“Those In Power View Us As Antibodies Who Must Be Isolated And Destroyed”
Yuriy Lutsenko told The Ukrainian Week about the manner in which Ukrainian courts interpret justice, why Orange politicians lost power and his future plans
The General-Prosecutor sent the criminal case against former Interior Minister Yuriy Lutsenko, with a judgment about his conviction to the Kyiv-based Pechersk District Court for review. Currently, Mr. Lutsenko is at an emergency hospital under increased security. He was transferred there from Lukianivske detention centre after refusing to end the hunger strike he began on 22 April to protest against his illegal detention. Doctors claimed in the official report that he “must receive treatment” assessing his state of health as the “middle severity level.” Mr. Lutsenko’s wife said that her husband was in a critical condition and doctors have been seeking to convince him to end the hunger strike, otherwise they would not be able to save his life.
The Ukrainian Week received Mr. Lutsenko’s answers on 13 May. Five days later, on 18 May, the ex-minister was no longer able to read, watch TV or hold a pen…
UW: How would you explain the factors behind your arrest?
– Charges against myself include a wrong-calculated pension for my driver and the holding of the celebration of the Police Day holiday which the General Prosecutor absurdly claims was illegal. Investigators have not found a single penny that I stole and put into my private pocket.
I was arrested because I refused to plead guilty, give testimony and allegedly read my case file too slowly. The first two aspects are given to me by my constitutional rights. The third is mandatory, not a right, under the Criminal Code. Moreover, I’ve been under arrest for 20 days after I completed reading the case. So, this is clearly political revenge, not criminal proceedings. Those in power have reasons for launching these charges, including their intention to get pay back for their panic in 2005, to demonstrate new rules of the game and create an aura of fear, and attempt to pull the pre-planned verdict through all necessary controlled courts in order to remove me from politics.
In my opinion, the key reason behind all this is the desire to publicly hang the Orange Revolution. It is important for the current Soviet corrupt government to make the nation believe that any struggle is pointless. Hence, the launching of absurd cases against Yulia Tymoshenko and Lutsenko.
This is aggression against the opposition who are seen as “anti-bodies” by those who are in power who don’t play by their criminal rulesWe are like “antibodies” for them which they must isolate and destroy.
UW: Do you consider yourself completely innocent? If so, who initiated your arrest?
– I have enough evidence to reject any charges I am facing if they are made in a court where there is the rule of law. I only wonder where I could find such a court in a country where the General Prosecutor’s brother is head of the highest criminal court. Add to this the Supreme Council of Justice is controlled by the Presidential Administration which blatantly fires inconvenient judges. As a result of this political interference, the Ukrainian judicial system is operated by people who authorise arrests merely on the grounds that they have exercised their constitutional rights. What can be more illegal than that? Therefore, what kind of justice could I find at yet another controlled court?
In this case, I believe my only option is to exercise my right for a jury which is set out in the Constitution. I believe that people who are independent from the government will listen to my arguments and cast aside the politically motivated and absurd accusations of the General Prosecutor.
UW: You claim you are refusing to be force-fed while investigators say they have given you nourishing substances
– As I have already said, after I finished reading all 47 volumes of the General Prosecutor’s complete collection of false evidence, the last, third artificial grounds for my arrest fell away. Nevertheless, the judge extended my term of arrest without any reference to the law and without any interest in the correct procedure. So, I decided to protest against this fradulent judgment and went on hunger strike on 22 April. I made this statement in the court room and spread it through my press-service. On 30 April, the administration of the detention centre asked me to notify them officiallyof my decision. Even though, no legislation requires this, I confirmed my decision to go on a hunger strike. My cellmates also confirmed it. Then I was left alone in my cell and a day later they saw that I had lost 14 kg and found acetone in my blood.
On 1 May they decided to force-feed me with a special mixture that was supposed to excrete the acetone from my body, while officials from the Prosecutor’s office kept spreading falsehoodsthat I was eating fish, ham, nuts and other nutritious food. I had only one way to respond to these brazen fabrications by refusing to take this mixture or vitamin injections on 4 May. On the 19th day of my hunger strike I was taken to an emergency hospital in Kyiv, and even after all of this the Prosecutor still claims Lutsenko is perfectly healthy.
UW: The European Court of Human Rights began to look into your case against the government. Whatdoes the case state?
– There is a bittersweet joke, that the European Court of Human Rights is the fairest court of Ukraine. It accepted my appeal against my illegal arrest and placed it in a high priority category to be investigated. I’m sure it will rule in my favour. Unfortunately, this will be yet another confirmation how the Ukrainian judiciary is used for political oppression. The President and General Prosecutor still have a chance to improve the situation by admitting that all of these cases are completely against the law and release me on bail or after a pledge by myself to not leave the city. But they are blinded by their zest of revenge.
