23 June 2015

Viktor Yanukovych, a free media and supporting the ostriches


The ousted Ukraine President Viktor Yanukovych was interviewed by BBC Newsnight and it is worth watching. What is most tremendous about the interview is that initially the autocratic Yanukovych does a convincing job of winning over the viewer. He makes thoughtful remarks about the horror of war and it is possible to see his side of the story, because he was a legitimately elected leader removed from office.

But just when it is going well for Yanukovych, the interviewer asks about his lavish (and deeply vulgar) house and personal zoo, which came to light when he fled the country with the aid of the Russians. Could he not see that having a private zoo – housing ostriches – looked a bit, well, er, ostentatious and madcap dictator-like?

His response will be included for many years to come in satirical shows whenever the producers want to illustrate the excesses and delusions of autocrats.

Interviewer: “The zoo with the ostriches, etc?”

Yanukovych: “What’s wrong with supporting?”

Interviewer: “What did you support?”

Yanukovych: That I supported the ostriches. What’s wrong with that?”

There are no further questions, your honour.

But how did that key quote ever seem like a good idea. Who advised Yanukovych?

Aide: “Boss, they are going to ask about the zoo.”

Yanukovych: “It’ll be fine. I’ll just say that I supported the ostriches.”

The BBC Newsnight interview provides another useful insight into the mind of the autocrat. And it serves as a reminder that the crucial role a free media – and Western journalism – plays in holding authority to account sometimes involves making powerful people, or formerly powerful people, look utterly ridiculous.

Iain Martin is Editor of CapX