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5 July, 2011

Political Ping-pong

The European Parliament recently passed a resolution on Ukraine entitled “The cases of Yulia Tymoshenko and other members of the former government.”

It warns Ukraine “against any use of criminal law as a tool to achieve political ends” and stresses that “ongoing investigations of prominent Ukrainian political leaders should not preclude them from actively participating in the political life of the country, meeting voters and travelling to international meetings; [the European Parliament] calls, therefore, on the Ukrainian authorities to lift the travel bans, both domestically and internationally, on Yulia Tymoshenko and other key political figures.” Kyiv shunned a discussion of essential points and instead chose to look for schemers and lobbyists behind the document. This lame attempt to conceal the multitude of problems haunting the Ukrainian judiciary is another proof of how sick and simulation-prone Ukrainian politics is.

“The assumption that some of the Ukrainian officials who are now in the opposition must become immune to prosecution testifies to attempts to apply standards that differ from general European ones when dealing with Ukraine,” reads the arrogant reply from Ukraine’s Foreign Ministry published on June 9 . “We proceed from the fact that the negative tones in comments voiced by some European politicians are caused by a lack of information about the real progress of anti-corruption investigations in Ukraine.”

In simple terms, this type of communication is known as the look-who’s-talking reply. Never mind that the European resolution contains no mention of immunity. Instead, it calls on the Ukrainian government to follow civilized countries in avoiding disproportionate punishment. That judges in Ukraine have not known what it means to be independent does not in the least bother the Ukrainian authorities. But this circumstance prompted MEPs to propose considering “the creation of a High Level EU Advisory Group to Ukraine to assist the country in its efforts to come into line with EU legislation, including with regard to the judiciary.” Nor are Ukrainian leaders concerned that the European Convention on Human Rights clearly says that keeping a person in custody prior to trial may be applied only as an exceptional measure. Kyiv is seeking the guilty elsewhere – among European MPs, suggesting that they are naïve and poorly informed and, moreover, that they are employing selective justice themselves. One gets the impression that Ukraine’s Foreign Ministry would be happy to arrange for their training to enlighten them.

“The situation surrounding Tymoshenko’s government may limit Ukraine’s European prospects,” said Elmar Brok, a German Christian Democrat and spokesman for international affairs of the European Peoples Party group in the European Parliament and also one of the initiators of the draft resolution on Ukraine. “Remember that Brok has too close a relationship with Tymoshenko, while she has simply ideal relationships with Vladimir Putin’s closest aides. The circle has been closed,” commented Ukrainian political analyst Kost Bondarenko in a quick reaction to the situation. He too overlooks the essence of the issue focusing instead on personalities.

What is there to say? Ukrainian politics rests, it is true, on personal contacts. It is this inordinate influence of personal incompatibility, hostility and nepotism that secures the image of an awkward province for our country when compared with the somewhat more elegant Czech Republic, Poland and Slovakia. It is not that elaborate intrigues and strategic combinations are foreign concepts to these countries. They simply have deeper meaning there. Strategists are vying to best serve the national interest. Geopolitical views and practical, short-term conceptions are in competition. In contrast, Ukraine makes the impression of an unfortunate territory in which every criticism from the outside is perceived exclusively as an enemy plot or an opponent’s PR campaign.

“Of course, Ukraine is neither a EU member or a candidate for membership,” explains Frédéric Pani, expert in international law. “This means that resolutions in the European Parliament do not directly apply to Ukraine. In a purely legal sense, these kinds of documents have only an advisory function. However, one should not disregard the political influence of votes and discussions in international institutions. They set the style and the atmosphere for further Ukraine-EU talks, particularly with regard to the future association agreement.”

It appears that the logic of Soviet simulation has struck deep roots in Ukrainian politics. Just like politics behind the Iron Curtain, a meaningful exchange is replaced by a competition between the simulacra of the East and the West. It is as if the Ukrainian leadership wants to say: Both the developed and the post-Soviet parts of Ukraine always say one thing and mean something else; there is no need to take these declarations too close to heart; they are nothing more than attempts to conceal someone’s mercenary interests.

I will not deny this. There are a number of demagogues and populists among Western politicians. However, there are also other mechanisms at work, not just a competition of egoists. In particular, there exists a certain format for international communication, albeit a horribly imperfect one. However, against the background of the show we see on the Ukrainian political stage, this somewhat outdated list of standards has a clear advantage. Improvising once in a while is completely different than improvising on a daily basis.

“Ukrainian analysts mistakenly believe that politics in the West is practiced in the same way as in their own country,” says Pani. “And this is why their explanations do not work.” That is precisely true. Those for whom democratic values are just rhetoric do not want to waste their time trying to grasp anything deeper.


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