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Meet ‘Darth Vader,’ the Man Upending Ukrainian Politics

We talked to Darth Vader and Chewbacca, of Ukraine's Internet Party, to talk about political corruption and their hope that the country's parliament will one day be run by computers.

af Alex Lubetkin
20 november 2015, 5:00am

Political candidates Darth Vader and Chewbacca, of the Internet Party, outside their van in Odessa. Photo by the author

Chewbacca's arrest in Odessa had more viral potential than any other story to surface from Ukraine's 2015 election season. Everyone from the Guardian to John Oliver to your freshman-year roommate noted the absurdity in the story, which saw the famous Star Wars character get arrested while trying to support his friend, Darth Vader, who was running for mayor of Odessa under the Internet Party. Such is the bizarre current state of politics in Ukraine.

Commentary on the Internet Party is scattered. Some see the party as a group of trolls trying to make an avant-garde message about the state of Ukrainian politics: "Ukraine's Internet Party has been adding a bit of levity and subtle satire to the country's tense politics for a few years now," reports tech website CNET. Others view it as symptomatic of Ukraine's hacker problem: "So deeply is this issue ingrained here that there's even a political party that champions hacker culture." The Washington Post dismisses both: "The real story is how the fake Vader represents the actual dark side of Ukrainian contemporary politics: election fraud and manipulation."

On VICE News: A Ukrainian Artist Decapitated a Statue of Lenin and Replaced It with Darth Vader

My sources in Ukraine agree with the latter notion. "The Internet Party was set up to discredit the electoral process," said political analyst Olexandr Paliy, adding that he believed the party—which, by his estimate, spent millions of dollars on advertising and Star Wars paraphernalia—was set up by oligarchs in an attempt to make the government look weak. "It's entirely too expensive to just be a joke," Paliey said.

Fedir Sydoruk, editor in chief of Slidstvo.info, a Ukrainian publication that monitors corruption, thinks that the party's intentions might be a bit more focused. "It's not a funny project—it's a political tool," Sydoruk told me. "Their job is to break up the opposition's electorate. Think about it: Who benefits the most from this?" In Odessa, that would be incumbent mayor Gennadiy Trukhanov. Trukhanov's primary opponent, Sasha Borovik (who finished in second place), blamed the Internet Party for fracturing the youth vote, one of his key demographics.

Looking for answers, I spoke to Darth Vader (who was accompanied by Chewbacca) in a posh Odessa cafe overlooking the Black Sea. The duo arrived in Darth Vader's matte black Mercedes van, took pictures with fans and spectators, debated with a man questioning the Internet Party's intentions, and spoke about Darth Vader's hope to see a Ukrainian parliament ran entirely by computers.

VICE: Thanks for talking to me today. It's an honor to talk to a Sith lord.
Darth Vader: Happy to be here.

So, exactly how old is Chewbacca?
[Darth Vader turns to Chewbacca.] How old are you? [Chewbacca motions with his hands.] Sorry, he doesn't want to say, doesn't want to talk to the press. Chewbacca's legal troubles left him in a bad mood. But we will find justice. Only then will Chewbacca be able to tell his storyand his age.

OK. How does the political scene on Earth compare to politics in a galaxy far, far away?
Compared to space politics, Ukrainian politicians are useless. They prove time and time again that they are unable to do their jobs well. That's why I propose that we computerize parliament. In Ukraine, it's common to see politicians go insane, take bribes, and beat each other up. But computers will do their jobs the way that they should.

Computers?
We have a problem. It's not a secret that in the most recent elections, politicians bought votes. Even me, by myself, I bought votes. I wanted to see what the result would be; it was an experiment. But I didn't have to buy the youth vote, they voted for me because they wanted to. They wanted change. They wanted Darth Vader. But this doesn't mean that, by tomorrow, all of Ukraine will be computerized. On elections, people should go with passports and get their own IDs, and tell the computers what to vote for. Again, I propose that we replace parliament members with computers. It would be like a giant server, connected to what the people want. No personal or political agenda would get in the way. Just computers. Right now, we have a system where we choose politicians, but after we elect them they forget about what the people want. They're so very corrupt. Again, the computers and servers will solve everything.

We had a listwhen people voted for Darth Vader, they took a picture of the ballot with their phone, sent it our way, and we paid them.

So, you bought votes?
Yes. We had a strong response online. We promised money for votes, and people signed up. We had a listwhen people voted for Darth Vader, they took a picture of the ballot with their phone, sent it our way, and we paid them. We bought about 18,000 votes in Odessa, but the final number of popular votes was around 7,000. We wanted to see if the election office would be honest, but they lied. We have 18,000 votes, confirmed. The government is to blame; the government doesn't allow us to get our earned votes. Because we proposed some unique reforms that will turn Ukraine into a stronger country that other countries want to associate with, they're afraid of us. The government doesn't want the status quo to change. They want the power.

