What is democracy? It is a political, economic and social arrangement of a territorial unity of people in which the majority rules but minority rights are protected and there is a robust political opposition. How does Ukraine measure up to this standard? Very badly. A failure, I would say. And here is why.
Is there any real political opposition in Ukraine? No. The official opposition party, the Opposition Bloc, which includes deputies from the former Party of Regions, has forty seats in the current Ukrainian parliament out of 422. In the last election to the Verkhovna Rada (Ukraine’s Parliament) on October 26, 2014, this party won the majority of votes in five oblasts (regions) of Eastern Ukraine – Kharkiv, Dnipropetrovsk, Luhansk, Donetsk, and Zaporizzhia. It obtained the second largest number of votes in Mykolaiv and Odessa oblasts, and the third largest number in Kherson. The participation in the election in the whole of Southeastern Ukraine reached an all-time low – less than 50 per cent in all of the oblasts. This is a clear indicator of the population’s apathy and mistrust of the current Ukrainian parliament.
In the Verkhovna Rada, the ruling coalition for the first time in the history of independent (post-1991) Ukraine has the largest majority in the Parliament – 303 deputies. The breakdown of the majority is 150 deputies of the Poroshenko Bloc, 82 deputiesof the Narodnyi (Peoples) Front of Prime Minister Arseniy Yatseniuk, 31 deputies of the Samopomich party of Lviv mayor Andriy Sadovyi, 21 deputies of the Radical Party of Oleh Lyashko, and 19 deputies of the Batkivshchyna Party of former Ukraine’s prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko.
The Opposition Bloc is the only official opposition party in the Verkhovna Rada. Deputies of the Bloc have stated on several occasions that they are ignored in the Parliament and their work is blocked. For instance, Vadym Rabynovych says that he has registered 19 bills but none of them have been proposed for examination by the Rada.
Tatiana Bakhteeva has been a Rada deputy since 2002 and has experience working in the opposition as well in the ruling coalition in the Rada. She stated recently that for the first time in the history of the Ukrainian Parliament, there is not a single deputy from the opposition present in the executive of the Rada – for instance, the positions of speaker or vice-speaker. Not a single member of the opposition chairs a parliamentary committee, whereas in the previous Parliament under President Victor Yanukovych, 12 out of 26 parliamentary committees were chaired by the opposition. Bakhteeva also says that the first 100 days of work of the Euromaidan parliament have shown it to be the most unprofessional Parliament in the history of independent Ukraine.
The Ukrainian NGO CHESNO, which was created in 2011 with grants from various European agencies with the goal to monitor the parliamentary elections of 2012 and in general the work of the Rada, has conducted its own analysis of the Euromaidan parliament. It found that the old plagues of Ukrainian politicians persist in the new parliament. Deputies vote on behalf of their absent colleagues. The Rada does not respect standing orders – bills are put to a vote with blatant violations of procedures. As a result, deputies sometimes do not know what they have voted for, as was the case during the adoption of the 2015 budget, when deputies voted “blindfolded” during the night of December 29, 2014 for a budget without having seen a print copy.
Another example is the voting of the bill to reduce pensions at the demand of the International Monetary Fund. When the bill was put to a vote for the first time, there were not enough votes in the ruling coalition to support the bill. So the speaker of the Rada put the bill to a repeated vote until it finally passed, on the fifth time. But according to the standing orders of the Rada, a bill which has been rejected cannot be put to a vote again during the same session or a next special extraordinary session of the Verkhovna Rada.
Tatiana Bakhteeva has noted another violation of the regulations by the Euromaidan Rada. According to the standing orders of the Rada, any bill, before being put to a vote, must be sent for evaluation by a group of experts and scholars. Upon examination, the group recommends whether the bill can be submitted for a vote. Bakhteeva says that none of the bills approved during the first 100 days of the new Ukrainian Parliament have been sent for expert review.
Democracy is also about the rule of law. How do Ukraine’s new power holders score in that respect? I have already written about the witch-hunt of former members of the Party of Regions and specifically about the so-called suicide of Mikhail Chechetov. Chechetov’s death was but one in a series of recent deaths of former members and leaders of the Party of Regions. There have been nine such deaths since the coming to power of the “most democratic” politicians in the history of Ukraine.
Another prominent member of the Party of Regions, Oleksandr Peklushenko was found dead in his country house in Zaporizzia oblast. He died from a gunshot wound in the neck. To no one’s surprise, it was officially declared a suicide. Peklushenko was suffering from depression, it is said, exactly as has been said about Chechetov. Like Chechetov, Peklushenko was under a criminal investigation, charged with enacting laws to disperse Euromaidan protests in Zaporizzhia in January of 2014. Peklushenko was appointed as head of the Zaporizzhia regional administration in 2011. As stated on the website of the Party of Regions, he was a man of principle and was not afraid of standing up for his positions. He did not quit his post, as the participants in Euromaidan demanded. He stayed until the end because he wanted to ensure order in Zaporizzhia. He once said: “I have lived with the Party of Regions membership card, and I will die with it”. So he did.
The Opposition Bloc has called upon the ”civilized world” to react to this series of suspicious suicides and to give a legal assessment of the actions of Ukrainian power holders who are organizing cynical reprisals against their political opponents. According to the Opposition Bloc, those in power in Ukraine are “effectively creating an internal concentration camp for over 11 million Ukrainians who once supported the biggest party in the country, the Party of Regions”.
Western governments and media have ignored the Bloc’s declaration. They are too busy calling upon Russia to investigate the February 27 murder of Boris Nemtsov. Why would the European Parliament be concerned? After all, Ukraine is now a free and democratic country, where the rule of law and freedom of expression reigns.
