Muck­raker quits in­ves­ti­gat­ing politi­cians to be­come one of them

Kyiv Post - - National - BY OLGA RU­DENKO RU­[email protected]

Dmytro Gnap has chal­lenged nearly ev­ery top politi­cian in Ukraine on his in­ves­tiga­tive tele­vi­sion show. Now he wants to clash with them on the bal­lot.

The 40-year-old jour­nal­ist, fa­mous for his in­ves­ti­ga­tions of the po­lit­i­cal es­tab­lish­ment and cor­rup­tion in law en­force­ment, stunned his view­ers on June 25 by an­nounc­ing that he will end his ca­reer in jour­nal­ism and move into pol­i­tics.

And he won’t start at the bot­tom ei­ther. The jour­nal­ist says he wants to run for pres­i­dent of Ukraine in the elec­tion sched­uled for March 2019.

“It’s a crazy idea,” Gnap said in his an­nounce­ment. “But only crazy ideas change the world.”

Gnap’s de­ci­sion comes as promi­nent politi­cians are throw­ing their hats into the ring. The lead­ing can­di­date for the pres­i­dency, for­mer prime min­is­ter and Batkivshchyna Party leader Yu­lia Ty­moshenko, un­of­fi­cially launched her cam­paign at a mass fo­rum of her sup­port­ers in Kyiv on June 15.

Ukrainian me­dia re­ported that the move un­nerved the camp of Pres­i­dent Petro Poroshenko, who hasn’t an­nounced his bid for re-elec­tion, but has hinted he will run. Re­cently both he and Ty­moshenko filled the streets of Kyiv with po­lit­i­cal ads, with Ty­moshenko an­nounc­ing a “new course for Ukraine” and Poroshenko ad­ver­tis­ing the achieve­ments of his pres­i­dency.

The lat­est polls, pub­lished on June 25 by the Kyiv In­ter­na­tional In­sti­tute of So­ci­ol­ogy, show Ty­moshenko in the lead with the sup­port of roughly 22 per­cent of vot­ers. Sev­eral per- cen­t­age points be­hind her is a tight clus­ter of com­peti­tors: ex-De­fense Min­is­ter Ana­toly Hryt­senko, Rad­i­cal Party leader Oleh Lyashko, and Op­po­si­tion Bloc leader Yuriy Boyko.

At the tail of this fron­trun­ner group is Poroshenko him­self, with 10.5 per­cent sup­port.

All th­ese can­di­dates have one thing in com­mon: they are po­lit­i­cal main­stays who have pre­vi­ously run for pres­i­dent, par­lia­ment, or both. All but Lyashko have held top gov­ern­ment posts.

This is where Gnap thinks he has an ad­van­tage: he is new.

Gnap un­der­stands that most of the coun­try is obliv­i­ous to his ex­is­tence. A jour­nal­ist's fame is mi­nus­cule com­pared to that of po­lit­i­cal stal­warts who have fre­quently ap­peared on na­tional tele­vi­sion for decades. Next to that, Gnap’s au­di­ence of some 80,000 Face­book fol­low­ers is small.

“It’s both a dis­ad­van­tage and an op­por­tu­nity,” he told the Kyiv Post in an in­ter­view on June 27. “It’s an op­por­tu­nity be­cause peo­ple want the new faces.”

He cites a sur­vey pub­lished in Jan­uary by the Razumkov Cen­ter that showed 67 per­cent of Ukraini­ans want new per­son­al­i­ties in pol­i­tics.

En­ter­ing pol­i­tics

In his years as an in­ves­tiga­tive jour­nal­ist, Gnap has ex­posed dozens, if not hun­dreds of of­fi­cials to be cor­rupt.

But it never led to any­thing: no one was pros­e­cuted and pun­ished, and cor­rup­tion con­tin­ued. Even­tu­ally Gnap couldn’t take it any­more.

“I can do 1,000 more in­ves­ti­ga­tions and ex­pose 2,000 more cor­rupt of­fi­cials,” he wrote when an­nounc­ing his foray into pol­i­tics. “But I see how they feel more and more re­laxed ev­ery year, how they laugh in our faces.”

So Gnap de­cided to step into the ring and try to change the sys­tem from the in­side.

“It’s like when you see some­one get­ting mugged and you ei­ther do noth­ing, shoot a video to share it on­line, or in­ter­fere,” he says. “Un­til now, I was the one stand­ing aside and shoot­ing a video. Now I’m in­ter­fer­ing.”

