Chernovetskiy interviewed by Segodnya, part 1.
- We rarely see you now. Where do you currently live? How often do you come to Kiev? I will not tell you where I live, because I know you will surely want to pop in, take pictures, collect some gossip about me… For example, about rejuvenation, or hundreds of bodyguards. What nonsense! I’ve never did rejuvenation: I’ve always liked my age. When I’m abroad, including in Georgia, I never use bodyguards – there’s nothing to be afraid of… I spend time with my children and grandchildren. Gradually I’m readjusting after Kiev business life. I have lots of interesting plans. I often come to Kiev, but I don’t show up in public. I’m tired from publicity.
- You often come to Georgia. As we have seen, people in Georgia know and adore you. They say that you are investing in the Georgian economy. We were told that you invest in ski resorts, hotels, that you bought land in Kobuleti. Is anything of this true? I love Georgia! It’s a wonderful country. It has fascinating landscapes: mountains, sea, rivers with blue water. There is also delicious cuisine with many traditions. But more importantly, it’s the people. Georgians are like children – kind and very, very frank and forthright. They are very hospitable. I feel very comfortable when I’m among them. But I also go to other countries – to Europe or to Israel, for instance. I don’t go farther than that. But I can work anywhere thanks to the Internet. Right now I’m creating an international investment fund which will help many talented people (and not only in Ukraine) to get into business and start making money. But what is even more important, to fully realise their potential. I find new ways to get involved in philanthropy. I visit successful foreign charities, especially those dealing with abandoned children, I’m learning… I want to create similar institutions in Ukraine and Georgia. I really enjoy donating money to charity.
A for investing in Georgia … So far I haven’t made any major investments in the Georgian economy. So there’s nothing to discuss. I’m contemplating…
But I know that Ukrainian entrepreneurs invest money here and their investments pay off. Mostly they invest in tourism. Unfortunately, I’m not an expert here…
- Today, politicians give different forecasts about the date of elections of the Kiev mayor. You are the only one who haven’t said anything. When do you think the elections should be held? Who do you think can become the next mayor? As a lawyer, I have to say that the elections had to be held within two months after my resignation [in May 2012]. But it’s about politics now, not about the laws. So I can’t give any estimates. It’s a big mess now. I resigned, so that the elections could be held earlier. This is my moral stance. I’m not going to run for the mayor’s office.
I think that the next mayor should be somebody who can win the trust of the people of Kiev: very resourceful, kind and honest. Not somebody who is looking to curry favour with the public, whose reputation is based on protesting, who never suggested anything constructive. I do not want to promote anyone, because, for obvious reasons, it can do more harm than good. I just want to say that the people of Kiev deserve to live in a European capital and they can make the right choice.
- When you used to be the mayor, members of parliament were elected party-list proportional representation. The parliament became a political arena, and it was hard to make any decisions. Do you think that in a mixed system, with the return of majority elections, it would have been easier for you to work with the MPs? I strongly believe in proportional representation. Parties, in my opinion, have to be accountable to voters for their factions and implement the policies which they proclaimed and which the voters supported. Those elected in the majority system are rarely consistent. They often pursue their own interests that have nothing to do with the interests of people who elected them.
Unfortunately, the political doctrine of some oppositional forces focused exclusively on fighting for power: slandering opponents, insulting them, screaming like crazy that the people of Kiev have been swindled and cheated, with not a single constructive suggestion. By the way this is the tactics of the boxer–politician and his political force. During the six years of my mayorship, he hasn’t come up with a single constructive idea. But he regularly started fights in the city hall. Only once he came to see me in my office, asking for a land spot somewhere, I think, near the Brovary parking area, ostensibly for his charity boxing club. During that meeting I suggested that instead of fighting he should assign some of his people to work in my administration and manage Kiev together with me. But I never saw him again.
I think he is only interested in power, not in the constructive work. I do not know exactly why he needs it. He doesn’t have any political ideology… He is an opposition impostor… I hope it’s not because he wants to do something bad that he craves power for… Most likely he wants to always be a winner, like in boxing (take his revenge in Kiev at the same time), but he thinks little about what will be after the victory.
