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21 January, 2011  ▪  Rostyslav Pavlenko

Is there still hope?

On the one hand, the Danylyshyn case creates a precedent, while on the other, it fits in with the context of re-evaluation

Despite the clearly belated reaction of the West to the curtailment of democracy in Ukraine, the decision of the Czech government to grant political asylum to Bohdan Danylyshyn is a demonstrative and unpleasant signal to the current Ukrainian administration. Ukraine’s foreign ministry demands from the Czechs a justification for this decision, while some ecstatic Party of Regions mouthpieces go as far as mentioning “losses” that the Czech Republic may suffer.

The Danylyshyn case fits in with the context of the belated re-evaluation that the democratic countries have done regarding the situation in Ukraine. This re-appraisal may have some very unpalatable consequences for the Ukrainian establishment in general and at the personal level.

The Czech Republic, one of the EU states, has, in essence, officially recognized that the Ukrainian justice system is biased and that there is good reason to both doubt its fairness and fear political repressions. The 1951 Geneva Refugee Convention, which has been signed by nearly all countries of the world, clearly defines this point. A refugee is “a person who owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of … political opinion is outside the country of his nationality … or … outside the country of his former habitual residence.” Thus, the bodies that decide on asylum requests are under no obligation to investigate the accusations brought against an asylum seeker. Instead, they have to see whether his return would put him in danger. What is perceived as danger is not criminal persecution per se but one that is unfair, biased. If the country of origin violates human rights recognized in the UN Pacts of 1966, his return would put the asylum seeker in jeopardy. Democratic states stick to the non-refoulement principle even if the country of origin issues an international warrant arrest.

The most recent events in Ukraine and Belarus rekindled these fears in the European capitals and the EU administration. Europe has clearly overestimated its abilities in dealing with Alexander Lukashenko. After settling things with the Kremlin, he gave Europe the finger and lapsed into his old practices. Europe has made a similar mistake by welcoming the “stability” emanating from Yanukovych & Co. The fall of democracy nearly inevitably causes a lower standard of living — as is the case in Ukraine now — without internal political control the government pays much less attention to the needs of the citizens. Thus, undemocratic countries along the EU borders will bring problems, rather than “stability”: uncontrolled migration, geopolitical risks, and economic woes. Moreover, contemporary Ukraine is not Belarus in terms of population size and the extent of European integration, and hence in the ability to give headaches. However, Europe has been slow to grasp it; it will find it exceedingly hard to renew its influence in territories already dominated by Russia.

Anyway, the Ukrainian government has been given a serious warning: its action have been recognized by an EU state as such that create “a well-founded fear” of a biased justice system. This is a mark of an undemocratic state which negative consequences in terms of cooperation prospects. What is more perceptible to many people in the Ukrainian government is a change in the attitude of EU representatives. European Commissioner Štefan Füle came to Kyiv with a clear message: if democracy is curtailed, you can forget about rapprochement with the EU. This message was conveyed to the Ukrianian mass media by “sources in the Delegation of the European Union to Ukraine”: the ctizens were told who they should thank for another delay in full-fledged cooperation with the EU, which also means that the humiliating restrictions applied in the EU to Ukrainians will remain in place indefinitely.

However, the powerful may get the impression that Europeans do not have more serious arguments than declarations and putting off agreements which anyway take years to conclude. They should ask their Belarusian counterparts: How does it feel when you are denied entry to the leading countries of the world? The current Ukrainian establishment depends on the good things provided by the European countries to a far greater extent. A number of their businesses are trading with the EU. They are competing among themselves in purchasing luxury items from Europe, visiting fashionable shows, etc. That is why the West still has leverage with the Ukrainian ruling “elite” if, of course, it indeed wants to be heard in our country.

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