Chairman of the PACE Socialist Group Andreas Gross: Kyiv May see Another Maidan
Andreas Gross criticized the actions of the Party of Regions, a political partner of the group he heads, in his interview with The Ukrainian Week
Andreas Gross does not like sleeping in. We met at 7:15 am when most people in Strasbourg were still seeing their last dreams. “But then no one will disturb us,” he noted. In his interview, he voiced a number of critical remarks about his political partner, the Party of Regions, with which the European Socialists have a cooperation agreement. The impression he gave is that the limit beyond which cooperation with his Ukrainian partners may be too much to bear is fast approaching.
U.W.: You attended a meeting at which the PACE Monitoring Committee discussed the recent report on Ukraine. How justified do you think it is?
I have been a member of the Monitoring Committee for as long as it has existed — since 1996. So of course I read this report very carefully. Moreover, I have been to Ukraine 12 times as an election observer. I worked at polling stations in Crimea, Kyiv, Lviv, Odesa, in eastern Ukraine, and so on. As I read the report, I was in general satisfied. As far as the amendments are concerned, I didn't like the one about sanctions. I don’t like resorting to threats.
U.W.: Don't you think that the sanctions were mentioned out of despair? No influence, pressure or dialogue seems to be working.
You know, if things are really bad, you can always challenge the mandate of a delegation at the beginning of a given session. But why intimidate in advance? Let's take a deeper look. The only sanction that we are able to apply on our own is stripping a delegation of its right to vote. But this will not change anything. Ninety percent of Ukrainian citizens do not even know that there is a Council of Europe. And those who do are not really concerned about the voting rights for their delegation. A real sanction would be the prospect of suspending the country’s membership in the organization. But that issue may be raised only by the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe. And diplomats are afraid of such precedents. What if the same happens to their own country tomorrow? The game of sanctions is a dark game. It is archaic in terms of political methods. We need to work in order to persuade rather than make threats.
U.W.: But isn't it possible, for example, to call on member states to the deny visas to the leaders of a certain government, block foreign bank accounts, etc.?
The only sanctions we used when Leonid Kuchma was the president of Ukraine was very sharp, devastating criticism. It was employed at the last stage when dictatorship was essentially established in your country. PACE resolutions [on Ukraine] were very tough back then. Public and well-argued criticism is a powerful weapon. It can destroy a country's image.
U.W.: Dutch Christian democrat Pieter Omtzigt, who proposed the amendment about sanctions, was recently appointed special rapporteur on separating political and criminal responsibility. The problem of legal confusion in this issue is not exclusively Ukrainian. On his mission, Omtzigt is scheduled to first visit Iceland, where a former prime minister is under investigation for failing to warn about an approaching bank crisis, and then come to Ukraine.
Right, the problem of replacing political responsibility with criminal responsibility is not that rare. It is indeed a serious issue. Understandably, political mistakes must entail responsibility. But that responsibility must be political, too! Compare it to football. If you are shown the red card, you are out of the game and you lose your right to remain on the field. But you can only be sent to prison if you seriously injure another player, i.e., when there is real damage. And here different procedures emerge. On the level of football, suspension for several games, and on the level of civil law, a lawsuit over severe injury. As far as Yulia Tymoshenko is concerned, it is very important to know whether she became richer by agreeing to a higher gas price.
U.W.: As of today, investigators have not found any proof of her getting richer because of the gas contracts.
That’s the point! You cannot throw a person behind bars under vaguely formulated articles just because she is your political opponent. But if this same person indeed takes possession of community property, this has to be proved with facts and documents. This has not been done. Instead what we are seeing is an accumulation of the old behavioral mechanisms that were characteristic of the old regime in the sense that an individual is not worth anything and the authorities are all-powerful, while those who are not connected to them remain defenceless. The construction of a rule-of-law state has not been completed.
And what raises the greatest concerns about Ukraine is the dependence of the judiciary. We saw the rulings from the Supreme Court and the Constitutional Court which were quite controversial. The influence of big capital was palpable. If there was political will, this could be changed.
U.W.: At the last PACE session, there were problems with the mandate of the Ukrainian delegation. Three delegates that were elected from the BYuT but are now cooperating with the Party of Regions are still formally in the group of the European People's Party, an ally of the Fatherland party, even though these delegates no longer share their ideology.
That happens sometimes. You may have noticed that there was no special report from the Committee on Rules of Procedure, Immunities and Institutional Affairs. PACE did a wise thing and supported the mandate. But a problem arises here that is similar to the issue with Serhiy Holovaty. Who is in what government and who is in what opposition? It is very important for all trends to be represented. It is not a simple thing in parliaments where membership in the faction often has economic underpinning. Where relationships are governed too much by oligarchs, confusion with values emerges.
U.W.: There are three delegates from the Party of Regions in your group. They are not socialists even formally, to say nothing about their worldview, because their political force is run by oligarchs.
Politics is not an exact science, and socialism is not a patent-protected term. Unfortunately, there is too much opportunism on all levels.
U.W.: But why did Ivan Popesku, Oleksiy Plotnikov and Viktor Yanukovych Jr. register as members of your group? They are all Party of Regions MPs and should be in the group of “European Democrats” with the rest of their party members and United Russia.
They registered with us, because we do not have an entrance examination. If we did, many people would find themselves outside all groups. Because they are not liberals, or Christians, or democrats or socialists. You need to know that there is no party discipline on the group level. Everyone votes as he sees fit. When we discussed the report on Ukraine, I voted the same as Popesku only once – about the sanctions. But I did not support his amendment.
U.W.: So you do not feel you share the same ideology with Popesku, whose political clients are large, powerful oligarchs?
Popesku has had a difficult life. He comes from a Romanian minority. I have known him for over 10 years. He has been coming here for a long time now. He used to be much more critical of the government – in the good sense of the word. Now he completely identifies himself with the Ukrainian majority. Moreover, he has become very nervous and fussy. I don't know what is going on with him. He can remain in our group of course, but he will need to be more convincing if he wants to receive support.
U.W.: His speech in the session hall was a far cry from success.
Indeed. He was asked about political prisoners, and his answer was about the draft of the new Criminal Procedure Code. But Ukrainians already did these things under Kuchma. In my opinion, the root of the problem lies in the political attitude to the term “freedom” and in the way citizens and the state communicate. All these people are too much stuck in authoritarianism. They do not know what civil rights in a democratic state are.
But they will have to learn it. I was a rapporteur on Azerbaijan, later Serbia and now Russia. There were 100,000 people in the streets [of Moscow] on December 24! If Kyiv continues to move in the same direction, it will face another Maidan. These people have grasped what dignity and the right of a vote are. There are many people in Moscow, Berlin and Warsaw to whom self-esteem is more valuable than financial donations. There are quite a few people like that in Ukraine, too, I am sure. The new generation of Ukrainians will not allow themselves to be defrauded. They will have the lessons of the Orange Revolution before their eyes.
U.W.: Will you be coming to observe Ukrainian elections for a 13th time?
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