 2009 gas contract but she has not repeatedly changed her ideological camp.
Poroshenko, as the Brussels-based EU Observer (http://euobserver.com/opinion/123965) writes, is difficult to trust because his “track record reads like a manual of party-hopping. He has been a near-permanent presence on the Ukrainian political scene, cautiously supporting all major political figures at different times.” Furthermore, “Poroshenko has been at times a leftist, a centrist and a rightist, at once pro-West and pro-Moscow.”
Secondly, each person and especially internationally recognized experts have a right to an opinion; after all, this is what we teach in Western universities so that our students become independently thinking adults. American academic colleagues I know have worked on Barrack Obama’s election campaigns – so does that make them lesser experts? Or is that okay and they would only lose their status as experts if they worked for George Bush?
In fact, this author had sympathy for Vitaliy Klitschko but he had no backbone to stand up to Dmytro Firtash and pulled out of the elections when it should have been Poroshenko who pulled out. When it comes to a choice of supporting (and advising my father who is a Ukrainian citizen and voter) whom to vote for when the choice is between Firtash/Serhiy Lyovochkin/Yuriy Boyko (Poroshenko) and Tymoshenko I can only choose the latter.
If I believed Ukrainians should not vote for a twice-convicted ex-convict such as Viktor Yanukovych, why should I also not be critical towards supporting Poroshenko whose election campaign is funded by Firtash who is likely to go to American jail for decades for his ties to organized crime and high level corruption?
There is no free lunch anywhere in politics and of course the gas lobby expects rewards from Poroshenko if he becomes Ukraine’s next President.
Thirdly, there are very few Western experts on Ukraine in general (probably no more than 25) and I am the second most quoted in academic publications, according to a new study presented last month at the annual convention of ASN (Association for the Study of Nationalities) in Columbia University, New York. In terms of media publications I am the most quoted Western writer on Ukraine. No other Ukrainian Diaspora leader or Western expert on Ukraine is followed by 1,500 people as I am on Twitter. My personal views have not therefore led policymakers, journalists, and academics to take into doubt my expertise.
Western and Ukrainian experts have a right to their opinion and can choose to support any of the candidates in the May 25 elections – that is the European way. The Homo Sovieticus way is to argue that only supporting Poroshenko permits you to still be a “Western expert.”
This intolerance is not a good sign coming from the Poroshenko camp as it reminds me of their candidate’s heavy handed attitude to politics in 2005 and 2006 that proved disastrous for the Orange coalition and helped Yanukovych to return to power.