On May 10 2019, I attended The Future of Ukrainian Democracy after Elections conference at Stanford. It was a small event, but a decent amount of public figures participated: Francis Fukuyama, Mustafa Nayyem, Steven Pifer, Oleksandr Saienko, Hanna Hopko, Sevgil Musaeva, Myroslava Gongadze, Artur Geraysmov, Oleksandr Danchenko, Maksym Nefiodov, Michael Carpenter, Michael McFaul, Oleksiy Ryabchyn.
So the list included a lot of active Ukrainian MPs, some members of government, journalist, former US State Department officials.
It was the first time in my life that I observed so many high-profile figures from such a close distance. The one significant conclusion after the event was following: Ukrainian MPs were the least impressive people in the whole crowd including the audience. It was bizarre to observe them on stage, during the breaks and the afterparty.
Here is the list of the things that surprised me:
Inability to answer questions. MPs were able to talk a lot without answering a basic simple question.
Constant complains. MPs rhetoric was very unbalanced. It was almost constant complaining about some problems and mistakes by other people. The conference started with the simple question "What are the good things that happened in Ukraine in the last 5 years?" None of them were able to answer that, they started to enumerate problems immediately.
It felt like they were campaigning. It felt like MPs were getting ready for the next election. Campaigning and simple conversation are very different things
Arguing and fighting - some of the MPs were arguing with each other on stage. That was inappropriate for that time and place.
Non-seriousness and secrecy - some of the MPs were always laughing on stage (but in a very weird way), some were very secretive
I didn't get a good idea about intellectual capabilities of MPs due to the reasons stated above. However I had feeling that most of them were a bit conservative and outdated. Scary thing is that those MPs belong to the "new generation" of Ukrainian politicians. I didn't see lot of progressive global ideas.
Before the event ended, I was shocked to see how one of the most famous MP was asking if he can start drinking wine before the reception. He just went for the bottle himself before the event even finished.
After the reception, some of the MPs went to the afterparty. It was interesting to observe them in a more relaxed environment. One had debates with wine behind the table, another was telling to Myroslava Gongadze a lot of exciting but a bit crazy stories on every topic possible.
In general, I became a bit tired and upset after observing MPs. I do not have high hopes for the upcoming parliamentary elections, because even this "progressive" and "new politicians" are uninspiring to me.
However, I'm still very optimistic about the Ukrainian future. In the last months (during my trip to Ukraine) and even during this event I've met a lot of smart and active Ukrainians. So I do stand by the statement I made 4 years ago:
I think that reforms from our government are not as important as two things I talked about above. There is a big demand among progressive young people for living (and building) modern Western state. There are artists who can show to the rest of us what we want and need and there is middle-class that would be able to execute these changes. None of these people is going to ask for the permissions from our government or from other countries.
I've met a lot of people who are intellectually curious, energetic and more than capable to push the country forward. They might not always be in the parliament or government yet.