Saturday, February 06, 2010
For those of you who think that well-attended demonstrations are the last bastion of authenticity in politics, consider this exciting new business from Ukraine.
Want to ensure a bigger draw for your lackluster candidate? In Ukraine, just contact Vladimir Boyko and he'll rent you a crowd.
Mr. Boyko says his company, Easy Work, has assembled a database of several thousand students and can mobilize them on a day's notice to turn up at demonstrations anywhere in Kiev, stand for hours at a time, and cheer or jeer on cue.
"We'll do business with any political party. Ideology doesn't matter to us," says the 21-year-old Web-design major at Kiev Polytechnic Institute. "It matters even less to most students," he adds, grinning. "They have become tired of politicians. They will rally only for money."
Easy Work's emergence last summer, described by Mr. Boyko and co-owner Matvey Dyadkov, casts light on a secretive industry of crowd brokers in this former Soviet republic. Those apolitical operatives take cash from candidates' parties and hire students, pensioners and others at roughly $4 an hour to bulk up the candidates' rallies.
The rent-a-crowd business, though not illegal, is taboo in Ukraine. Politicians deny using it, and many people in the business prefer the benign Russian term sobrat tolpu, which means to gather a crowd. But it has prospered amid disillusionment with the Orange Revolution, the massive peaceful uprising that overturned a tainted 2004 election result and ushered in the country's pro-Western leadership.
Dimmed by economic malaise and legislative deadlock, Orange fervor has given way to a mercenary form of activism. Mr. Boyko, a gangly snowboarding techie who took part in the 2004 protests as a high-school senior, has keenly observed the shift and, as Ukraine holds a presidential runoff vote Sunday, is moving to cash in on it.
"If you place an order for a rally, you can have it the next day," he says.
One rally please, with pepperoni, onions, and a side order of cheesy bread. What? No pepperoni? Then baloney, please.
Not terribly different from the paid protesters we have here, who you can sometimes find advertised on Craigslist. Arabs have done this for centuries, starting with 'professional mourners' who, for a nominal fee, would accompany a funeral procession and cry real hard to make Hassan the Camel Poker seem like an important man.