March 31st, Simferopol – it’s like any other Sunday. The denizens go to the park, go to the supermarket, take their kids to church and then maybe to the circus. Absolutely nobody is talking about the Ukrainian presidential election. It’s a non-issue to most Crimeans.
I ask the lady who runs my local corner-shop what thoughts, if any, she has about it.
“Oh, they’re all as bad as each other,” she says, “I’m equally disdainful of all three of the principal candidates, and ultimately, it doesn’t matter which one of them wins.”
I smile, and answer that I have a funny feeling I might hear the same opinion repeated often as the day progresses.
The taxi-driver who takes me into the centre of town expresses the view that the outcome of the election is meaningless, because “Ukraine is just a puppet-state with a puppet-president.”
And so it goes. After I’ve heard similar attitudes expressed by over half a dozen different people, I decide that I will have to probe deeper to get some worthwhile copy.
I ask a young couple who have brought their daughter to the playground in Trinova Park what they think of the election. Once the husband expresses the same view – that the outcome simply doesn’t matter – I follow up:
“But even if all of the leading candidates are disastrous, it might be too simplistic to say that all possible outcomes are of equal value. Crimea is under an international embargo. There’s a humanitarian crisis in Donbass. We still have to try to gauge which candidate is the lesser evil, in terms of trying to begin meaningful negotiations in an attempt to ameliorate those practical problems….”
“Well, if you put it that way,” answers the young husband, “then maybe Zelensky is the least bad option. Zero experience, but he’s probably the most honest of them. Personally, I would have preferred Yuriy Boyko, because he’s not against Russia or against the Russian language in principle, and he wants to normalize relations with us, but of course he has no chance of winning.”
After a few more seconds, he adds “Ukraine needs somebody like Lukashenko.”
On the question of Zelensky’s inexperience, his wife says she doesn’t necessarily agree that it’s a disadvantage.
“Most politicians are too experienced,” she says, “The longer they spend in politics as a profession, the more they become disconnected from ordinary people, and the more disconnected they cognitively become from reality. Their faculty of judgment deteriorates the longer they spend in the job. Young inexperienced politicians almost always sound smarter than older ones. By the age of 55, most of them have just degenerated into tired, cynical, slogan-repeating, brainless robots. Living in that bubble gradually damages their IQ.”
I ask another young couple outside the circus on Gorkova, and once they begin to tell me that the result is meaningless, I come back with my “meaningful negotiations” follow-up again. In this case, the young husband answers “Meaningful negotiations are with Washington, not Kiev.”
Outside the city municipal library, I meet a retired military officer who served in the Soviet Air Force and was an elite boxing-trainer. He tells me that he was on the coaching-staff which prepared boxers for the 1980 Moscow Olympics. He lives in Sevastopol, but has a Ukrainian branch in his family, from Chernigovskaya Oblast, and he can speak Ukrainian well.
Regarding the Ukrainian election, he says “Well, when I saw Poroshenko wearing that Banderite symbol on the shoulder of his jacket, it was a disgrace. He’s not only glorifying nationalists – he’s glorifying actual Nazis. But he himself is not even a fully-fledged nationalist – he’s simply afraid of them, so he lets them kill as many Donbass civilians as they want. He’s just too weak and cowardly to exercise the authority of his office. He said that he would end the war – he didn’t end the war. He said that, if he was elected, he would sell his business – he didn’t sell his business. I would express a preference for Zelensky, but he’s only a front-man for Kolomoysky.” (Igor Kolomoysky, Ukrainian-Israeli oligarch)
Close to the roundabout at Soviet Square, another young man, once again, tells me that the Ukrainian election is just a show, just a silly soap-opera, and that he finds all of the leading candidates equally ridiculous.
I ask him “Okay, but if you had to pick one as the lesser evil, what would you say?”
With a smile, he simply answers “Putin!”
When I ask my friend Sergey, he answers “Anyone but Tymoshenko – she’s so corrupt.”
I ask him “But isn’t professional competence more important than that? If you have a choice between a dirty politician who’s professionally competent and a dirty politician who’s also incompetent, then isn’t the incompetent one still likely to do more damage? Poroshenko is just a dead end.”
“No matter who gets elected, it’s a dead end,” he answers.
Personally, I don’t think that history supports that view – dead ends never actually do continue forever. Something always changes in the end, even if it’s only in reaction to collective desperation. If dead ends were permanent situations, then Europe would never have started recovering from the dark ages. If nature abhors a vacuum, then history abhors a dead end. In the end, the process of history itself always produces some solution, even if the solution is simply the collapse or implosion of a civilization, or the self-destruction of a narod. That’s a solution in itself, at least.