Politique Société Ukraine

A stroll on the « Harry Potter Beach » and other Odessa stories

This is personal piece of analysis of one segment of local elections in Odessa, which take place on 25/10/2015

A low-turnout election day seems like the right moment for a stroll on the “Harry Potter Thank-You-Serhiy-Kivalov beach” in the south of Odessa city.

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A prominent local politician, Serhiy Kivalov has gained a reputation of a sulphurous trickster. As a chairman of the Central Election Commission back in 2004, he helped making up results of the presidential election, which initially crowned Viktor Yanukovych as President. The fraudulent recount triggered mass protests, which are now remembered as the « Orange Revolution ». A former MP of the Party of Regions, he is somehow reelected in October 2014 as an independent, despite some allegations of him bribing voters. He since seats in the Committee on Legal Policy and Justice. Despite his past endeavours, he is a part of the Venice Commission, thus overlooking the Ukrainian Constitutional reform and the implementation of the Law on Lustration.

Serhiy KIvalov
Serhiy KIvalov

Back in “his” fiefdom of Odessa, he has been put under some kind of pressure when civic activists invaded his exuberant and oddly-financed mansion on the coast, nicknamed “the Castle of Harry Potter”. It is still unclear whether the villa is inspired from the books/movies. Yet it really might be. Despite this misfortune and recent waves of criticism, the house is still Kivalov’s to keep. It is now officially the “Ukrainian Humanitarian University” and the Headquarters of the “Sea Party of Ukraine”. The property is under obvious security protection. And Serhiy Kivalov seems popular enough to be running as a mayor of Odessa. In a very interesting way.

On 10th October, Serhiy Kivalov officially withdrew his candidacy from the race, a day after a grenade blew up in his garden. A local patriarch, sponsors of a few churches here and there, founder of a popular “Legal Academy”, Serhiy Kivalov announced he “did not want to be the reason of blood-spilling”. Yet it was already too late into the election schedule for the Central Election Commission to actually cancel his candidacy. Although Serhiy Kivalov stopped campaigning, his name still figures on the election ballots.

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The confusion that follows may well be not intentional. Yet the confusion is real. Rumours abound to claim that the grenade episode was nothing more than a political stunt. According to these theories, Serhiy Kivalov had no chance to win this election but was asked to run by his old “friend” and former Mayor Eduard Hurvits, in order to attract votes away from incumbent mayor Hennadiy Trukhanov. Or was he running on Trukhanov’s demand in order to diminish the electoral potential of Hruvits and Sasha Borovik, Saakachvili’s controversial protégé? (another story here, a good one…)

In any case, Serhiy Kivalov’s jiggery-pokery does look fishy. And confusing. No doubt that the candidate-who-is-no-longer-candidate shall score some percent of support in today’s election, thus lowering other candidates’ results. And it shows that Serhiy Kivalov, perceived by many as a representative of a darker past, still enjoys influence and support in Odessa. A phenomenon of which the “Zatoka case is one more expression.

Some 30 kilometres south of Odessa, the sea resort of Zatoka is a place where the land and real estate prices are among the highest in the region, if not in Ukraine. The town was until recently something like 1,500 inhabitant-strong. Until someone managed to register there more than non-residing 300 students from Kivalov’s Legal Academy. These newcomers automatically became voters. And a scandal erupted, followed by a case in court. According to a court decision issued on 24th October, the registration of these new voters had to be cancelled. Yet it came late. Maybe too late. Followed some confusion in polling stations and media. Some scuffles erupted between newcomers and on Sunday. Police officers detained some individuals throughout the day in some very awkward manner.

That is to say: Serhiy Kivalov is far from being finished in Odessa and its region. And with Serhiy Kivalov, it is probably the whole Odessa system of old-fashion politics & business that still operates and thrives. The likely reelection of Hennadiy Trukhanov serves as a complementary evidence of such phenomenon (another story here, a good one…). Despite the remarkable activity of Governor Mikheil Saakachvili’s team in favour of reforms and systemic cleaning-up, Odessa remains, after all, Odessa.

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