What about freedom of expression in Ukraine? Dissent is not allowed. It is seen as treason against the national interests of Ukraine, infringement on the inviolability of the territorial integrity of the country. Oleh Lyashko, leader of the Radical Party in the Rada, known for his scandalous behavior and declarations, has called upon the Rada to dissolve the city and regional administrations in Kharkiv (Ukraine’s second-largest city) because they have refused to declare Russia an aggressor country. He says that makes them accessories to separatism.
Not surprisingly, the mayor of Kharkiv, Gennadiy Kernes, is under criminal investigation, charged with kidnapping, torture, and death threats regarding two residents of Kharkiv who are members of the Euromaidan movement. Kernes does not believe in the possibility of a fair trial. He says the investigation against him is politically motivated. He has been harassed and intimidated by the new Ukrainian power holders for a year now, aiming to discredit him in the eyes of Kharkiv residents.
Kernes is a separatist, according to black-and-white logic of the jingoist patriots in Ukraine. However, the same Kernes was not afraid to come out into the streets during the conflicts between Euromaidan and Anti-Maidan supporters in February of 2014 and ask the Anti-Maidan protesters to take down the flag of the Russian Federation they hoisted on a flagpole in downtown Kharkiv.
Kernes was elected mayor in 2010. He has a reputation as a good manager and has done a lot for his native city. In March of 2014, he stated that he as well as members of his family had received dozens of threats over the telephone and that Arsen Avakov, the former governor of Kharkiv region and the current minister of the interior (of police) of Ukraine, might be behind this campaign of intimidation. On April 28, 2014, while cycling on a road near Kharkiv, Kernes was shot and seriously wounded. He was taken to hospital and operated on. His condition was life-threatening and he was taken to Israel by plane for further treatment. After returning to Ukraine, he reiterated that, in his opinion, Avakov and the new governor of Kharkiv region, appointed by the Euromaidan Parliament, were behind the attempt to kill him. Kernes rejected allegations of a “Russian footprint” in the attempt on his life.
Under the current nationalist-style democracy in Ukraine, dissenting opinion is not allowed. The former prime minister of Ukraine, Nikolai Azarov, stated in a February 21, 2015 interview on the Russian TV channel Lifenews that there are now 7,000 political prisoners detained by the SBU (Ukraine’s national police). On March 13, in front of Kyiv City Hall on Khreshchatyk Avenue, a crowd of around one thousand people wearing white bands and carrying white flags, protested against rises in the prices of food and public transportation, and drastic increases in the cost of housing services. They demanded the resignation of Kyiv mayor Vitaly Klychko. It was the third such action by Kyiv residents, the first two having taking place on January 28 and February 26.
Anton Herashchenko, an adviser to Minister of Interior Avakov, declared that those protests were financed by the Opposition Bloc. Each participant, he said, was paid 150 hryvnia (approximately seven U.S. dollars). The budget for this ‘fake’ protest action, he said, was 500,000 hryvnias (app. 23 thousand dollars). The goal of the action was to create an “image” for Ukrainian and Russian television channels that in Ukraine, mass protests against the politics of the current government are on the rise. Herashchenko acknowledged that the people of Ukraine are disatisfied by the sharp increases in the price of natural gas, food and other essential goods, the freezing of salaries and pensions, decline in the value of the national currency, and “other negative phenomena accompanying war and loss of part of the territory of Ukraine”. But in the same breath, he said no one has the right to organize fake protests with “paid for” crowd scenes.
In order to stop such “shameful practices”, Herashchenko and his team immediately wrote a bill to introduce criminal liability for the organization of paid-for protests. According to this bill, organizers of such “black actions” will be punished by a fine for up to 500 non-taxable minimum monthly incomes, arrest for up to six months, or imprisonment for up to three years.
Another adviser to Avakov, Zorian Shkiriak, has also made inflammatory statements about the protests in downtown Kyiv. In his opinion, the protests are a special operation by the Russian FSB (Russian Security Service) aimed at destabilizing the situation in Ukraine. Moscow is doing this with the connivance of traitors of Ukraine, he said, namely the members of the “criminal-terrorist group” in the Rada which goes by the name of the ‘Opposition Bloc’. Enormous amounts of money have been spent on this anti-Ukrainian project by Moscow, said the perspicacious counselor.
Of course, who else would do this? The long hand of Moscow is everywhere these days in Ukraine. Russia shamelessly bribes ordinary Ukrainians to express their discontent on the streets. Members of the trade union of Kyiv’s transportation agency who went on strike and organized protests in December of 2014, demanding that their salaries be paid, are another group of agents of Russian president Vladimir Putin. Miners from Western Ukraine, who came to Kyiv to similarly protest and demand the payment of their salaries, are another group of Putin’s agents. Soon the whole working population of Ukraine will become Putin’s zombies.
Democracy in Ukraine is triumphant. The “most democratic power in the history of Ukraine” has an explanation for any political use and abuse of the law, any silencing of the opposition, any anti-popular austerity measure. And if you think that the new authorities are failing in their promises to ordinary Ukrainians to institute a “new Ukraine”, you are a traitor and an agent of the Kremlin. Glory to Ukraine, indeed!
This article was published on Counterpunch, March 19, 2015.
Halyna Mokrushyna is currently enrolled in the PhD program in Sociology at the University of Ottawa and a part-time professor. She holds a doctorate in linguistics and MA degree in communication. Her academic interests include: transitional justice; collective memory; ethnic studies; dissent movement in Ukraine; history of Ukraine; sociological thought. Her doctoral project deals with the memory of Stalinist purges in Ukraine. In the summer of 2013 she travelled to Lviv, Kyiv, Kharkiv and Donetsk to conduct her field research. She is currently working on completing her thesis. She can be reached at [email protected]