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Saakashvili star of major anti-corruption forum in Kyiv

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Odesa Oblast Governor Mikheil Saakashvili and singer-activist Ruslana Lyzhychko sing the national anthem at the beginning of the Anti-Corruption Forum in Kyiv on Dec. 23. (Anastasia Vlasova)

Odesa Governor Mikheil Saakashvili took center stage at one of the nation’s largest forums devoted to devising strategies to combat graft on Dec. 23 in Kyiv. Its outcome was just that, a nationwide movement that the former Georgian president said should be called the “Ukrainian Movement for Cleansing.”

Odesa Governor Mikheil Saakashvili took center stage at one of the nation’s largest forums devoted to devising strategies to combat graft on Dec. 23 in Kyiv. Its outcome was just that, a nationwide movement that the former Georgian president said should be called the “Ukrainian Movement for Cleansing.”

As dozens of fans trailed him at the International Exhibition Center, taking pictures and sometimes breaking into spontaneous applause, he accused President Petro Poroshenko’s administration and Prime Minister Arseny Yatsenyuk’s government of corruption.

“Many people here think that we gathered to announce the creation of a new political party. But that’s not right. Our meeting isn’t for that at all. At those kind of meetings everybody just listens to the politicians. Here we’re giving everyone the chance to speak,” said Saakashvili.

More than 6,200 people attended the event with Hr 1.2 million being donated in three days by citizens, according to Vasyl Hatsko, leader of the pro-reformist Democratic Alliance party, a co-organizer of the event.

Delegates worked out a vision for fighting graft, Hatsko said. “This was the first time that money from the public was collected for such a large-scale event. The next forum will take place in Kharkiv on Jan. 18,” he said.

Some of the top names that dominated the event included corruption fighters, experts, journalists, activists and current and former lawmakers.

However, much like public speakers during the EuroMaidan Revolution, hardly anybody listened to them. Instead, after all the speeches, people tried to corner lawmakers and ask for help.

They didn’t get much help, however.

“Stop pushing your letters at me. I can’t help everybody, and that’s not my job,” said lawmaker Serhiy Leshchenko when an activist from Zhovti Vody pleaded for help. “I have only one assistant, who writes 20 lawmaker’s requests a day for a small fee. You should get together and fight injustice on your own.”

Free candy, loud words

The forum was launched by a team comprising of Saakashvili, the New Country civic platform, Free Economy Center of Kaha Bendukidze, Open University of Maidan, Chesno movement, Automaidan group, Democratic Alliance and People’s Force political parties.

The forum consisted of six panels in two halls, during which speakers gave their views on how Ukraine should fight corrupt officials, such as not paying bribes.

Lawmakers Svitlana Zalishchuk, Leshchenko, Mustafa Nayem, Yegor Sobolev, Dmytro Dobrodomov, Oleksandr Chernenko as well as anti-corruption activist Vitaly Shabunyn, deputy prosecutor Davit Sakvarilidze, Russian businessman Yevgeny Chychvarkin, TV journalist Savik Shuster, former Defense Minister Anatoly Hrytsenko and former Security Service chief Valentyn Nalyvaychenko spoke from the stage and called on the audience to create a coalition.

Zalishchuk said those battling bribery should move from words to deeds.

Sobolev, the head of parliament’s anti-corruption committee, bemoaned the lack of change.

“Our old system of kleptocracy hasn’t disappeared; it just put on a vyshyvanka (embroidered shirt) and took up Ukrainian flags in both hands,” he said.

While lofty words and claims blared from the stage in one hall, dozens of visitors gathered in another hall for free candy, muffins and other treats from the Zhytomyr confectionery.

Saakashvili says he’s not afraid

The star of the evening, Saakashvili, closed the forum late with a passionate speech. Odesa’s governor talked for 40 minutes – the longest of all the speakers. But the audience listened and seemed to applaud every single word.

“If somebody asks me what stands in the way of Ukraine’s path to a better life, I will say there are three things: Corruption, Corruption, Corruption! And I would be right,” Saakashvili boomed.

Two years after the EuroMaidan Revolution that drove President Viktor Yanukovych from power, the situation in Ukraine had worsened, he said, claiming Yatsenyuk was even more corrupt than Yanukovych-era Prime Minister Mykola Azarov.

“I’ve asked a lot of people and businessmen, and they say that the price of bribes has even climbed since the Yanukovych era. I won’t let (political leaders) disappoint or betray my country and my people for a second time, as they did after the Orange Revolution,” said Saakashvili. “They keep telling me to get out of Ukraine. But I’ll say I’m not afraid of either Senya or Benya,” he added, referring to his conflicts with Yatsenyuk and oligarch Igor Kolomoisky.

In the end, Saakashvili offered 10 steps on how to turn Ukraine from the most corrupt country in Europe into its most successful country, including overhauls of the tax, administrative, customs and judicial system.

story by Veronika Melkozerova

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