Elections in Ukraine: former migrant and boxer turned politician

Bastian Vollmer

Vitali Klitschko has been preparing his new life project for quite some time now. He is moving from the heavyweight boxing ring to the boxing ring of politics in Ukraine.

First he ran twice (unsuccessfully) as mayor of Kiev, but now he has entered the nation-wide political stage. As in the boxing ring, the political landscape is starting to take him very seriously as a future political player.

Dr Ironfist, as he is nicknamed by worshiping Ukrainian sports fans and his political party UDAR (Ukrainian Democratic Alliance for Reforms), catapulted to second place in opinion polls before the elections, which took place on the 28 October 2012. However, the election result for Klitschko’s UDAR differed substantially from the opinion polls. A somewhat disappointing 13.5% of the votes were given to UDAR. Although Ukrainian authorities aimed at guaranteeing a fair and transparent election, the first thought that comes to one’s mind is ‘corruption’. Webcams were installed in all polling stations and a whole army of international election observers were invited to Ukraine. Yet, at the end the most favourable result of the election was gained by the most powerful party of the election and that is the incumbent governmental administration, the current ruler of the country: President Victor Yanukovich’s Party of Regions.

Sports hero and migrant success story
Governmental circles as well as the opposition consider Klitschko politically inexperienced. Clearly, he is a national sports celebrity and he is not someone who knows the political business awfully well. However, at the same time this represented an incentive for people to give him their vote. The Ukrainian public, and especially the younger generation, are looking for someone ‘outside the system’ and not from the mainstream parties, but someone who may challenge the issue under which Ukraine suffers the most: corruption. Klitschko’s liberal party agenda coupled with the boxing champion’s image of being a disciplined fighter may have attracted voters since he might be the one who could sweep through the ranks of politics and oligarchic power structures.

But there might be another reason for his – relative – success. He represents the image of a ‘successful migrant’. For some people he may represent the picture of an emigrant who has returned to his ‘motherland’, but he returned with a bag full of success stories. Moreover, his career and his migratory past is strongly connected with Europe and especially Germany which adds another dimension to the overall picture of the former migrant, boxer and politician Vitali Klitschko.

The perception of Germany
The EUMAGINE project (www.eumagine.org) has conducted a large-scale suvey (2000 respondents) and found that 49.3% of respondents said that they would go to Europe if somebody would give them the necessary papers, whilst Germany appear to be the most popular destination country in Europe for people from Ukraine (subject to strong variations in Western/Eastern parts of Ukraine).

In addition, Germany was the country most associated with Europe by Ukrainians. The survey showed that it is often perceived as the European economic powerhouse. At the same time respondents (of 80 qualitative in-depth interviews) referred to a well-functioning social welfare system in Germany.

Framing Vitali Klitschko in this very positive and aspiring picture of a migration success story associated with one of the most popular migration destination countries in the EU, i.e. Germany, might be another reason for his relative political success about which most election analysis may not refer to at all.