Anyway, I’m for the proportional representation. Sooner or later, the parties will get on their feet and start working in the interest of their constituencies. This will be a different authority and different – in a good way – life for Ukrainians.
- Your term of office as a mayor has ended. What are your achievements and your mistakes?
I think that I was a successful mayor.
1. After my first year as a mayor, I increased Kiev’s budget revenues fivefold. These huge sums were hidden from the people of Kiev by the previous administration, and I got this money out of the dark.
2. I started a hot line in Kiev, one of the largest in Ukraine, which instantly responded to any problems of the people in Kiev: we received up to 11,000 calls daily, and I made sure that all the reported problems were reviewed with personal accountability of my team members for finding solutions.
3. All major decisions in the Kiev City Council and the Kiev City Administration were made only after I discussed them live with all the people of Kiev. These discussions were very open, opinions varied dramatically: it was a live audience that made decisions with which I agreed. I was the only one in Ukraine who conducted public hearings at such a level.
4. Once I came to power, I introduced social benefits for more than half a million people in Kiev, and only the ruthless economic crisis of 2008–2009 forced me to cancel them. This aid from the city budget was not only for “Chernovetskiy’s grandmas”, as the media like to wisecrack, but also for doctors and teachers.
5. During my tenure, major infrastructure projects were started: a metro line to Teremki, interchanges on the Moskovskaya Square, Gavansky bridge. Unfortunately, I have not been able to complete these projects: the lack of support from the central government and the crisis of 2008 forced me to suspend them. But I am proud that these projects started during my tenure and were completed when I still was a mayor – although there were new people in the Kiev City Administration. On the other hand, the Heart Centre, the metro station Krasny Khutor, schools, kindergartens, and many other facilities were built and opened by me!
As for mistakes… I’ll give you a frank answer. There were mistakes and blunders, and there was corruption, of course, just as in other parts of the country. Just as everywhere else, but the thing is Kiev and the rest of the country are incomparable in terms of scale. Personally, I have not purchased anything in Kiev or in Ukraine for that matter, I haven’t privatised even a tiny spot of land, or a company. Even though it wasn’t illegal. I had my legitimately earned money I could spend – in 2008 I sold my Pravex bank to one of Europe’s largest financial groups for $750 million. Yet, because I think that the rules of privatisation in this country are unfair and biased, I didn’t want to be part of it.
My main mistake, which is still hurting me, was my excessive unyieldingness during my tenure as the Kiev mayor and underestimating the consequences of my independence. My growing popularity with the residents and my innovative decisions aimed at improving the living standards of those who desperately needed my care (I’m talking about people with a monthly income of $100–200) collapsed the authority in Kiev. All of my decisions focusing on the city’s most burning issues were started to be cancelled by decrees of the President or the Cabinet of Ministers, by court rulings fixed up by politicians, or they were grossly perverted by the media.
For example, my decision to increase utility rates fivefold for casinos, pawn shops, banks, insurance companies, high-net-worth Kiev residents, etc. in the interest of more than 600,000 people in Kiev, who lived off small salaries or pensions, were vetoed three times by Presidential decrees, once by the Cabinet of Ministers and numerous court rulings. By the way, according to the law, only courts had the authority to overrule my decisions. The arguments against my decisions did not stand up to scrutiny: according to the Constitution of Ukraine, all citizens are equal, which means that the rates for gas, electricity and water have to be the same for everyone… I’m not against equality and major ploys of the Constitution, but I only wanted to raise rates for those individuals, who, for example, routinely have restaurant dinners costing three times more than the pension of some poor old woman.
I wanted to make people in Kiev pay for healthcare, bit only those who already did it – for most Kiev residents, healthcare would be completely free. I wanted to take a hard line on corruption and eliminate it altogether, raise salaries for doctors. The Ministry of Justice didn’t let me do it, and the media reported that I wanted to make all people pay for healthcare.
Of course, there were projects that we never put into action, but they could significantly increase the city’s revenues and would benefit the people of Kiev. For example, a fee imposed on non-Kiev vehicles for entering the city (the proceeds were supposed to be spent on the restoration of Kiev’s architectural landmarks), higher fines for parking cars on lawns, the social card of the Kiev resident, luxury tax, community shops and more…
My biggest disappointment during the period of my tenure was the winter of 2009–2010. I’m still overwhelmed with what happened back then on the roads and sidewalks, and most importantly, with what happened to many people in Kiev.
