Hanne Severinsen: “I try to promote European values when anyone asks me to”
Hanne Severinsen was following the political situation in Ukraine as a co-reporter of the Monitoring Committee of the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly during 13 years until 2008. She still cares about the democratic development of our country but her ideas get a lot of opposition among Ukrainian politics. Severinsen shared with TheUkrainian Week her opinion about the Tymoshenko case and other events in Ukraine and Europe.
CONCERN OF EUROPE
U. W.: What decision do you expect from the Ukrainian court in the Tymoshenko case?
There is no doubt that the president ordered a “case” against his main opponent and found a judge to put her in prison so that she will be unable to run for the next parliamentary — as well as the next presidential — election.
Political decisions with which some might disagree are now being deemed criminal offences in court cases.
This is serious in a democracy, where one of the most important goals is to have a peaceful method of transferring power in the government.
U. W.: How will various European countries and organizations react if political cases in Ukraine end in convictions? Will Europe understand that the lack of a hard reaction on its part to Tymoshenko being sentenced to prison will make it possible for an authoritarian regime a la Lukashenka to rise in Ukraine? Has the EU analyzed the threat of another “Belarus” appearing on its Eastern borders?
You give the answer in your question
From what I know, there are worries in many European countries. The political motivated court-cases and the attempt to humiliate people from the former Government are seen as a road to “Belarusian” conditions.
I think this should worry Europe indeed. But attention is currently focussed more on the Arab Spring and how to help the fragile attempts of the younger generations there to create democracy. And the debt-crises in the EU and US are also receiving attention.
Ukraine’s example is seen as a sign of how vulnerable democracy is when old nomenclatures take over power. They now see that the return of Yanukovych was not a normal shift of a party to power, but a power-grab. And everybody regrets that the leaders of the Orange Revolution failed to fight together to transform society. They lacked a forward-looking strategy.
U. W.: Can we expect a fair campaign in Ukraine before the parliamentary elections in 2012? What is Europe's opinion on possible pressure by government on opposition parties during the campaign?
The media is now in a new sophisticated form of control.
The local election last year was regarded as an undemocratic step backwards, so the international interest to avoid this in the next election will be intense.
But all of the next year’s events will be decisive. It is not enough to watch on election-day.
I am very pessimistic about how much we can help, if the regime succeeds with changing the system to the old corrupt fifty-fifty system the country had back in 2002.
U. W.: What instruments does Russia have to influence European policies now?
The major instrument is quite obvious – it's gas. But there is also some kind of Kremlin paranoia that influences Europe. Vladimir Putin, when he was president, claimed that Russia was humiliated in the nineties. I don't think we humiliated them at all. But Putin claimed that Europe shouldn't interfere in “Russia's sphere of influence”, he created a situation in which everybody had to talk nicely to him. You may see that in the Council of Europe; there is only little discussion about the situation in Russia, while there should be more criticism — for instance of the lack of media freedom.
U. W.: What instruments does the Council of Europe have to influence the situation in Ukraine? Will these instruments be used, and if so, under what conditions?
I would be very disappointed if they were not used. It’s a clear case for CoE already in next session in October. The abuse of the criminal justice system as part of the political struggle clearly shows the lack of the rule of law in Ukraine.
U. W.: Do you agree that the system of interaction between democratic countries of Europe and support of democratic reforms produce too many errors, that it is obsolete and needs reforming itself?
Yes, but it is not easy. I’m afraid I have no recipes. First, we should all remember the goal we had after the cold war, that Europe should unite in order to have lasting peace. That was my dream. But it was not realized in full scale – there is still this “silver curtain” for Ukraine. And it is very bad — we should give Ukraine the prospect of EU-membership as a target for the future. However, it is not as easy as it would have been six years ago. Putin has created a monopoly on influence. We should have done it earlier.
U. W.: This summer, Ukrainian internet sites loyal to the government published articles which, in terms of their style and content, could be described as “black PR” against you. In particular, they wrote that Yulia Tymoshenko “fired” you, implying that you received money from BYuT. Another article claimed BYuT bought an apartment for you in Kyiv. What do you think is behind this wave of "black PR"? Have you felt any other attempts to discredit you as an independent expert?
When I stopped my career as Danish MP because of an unexpected early election, I was happy to be able to continue promoting PACE-priorities: democracy, human rights and the rule of law.
So I started working for The Danish Helsinki Committee of Human Rights, and I accepted to be (an unpaid) advisor for the Tymoshenko-Government (on PACE-values to be fulfilled). I also became President of the European Media Platform in Ukraine, a Member of the Board of Institute of World Policy of Ukraine, and a Member of the Supervisory Board of Ukrainian School for Political Studies. I have also during the recent years assisted Liberal groups and University-groups, when they travelled in Ukraine. Besides this, I have taken part in many Conferences and meetings around your country.
Sometimes – mainly in 2008 - my travel expenses were refunded by the former Government, but most of the time my expenses were refunded by others, or I have paid them myself. It seems to irritate the Government that I express my opinion when asked. So they try to create rumours that I do these things for money. It seems to be beyond their imagination that you could act, just because you are worried about developments.
Ms. Hanna Herman’s fabricated story that I received a flat from Ms. Tymoshenko is ridiculous, as is the story of me being fired this summer from a “job” I never had. When the new Azarov government came to power I – naturally - finished in my capacity as a government-advisor.
I represent myself. I have been for a long time closely following the recent history of Ukraine, and I try to promote European values, as long as somebody asks me to do this. I look forward to the day when democracy is relatively secure, but the road seems to be a very long one.
For Ukrainians incarcerated in the occupied territories and in the Russian Federation itself, things could get much worse in 2018. Only serious international pressure is likely to make Moscow release these political prisoners