We understand that retired people are ready to vote for buckwheat [a Ukrainian turn of phrase; essentially, old, poorer members of the community will exchange votes for food]. They usually sell their voices for food. The main aspect we understand about this election is that not all of our votes were counted. There were local elections in Kiev last year, and I was one of the candidates. I was 0.2 percent off from getting my party into the electoral committee. They clearly faked the resultsthe election committee understands that Darth Vader is too different to let in.

But why would the general public want to vote for Darth Vader over other candidates?
Look, I'm the only one in Ukraine who proposed a different conception of elections. I don't want people to vote for face, nor beauty, but for actions. You understand that I don't have any official position on anything, but I've stopped drug-dealing in Odessa. I'm the only one who fights against the drug mafia. I'm also fighting to save seaside property from greedy developers. It's important that we save this land for citizens to enjoy. This has been a problem for a while. We have to preserve this land.

[At this point in the interview, the restaurant's owner walked by and waved.]

That's my friend. He's a great guy—one of the most successful restaurateurs in Odessa. He has lovely restaurants, and he invests money and gives people job opportunities, and the city is better for it. That's what politicians should do: create jobs, expand the economy. But they don't seem capable here.

How would you serve as mayor of a town like Odessa, with such a corrupt image?
Odessa doesn't have a corrupt image. Everyone wants to live in Odessa. It's a nest that develops spectacular relationships. We have a lot of nationalities, religions, ethnicities living togetherit's a very diverse city. Everyone lives together in peace, because it's so comfortable. Even for [Mikheil] Saakashvili [the former Georgian president recently appointed governor of Ukraine's Odessa Oblast], who is under investigation in Georgia. The thief.

But it's not perfect. I would like to add that the police's acts against Chewbacca were illegal. They used violence against Chewbacca, showing the world how low our armed forces can sink. They're all barbarians.

In the media, I've seen Darth Vader and the Internet Party get portrayed as antiheroes standing up against a corrupt electoral process, but I've also seen people call you a political tool used to take votes away from more traditional politicians. What's really going on here?
The truth is in my actions. I think that the next elections will be more productive. You should understand that I came into politics to change the game. Look at [Sasha] Borovikhe's new to Odessa, and he was Saakashvili's guy, but a governor should not openly endorse a mayoral candidate like that. Borovik started his campaign three weeks before elections, and at the end he won second place, just because of his affiliation.

People weren't voting for a candidate, they were voting for a brand, like adidas or Nike. Solidarity Party [Borovik's party] seems new, but it's really just full of old Ukrainian politicians. People think they're voting for a new brand, but they're getting the same old politicians. That's why these elections didn't change anything.

So you're more than a political tool?
I know what the people say. That I'm just a political tool, that I'm not a serious candidate. They're all just scared, afraid of my laws. I don't listen to them. I listen to the citizens. Their opinion is much more important to me.

How do you feel about Gennadiy Trukhanov [the incumbent mayor said to benefit most from Vader's disruption]?
I mean, he's my son-in-law. What else can I say? There were obviously some differences in opinion, especially during the election, but we'll deal with that internally, as a family. It's a family thing.

Mayor Trukhanov is married to your daughter?
Yes.

Let's talk about money. A source estimated that your campaign expenses have surpassed $1 million. Where does the Internet Party get money?
Part of our money come from Mikhail Gorbachev. He gave us the money in 1992. But we wasted it all. Gorbachev found out, and never gave us anything more. [Laughs]

In all seriousness, we got money from Emperor Palpatine, who won a seat on Odessa's city council. We hope that, with his help, more and more will see things our way. Soon enough, the whole city council will join the dark side.

In the future, would you like to see Ukraine join the European Union?
It's not a question of joining anything. I think that our goal for Ukraine should be for complete independence, so that other countries come to us, asking to join in alliance. I promise to make things that way.

Got it. Let's switch gears: Who has the best lightsaber in the universe?
The best lightsaber in the universe is in my car. One time, a Jedi got in a fight with me, but I was too strong. The video is online. I had to use all of my dark power to win the fight, though.

How do you take your coffee?
Latté.

How do you physically drink coffee?
I use a straw.

Looking at the American political scene, what do you think of Donald Trump?
Well, as a man, he's very handsome, which has to work well for him. He definitely has a future in politics. There is a new tendency in the world: Beauty and eloquence control people.

Do you see him as a good presidential candidate?
Yoda would be better. He displays patience, courage, and responsibility, important virtues for a president.

What's your favorite type of ice cream?
Vanilla. Vanilla and pistachio.

What's your favorite movie?
Every episode of Star Wars. Those movies were sent to Earth to implement the ideas of the Internet Party. They're great for people of all ages, even though they're old, relatively speaking. Sure, they might be a bit dated, but they're timeless movies.

Is there something you'd like to tell America?
Yes, I would like to say hello to my grandma, who lives in New York City. If there's any way, I'd love it if you could deliver her some milk.

Follow Alex on Twitter.

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