Labetsky: Old guard hampers fight against corruption

Лабецький на Майдані

Oleksandr Labetsky, 28, got injured on Instytutska Street in Kyiv on 20 February but within months returned to Lviv for political activities.

A native of the village of Bitlya in the Carpathians and a county councilman in Turka, he founded a non-governmental organization aimed to protect the interests of victims of the Maidan. However, he is better known as one of the organizers of protest rallies that paved the way towards a lustration process in Lviv and Lviv Oblast. Along with his comrades, Oleksandr demands the dismissal of officials appointed by the former regime. He believes that a country of equal opportunities cannot be built with old red tape.

Just three months back, medical workers in Kyiv and then in Lviv fought for Labetsky’s life. Today, he firmly walks the cobbled streets of Lviv. We drop into a nearest coffee shop to chat in peace and quiet. However, Oleksandr’s phone, just as six months ago on Independence Square in Kyiv, never ceases to ring. Labetsky is now coordinating the activities of more than ten NGOs, whose main purpose is to combat corruption.

Recently, the public keeps an increasingly watchful eye on public activists. They are often accused of having vested interests or working in the interests of the old regime. Finally, there is a lack of unity among them…

NGOs are an important indicator of the development of civil society. Lviv and Lviv Oblast have Maidan and post-Maidan-minded public organizations that are actively engaged in social and political life.
At the same time, we can see that there’s a lot of distrust between them. Many NGOs have been involved in the lustration process. Unfortunately, not all were consistent in this cause. For example, they first demanded the sacking of certain figures, but suddenly disappeared or switched sides. Naturally, this raised other activists’ eyebrows.
Hence, there were reasons to believe that some activists had agendas of their own and can be corrupted.

Meanwhile, the trust of community is critical for activists. We defend the interests of the society, but the true defenders are now fighting in the East. They have a fairly legitimate question to ask: what are you busy doing out there, squabbling?

What experience you gain while on the Maidan? Does it help you rally activists now?

On the Maidan I created an agency that built up the communication structure. Overall, I created seven structures, including the Boiky Hundred.
I came back to Kyiv on November 25. After February 20, I dropped out of the ranks as I suffered three bullet wounds. During my treatment in Lviv, I returned to political activism.
Even then, I had a feeling that people begin to forget about the victims of Maidan. Public attention first shifted to Crimea, then to the East, and then the army support campaign started…
The Maidan guys were beginning to feel being left out, so we decided to create an all-Ukrainian public organization “Ukrainian Union of Maidan Activists ‘Neskoreni’” (Undefeated) to help the Maidan victims and their families.
Many activists sat it out here in Lviv and now go bragging around like ‘I was there’ or ‘I helped’ but that’s nothing but hot air.

What can be done to prevent the dishonest people from discrediting the community initiatives? Can the efforts of activists be coordinated, at least around Lviv?

To begin with, we gathered Lviv NGOs on June 30 to align and coordinate their actions. We invited everyone, and more than ten organizations turned up.
Of course, we want a wider representation. Firstly, we must help the Ukrainian army. Secondly, lustration is high on the agenda.
There is war going on in the East, and this is not the best time for squabbles. After all, a probe and trial will decide who is wrong and who is right.
Recall the incident on the summer playground at Terschakivtsi Street in Lviv? In peacetime no one would dare to demolish it just because they want to.
NGOs should coordinate their efforts not to look like the proverbial Swan, Pike, and Crawfish. Not now, anyway. The community would rather give support to concerted actions.

In your native Turka, people know that you declined to take the post as the Head of District Administration. It was also reported that an ally of yours was attacked, and somebody tried to set fire to the house that you are building …

Activists are being smeared all around the place. Some claim the Maidan is now populated by drunkards, some say our guys do not fight properly in the East.
We understand that the government does not want people to trust Maidan activists more than the incumbents. That’s why we see this powerful mudslinging campaign to discredit the Dignity Revolution. Well, we have defended our Dignity but failed to win Justice…
You see, civil society organizations are not political parties. They do not have significant financial and information resources to inform the public of their viewpoints. As soon as we as much as infringe on their interests – they launch dirty media campaigns against activists in the press, social networks, everywhere…

Activists that are not prepared to compromise with authorities immediately begin to feel increased attention from law enforcers and criminals. We’ve got to stick together until the end.

