Among many who were surprised by the so-called Forum of Unity organized by Yuliya Tymoshenko, ex-president Viktor Yushchenko was stunned the most. You bet! Once, he called Tymoshenko “his biggest mistake.” He told about her intrigues in her quest for power several times and considers her to be Putin’s protégé. Many of his accusations turned out to be true.
All of a sudden, Tymoshenko’s Forum used the same slogan that was employed by Our Ukraine, Yushchenko’s former party: “I believe in Ukraine”. Literally.
Previous Tymoshenko’s slogans, “There is a justice worth fighting for” and “She works,” are now remnants of the past. How could it be that Tymoshenko’s PR specialists were not able to produce original slogan that had not been used before?
Before we answer this question, let’s consider other aspects of the Forum. The so-called Forum of Unity that gathered up to ten thousand participants from all regions of Ukraine nominated Batkivshchyna party leader as a presidential candidate. The Forum was full of emotions and pathos.
Here is another strange detail. The Forum was decorated in blue and yellow colors that reminded of colors of Ukrainian national flag. On the one hand, Ukrainian politician using patriotic colors is nothing unusual. However, we should note that Batkivshchyna conventional symbol, red heart against a white background, was nowhere to be found during the event that nominated Tymoshenko as the presidential candidate.
Red heart against a white background had accompanied Batkivshchyna for most of its history. Huge sums of money had been spent to promote this, now widely recognized, brand. Elsewhere in the world, political organizations sometimes transform or modernize their brands, but do not abandon them altogether. What happened in Tymoshenko’s case?
Also, we should recall that, not long ago, Tymoshenko got rid of her another peculiar feature that distinguished her among other politicians: her peasant braid. Although sometimes she is still referred to as “the woman with a braid,” she changed her hairstyle long ago. She abandoned her image of a caring mother in favor of young teacher that wants to look kind, but fair.
Such changes could not be accidental. Most likely, they signaled her dissatisfaction with results of her previous activities. During her whole political career, she could only be credited with re-privatization of the Kryvorizhstal plant. Originally, it was bought by oligarchs Viktor Pinchuk and Rinat Akhmetov by heavily discounted price and Tymoshenko oversaw its sale to the international corporations that paid several times more. But this happened more than ten years ago.
Afterwards, Tymoshenko became engaged in two controversies that led many to accuse her of acting against Ukrainian interests and in Putin’s favor. She is being reminded of these controversies even today. First, she helped prevent Ukraine from obtaining NATO Membership Action Plan in 2008 and then oversaw signing of terrible gas contract with Russia in 2009. According to Naftogaz estimates, the contract led to Ukraine losing $32 billion and Russia obtaining important leverage for blackmailing Ukraine.
Therefore, Tymoshenko has nothing to present to the voters as her accomplishment. In contrast, president Petro Poroshenko, her main opponent, could credit himself with signing of the Association Agreement and obtaining visa-free regime with the EU, receiving autocephaly for Ukrainian Orthodox Church and some other accomplishments.
Batkivshyna leader counted on the so-called New Course that she presented during spring and summer of 2018. Within the New Course, she offered to introduce the new Constitution that would transform Ukrainian political system into chancellor republic.
Tymoshenko also called for negotiations to achieve peace but did not specify with whom to negotiate. She criticized Petro Poroshenko heavily for supposedly profiting from the war but not once mentioned the main villain, Vladimir Putin.
These slogans were used in extensive advertisement by Batkivshchyna leader that was visible in every corner of every Ukrainian town and village. Her PR campaign was significantly larger in scale than that of any other contender for the presidential office.
Tymoshenko’s rating increased a bit and she retained the leading position in polls but did not manage to secure definitive margin. Her current advantage does not guarantee her indisputable victory.
Did this motivate her to abandon her previous style? It seems that lack of her own achievements forced Tymoshenko to follow in Petro Poroshenko’s footsteps. Last year, he raised the issue of Ukraine’s integration into NATO. Tymoshenko, who previously did not even mention NATO, had to change her rhetoric on the fly and include NATO and EU membership in her agenda.
Among the speakers of the Forum of Unity was Patriarch Filaret, former head of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Kiev Patriarchate). Previously, Tymoshenko showed no interest in church affairs. But Petro Poroshenko, her main competitor, implemented sophisticated project that resulted in granting of autocephaly for Ukrainian Orthodox Church. Tomos and the religious autocephaly grabbed media attention last year and have dominated media space for last couple of months. According to the recent public opinion poll, Ukrainians consider Tomos the most important event of 2018.
Being an experienced politician, she could not but respond to such public attitudes. That’s why Filaret who, together with Poroshenko, was involved in receiving of Tomos gave a speech at the Forum. However, his speech that should have acknowledged Tymoshenko’s role in this process turned out to be disastrous for her. In his speech, the church notable thanked Petro Poroshenko and even Tymoshenko’s nemesis, ex-president Viktor Yushchenko, for their assistance in receiving of Tomos. This looked like sophisticated trolling.
During the Forum, several people in military uniform also gave speeches. Some journalists called them cyborgs. As we know, “cyborgs” is the nickname given to the defenders of Donetsk airport and a synonym for Ukrainian courage. One of the soldiers called Tymoshenko “political cyborg” prompting other military veterans to burst with indignation in social media. Commentators noted that Kolomoyskyi’s allies had already corrupted the term “ukrop” and since then nobody wanted to call themselves that way anymore. And now they have abused the term “cyborg.”
“I can see why the organizers did that,” a commentator nicknamed John Smith wrote. “Her main opponent is regularly meeting real soldiers and Ms. ‘not a single tank should leave barracks’ pales in comparison to him. That’s the whole story. She needed to show that soldiers and even cyborgs support her. And that she is also a cyborg.” The citation used here references Yuliya Tymoshenko’s speech at the National Security and Defense Council meeting during the Crimea annexation when she called for not fighting the aggressor.
Thus, the Forum that nominated Tymoshenko demonstrated that she is not able to produce ideas that would attract voters’ interest. She is forced to follow in Petro Poroshenko’s footsteps and discuss the issues set by him. Using such approach, she could enter the second round, but she won’t be able to win the elections.