KIEV — Mustafa Nayem is a 34-year-old Ukrainian Member of Parliament known by many in Kiev as “the Father of the Revolution” because of his role igniting the Maidan protests that began almost two years ago.
And he’s still at it.
Earlier this month, Parliament adopted a law pushed by Nayem and his friends that was intended to cut the influence of Ukraine’s oligarchs on party financing. As Nayem announced on his Facebook page, it was meant to be “a hammer and scalpel, which if we use in the right way, will cut out the heart of corruption.”
Nayem has, in fact, a knack for social media, not just seeking approval for his ideas, but action. On November, 21, 2013, soon after then-President Victor Yanukovych announced that he had changed his mind and would not sign an association agreement with the European Union, Nayem posted on his Facebook wall: “Come on guys, let’s be serious, don’t just ‘like’ this post. Write that you are ready and we can try to start something.” More than 1,000 wrote in the comments section, “I am ready,” and he called them to come that day to Independence Square, the Maidan Square, to launch a protest. They were mostly students. But the demonstrations soon were massive, and by February Yanukovych fled.
“The revolution we started two years ago is not over,” Nayem told The Daily Beast in an interview. “The next real breakthrough will happen inside the Parliament.”
The young politician said he was appalled to see that after so much blood was spilled on the Maidan, and on the front lines of the war in the east, the new leadership of the country continues to cover up crimes at the very top level.
“I am shocked to see how much the system struggles to suppress us,” said Nayem. “The old-school bureaucrats are scared to delegate responsibility to young people, and they just swap around the same old people.”
A few days ago, Nayem went after Ukrainian Prosecutor General Victor Shokhin, pushing for stronger court action against Ukraine’s so-called “diamond prosecutors.” Earlier this year, police found 35 bags with diamonds, cocaine and cash among property belonging to Vladimir Shapakin, an employee of the Prosecutor General’s office, and Aleksei Korniytsa, deputy head of the Kiev regional prosecutor’s office. The two eventually were arrested, but the evidence against them risks being thrown out in court.
Nayem told The Daily Beast that the two were nothing more than “candies that authorities throw to people,” and even these clean-up efforts “are not systematic.” Ukrainian civil society activists, including the Anti-Corruption Center, a civic watchdog, say that President Petro Poroshenko’s efforts to fight corruption are “useless.”
Nayem and his friends, the first young Maidan revolutionary leaders, insist that President Poroshenko and Prime Minister Arseny Yatsenyuk must let law enforcement punish their “own men.”
Nayem named concrete examples. “Corrupt bureaucrats close to the prime minister, to the president, including the head of Presidential Administration … should be investigated to demonstrate to people that the leadership have serious intentions,” Nayem said as we talked in a coffee shop in downtown Kiev. “Top officials continue to steal millions, when an average bureaucrat officially makes around $100 a month.”
“The system is not reacting much better than under Yanukovych,” Nayem said. “When I see attempts to bury evidence of high-level corruption, I think, ‘OK, you guys still have not got what really has happened in Ukraine’ — or we live in different realities.”
As Nayem talked, people at the coffee shop looked at him with appreciative smiles; a waitress, Yaroslava, asked for a photograph. “I remember your courageous words thrown into Yanukovych’s face about his luxurious life,” she said.
A Kabul-born Pashtun, Nayem left Afghanistan as a young child during Soviet times. His father brought him first to Moscow, then to Kiev, where Nayem studied math and aerospace engineering. But upon graduation, he started working as an investigative reporter on corruption cases among law enforcement agencies and state institutions. “That must have been my Karma,” he said.
Earlier this year, Nayem enrolled in a training course for the newly reformed police force in the Carpathian mountain regions. “I changed my identity twice, from reporter to member of parliament, and now to a policeman,” he joked. It was important for Nayem to learn how the system works from the inside.
In Parliament, he shifted from the Committee on European Integration to the Committee on Legislative Support of Law Enforcement. And from the west of Ukraine, Nayem traveled to the war-troubled east, the Donbass region where cops often joined the rebels.
“After more than 12,000 policemen betrayed the state and joined separatists in Donetsk two years ago, people in Kramatorsk and Sloviansk have doubts that newly trained policemen will stay faithful,” Nayem told The Daily Beast. “Our job is to make an example in Donbass, to create perfect, non-corrupt European police, to give people jobs, and hope.”