UW: Do you intend to seek danages against those who were involved in your arrest?
– I’ve faced criminal charges before. And I won them all, both in the opposition, and when I was in government. Still, I never felt like I really wanted to seek damages against my investigators. I realised they were just cogs in the imperial machine.
But, on this occasionitwillbedifferent. Iwillholdthe investigatorsandjudgesliablefortheir appallingviolationsofthelawandtheConstitution. And it’s not just because I’m sick and tired of having spent five months in jail. In addition to breaking the law, investigators are spreading lies and exerting pressure on my family. They are no longer cogs, but have become enthusiastic servants. Moreover, the ones who approved these illegal decisions were high-fliers within the General Prosecutor’s office. There will come time to put them in their correct places.
UW: Some former officials who have also faced suits have claimed that investigators promised to be more forgiving to them if they testified against Tymoshenko. Have you been offered any similar deal?
– The investigators offered me a deal that I should claim the celebration of the Police Day holiday was the initiative of the then prime minister and in return promised that I would then be changed to a witness rather than a respondent. Clearly, I said no by using a pretty rude response.
UW: How will in your opinion the Tymoshenko case end?
– All political cases will end with the embarrassment of Yanukovych and his puppet Prosecutor’s Office. What other end can happen, given the fact that 88% of Ukrainians admit that political repression is in full swing these days?
UW: If discharged, are you going to run with the opposition in the next parliamentary election?
– Regardless of the court’s decision I will be involved in politics in order to replace the current anti-Ukrainian government. Being a Member of Parliament was never my ultimate goal. In fact, I felt most successful when I was among common everyday people, without a deputy’s mandate or immunity from prosecution. In reality, sitting in parliament with all those notorious people is not a pleasant deal.
UW: What future do you see for your political party, People’s Self-Defence (Narodna Samooborona)? Who should be blamed for its fragmentation?
– People’s Self-Defence was a super-successful insurgent project in the 2007 elections. I’m proud that we energised people into believing in their power and achieved pre-term parliamentarys, the “Supreme Treason” as Ukrainians have been referring to it for a while. And I’m proud that my party demonstrated the skill to unite throwing aside political egoism in favour of upholding national interests.
If you talk about defeat, please note that all of the problems and treason emerged out of the fact that the political force was still in its infancy. We had less than six months to organise the party, scrutinise people and so on. Right now we are finishing this stage. Yet, the price of treason by my party fellow members is a huge factor for me personally. Meanwhile, at the same time, I appreciate my friends who have firm principles.
UW: Do you believe in a united opposition?
– The actions undertaken by myself during my entire political career answer this question. I was the one who successfully convinced Oleksandr Moroz to advise his voters in the 2004 elections to “either vote for Mr. Moroz, or Mr. Yushchenko, - but not Mr. Yanukovych” . This led to the Socialist Party of Ukraine led by Mr. Moroz to give its support to the Maidan and a victory to the united democratic forces. The partnership between Our Ukraine, the party headed by Mr. Yushchenko, the People’s Self-Defence led by myself and the Bloc of Yulia Tymoshenko proved its success in the 2007 pre-termelections.
It is the case that any squabbles within the democratic forces always led to their defeat. Not only for themselves, as they deserved defeat, but defeat for Ukraine. The latest presidential election is the saddest example of this outcome.
So why then ask about my attitude towards the unification of democratic forces in Ukraine? Of course, I’m all in favour of it. But, how we undertake it, though, is a different matter altogether. The only thing I can be sure about is that I will never stand in the way of any unification processes.
UW: In your opinion, why did the Party of the Regions prove to be more united when they were in opposition than the Orange coalition?
– The Party of the Regions is a business project of the wealthiest people in Ukraine. Their simple and clear goal is to evade taxes which they would have to pay if transfers of their windfall profits to offshore zones are restricted. These taxes are worth nearly UAH 500bn annually which is more than expenditure in the State Budget. Hence, the Party of Regions is a special project to organise the party and discipline its members. They have a vast array of instruments to maintain the party unified, from giving out diamond encrusted watches to a shot in the head at a hunting weekend (a reference to the “accidental” shooting of Yevhen Kushnariov).
Democrats have a different situation. Their ambitions often overtake their loyalties. The only way to teach them the virtues of unity and responsibility is to train them in election campaigns in the same manner as how you train dogs. Traitors to the Orange Revolution, such as Moroz and Yushchenko, should be removed from the political arena.