Sit­ting in a cafe in down­town Kyiv, Gnap pas­sion­ately ex­plains his rea­sons for run­ning, oc­ca­sion­ally bang­ing a fist on the table. With his deep voice, friendly man­ner and emo­tional de­liv­ery, he is easy to pic­ture on the par­lia­men­tary ros­trum. But get­ting there won’t be easy. Gnap does not yet have a for­mal­ized po­lit­i­cal plat­form or ex­pe­ri­ence in pub­lic ser­vice. But in the cur­rent sit­u­a­tion, he be­lieves it is more im­por­tant for a leader to have in­tegrity than skills.

“The most im­por­tant thing (for a can­di­date) is to be mo­ti­vated to use the high of­fice to change the coun­try, not to en­rich one­self,” he says.

The cor­ner­stone of his agenda is to stop cor­rup­tion — in all of its man­i­fes­ta­tions.

“Cor­rup­tion is Ukraine’s big­gest prob­lem. Not even the war, but cor­rup­tion,” says Gnap, who him­self comes from Donetsk, a city in

east­ern Ukraine that since 2014 has been oc­cu­pied by Rus­sia.

Fu­ture part­ners

As a newly minted politi­cian, Gnap doesn’t have a party, but has an idea of where to find one.

He doesn’t want to en­ter any of the ex­ist­ing blocs, but looks to join a new al­liance of demo­cratic forces.

Such an al­liance would unite the re­formist politi­cians who are ei­ther in­de­pen­dent or look­ing to switch their party al­le­giances — in­clud­ing Poroshenko Bloc law­mak­ers and for­mer jour­nal­ists Sergii Leshchenko, Mustafa Nayyem, and Svit­lana Zal­ishchuk, and the head of the Demo­cratic Al­liance party, Kyiv City Coun­cil mem­ber Va­syl Gatsko.

Gnap wants demo­cratic politi­cians to hold a pri­mary to choose a sin­gle can­di­date for the 2019 pres­i­den­tial elec­tion. The idea of pri­maries, new for Ukraine, is cur­rently be­ing widely dis­cussed among op­po­si­tion politi­cians.

If he doesn’t win the nom­i­na­tion in the pri­maries, Gnap will join the team of the win­ning can­di­date and be in charge of re­form­ing the Se­cu­rity Ser­vice of Ukraine, or SBU, and the Pros­e­cu­tor Gen­eral’s Of­fice. Many of his in­ves­ti­ga­tions fo­cused on prose­cu­tors and SBU.

Gnap says that, since his an­nounce­ment, no po­lit­i­cal par­ties or oli­garchs have con­tacted him in search of an al­liance.

Pub­licly, his an­nounce­ment has met a mixed re­sponse.

Ser­hiy Vlasenko, a law­maker with Batkivshchyna party and a close ally of Ty­moshenko, said pol­i­tics should be left to pro­fes­sion­als.

“When I hear of an­other jour­nal­ist going into pol­i­tics, I have a sim­ple ques­tion: is our jour­nal­ism at the high­est pos­si­ble level al­ready?” he wrote on Face­book. Oth­ers wel­comed Gnap’s de­ci­sion. “Here, in the jun­gle, it’s sim­ple,” wrote Leshchenko. “The more there are nor­mal peo­ple, the fewer there are bas­tards.”

Wait­ing for elec­tions

With pres­i­den­tial elec­tions still eight months away and par­lia­men­tary elec­tions set for Oc­to­ber 2019, Gnap will now fo­cus on build­ing his pub­lic pro­file.

He is about to launch an ad­vo­cacy cam­paign to stop the law en­force­ment agen­cies — and es­pe­cially the SBU — from ha­rass­ing busi­nesses.

His other fo­cus prior to the elec­tion is to talk to peo­ple about how cor­rup­tion isn’t ab­stract, but di­rectly af­fects ev­ery­day life. A good ex­am­ple, Gnap says, is util­i­ties’ prices. As peo­ple strug­gle to pay their bills for wa­ter, gas, and elec­tric­ity, a lot of what they pay is stolen through cor­rupt schemes, he says.

Be­cause he has lit­tle chance of get­ting on ma­jor TV chan­nels, which are con­trolled by oli­garchs, Gnap thinks this cam­paign will help him gain some much-needed renown.

He hopes that more peo­ple like him will soon take the leap into pol­i­tics.

“The more there are of us, the harder it will be to break us,” he says.

Dmytro Gnap rides the sub­way in Kyiv on June 27, two days af­ter he an­nounced he quit jour­nal­ism for pol­i­tics. He wants to par­tic­i­pate in the pres­i­den­tial elec­tion set for March 2019. (Volodymyr Petrov)

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