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“We Knew The Country Was in Bad Shape”

3 minute read

A leader of Ukraine’s Orange Revolution, Yuliya Tymoshenko, 44, has been a successful businesswoman and a political prisoner. Now she’s the country’s new Prime Minister. She spoke to TIME’s Yuri Zarakhovich at her office in the Cabinet building in Kiev.

Is the Orange Revolution a model for other countries in Russia’s “near abroad”?
The Orange Revolution stands for the faith of the people in their own strength. The dejection in post-Soviet — and not just post-Soviet — countries was bred by the feeling that the people couldn’t change anything in politics. Georgia and Ukraine prove that when the people trust in themselves, the politicians grow compliant.

Is the drive behind the Orange Revolution fizzling out?
The festive part is all forgotten. Our drive now is in working hard. It will likely take more time and effort to fix things than we ever supposed.

What are your priorities as Prime minister?
We knew the country was in bad shape; we didn’t know just how bad it was. We have to tackle the moral and financial degradation of the state — widespread corruption, shadow businesses, a stagnating economy — right away. Normal people who want to invest in Ukraine are scared to come. This fear must be overcome.

The government’s opponents say that your reprivatization process will hurt investment in ukraine.
All the properties that were commercially valuable were brazenly carved up by [President Leonid Kuchma’s] entourage over the last decade. All the rest was left to rot. Everything that went through legal procedures established for privatization is inviolable. But whatever was handed out for free to the entourage of the previous President will be scrutinized. But it’ll be done by a court, not by the government.

The President talked about 30 or 40 businesses; you talked about 3,000.
The President was talking about an approximate number of strategic objects. I talked in terms of the number of businesses that the office of the Prosecutor General has scrutinized over the last 12 years and has found irregularities. Should the courts rule that a business must be auctioned again, the previous owners will be compensated. They can also keep their business, if they pay its real price.

How can you tell legitimate privatized businesses from illegitimate ones when you claim the office of the Prosecutor General is corrupt?
There are honest, competent prosecutors who honestly did their work. But all the irregularities they discovered were hushed up.

Your opponents claim you benefited from improper privatizations in the 1990s.
I left business in 1996; privatization began in 1998. The business that I launched was in trade. My past life does — and my future life will — show that I love my country and want to serve it.

Russia has put your name on the Interpol wanted list for alleged bribes to russian military officials.
I’m sure that now all those corruption charges will crumble. Russia has placed itself in an awkward situation, but I’m quite willing to help Russia get out of this with the hope that our relationship will be equal and friendly.

How will you reassure people in Eastern Ukraine, where many regard you with suspicion, that you’re working in their best interests?
People in the east lived in a tightly restricted, closed information space. So let’s open their information space and replace propaganda with information. Then they’ll understand that they have not lost the election but won, just like the rest of the country.

Should people invest in Ukraine right now?
Rush! Ukraine’s current beautiful image truly matches the reality.

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