UW: The Orange Revolution was based on the slogan “Bandits will go to to prison!”. Yet, the president found a compromise with them instead…
– I realised this after just one conversation with President Yushchenko who suggested that I should “try and come to terms with then Kyiv Mayor Leonid Chernovetsky.” . When I told him in a sharp way that I could never come to terms with thieves and bandits, I heard the following answer from Mr. Yushchenko that I will never forget: “Yura, stop playing at being a cop. Remember that anyone who enters my cabinet wearing a tie will never go behind bars.” This was the moment of truth.
Suddenly, it turned out that I had been working all those weekends and ended up with a huge number of personal enemies only to see their leaders enter necessary cabinets wearing a tie and the Prosecutor-General would bury yet another case after their visit. All my pleas and demands to parliament to replace the Prosecutor-General fell on deaf ears. Now, all of these infamous prosecutors are, or will be, in parliament, such as one-time Prosecutor-General Sviatoslav Piskun who is now a Party of the Regions deputy, and Oleksandr Medvedko, another formerProsecutor-General, who will become a Party of Regions deputy after the 2012 elections. The Prosecutor-General has always been in place to assist the Kuchma-Yanukovych clan remain unpunished for a range of crimes, from theft to murder.
Yushchenko accepted these compromises to receive the presidency and he did this behind the back of all the people on the Maidan.
UW: Treason and conformism have become integral elements of Ukrainian politics. How long is this going to last?
– I know history pretty well. Based on this I can say that elites have betrayed people not only in Ukraine. Poland and the Czech Republic, Bulgaria, Spain, Italy and Germany, have all walked a long and thorny path to independence and responsible government before society. We are still on that path. Ukrainians have only just realised that they in fact can influence their fate. After the high hopes of the Orange Revolution were destroyed by yet another round of treason, Ukrainians fell into depression. Still, the process is moving in the right direction. Nobody can stop it or force it back into a barrack using cheap gas and an out of control government.
I am an optimist. Everything will work out well in the end, although I personally feel disgusted at living during a time when political asylum is being combined with that of a concentration camp. We lack teachers and promoters of trust, hope and love, as well as solidarity and the understanding that national interests should be paramount. A wise Pole once said, based on the book With Fire and Sword, a novel by the Polish writer Henryk Sienkiewicz, that “Poland has placed its hopes on the well-disciplined Colonel Wolodyjowski and won back its independent state, while the ghost of Jan Zagłoba is still haunting the Black Sea steppes slaughtering all of his allies.”
UW: Do you feel sorry for not moving abroad like Bohdan Danylyshyn and Mykhailo Pozhyvanov?
– Of course, I had been aware of my upcoming arrest. But I wouldn’t have fled abroad even if I had realised that I’d never return home from jail. I was taught to be responsible for other people, not just for myself. I didn’t give back enough to the people on the Maidan who made me one of their leaders. Now I must do my best to not let our beliefs and principles down. People with no dignity can sit in their state funded dachas and watch others trample on the Ukrainian flag. Defectors and quasi-oppositionists can squabble over petty handouts. My task is to prove that not everything can be bought or sold, and that not everyone is scared. This is the smallest contribution that I can male to Ukrainians who stood in support ofthe Orange Revolution.
UW: Can you read or follow the news?
– Books fill my days. Mostly, I read history and philosophy. Sometimes I go back to my favourite classics – Hemingway, Golding, Murakami, Marques… This last week I’ve been reading poems by Joseph Brodsky. “The tint of shame flooded the flag,” he wrote. Isn’t that exactly about the games our government is playing with red flags today out of contempt for national consciousness and historical memories? I follow all the news from TV and printouts from the key media outlets that my lawyers bring to me. By the way, your magazine The Ukrainian week is one of those.
UW: Has your attitude towards the world and people changed after all this time spent in prison?
Spending four and a half months in a special regime ward with a murderer of two policemen has not been easy. Yet, many people have fallen victim in this country to the unjust and intolerant system which is similar to the one used by the Soviet secret police, the NKVD. At least 30% of the prisoners could be at home, not behind bars, if they pledged to stay in the city or if they were released on bail. I keep reminding the ombudsman during my hunger strike that this is a wild remnant of the Stalin era. As to me, I remain the same Yuriy Lutsenko as I was before, a little tough and always ironic. The only unpleasantness I feel regularly is that I really miss my family.
On May 16, Ukrainian filmmaker currently jailed in Russia as a political prisoner went on a hunger strike. In a public letter he wrote that he would only stop the strike if all 64 Ukrainian prisoners jailed in Russia for politically-motivated grounds are released
The opposition in Ukraine is mostly reactive and it chooses actions that will be most useful for criticizing the current Administration or gaining the attention of a specific part of the electorate. What Ukraine needs most right now is a consolidating program and a party that could present its own alternative for the country