“Ukraine Moving Further Away From Democracy”

March 30th, 2011   Countries and Regions | Eastern Europe | Ukraine

After only one year in office Viktor Yanukovych’s administration has moved further down the path of authoritarianism than Leonid Kuchma did in a decade. If it continues, Ukraine – a country that during the presidency of Viktor Yuschenko was on its way to become a democratic and free society – might soon be ranked “not free” by Freedom House.

 Both administrations resorted to taking political prisoners. Under Kuchma, members of UNA-UNSO (Ukrainian National Assembly-Ukrainian People’s Self-Defense) were imprisoned for their alleged involvement in the March 2001 riots. Under Yanukovych, the national prosecutor in Ukraine has opened a new case against Yulia Tymoshenko’s activity as prime minister. She is being accused of using funds raised from sales of carbon credits to pay for pensions during the financial crisis, and of buying ambulance vehicles for village doctors that, allegedly, do not suit the purpose; in fact the cars were intended as transport vehicles for doctors serving small villages, to get to patients. Both accusations are seemingly unjustified.

According to Ukrainian media Yulia Tymoshenko was placed under de facto house arrest on December 22, 2011 and is threatened with a prison term of up to five years. The persecution of Tymoshenko is clearly aimed at removing her from politics prior to the September 2012 Parliamentary elections and the January 2015 presidential contest.

The attack on Tymoshenko and her political bloc, Batkivshchyna (Fatherland), is politically motivated and also reveals a desire for revenge that has become personal. President Viktor Yanukovych has admitted that he regularly meet with all opposition leaders – except Tymoshenko.

Under the leadership of both Kuchma and Yanukovych, the Security Service (SBU), the Interior Ministry (MVS) and the Tax Police have been used against the political opposition and independent media. The link between police and power is undeniable: Prime Minister Mykola Azarov used to be the head of the Tax Police throughout its first seven years of existence (1996-2002). Today the SBU has adopted authoritarian tactics against academics, NGO activists, politicians, and journalists.

Since coming to power, the Yanukovych regime has systematically dismantled democracy. Recently Serhiy Rubashenko, editor of the newspaper Nezavisimiy Kurier, was attacked and beaten by two unidentified assailants in the night of February 2, 2011. He got head injuries and had to be taken into intensive care. His condition is serious. On December 16, 2010 the last nail was put in the coffin of parliamentary government when members of Ukraine’s Parliament brawled, leaving two oppositional members hospitalized and dozens more with cuts and bruises. The fight took place after the deputies of the presidential Party of Regions moved to push their political enemies away from the voting equipment!

Yanukovych has marginalized the Supreme Court for personal revenge – in December 2004 his second-round election victory was annulled by the Court. In an interview with BBC on February 11, 2011, Yanukovych repeated that the Supreme Court had infringed the constitution in 2004 when it annulled his election result. He claimed that he had won a “free election.”

The Ukrainian courts are in worse condition today than during the democratic regime with Viktor Yuschenko as president. Supreme Court Chief Justice Vasyl Onopenko told the Kyiv Post at the beginning of February that “Courts as judicial bodies and judges have lost their independence. This is a direct threat to the judicial protection of human rights.”

 The Supreme Court has been deprived of its power to guarantee the unity of case law and equal application of laws in State Courts. [Other lower] courts have gained power at the expense of the Supreme Court. Today permission is needed from five judges in lower courts to allow the Supreme Court to even review a case. Today, if a case is not allowed to proceed to the Supreme Court, the citizens or legal entities have no other choice, in regards to an appeal, but to appeal to the European Court of Human Rights.

Pressure has been put on Vasyl Onopenko as his son-in-law, Yevhen Korniychuk, former deputy minister of justice, was arrested by Police for “abuse of authority”. Soon after a criminal case was initiated against Vasyl Onopenko’s younger daughter, Iryna Onopenko, who was accused of swindling. Yevhen Korniychuk was released and the criminal case against Iryna Onopenko was closed only after Vasyl Onopenko met with president Yanokovyc. A string of events showing that Yanukovych’s regime is in control of the judicial system.

Numerous protests from the opposition, journalists, academics, students, and business people have surfaced during Yanukovych’s first year in office. The 2010 November protests by business people attracted some 50.000 individuals from all over Ukraine, including Donetsk and Crimea, the heartlands of the Party of Regions. People protested against Viktor Yanukovich’s proposal to change the tax system in an effort to cut the country’s budget deficit. The protesters noted that the new tax code will hit millions of low-income, small entrepreneurs – from street traders and stand owners to freelance taxi drivers. Many of them having survived thanks to tax breaks when operating small businesses.

 The Ukrainian regime hopes that its steps farther down the path of dictatorship will be ignored in Brussels and that Ukraine will still be granted a visa-free travel regime, an association agreement, and a free-trade agreement from the EU.

 In five areas democratic regression is worse under Viktor Yanukovych than it was under Kuchma: political repression, parliamentary independence, media censorship, the use of the Special Forces, and quality of elections. If it continues, Ukraine – a country that during the presidency of Viktor Yuschenko was on its way to democratic reforms and a free society – might soon be ranked “not free” by Freedom House (www.freedomhouse.org).

Text: JHS

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