Freedom House President David Kramer: “It looks like Ukrainian leaders are using the judiciary to prosecute their opponents” *
Ascetics often live in caves to seclude themselves from the world. Unlike caves in religion, in politics caves have hardly anything in common with reverent solitude. They are cold, damp places sheltering hollow authoritarian or totalitarian regimes. No matter how much one wants to criticize institutions like Freedom House, turning away from them means running away from the world and into all the related consequences. The news of Ukraine dropping in the Freedom in the World report reached all leading mass media and government centers in Europe and the US on the same day. Over the past few months, the current government has essentially been communicating with Freedom House through Hanna Herman and Inna Bohoslovska. These politicians are the people who have been responding to critical reports and letters from Freedom House’s David Kramer and his colleagues on the state of democracy in Ukraine. The Ukrainian Week spoke with Mr. Kramer to hear his opinion on recent developments in Ukraine and the quality of communication with the Ukrainian government.
U.W.: The case against Yulia Tymoshenko brings to mind two opposite views: either her hypothetically possible sentence to prison will have a catastrophic impact on Ukraine’s democracy and European integration or the life of the country will not depend on this case so critically. What is your opinion on that?
This is a serious threat to Ukrainian efforts to move in a more democratic direction. It's more than one case. This prosecution of Yulia Tymoshenko started last year first over ambulances and the Kioto fund, and then over the current case as well as gas dealings when she was in the private sector in the 1990s. It has created the impression that the government is intent on going after her, convicting her, putting her in jail, making her ineligible to run for president again and essentially keeping her away from having any opportunity to return to office. So, this whole situation suggests that the Ukrainian leaders are using the judicial system to go after their main opponents. It's not just Tymoshenko. It's also Yuriy Lutsenko and others. The Tymoshenko case is, obviously, the one that has received the most publicity.
U.W.: What criteria are most important in assessing democracy in Ukraine? Is it the procedural aspect of the case against the former prime minister — i.e. not ensuring her right to defense, disproportionate preventive measures and the rejection of defense witnesses, or that it is a trial against the opposition leader despite the other problems?
To be honest, it is a combination of all of this. I think this has reached the point where there is not much that can be done to fix it. The investigation, the charges and courtroom proceedings, in my view, need to be abandoned. The whole procedure has been compromised. It lacks credibility. When the judicial proceedings lack credibility, then you kind to start from the beginning, you start from scratch. I don't think that there can be fixes made in procedures to make this a better, more credible process. This whole prosecution of Tymoshenko lacks credibility. At the same time, former government officials should not be exempted from responsibility. The way this has been conducted almost from the beginning smacks of politics rather than the true pursuit of justice. There are a number of other issues and cases that if judicial authorities wanted to investigate, I'm sure they could find some interesting information such as in the second round of the presidential election in November 2004, or the gas deal that was signed in January 2006. And Yulia Tymoshenko had nothing to do with that. Or the manner in which the Rada ratified the Kharkiv Treaty last year. It seems that the bulk of attention is being devoted to Yulia Tymoshenko because — in the minds of the current authorities — it seems she poses the greatest threat. So they have dug an enormous hole for themselves. And they have to stop digging.
U.W.: Representatives of the current government claim that foreign governments and organizations should not interfere with cases against former top officials. Still, virtually all Western Foreign Ministries have commented on them. How do you see the situation?
Ukraine is a member of the Council of Europe and a member of the OSCE. Ukraine is a signatory to the UN Declaration on Human Rights. All these things mean that these kinds of concerns — human rights concerns — do raise the level of attention from other countries. And so other countries have the responsibility to raise the issues and concerns about these kinds of actions. And the Ukrainian authorities need to ask themselves why nobody outside of the country (and even a lot of people inside the country) attaches any credibility to this process. Criticism is coming from everywhere, including from Moscow. And yet the Ukrainian authorities say that everything is in the hands of the judicial bodies. President Yanukovych needs to show some leadership and dismiss the case and order the legal authorities to do this as well, because no one finds it credible.
U.W.: This July you disclosed an open letter to President Yanukovych where you called on him to stop “digging a hole” for himself. Have you got any reply?
I did not get one directly, personally. There were comments made by Hanna Herman who dismissed the criticism and denied political persecution. Inna Bohoslovska wrote a response in the KyivPost saying that we are the ones digging the hole for President Yanukovych. There seems to be a lot of press attention to it, but I would say the government did not seem to receive it positively. The response from the government to our report that we released in June in Ukraine was more positive. Anna Herman was there, she stayed through the presentation, though she left after she made her first comment. The president issued a statement that he was taking it seriously. Unfortunately, I would say those comments proved to be rather empty. The test is really in the policies of the government which it still has to pass.
U.W.: Eight months of 2011 have passed. Is it possible to forecast Ukraine’s position in the next Freedom in the World ranking by Freedom House?
We still have four months to go before the book is closed. It would be premature of me to suggest any change, but the trends so far this year have not been encouraging.
U.W.: Who is the target audience of the democracy and human rights surveys carried out by Freedom House?
The audiences are all those who are interested in the development of freedom all around the world. That includes the US government, US Congress, European governments, European parliaments, the defenders of civil society and human rights. It's global. It covers the entire world. So we get a lot of attention. We have been doing it since 1972. The report has developed the reputation for being a key standard for how countries are developing.
U.W.: Does the country’s ranking in your report affect potential investors?
When a country is moving in the wrong direction on freedom scores, it generally still does have sufficient rule of law to attract the proper or adequate foreign investment. But I do know that US government agencies attach significance to the scores and rankings we report.
U.W.: There is a caste of politicians in the FSU who say Freedom House promotes the US government’s interests. What is your answer to them?
There is very rigorous methodology for evaluating countries. There are experts who contribute to the process. There is a committee that reviews the analysis and gives scores. It goes through a very rigorous process. That's not to say that we are perfect. We struggle every year to make the analysis and ranking better than the year before. But I think that it is about as good as it could be. It does not surprise me that countries that are authoritarian in nature and that are moving in an anti-democratic direction don't like what we do. They don't like the spotlight being shined on their deficiencies, shortcomings and abuses. I'm not sure what we can do in the minds of such government officials to improve this reputation. We will continue to tell the truth and to do the best job we can.
David J. Kramer is President of Freedom House, which he joined in October 2010.
Prior to joining Freedom House, Kramer was a Senior Transatlantic Fellow at the German Marshall Fund of the United States. Before joining GMF, Kramer served as Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor from March 2008 to January 2009. He also was a Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs, responsible for Russia, Ukraine, Moldova and Belarus affairs as well as regional non-proliferation issues. Before joining the U.S. Government, Kramer was a Senior Fellow at the Project for the New American Century, Associate Director of the Russian and Eurasian Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, and Assistant Director of Russian and Eurasian Studies at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, all in Washington. Kramer received his M.A. in Soviet studies from Harvard University and his B.A. in Soviet Studies and Political Science from Tufts University.
* The interview was taken before the court issued a verdict to sentence Yulia Tymoshenko to 7 years of prison