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“Political Voluntarism” – Odessa

October 23, 2015

With the local elections but 2 days away in Ukraine, it is perhaps worthy of a few lines to examine the “political voluntarism” that exists in the city and oblast today.  That of the party activists vis a vis the voluntarism of those that have answered a call to what is undoubtedly to many minds, a far higher cause.

Firstly it is necessary, at least for those readers who do not live in Ukraine, to identify the mechanics of just how the daily grind of “voluntary”political party campaigning actually works.

volunteer

Those “volunteers” that take part in political party campaigning are actually paid to do so – and all parties/candidates engage in this.  Indeed many have no interest in the politics or policies of the parties or candidates they are “volunteering” to campaign for.

Those that hand out “flyers” earn about UAH 150 a day, the lowest in the food/pay chain – but as most seem to dump the “flyers” when and where ever possible, rather than actually try and canvass, they are probably paid what they are worth (if they are worth anything at all).

By way of “pay rates” those found sitting in the small candidate/party tents handing out associated propaganda on most streets/street corners are almost as low.   These pay rates per party/candidate don’t vary much – UAH 200 – 250 per day.  Some candidates/parties have far more tents than others, and whilst this may reflect funding allocations, it may also reflect campaign style.  For example, Sasha Borovik has far fewer tents than Eduard Gurvitz, but Sasha Borovik does far more “meet, greet and mingle/town hall” events than Eduard Gurvitz.  Opposition Block also has fewer tents than others, but has a far more aggressive “flyers” and “door-knockers” system.

“Door-knockers” earn UAH 3500 – 4000 per month and are “hired” for specific periods for specified remuneration.  No matter how odious and aggressive these people may be when knocking on doors, they are retained due to a serious shortage of “door-knockers”.

Above the “door knockers” sit two levels of organisational management.  The small territorial “gangers” that control small teams of “door-knockers” who on average earn UAH 5500 – 7000 each month, and above them are those controlling and auditing the effectiveness of those below them in the chain and earn UAH 6000 – 8000 each month depending upon the party they are working for.

There are then the election observers who are paid, on average, $100 – $150 to observe the election count on polling night.

Aside from that there are the party members involved in the election commission, who each month during the period they are appointed to be within that commission, are paid UAH 2000 – 2500.  Such an arrangement avoids paying election commission members at the time of elections and attempts to avoid the smelly inferences that such payments would bring when all eyes are watching.

There are of course payments for those “volunteers” that run party campaign offices.  The upper ranks can earn between UAH 4000 – 6000 per month for the few months campaign offices are running, whilst lesser administrative mortals can earn between UAH 2500 – 3000 monthly.

The designers of propaganda/campaigning materials, slogan creators, speech writers etc, earn about $1000 – $1500 a month.

There is then the paying of “muscle”.  Bodyguards/street fighters, defenders from and agitators of provocations and sabotage for the candidates.  $500 – 700 is the going rate for each month they are “on hire”/”volunteering” for the party/candidate.

The Opposition Block has the reputation of being the highest and most prompt of payers of their “volunteers”.  For those who are interested in bashing the President’s Solidarity Party, they actually rank close to the mean between the pay parameters listed above.

There are some differences for the election for Mayor that should be noted.  For a start the Opposition Block are not fielding a candidate in Odessa.  Thus the top payer of “volunteers” is the current Mayor, Gennady Trukhanov.  The worst payer due to admirable, or perhaps foolish idealism, is Sasha Borovik who therefore has the highest turnover of “volunteers”.  The (admirable) problem being the Borovik campaign expects “volunteers” to be volunteers – that and his is the most poorly financed campaign (albeit far from being the worst campaign).  Another reason, perhaps, that there are so few “Borovik tents”, “flyers” and “door-knockers” – The mercantile nature of “political voluntarism”.

There are then the costs of posters, radio and television campaigning, which can be more odious for some rather than others – depending upon whether a candidate owns media outlets or not.

With numerous parties and hundreds of candidates across an Oblast bigger than Belgium, elections become a small (mostly illicit) industry.  On a national scale, they become hugely expensive, particularly when bribes by way of food, hard cash, road resurfacing, new children’s playgrounds etc are added to the bribery costs to gain votes.

Only today was your author offered UAH 300 by a taxi driver to vote for a certain candidate running for a certain seat in the Tairova rayon of Odessa, when getting picked up there.  Naturally the said taxi driver (and perhaps the taxi firm) are also getting paid to nefariously influence voters in their “voluntary campaigning”.

As sad as this picture painted may seem, it gets worse – Almost all the “political voluntarism” is paid for in cash and is therefore part of the black/grey economy.  On a national scale that equates to the political parties and their candidates pumping UAH tens of millions (if not hundreds of millions) directly into the illicit economics of the nation.

All rather grim!

However, there are also those that answered the call of Governor Saakashvili for volunteers to help Odessa Oblast.

There are dozens of lawyers, accountants, IT and administration professionals, mostly western educated (at some point), some of which gave up jobs in the US and EU to come to Odessa and volunteer, considering it their patriotic duty.

Some have been here since May, and they have earned nothing.  Zero.  No reimbursement even for living costs.  This despite tackling some knotty issues and also attempting to instill some form of free professional advice to all of the many dysfunctional district, town and village councils.  This will be much needed advice and council if and when decentralisation comes and suddenly village councils have budgets to spend, taxes to collect and legal issues to tackle.  Decentralisation to those without the knowledge of how to effectively govern locally and account accurately will swiftly become a farce without such knowledge being freely and swiftly available to newly empowered local governance leaders.

Employment by the Oblast and becoming part of the “Saakashvili machine” is not why most answered the call.  Indeed for many there is a requirement to remain “politically free” and remain an a-political, capable alternative civil service/governance advice centre.  As some of the volunteers point out, they may in the near future actually be giving advice to small town and village councils upon how to take on and beat the Oblast Administration if it oversteps its limitations – a conflict of interests if somehow funded by the “Saakashvili machine”.

The problem with this is very clear.  Whilst patriotism may be limitless, personal finances simply aren’t.

Very soon there will be an(other) unfortunate requirement for some now experienced people who know exactly what they are doing and have built up trust, to disappear and go and earn some money again – leaving a requirement to replace them with yet more volunteers that will have to firstly get up to speed, and secondly then build trust when acting as advisors and interlocutors with the small town and village councils.

This cycle will inevitably repeat itself – time and again.

There is now an internal conversation amongst these volunteers to change their status by creating an NGO – which is entirely sensible, as most grants allow for a certain amount to be allocated to wages/expenses in one form or another, and will also help insure an a-political nature within the oblast.  However, so busy have these volunteers been helping those they volunteered to help, that if the NGO is formed and grants applied for (and numerous categories would apply so varied is the assistance given), that only now when the volunteers are running out of personal finances, is the idea being muted.  Some talented, patriotic and public service minded people are sure to have left prior to any funding being forthcoming – if any comes at all.

Thus, there are currently two very distinct types of “political voluntarism” active in Odessa.  The kind that is recruited and paid for (due to lack of depth within the political parties), and the kind that answers the political cry for assistance, which has proven itself beneficial to society (far more than most politicians) and thus should be paid for – but isn’t!

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