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25 March, 2011  ▪  Dmytro Hubenko

Shame and Blame

Hanne Severinsen: “The battle against corruption is one of the most important things to improve the image of Ukraine”

As Monitor Co-Rapporteur of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, Hanne Severinsen de facto took part in Ukrainian political life since 1995 till 2008. It was 13 years – more than a half of the independent Ukraine’s history. She still follows the situation in our country. 

CORRUPTION ULCER

You oppose the idea of majority election system at the parliamentary elections. According to our information, the Party of Regions has prepared the new election law which again introduces the mixed voting system and, most probably, again with closed party lists. What consequences will the return to mixed voting system have for the Ukrainian democracy?

The history of political development in Ukraine teaches us that it will be very easy to manipulate the majority election. As we saw in the past, you could create artificial parties and split the opposition, to the advantage of the local oligarchs who thereby have the best possibility to get the biggest part of local electorate. And mixed with the closed lists, where the voters have no influence on them you in adopting the mixed system, you will have the two worst worlds combined. One of the problems is that many politicians in Ukraine start with the question: How can we have a system that gives me power, what system would gain it for me? Instead of thinking: what system would be representative for the electorate?

This year Ukraine will preside over the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe (CoE). However, Ukraine did not follow the CoE recommendation to join the EU sanctions against Belarus. And, moreover, there have been many public cases of human rights violation in Ukraine within last year. Could all this affect Ukraine's presidency in CoE? And how?

The presidency is chosen if alphabetical order, therefore sometimes in CoE you have chairman countries which are not ideal for all other members. Normally you can use the chairmanship to set up the agenda. But if you are a country that has bad image because you don't keep up to the commitments of being the member of the CoE, your moral strength will not be very high. I mean that you have the chairmanship, but you can't raise the finger and set the agenda.

The problem is that you have unreformed institutions – judiciary, prosecutors, secret service. The  sad thing was that under the saying that it was a reform, the High Court of Justice has been totally under presidential control. At the same time the prosecutor's office is also dependent on president, meaning that you have no separation of power. “Power corrupts & absolute power corrupts absolute”. If you see corruption, sometimes you dare to talk about it, but there will be no sentence, no enforcement, because the power is concentrated.

The selective justice is obvious. Under the label of fight against corruption you put opposition in prison to scare others in opposition to be loyal. Ukrainian officials tell abroad that they are guilty, forgetting the presumption that you are not guilt until it's proved. I think it is also an attempt to “character-murder”, as we say in Denmark. One of the underlying systemic problems is that nearly all parties have the close connection with the business world. I'm working voluntarily in the Danish Helsinki Committee, and I have two former well known general prosecutors in Denmark Mikael Lyngbo and Erik Merlung as colleages. We have some fund money at Danish Helsinki Committee for legal monitoring, so they are following at the moment the cases of Kornichuk and Lutsenko – but will also follow others – like Ivaschenko. They will report to OSCE, CoE, EU.

.Is nowadays the EU prepared for actions against the violation of human rights on the continent?

I know that the EU ambassadors in Kyiv often discuss what to do. They are very concerned about the situation in Ukraine and want to support civil society, because it should be strengthened, it is the most important. I think there should be more opportunities (like student exchange programs) for youngsters to go to Western Europe and see how things are there. Therefore lifting of visa regime would be useful – and not for the sake of the government.

USEFUL CRITICS

Does Denmark still support the idea of Ukraine's membership in the EU just as it was a couple of years ago when more than 50% Danish people agreed that Ukraine should become the EU member?

The image of Ukraine decreased partly because of the mistakes after the Orange revolution, partly because Danish businessmen come home and tell about corruption. It is not worse than in Bulgaria and Romania but their membership showed that if you take the countries that haven't done anything against corruption it creates lot of problems. So, I think that the battle against corruption is one of the most important things to improve the image of Ukraine. 

Do you see now the political force in Ukraine that is able to fight for freedom and democratic values?

I urge some of the opposition parties in Ukraine to start from scratch again, meaning form local organizations, to rely on local sources, not business interest but value-based. I'd really like to take part in the discussion about creating a better political system where you can really fell that you can elect someone you can trust to be “my MP”. For voters it is a bad situation when they voted for some party, but a lot of the elected people was there just for their own interest and went to another party. So, you really need to have the election system with open list and regional choice.

Could you define the main loopholes and tools in the national laws that set up the best possible conditions for the state corruption in the post-soviet countries (like state procurement law, for instance)? What do you see today in Ukraine? 

I've already said about the concentration of power and the independence of judges. But it is also a question of education, and of shame and blame. You may see corruption in the US, but when it is detected it is a big shame. The Ukrainian society is so familiar with petty corruption and big corruption; there should be shame for it. People that experience unfairness and even crime should use the new media like Facebook and Twitter in order to spread the knowledge of what s are going on.  Of course, there is a heritage of the Soviet Union, you have the history of authorities coming with simply artificial claims, and you had to find out how to live with all these strange orders. Ukrainians are very good in surviving, they are very innovative, but they unfortunately have to use their strength in order to find how to live with this arbitrary order.

If you follow the story of draft languages law proposed by Party of Regions, what do you think about this? It focuses a lot on the Russian language and reinforces it while weakening the single state language – Ukrainian.

I think since Ukrainian was really a minority language in Soviet times and has been looked down, it is very important that you give Ukrainian language a possibility to go ahead. So, the risk of new legislation will decrease many of the improvements for Ukrainian identity which was seen in last 20 years will decrease. When I travel in Eastern and Southern Ukraine I meet people who are Ukrainians. They speak Russian, but that has nothing to do with that they are not proud to be Ukrainians. So, they may find a way to sometimes speak Ukrainian, sometimes Russian. Since Ukrainian has been really suppressed it needs a helping hand, but it is not discrimination against Russian.

You promote the idea of the Ukraine's EU integration in the European Parliament. Thank you very much for this. EP adopted the critical resolution on Ukraine. The Ukrainian authorities explained it by hostility of some parliamentary forces to the EU integration of Ukraine. How could you reconcile Ukrainian government with the reality you observe in the Euro parliament?

Those who are now very worried about the situation in Ukraine are those forces who really want Ukraine to be a part of Europe. So, it is not criticizing Ukraine, but criticizing development of the power concentration in Ukraine because that may damage the link between the EU and Ukraine. So, people who criticize are people who really want Ukraine to be together in Europe. 


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