Tossing aside all the obvious attacks on people with criminal records or known to have broken the law in other ways running for office, the gangsters, crooked has-beens and swindlers, I’d like to talk about the campaign as a political activity supported by professional image-makers and advertising specialists.
The news is not good.
Take Nasha Ukraina. Funereal music accompanied its first series of radio and television ads, with a voice over talking about “them” wanting to come to power and “you” remember what “you” stood for “then.” The TV commercial contained all the emblems and images that everyone remembers from last winter. That was pretty terrible, focusing on nothing but nostalgia and not offering anything to voters. Now there’s a second series of ads talking about “our” achievements—accompanied by the same funereal music. But at least it’s now on the right track in terms of positive focus and talking about results.
Party of the Regions does marginally better in the content area but the quality of their visuals is appallingly low-grade. Their content, also talks about how “everything” is worse “now,” so what is their solution? “We’ll raise pensions, that’s what we’ll do.” Last time Mr. Yanukovych raised pensions, in September 2004 inflation skyrocketed and the economy began to go into a tailspin that it still hasn’t recovered from.
The Socialist Party has a lovely disconnect in its ads. “We’ll take care of the children of the war. These are the people who rebuilt our country after WWII. Vote for the future, vote for the Socialist Party.” Say what? Giving more benefits to people who, as pensioners and veterans, already have most of those benefits anyway, is a vote for the future? I have nothing against supporting the elderly, but last time I looked, most nations consider the future to be their children and youth, not people who were under 18 in September 1945.
The Bloc of Yulia Tymoshenko has done little in the way of broadcast advertising. That should say something right there. Instead, BYT has been carrying out a cutesy campaign of ribbons with hearts that are pasted and tied everywhere possible, with or without the permission of those on whose property it’s being done. Mama Yulia, with her variously shaded fake braid with the same red heart beating on her pristine Chanel-covered breast on posters. The lady deserves an Oscar for Best Actress—but not my vote.
The Communists. The poor Communists. Their ratings have been slowly seeping into the basement and it’s looking like they might not even get 3%. So they’ve finally started a television campaign. But wait! What’s this? A pretty girl in a leotard starts to dance ballet before a geeky young guy in glasses, who proceeds to drop his papers while she tosses a red (Reds, get it?) transparent kerchief across the screen. The new, improved, youth-oriented Communist Party? The next ad shows a crew-cut blond dude in a blue tank top on a bench trying to press a serious-looking barbell and failing. A dark-haired dude in a red tank-top (Reds, get it?) comes up and lifts the barbell with nary a flinch. The new, well-muscled Communist Party? Duh. These ads have no message at all. But they weren’t cheap to make either. Maybe they’re sharing Natalia Vitrenko’s sugar daddy.
Then there’s Mr. Lytvyn, trying, as ever, to be all things to all men (and women). “I’m the guy who will bring all the parts of this country together.” “I’m neither orange nor blue. I’m green.” I would agree with the last statement, since there is little of political substance in his bloc’s ads. They might be great for a campaign to use the railway and get along with your compartment mates, but not to vote for a party that hopes to run the country. But then that’s hardly surprising, given that his bloc is, in fact, a mere hodge-podge of drifters and deserters from other parties.
Natalia Vitrenko, the vitriolic “Witch from Konotop” as she herself even liked to say, believes that nothing works so well as a truly vicious message. She lost her own seat in the last VR election in 2002, but that hasn’t stopped her. Billing herself as the “National Opposition,” she has one ad in which a child raises its hand in class and says, “May I go to the bathroom?” in Russian, and the teacher looks at her evilly through thick glasses and says, in Ukrainian, “Speak in the official language.” Ouch! That’s guaranteed to get a lot of votes from the seven-year olds in Donetsk and Crimea, I have no doubt. (The Odesites will be too choked up with laughter to fit their ballots into the box.) Or take her ad about veterans of the war. To be honest, I couldn’t even make out what the fuss was about. Apparently one guy was from the Red Army and the other one was from the UPA and they were shoving each other back and forth. What is most surprising is that these ads obviously cost a lot more money than either Nasha Ukraina’s or Regions’—so the question I have for Ms. Vitrenko is, “Who’s your sugar daddy? Who’s Putin on the spread?”