Many complain that the country is too slow to reload. What is the biggest obstacle, in your opinion?

Activists are concerned about the lack of consistent personnel changes after the Revolution. Representatives of the criminal regime, the ‘overseers’ appointed by Yanukovych’s son, are still in their positions, even in Lviv. They don’t care about public opinion. Top managers of state-owned companies still hold their jobs. Those who collected money from business people for the suppression of the Maidan are not being persecuted. It begs the question of whether they might keep fundraising for the separatists in the East.
On May 7, we launched a campaign called “Cleanse Lviv from Overseers” against directors of state enterprises and chiefs of departments of the local administration who had been designated by the Yanukovych regime. Old cadres hamper anti-corruption efforts and further development. 

What about lustration? Is it forgotten or just put on ice altogether?

We are in a war. All healthy boys now have to be either in the East or work for the sake of the army.
Lustration is important, but it can wait. Lviv TV channels, members of local or regional councils, and public figures who are over 50 are just incapable of making that. Lustration is a business for those who have passed through the Maidan fire and will come back from the East.
Everything will fall into place then. Around 5-7 thousand guys will come back from the battle named Anti-Terrorist Operation. They will have a moral right to pursue lustration, rather than those running around the city shouting that they are the greatest patriots of Ukraine. We will end the war in the East and then will deal with those who so afraid of letting people know their true biographies. In Lviv, there are about 200 heads of state enterprises. A new round of lustration changes is imminent.

Over the past few months your organization has been drawing public attention to the fact that personnel changes were too slow and creatures of the old regime were still in office. What have you achieved in this regard over the past month? It is known that activists face strong resistance, in some cases even on the part of the new regime.

The Lviv airport campaign was a purely civic initiative. The Undefeated were among those who demanded the dismissal of Mykhailo Radechny, the Lviv airport chief. Under public pressure, he got the boot. His deputy was fired as well. The third man appointed was from Odessa.
The campaign has lasted for three weeks. We met with company stuff at a general meeting, and people believed us. In late May, the Minister of Infrastructure, Maxim Burmaka, heeded our demands and sacked the chief.
After M. Radechny’s dismissal, the job was given over to his former deputy Roman Hontaryev, also a man from the old system.
We cannot accept the fact that LvivTransGas is still headed by Leonid Melnyk, Deputy Chief of Staff of the Party of Regions. We will keep fighting for his removal from office.
As for LvivLis, the director opted to take a sick leave after we put some pressure on him.

We hear the repeated demands to stop illegal logging in mountainous areas. Do you think the newly appointed heads of county administrations have the guts and desire to stop the wild deforestation?

bunch of hot air. Unfortunately, there is not a critical mass of active people who believe in their own strength and are ready to fight. But the illegal logging must be stopped. We have a well-devised scheme of how to put an end to it. And after that we need to create a national park Boikivshchyna.
Everyone will just benefit from creation of mountain parks. It looks like this: all mountainous regions in Lviv Oblast shall unite (200-250 thousand inhabitants). This will attract investment, without which we will not come out of the economic depression. It can be done within two to three years if we work really hard. The Ministry of Regional Development should heed to what the community wants.

Do the current leaders of the city and the county have a vision of how to live, how to change people’s lives?

Definitely not. What we need is fresh blood, young people who want to live in a country of equal opportunities, rather than a free-for-all.
It is hard to change the old system. The older generation says that we must build a new country, when in fact they often connive with the servants of the old regime, who are taught to live day to day for “it could’ve been worse”.
Last March created a working group to promote the Turka district. It turned out that activists can lobby the interests of our region better than our councilmen with their chairman at the head.

I also just don’t understand why the new head of Turka administration still cannot sack the local officials loyal to the Regionals?

Another project of ours is fundraising for the army. This cause has brought together ten civil society organizations of Lviv oblast: we raise funds to purchase body armor, helmets, food. We have a coordination center.

And still – when lustration becomes a top priority?

I expect a new round of lustration processes will happen this fall. Without cleansing, the country will not move forward.

Interviewed by Natalia Klyashtorna