Why Ukraine’s Mini Sex Scandal Is a Sign of Progress

A legislator resigns after getting caught texting a lover. Ukraine’s parliament finally knows: the people are watching.

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Andrei Miroshnik is having a bad week. Last Thursday, when he was still a member of the Ukrainian parliament, a sharp-eyed photographer caught him in the act of texting during a parliamentary session. That alone probably wouldn’t have amounted to much of a scandal in a national legislature known in the past for its fistfights. In this case, though, it was the content of Miroshnik’s messages that proved eye-opening. In one, he discusses booking a $27,000 family vacation to the Maldives — and mentions lying to someone he calls “the boss” about the cost of the trip. In another, he flirts with a woman named Olya: “Instead of thinking about the country,” he writes, “I’m thinking about my beloved, who is solving global issues with an ear of corn.” The precise meaning of the cryptic remark may never be known, but it certainly sounds, shall we say, intimate. And as Ukraine’s pugnacious press has delighted in pointing out, Miroshnik’s wife’s name is Inna.

Just one day later — after what was presumably a spirited discussion among his fellow Samopomich party delegates — Miroshnik tendered his resignation, apologizing if any of his voters found his behavior “unworthy” and saying he wants to be a “free man.” He may just get his wish — according to another cheeky Ukrainian news site, poor Inna has filed for divorce.

So is this latest episode just another depressing reminder that — despite years of agonizing reform — Ukrainian politics remains a bit of a farce?

In fact, though, it’s entirely possible to make the argument that this particular scandal represents a real sign of democratic progress. Precisely because of its former role as a rubber stamp for the ruling party, the parliament under Ukraine’s kleptocratic former president was filled with all manner of regime stooges (and relatives), oligarchs, and crooks. Needless to say, none of these unsavory characters ever dreamed of resigning from their cushy sinecures for any reason less than revolution — much less for being caught sending salacious text messages. Miroshnik’s resignation, on the other hand, came just a day after his public embarrassment, fueled by social media outrage and gleeful retelling of the story across dozens of web sites.

Part of the difference lies in the nature of Samopomich, the political party Miroshnik used to represent. This party — a genuinely new phenomenon in national Ukrainian politics — originated in the progressive western city of Lviv as a grassroots civic movement. The movement swelled as its founder and patron, Andriy Sadovyi, cemented his popularity with a successful and ongoing tenure as Lviv’s mayor. After Sadoviy was first elected in 2006, the Samopomich movement continued to work closely with his administration, both to provide support and to keep him accountable to the grassroots. The movement became an official political party in 2012 and entered the national parliament after the 2014 elections with a strong third-place showing. Samopomich prides itself on its youth, its pro-western credentials, and its freshness. Of its 33 legislators, not a single one had ever been in parliament before.

It’s perhaps for this reason that the party’s legislators see Miroshnik’s ruin as embarrassing, but also as a sign of its vitality. Because of its origins as a civic movement closely aligned with the administration of a small city, Samopomich delegates are used to being watched at every turn by their own supporters. When the scandal was publicized, they knew they had to act right away. “We have no chance to survive in such a situation,” said Ostap Protsyk, a Samopomich activist and advisor to mayor Sadoviy. “Other parties can ignore it, you know? ‘Who cares about some text messages?’ We can’t afford something like that. We have to be very, very cautious.” Lev Pidlisetskyy, one of Samopomich’s legislators, agrees: “In other parties, and in former times, you could steal millions. Billions! And they didn’t care. And in this example, you had a fault and you resign.”

Such comments may sound self-serving coming from members of a political party trying to spin an embarrassing situation — but it’s actually true that Miroshnik’s resignation marked the first time in modern Ukrainian history when a lawmaker resigned for such a relatively minor misstep.

And the comments on the party’s Facebook announcement of the resignation are overwhelmingly positive. “I voted for your party,” writes one, “and I haven’t regretted it for a day! Don’t give up, guys!” Another writes: “This is a precedent, gentlemen. This situation is quite unpleasant, and arouses NO respect for the individual in question, but his reaction is worthy of respect. This is how people act in democratic countries.” Perhaps we shouldn’t overplay it. Ultimately this is just a story about one disgraced former legislator, one presumably cancelled Maldives vacation, and one boisterous news cycle. But if Ukraine’s lawmakers are finally beginning to learn that there are consequences for misbehavior, surely that’s something worth celebrating.

Photo Credit: AP Photo/Sergei Chuzavkov

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