Omidyar-funded candidate takes seat in new Ukraine parliament
Ukraine just held its first post-revolution parliamentary elections, and amid all of the oligarchs, EU enthusiasts, neo-Nazis, nepotism babies, and death squad commanders, there is one newly-elected parliamentarian's name that stands out for her connection to Silicon Valley: Svitlana Zalishchuk, from the billionaire president’s Poroshenko Bloc party.
Zalishchuk was given a choice spot on the president’s party list, at number 18, ensuring her a seat in the new Rada. And she owes her rise to power to another oligarch besides Ukraine's president — Pierre Omidyar, whose funding with USAID helped topple the previous government. Zalishchuk's pro-Maidan revolution outfits were directly funded by Omidyar.
Earlier this year, Pando exposed how eBay billionaire and Intercept publisher Pierre Omidyar co-funded with USAID Zalishchuk’s web of nongovernmental organizations — New Citizen, Chesno, Center UA. According to the Financial Times, New Citizen, which received hundreds of thousands of dollars from Omidyar, "played a big role in getting the [Maidan] protest up and running" in November 2013. Omidyar Network’s website features Zalishchuk’s photograph on its page describing its investment in New Citizen. Zalishchuk was brought into the NGOs by her longtime mentor, Oleh Rybachuk, a former deputy prime minster who led the last failed effort to integrate Ukraine into the EU and NATO.
Zalishchuk’s photos also grace the Poroshenko Bloc’s website and twitter feed, as she emerged as one of the presidential party’s leading spokespersons. The Poroshenko Bloc is named after Ukraine’s pro-Western president, Petro Poroshenko, a billionaire with a lock on Ukraine's confectionary industry, as well as owning a national TV station and other prized assets. He came to power this year thanks to the revolution originally organized by Zalishchuk’s Omidyar-funded NGOs, and has rewarded her with a seat in the Rada.
The president’s party tasked Zalushchik with publicly selling the highly controversial new “lustration law” — essentially a legalized witch-hunt law first proposed by the neo-fascist Svoboda Party earlier this year, and subsequently denounced by Ukraine’s prosecutor general and by Human Rights Watch, which described a draft of the law as “arbitrary and overly broad and fail(s) to respect human rights principles,” warning it “may set the stage for unlawful mass arbitrary political exclusion.”
Zalishchuk, however, praised the lustration law, claiming that the legalized purges would “give Ukraine a chance at a new life.”
Shortly before the elections, on October 17, Zalishchuk used her Omidyar-funded outfit, “Chesno,” to organize a roundtable with leaders of pro-EU and neo-fascist parties. It was called “Parliament for Reform” and it brought together leaders from eight parties, including Zalishchuk’s “Poroshenko Bloc” (she served as both NGO organizer and as pro-Poroshenko party candidate), the prime minister’s “People’s Party” and leaders from two unabashedly neo-Nazi parties: Svoboda, and the Radical Party of Oleh Lyashko, who was denounced by Amnesty International for posting YouTube videos of himself interrogating naked and hooded pro-Russian separatist prisoners. Lyashko's campaign posters featured him impaling a caricatured Jewish oligarch on a Ukrainian trident.
Meanwhile, Zalishchuk's boss, President Petro Poroshenko, has led a bloody war against pro-Russian separatists in the east of the country that left at least 3700 dead in a half year of fighting. Human Rights Watch recently accused Poroshenko's forces of "indiscriminate" use of cluster bombs in heavily populated areas, that "may amount to war crimes." Poroshenko's forces include neo-Nazi death squads like the notorious Azov battalion.
Last month, Poroshenko further cemented his ties to the extreme right by hailing Ukraine's wartime Nazi collaborators, the violently anti-Semitic UPA, as "heroes." The fascist UPA participated in the Holocaust, and were responsible for killing tens of thousands of Jews and ethnic Poles in their bid to create an ethnically pure Ukraine. Many UPA members filled the ranks of the Nazi SS "Galicia" Division. The neo-Nazi Right Sektor, which spearheaded the violent later stages of the Maidan revolution, sees itself as the UPA's contemporary successors; Right Sektor's leader, Dmitry Yarosh, believes that any "ethnic minority that prevents us from being masters in our own land" is an "enemy." Yarosh was just elected to the new parliament.
This latest twist in Omidyar Network’s murky, contradictory or two-faced roles raises more disturbing questions about what the tech billionaire is up to. On the one hand, Omidyar plays the “adversarial” watchdog of the US National Security State, having privatized Snowden’s NSA files, the largest national security secrets leak in history, for his startup publication The Intercept with Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras, the only two people entrusted with the complete Snowden cache.
On the other hand, Omidyar and his wife have been among the most frequent visitors to the Obama White House, intermingling with members of his National Security Council and State Deptartment. Meanwhile, in just the past year Omidyar Network has co-funded Ukraine revolution groups in Ukraine with the US government, and directly financed far-right, pro-business political actors in both Ukraine and in India, where a former top figure in Omidyar Network, Jayant Sinha now serves in the ultranationalist BJP Party and as close advisor to its controversial far-right leader, Narendra Modi. Previously, Sinha had served in a powerful BJP Party think-tank, the India Foundation to elect Modi, while simultaneously working as head of Omidyar Network India Advisors, and serving on the five-member global Executive Committee of Omidyar Network.
There is truly nothing like Omidyar’s contradictory roles — fighting the empire, leaking the empire’s secrets, while also working hand-in-glove with the empire’s agencies to make the world more pliable to US government and corporate interests. Perhaps it reflects the multibillionaire’s bizarre Howard Hughes-like schizophrenia; perhaps it’s deliberate, a co-optation of the dissident activist wing. Perhaps there’s no rhyme or reason, only the effects — an eerie silence from nearly the entire activist community when it comes to holding Omidyar or his many endeavors accountable.
[illustration by Brad Jonas for Pando]