A lot on her plait

On a private fact-finding mission to Israel, Ukrainian opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko shares her recipe for reform with the 'Post'

Yulia Tymoshenko marches through the entrance of Jerusalem's David Citadel Hotel with a 10-strong male entourage in tow. Head high and smile radiant, she strides, starlet-like, to the elevator, into which she is ushered like a queen. Or at least like the "Orange Princess" she has been coined - a title the head of Ukraine's opposition movement earned not for her lineage or beauty, but rather for her having been a leading fomenter of her country's liberal revolution in 2004. After a full day of touring and fact-finding, the political reformer - who looks more like a 20-something fashion model than a 46-year-old former prime minister - is "taking five" to freshen up before facing more lights, more cameras, more action. All of which she is used to; all of which she uses to further her agenda: regaining what she considers to be her rightful place at the top - the only right place from which she says change can be implemented. This might sound peculiar to anyone vaguely familiar with Ukrainian politics, since Tymoshenko actually served in the government of President Viktor Yushchenko, whom she helped sweep to electoral victory on the "orange" ticket. It was her reputation for fearlessly fighting against oligarchs, and the corruption and economic stagnation for which the Ukrainians held them responsible, that paved the way for Yushchenko's presidency and her own premiership. Tymoshenko's solid alliance with Yushchenko soured last year when he agreed to a deal giving a Russian state-owned gas company and an Austrian investment firm a monopoly over all Ukrainian gas imports. After attacking her own government for this capitulation, Tymoshenko was fired, a move for which she blames Yushchenko's aides and advisers. To further complicate matters, the Ukrainian public began to lose faith in the "orange" renewal on which they had pinned their hopes and for which they had cast their votes. The clean government and prospering economy they had longed for had come to be seen as a mere slogan. This phenomenon, some say, could result in a rift-healing rejoining of forces between Yushchenko's "Our Ukraine" movement and Tymoshenko's BYT (Bloc of Yulia Tymoshenko). In an hour-long interview in her hotel suite - through a Hebrew-Ukrainian interpreter - Tymoshenko discusses the "post-orange" era in Israel and Ukraine and the source of political corruption worldwide, and presents the BYT platform for the "path to building a just society." Are you aware that the anti-disengagement movement's use of the color orange as its symbol was inspired by the "orange revolution" you led in Ukraine? Not only am I aware of it, but during this trip, every time I see an orange ribbon hanging in a car, it warms my heart. Can you make any comparisons between the aftermath of the orange campaigns in Ukraine in 2004 and in Israel in 2005? The problems in Israel are extremely complex. Here, the lives of the citizens - particularly the younger generation - are on the line. No other state or statesman can fully grasp or pass judgement on this. What I can tell you is that, according to the Ukrainian constitution, no borders can be changed without a national referendum. What the two campaigns have in common is that both proved fruitful. In the Ukraine, it led to the destruction of ill government institutions. In Israel, further separation has been put on hold, because the people ultimately didn't accept [plans for further territorial withdrawals]. The Israeli politicians I have met with, too, have been analyzing the outcome of disengagement - every process must be judged by its results, after all - and whether it has resulted in greater security for the country in general and for individual citizens in particular. Here I would like to add that I am extremely moved by the heroism of Israelis in all walks of life. You really live under constant personal threat. Many people here immigrated from countries where they weren't in similar danger. Such people have the choice of returning to their countries of origin - yet few exercise that option. I am very impressed and encouraged by that. It is a heroism that guarantees independence, security and sovereignty. It sets an example for subsequent generations about how to face issues critical to the existence of the state. One of the flagships of your political movement is the fight against political corruption. In Israel today, there are many investigations going on involving the abuse of power in high places. Is the root cause of corruption the same the world over, or does its source differ from country to country? Corruption is an international phenomenon with a common source. It has three origins: The first is the connection between money and power. The ability to [keep them separate] depends on the character and quality of the leadership. And in the event that the people make a mistake in their selection of their leaders - electorates have the right to, and sometimes do, err - there has to be a mechanism