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27 January, 2012  ▪  Alla Lazareva

Going Round In Circles

The Council of Europe reports look discouragingly similar

If not for the political persecution of the opposition, that has turned into the current government’s trademark, the new draft report on Ukraine by Mailis Reps and Marietta de Pourbaix-Lundin, two PACE Rapporteurs, would be barely different from other similar PACE documents. The monitoring continues, Ukraine is not fulfilling its commitments and every new government comes up with new excuses for why Ukraine continuously fails to meet European standards.

WHO IS TO BLAME?

“You can print out all my recommendations from previous years and bring them up for discussion,” Hanne Severinsen, ex-Rapporteur on Ukraine, says. “They’re not out-dated. Kyiv has been deaf to all advice from Europe.” Ms. Severinsen’s comments mostly focused on the current government, but not that alone. Under Kuchma and Yushchenko, many of the commitments Ukraine undertook when entering the Council of Europe were never intended to be implemented. These included the reform of the Prosecutor’s Office, the separation of investigation and oversight, equality of prosecution and defense in trials, the approval of a new Constitution, improvement of criminal legislation and the Uniform Election Code, to name a few. It is enough to simply turn the pages of the reports and resolutions from 2010, 2005, 2001 and 1997.

Why did this happen? Ukraine failed to learn how to be a fully fledged, self-standing and self-sufficient state over its 20 years of independence. The Ukrainian government feels that it is not responsible for the promises given in the name of the state by its predecessors. When reporting in Strasbourg, Ukrainian officials feel like the speakers of a clan rather than part of the European political class that shares common objectives and values. When addressing foreigners, they often apply to the managers and sponsors of their own political forces rather than their European colleagues who are sitting in the same room. Another option for them is to address their domestic Ukrainian opponents.

Civil society is still being established in Ukraine. For this reason, voters exert actual pressure on the government sporadically rather than systemically, and emotionally rather than methodically. Relations between citizen and state in Ukraine still follow the paternalistic society scheme. When delegated power, the government acts arbitrarily and feels no compunction to report the nation that delegated such power and awaits a response. Is the situation in Ukraine significantly different from that in Georgia, Moldova or Azerbaijan? Yes and no. Each post-totalitarian country is imperfect in its own way and each conflicts with European standards according to one criteria or another. Is Ukraine moving in the right direction? According to official Kyiv, it is.

To prove this, Ukrainian ministers list new documents that have finally been passed by parliament. Opponents of the Ukrainian government refer to real-life examples. They refer to criminal cases distant from the norms of the European Convention on Human Rights; Independence Day, when people were banned from meet in squares in cities and towns carrying the national flag; they list numerous raider attacks in business, controversial manipulations with historical archives in the humanitarian sphere and ambiguous initiatives in language policy.

The most common question both foreign and Ukrainian experts end up asking, is whether Ukraine is really moving towards a tough authoritarian regime. If so, to what extent can this trend be reversed? Yulia Tymoshenko’s imprisonment was a signal to Europe and the whole world that Ukraine is gradually slipping towards dictatorship.

WHAT CAN BE DONE?

The Ukrainian Week polled many politicians, human rights activists, political analysts and lawyers on the Draft Resolution and the report on Ukraine by PACE on the eve of the upcoming Winter session.

Most of them largely support the conclusions of Mailis Reps and Marietta de Pourbaix-Lundin. However, many of those polled say that criticizing and judging the government for moving away from democracy is not enough. If negative trends intensify, tough action should be taken, such as sanctions at different levels.

Calling on Europeans to apply discriminating measures against one’s own country seems strange and regrettable. Yet, most Ukrainians generally differentiate the state from officials. Denouncing a government’s destructive practices is not the same thing as betraying national interests. On the contrary, this means the bringing of supporters and sympathizers of a free democratic country to common actions, when the government continues to disregard human values more and more.

In this sense, Ukrainian experts have sported an adequate reaction to the tough tone used in the Draft Resolution and the report on Ukraine. This is the true status: the violation of personal rights and liberties in the country is ever more prevalent; political revenge via the courts is becoming a common practice while the election law that bans political blocks and sets the threshold at 5% has apparently been drafted to suit the interests of the ruling party.

For this reason, the calls of the Ukrainian opposition for Europeans to set clear deadlines for meeting PACE Resolution requirements, in spite of the risk of sanctions, raises few eyebrows. “It should be understood that this us not just about Ukraine’s image, which has been seriously damaged under President Yanukovych,” Hryhoriy Nemyria, ex-Vice Premier of Ukraine, comments. “It’s also about the reputation of the Council of Europe itself, the values of which are currently being neglected with impunity in Ukraine.”

The polled experts stress that they expect international institutions to stick to firm principles when dealing with official Kyiv, particularly during the upcoming parliamentary election in October 2012. The Draft PACE Resolution, calls for as many international observers as possible to be sent to this election. These specific future actions are possibly those that have been most welcomed by the polled experts.

What are Ukrainians expecting from the Council of Europe? Apparently, they do not expect that the internal problems of their state will be resolved by foreign political opinions and recommendations alone. However, a specific and effective partnership and practical actions in cooperation with international institutions would be of great help today. These include missions, observers and the joint efforts of lawyers to define clear European standards in separating political and criminal responsibility.

“Some sad trends could have been stopped on time if only the CoE had already held an emergency debate on Ukraine,” said some of those polled. Perhaps, they are right. But Ukrainians should not blame their troubles on foreign partners. It looks as if at the present time, official Kyiv is more concerned about avoiding rivalry with Ms. Tymoshenko than about saving Ukraine’s good reputation abroad. Let it be so, but this is only the choice made by one political force. According to the latest sociological surveys, less than 20% of Ukrainians support it. The rest of the voters also have the right to dignity, culture, history and the future. They, not only the official government should become the natural partners of the international institution established to safeguard the world outlook and moral values of Europe.


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