Pora-PRP are using Vitaliy Klitschko’s fame as a nice-guy boxer to also cash in on last year’s Orange events. Using Mr. Yushchenko’s own words and slogans…against him? against Nasha Ukraina? Given that it’s all just slogans, with no actual program to support any of it, the impression is that they’re just Nasha Ukraina clones with a bigger guy as their front man. Maybe that’s their message: “Roman Bezsmertniy* needs to borrow the barbells from the Communists and generate some biceps.” Whatever.
The Ne Tak! ads are so creative, they have really outdone themselves. The legs of an unknown man in jeans and sneakers are running along a series of walls with slogans like “Ukraine is secure,” “Our hands are clean,” and the guy slaps the word “NOT (Ne)” on each of them, turning the slogans into “Ukraine is NOT secure,” “Our hands are NOT clean,” etc. But the effect is to imply that the person sticking all these “NOTs,” that is, the Ne Tak! bloc, is the one whose hands are not clean and who is endangering Ukraine. Hmmm… Ne Tak! is the born-again SDPU (o) with the same Kravchuk-Medvedchuk-Surkis line-up spiced up by the guy everybody loves to hate, Nestor Shufrych, he of the naked chest on national television… Come to think of it, this may be the most honest ad of them all. I take it all back. This ad’s great!
Now, let’s get serious, folks. All of you need to fire your campaign managers. And your advertising agencies. (But not your sugar daddies, of course!) There is zero creativity in these ads. Not to mention zero content and zero focus. Yes, that may be the truth about your various parties, but the purpose of an advertising agency or an image-maker is to mask that reality, if nothing else. These ads merely emphasize your various political shortcomings.
Don’t you, Mr. Yanukovych, have any achievements worth mentioning? After all you were mayor of Donetsk, governor of Donetsk and premier of all Ukraine in the course of 10 years, so surely you have some accomplishments you can raise in public other than your prison record? Or are you worried that the “Donetsk miracle” that you loved to talk about last year might look a little tarnished if someone mentions that the heating plant in Alchevsk fell apart in the middle of the January deep-freeze this year because you as governor and as premier neglected to pay any attention to public heating facilities for the last decade? Or if someone points out that Donetsk has the highest rate of intravenous drug users and (partly as a consequence) the highest incidence of HIV/AIDS in Ukraine? Or that miners’ families have been known to freeze to death in their shacks because the mines did not provide them with heating? Or that mining in general is the dirtiest, most hazardous and most deadly industry in Ukraine, and second probably only to China’s for the number of fatalities per year?
How about Nasha Ukraina? You guys need votes in the East and the South. Why aren’t you making plugs that focus on what your president has done in the last year in these various regions? Surely there are accomplishments that can be mentioned that would tell voters that you have something to offer? How about repairing that same Alchevsk heating plant so that Donetsk folks wouldn’t die in their homes the way they sometimes did when Mr. Yanukovych was governor? You are the best-placed of all those running for the Verkhovna Rada right now to say what you’ve already done, rather than to BS about what you promise to do. What is more, you can point out where the other guys have stonewalled important decisions, reforms and that kind of thing. There’s no excuse for a cheap campaign based on nostalgia and depressing music.
The Socialists too. You have two very competent people in key positions who have done a lot to fix what had gone wrong in Ukraine the last 15 years. Surely you aren’t afraid to plug Mr. Lutsenko’s capable leadership of the nation’s police force? Or Ms. Semeniuk’s handling of the State Property Fund? Or are you, Mr. Moroz, afraid to focus on accomplishments that might also give credit to the president who gave these people these jobs? Or are you just reluctant to give the limelight to younger people in your party who should represent its future?
As for BYT, all I can say is: Your campaign is sappy. You are sappy. Alas, there are lots of Ukrainians who like sappy. Fortunately, not enough to make Yulia president.
* Nasha Ukraina’s campaign manager