Profile and assessment of Maxim Golosnoy
Maxim is an interesting municipal politician who has made waves in Ukraine by doggedly pursuing an anti-oligarchy campaign. He has a significant national level following on social media and now wants to have a shot at the presidency and parliament. He looks like a good protest candidate – a principled outsider with the ability to shape the debate, without being a serious contender for power. But his ambition is higher than this. He hopes to tap into the modish ennui with prevalent corruption and establishment candidates, so as to get a decent share of the vote.
From the point of public interest, Maxim certainly has a story. It is the story of how a small-town mayor has challenged the post-Soviet carve-up of public assets. And how, in the process, he has sounded alarm bells about corruption and money-laundering, with links to Russia, Cyprus and London.
From the political point of view, Maxim is a voice that deserves to be heard because of his anti-corruption and anti-oligarchy stance. Informed by his experience in local government, Maxim has a vision of a well-governed, peaceful Ukraine and a critique of the current state of national government. Anybody meeting him should be looking for a man with some potential to disrupt the presidential debate in a constructive way. He is not yet recognised as a likely next president of Ukraine, although he is certainly hoping to change that.
Maxim has been systematic about building up his profile on social media, with website, YouTube channel and Facebook account, which illustrate his tussle with the gas mafia and experience as mayor. He has had some mainstream media coverage within Ukraine and some interesting experience of being blocked. What should have been his moment in the spotlight (a big press conference in Kiev) was apparently blacked out, by presidential order. Therefore Maxim places his trust in social media and international coverage.
- YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/user/MaximGolosnoy
- Website: https://golosnoy.com/en/who-is-maxim-golosnoy/
- Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/MaximGolosnoy
- Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/mgolosnoy
Maxim says his most famous act to date was his 2012 production of a cheeky meme. Yanukovich had him charged with hooliganism when his subversive poster known as “grandma and the cat” went viral (“I shall leave my belongings to my cat instead of a grandson who voted for the Party of the Regions”)
Born in 1981 in Dneprodzerzhinsk (close to Kamianske, the home town of Soviet premier Brezhnev). In the spat with Yanukovich, the latter called Maxim a kolhoznik, or peasant. In these days of anti-elitism, it might sit well as nick-name.
Maxim’s father is an architect, who runs a private design company in their home town. His mother is a teacher working in a kindergarten. Both grandfathers died in the Red Army fighting against the Germans in WWII.
Maxim completed school in 1999 and went on to study architecture, graduating in 2004. He was made head of student residence security after disarming a knife-wielding drunk. He worked in architecture and design after graduation and in 2010 was elected for the first time as mayor of Elizavetovka Village Council.
Maxim is married with one 7 year-old daughter. Maxim belongs to the Eastern Orthodox Church, but is not particularly religious. He was sporty at college and has experience of boxing, judo and taekwondo.
The struggle with the gas companies
Maxim’s signature political action has been his campaign against companies which he believes have benefitted illegally from the messy post-Soviet privatisation of the gas industry. In his capacity of council chairman, Maxim refused to sign an agreement, brought to him by the local gas company, which would have acknowledged a significant debt for supply of gas to municipal facilities. Maxim challenged the gas companies in court, to prove that they had legal ownership both of the gas that they were supplying and the right to use the pipeline infrastructure through which the gas was delivered to the consumers. This has turned into a David versus Goliath dispute and has had ramifications at the national level.
Maxim’s investigations show that the domestic gas supply sector is organised on mafia lines and is riven with asset-grabbing, extortion, money-laundering and adulteration, which result in consumers being charged high tariffs for gas that takes for ever to boil a kettle. He argues that the pipeline privatisation was not given proper legal and regulatory cover. The companies now doing business have kept the old names that people are familiar with, but many of them are offshore Cyprus-registered outfits. They extort consumers, backed up by thuggish violence, bribe national politicians to get away with it and place their illegal profits offshore (including in London?) As Maxim’s multiple court cases have drawn attention, he has been a target of the violence and has dramatic videos on his YouTube channel. You can see the rent-a-mob bursting into the council offices.
Interestingly, the national gas company, Niftogaz, finally linked up with Maxim, as they were aware of the illegal practices rampant in the downstream part of the industry. What should have been the climax of Maxim’s struggle was a marathon press conference held in Kiev jointly with Niftogaz, to expose industry malpractice. By Maxim’s account, the conference went well and he got a chance to tell the whole story to the national media, flanked by Niftogaz executives. But the President intervened to have all coverage suppressed and so, despite the presence of 8 TV channels, news of the conference is only available on social media.
The presidential campaign
Maxim has decided to take his anti-oligarchy campaign to the national level by standing for president. He is counting on the profile he has built up by doing assiduous social media outreach throughout his local government career. He has no political party affiliation or any organisation or movement behind him. He is hoping to build a grassroots campaign at national level, by tapping into the widespread exasperation against current national politicians. He expects a particular support base among the quarter of a million war veterans. Maxim hopes to tap into some of the support which Saakashvili built up before being pushed out of Ukraine.
Maxim has developed a manifesto, which he has put on line. It promises rule of law and a west-leaning modern social economy. He wants to end the war in the Donbass by getting tough on separatists. Maxim has started the process of a presidential nomination. He has got some publicity around a challenge to the large deposit required. But I think that he knows he will have to pay up, to proceed to the next step.
Maxim comes across as a disruptive candidate with a constructive agenda, in a situation where the Ukrainian political scene is ripe for disruption. His experience is in the bottom tier of local government, not national government. His manifesto is a bit raw and rhetorical rather than a refined policy document. However, Maxim correctly points out that the Ukrainian constitution anticipates a parliamentary system and so a presidential bid is only a stepping stone to the more important parliamentary campaign. How far Maxim gets will depend upon his own efforts and how the long-suffering Ukrainian population respond.
Maxim’s anti-oligarchy and anti-corruption messages and disruptive approach are likely to expose him to considerable risk during the campaign. Therefore he is keen to get some profile in the west to provide deterrence against the oligarchs killing him.
Maxim communicates well in Ukrainian. He comes across as a serious and plausible campaigner and local politician with wider ambitions. He does not have any English. However, he is capable of getting his message across in translation. He also seems to have done a good job of documenting his campaign on social media – the videos are all there to be seen. In these times of insurgent politics, he is a young campaigner-reformer who deserves to be heard.