that enables them to oust those leaders as quickly as possible. The second origin is the absence of checks and balances via a comptroller with the ability to examine every "molecule and atom" of the government under a microscope. It is the lack of a genuine mechanism for this purpose - not merely one that exists in name only - that characterizes countries in which political corruption is rampant. The populace is not equipped to examine the government. What is required is a strong parliamentary opposition, which has constitutional tools at its disposal (on condition, of course, that the members of the opposition are themselves morally above board). Because the opposition is fighting to be the governing party, it pulls the guts out of the government to the point that one can see what it ate for breakfast. The third source of corruption is the absence of accountability - so that even when it is exposed, nothing is done about it. This is why the investigative mechanism must be completely independent from the government - a body that can legally force the government to change its ways. Why hasn't any country managed to eradicate corruption? How is it that countries capable of creating nuclear weapons and sending shuttles into space are unable to wipe out corruption? The answer is simple: Ultimately, no government is really interested in doing so, because any group that gets in power ends up using corruption for its own purposes. In order to eliminate it, you have to have the political will to do so. When my group takes office, the first thing we're going to do is establish a strong opposition [to ourselves]. But, you have already been a member of the government. Why did you not manage to accomplish this when you actually had the chance? It's true what you say. I have been in the government twice - once as deputy prime minister and the other as prime minister. But my worldview wasn't compatible with that of the [rest of the] coalition, which wasn't so interested in that kind of change. Still, I did manage to push through a number of laws, albeit too few. Ukraine, like Israel, has a parliamentary system. And, as all experts in this field say, no government based on coalitions can be stable. My problem was that I couldn't act independently - because of the coalition - and implement all the changes I wanted. In order to eliminate corruption, a group must not have to lean on a coalition, but rather on the people. Which is why the main goal of our political struggle is to garner 51 percent support of the public. Our recipe for electoral reforms is as follows: First, all parties run for elections. From among those that pass the electoral threshold, the two largest should compete for the leadership. The party that wins would be the ruling party, and the other the opposition party. The smaller parties would then join either the coalition or the opposition. We believe that this will provide greater stability. I don't know whether this could apply to Israel as well. When the Soviet Union fell, there was great optimism in the West - the United States in particular. Since then, things have been less than rosy in Russia and surrounding states. Has communism been replaced by oligarchy? Not only do I bless Ukrainian independence - which was achieved as a result of the fall of the Soviet Union - with all my heart, but I will fight to the last drop of my blood to uphold it. We strove for it for so long, and we will not relinquish it under any circumstances. This is not to say that there haven't been many problems. The shift from socialism to a market economy is being handled by the same communist activists who know nothing other than what they were used to in the Soviet era. The result has been the corruption we have been talking about. We have to continue on the path to building a just society, based on freedom, free market, conscience, etc. It's hard work and there's a long way to go. I believe in the European future of Ukraine, and I will build this European future. One last question - one that seems to be on the mind of all the women who have followed your visit: How do you get your braid to wrap around your head that way? [She laughs throughout her answer] Let me state for the record that I invented this hairstyle, and I do it by myself every day. It has been the subject of endless attention in my country. Everybody has something to say about it. But I've noticed that it's catching on in all kinds of fashion circles in Europe. That makes me happy - at least my hair is calling attention to Ukraine. Ukrainian television forced me to take out the braid and redo it in front of the cameras, and the entire country - 48 million people - watched as I did that. It takes me exactly seven minutes to get my hair to look like this. I recommend that all women with long hair try it. You have very pretty hair, but if you ever want to experiment with your style, come to me and I'll help you. Which reminds me. I was totally charmed by your Knesset speaker [Dalia Itzik]. What a charismatic personality! So feminine; so pretty; so well-spoken. It's a tribute to a country that puts such a person in such a position.