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27 January, 2012  ▪  Ivan Halaichenko

The Need for an Internal Factor

The country in which tortures and inhuman jail conditions are of a norm could not negotiate on the Association Agreement

The Tymoshenko “prison photos,” which recently leaked into Western media, speak more convincingly than any statement and can clearly explain to the European community the practical application of political repression and selective justice, Ukrainian style. They are a telling example of the worth of our top officials’ declarations about “general equality before the law” and the “absence of human rights issues.” All this puts to question the association talks (let alone EU membership) between Europe and a country in which inhuman imprisonment conditions and torture are considered normal, and where opposition politicians are forced into these conditions. The Ukrainian regime’s attempts to neutralize the effect of the prison photos with the demonstration of luxury accommodation, which they tried to pass off as Yulia Tymoshenko’s cell, were exposed in her letter to the prison authorities in which she refuted all this window dressing.

Yet there is every reason to fear that without the prospect of European association, Ukraine’s leaders will lose even whatever dim awareness they have of the fact that such practices are wrong and should be eradicated. Simple logic suggests that it is the citizens of the country who should instil this feeling in the government. But the latter will turn a deaf ear, and society itself has not yet given the regime any reason to expect a public uproar. This is why those who want to live in a country not shaped by Yanukovych and Co. are appealing to Europe asking it “not to deprive Ukraine of its chance,” “not to abandon Ukraine,” and “to draw a line between Ukraine’s regime and society.”

It is perhaps only the most politically disengaged Ukrainians who have not asked the EU to at least initial, if not sign, the Association Agreement at the December summit. This appeal came from both NGOs, which collected signatures of “all progressive people” to present them to the EU officials, and opposition politicians. Tymoshenko, even though she was imprisoned and confined to bed by illness, also asked this of European Commissioner Stefan Fühle.

NO INITIALING, BUT SHELVING

The problem is that the Association Agreement (including the provisions on the Free Trade Area) is exactly that sign of moving towards Europe, which Ukraine’s leadership is allegedly so anxious to send. Far from guaranteeing membership, it would nevertheless testify to the parties’ will to get there. However, the implementation of this will greatly depends on formal procedures, whose progress reveal the real state of affairs in mutual relations. Making the Agreement effective involves its signing and ratification by Ukraine’s Verkhovna Rada, the European Parliament, and national parliaments of all the 27 EU member states. This is quite a long procedure. But before it can even be initiated, a number of mandatory formalities must be completed and any one of which can delay the process.

Early this year, when Kyiv demonstrated (now one gets a strong impression that it was a mere simulation) a will for rapprochement with the European Union and dissociation with Russia, it seemed that these formalities would be completed in no time, and the signing of the Association Agreement and FTA would be part of the next EU–Ukraine summit’s agenda. Then the ratification process would follow, and some of the articles concerning free trade would even start working, which would thus lay the foundations for the growth of GDP and living standards. Under such conditions, most citizens would never even suspect of all sorts of “negotiation completion statements,” “document initialing” etc. Under normal circumstances, all the mundane details are left for the diplomats to take care of while the politicians smile for the cameras and reap election dividends.

However, Ukraine’s leaders preferred to astonish the world with what is considered absolutely inadmissible in modern international relations — a point blank lie. Of course, the president and his entourage are now saying that nothing has ever been promised. Nevertheless, European diplomats openly (which has hitherto been unheard of) talk about the situations when they were informed of prospective revision of legislation, arrangements for a compromise and so on. Even on the day when Tymoshenko was convicted, Yanukovych was saying something about appellate procedure and the “norms which the judges will proceed from.”

Thus, compensatory mechanisms were put in action, and the process of putting the Agreement into effect slowed down. So at the December 19 summit, the document did not even get dummy signatures.  A political statement was made that the negotiations were now completed. Now, in order to pass on to the signing stage, the document has to be initialed, i.e., all pages have to be signed. If necessary, this can be done very quickly. But the deliberate procrastination of the process before initialing is a clear message that Europe is not ready to sign serious treaties with these people. The sad irony of the situation is that this tough scenario will hardly influence the affairs in this country.

HOW TO MAKE THE REGIME HEAR YOUR VOICE

More and more EU officials are becoming aware of the sad fact: the EU has no effective leverage to influence Ukraine’s regime. Sanctions take a political will and/or the spread of human rights violations in Ukraine on a scale comparable to that in Belarus. “Of course, we could impose sanctions against Rodion Kireev, but how will you benefit from that?” This is a rhetorical question. Thus all this gives rise to fears that Yanukovych and Co. could use the Association Agreement for their own legitimization at home: “We negotiate on equal footing, we issue joint statements and consequently, we are real, respected, and legitimate power.”

When in 2004 the world (with the exception of Russia and a few other “paragons of democracy”) disapproved of the second round of Ukraine’s rigged presidential election and criticized the Ukrainian administration, society understood that it was not alone in its desire to change the malpractice in the top echelons of power. But if all TV channels broadcast a pretty picture with handshakes and declarations about Ukraine’s European prospects (even with their traditional reservations), Ukraine’s leaders will use this as a testimony of their victory, and of their worldwide recognition.

This is actually what the official coverage of the summit boils down to in this country. The Foreign Ministry even went as far as to offer an explanation blaming the delay on Europe: the Agreement was not ready for initialing, since the Europeans were allegedly too preoccupied with their own internal problems. What else can you expect from Yanukovych and his kind? The problem is whether Ukrainian society will be able to make them carry out the obligations (such as rights, liberties, free development, refusal from repressions and harassment of business, etc.), which they are going to assume for the umpteenth time. Replacing the government, or compelling it to act within a legal framework, is the citizens’ right, privilege, and duty – especially if they will not agree to be subjects of the system built by the regime


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