Heads of district administrations decided to boycott me completely, it was like a mutiny. But it was legal. I couldn’t fire them. They got carried away with the presidential elections, campaigning, spreading leaflets tarnishing a particular candidate, and to undermine my authority in the city, they stopped cleaning snow from the streets. As the winter was very harsh, freezing temperatures often caused slippery surfaces, and people broke their arms and legs, hospitals were filled with the injured. I could do nothing to help them. This was probably the worst time of my life. Something snapped inside me. I was very upset and became seriously ill because my health was undermined. But let’s talk about this next time we meet. I was devastated psychologically, because most victims were unaware that janitors and cleaning equipment were under responsibility of heads of district administrations. In fact, most of them never knew heads of their district administrations. People knew me and counted on me. But I couldn’t do anything.
Incidentally, to help the current head of the Kiev City Administration, I made sure the Kiev City Council eliminated district councils – it would be a huge mistake to bring them back.
- Where are you going to run for the parliament in the majority system? They say that you used to have offices in Odessa, Crimea, Poltava region. What conclusions have you made after so many years in politics?Ukrainian politics has no rules or trust. There is a lot of envy and sleaze. So this time I will not run for the Supreme Council (not because I’m afraid to lose – I was elected five times, I don’t see why I should lose this time): I’ll wait and look at the political landscape, and if I see that the Parliament needs me, I will run in one of the majority districts. But honestly, now I do not even want to think about it. I’ll wait for the right moment. But I don’t shut myself off from the politics – I stay in touch with all the news… And who would let me retire from politics? People want to know my opinion on various issues. I sparkle their interest! Although in recent years the media has been trashing me, believe me, time will repair my reputation. And it will only take a couple of years. Then we shall meet again to discuss my plans in politics.
- Have you seen your newborn grandchildren?Absolutely. Cool guys!
- You said that your son Stepan Chernovetskiy is an international businessman. What does he do now in Spain? Where does he live? Internet ventures, real estate development, financial projects. Although he is only 33, he has rich business experience and a good team of people who worked with him in Pravex bank. Stepan has a great future! But unlike me, Stepan is not a politician. He is a modest man, he doesn’t like publicity. After this interview, he will lecture me saying I shouldn’t have mentioned his name again… By the way, he strongly believes that you should commit yourself to only one thing, either politics or business, and I respect that. If I could think like him, it would have achieved much more. But what I did was trying to keep a foot in both camps…
- Based on your tax return for 2011, you sold quite a lot: you no longer have a house or an apartment. Where do you live? I’ve got everything. I gave the apartments to my wife and children. I’ve been living in the same house since 1995 when I became a member of the Supreme Council of Ukraine, then the mayor, and I have the same cars.
- Do you keep in touch with your ex–mother–in-law Lucia Stepanovna, of whom you spoke with affection when you invited journalists?Certainly we keep in touch! I call her (she is abroad now), ask her how she feels. When she comes to Kiev, she stays with me in the same house where I “spoke about her with affection” when I met journalists. My opinion about her hasn’t changed. She is a very kind hearted person!
- You are the president of the Ukrainian Credit–Banking Union. What is the purpose of this organisation and what is your responsibility as its president? For more than 10 years I have been the head of the Ukrainian Credit–Banking Union which includes most of Ukrainian banks. In a nutshell, it is a lobbying organisation in a good way, which protects the interests of banks and the banking system as a whole.
Its philosophy is as follows: banks are the blood of the market economy and a healthy banking system is a guarantee of a healthy economy. Obviously, I’m not talking about protecting banks that break the laws of Ukraine. I’m talking about protecting banks against the government’s abuse, disrupting their normal economic operations. We protect bank secrecy (the authorities are extremely interested in your deposit account balance), we oppose taxes on deposit accounts, and of course we push for economic regulations allowing banks to earn decent income, thus increasing their equity capital, so that they can become more reliable and safer as a place for keeping your money.
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