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24 October, 2012

Andreas Gross: “A democratic citizen cannot be neutral”

Andreas Gross, head of the PACE observers delegation to Ukraine and Chairman of the PACE Social Democratic Group, told The Ukrainian Week about the developments following his previous interview.

The interview with Andreas Gross, head of the PACE observers delegation to Ukraine and Chairman of the PACE Social Democratic Group, published in The Ukrainian Week #16(39) fuelled sharp debate within the PACE corridors and session hall. Some EMPs and employees who prefer maximum caution insisted that future observers should not grant interviews to journalists prior to elections.

Others claimed that civic duty is higher than the restrictions one’s position entails. A journalist from The Ukrainian Week spoke with Andreas Gross at the Palace of Europe on the developments following his previous interview.

UW: During the open debate at the session hall, British MP Mike Hancock suggested that you were not neutral enough in your attitude towards the situation in Ukraine as head of the PACE observer mission. How would you respond to that?

There are differences between the roles of the mission head, observer, citizen and democrat. As an observer, I’m not entitled to interfere in the debate between the candidates and the process. But I gave that interview as parliament member, democrat, expert on democratic processes in Eastern Europe and an active citizen. I underscored that this was my personal opinion.

Since a democrat and a citizen cannot be neutral, his responsibility is to say what he really thinks, call things by their names and share his personal analytical observations. When human rights – and thus democracy – are disrespected, there is no neutrality.

And doing this after a preelection mission makes even more sense, because there is still a chance to improve the situation and the democratic quality of the forthcoming elections – this was also a perspective I underlined in my first interview!

UW: One of the Ukrainian delegation members told The Ukrainian Week that you may be replaced as head of the PACE observer delegation because of this. How likely is this result from a legal standpoint?

I learned that one of the British rightist MPs actually suggested that. I immediately asked  my Ukrainian colleagues in the Social Democratic Group, if they share this idea. Ivan Popesku (member of the Party of Regions and head of the Permanent Delegation of Ukraine to PACE – Ed.) replied that the Ukrainian delegation would not request that. The Assembly Bureau appointed me to the position, so  they can also replace me if they wish to. The interview was mentioned in the Friday’s bureau meeting, but nobody proposed to replace me.

UW: At the discussion of PACE member ethics standards, a thought was expressed that the Assembly representative has no right to publicly compare the state of democracy in different countries that are CoE members. Do you share this position?

When you don’t know anyone but yourself, then you don’t know yourself. We realize our special features only when we compare ourselves to others. This is one of the necessary sources of social development. The same can be said about analysis for research. The most interesting ideas were made through comparison, and various elements were integrated into the analysis process at different levels. Citizens, just like scientists, do their daily comparisons.

UW: In your opinion, where is the line between the duty of being unbiased and the right to speak freely and judge critically when it comes to interviews of foreign observers prior to the parliamentary election in Ukraine?

All observers from all over the world should remain neutral in regards to different participants of election campaigns. Moreover, the head of the mission represents a collective position. However, an engaged citizen a long experience and insights who is asked an analytical question cannot remain neutral: he must say what he thinks about the social and political context and widespread standards of conduct. That’s what I did. I’m happy that many people in Ukraine and abroad who have different political views, including those who know this country much better than I do, understood me correctly and share the messages.

Interviewed by Alla Lazareva

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