Tuesday, August 30, 2016


How To Turn A 'Partly Free' Ukraine Into A 'Not Free' Ukraine

President Viktor Yanukovych has returned Ukraine to its authoritarian ways, says Taras Kuzio.
President Viktor Yanukovych has returned Ukraine to its authoritarian ways, says Taras Kuzio.
By Taras Kuzio
Some Western policymakers continue to argue that Ukraine's political system is unlikely to evolve into a full authoritarian system along the lines of Russia and Belarus, President Viktor Yanukovych will slow down his authoritarian blitzkrieg, they argue, and the system will stabilize into a semi-authoritarian system.

In other words, Ukraine will stabilize at "partly free," the semi-authoritarian status that Freedom House gave it throughout the Leonid Kuchma era and to which it returned in 2010 after Yanukovych's first year in office.

An alternative viewpoint that's gaining ground is that Ukraine will decline further to "not free," the full authoritarian status that independent Ukraine has never held. If this were to take place, Ukraine would join the eight authoritarian CIS countries (Russia, Belarus, Azerbaijan, and the five Central Asian states) that are classified as "not free" by the U.S.-based rights watchdog.

The Yanukovych administration has moved farther down the path of authoritarianism in only one year in office than Kuchma did in a decade. 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, former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko and her former cabinet members are either under arrest or threatened with criminal charges.

Under Kuchma, elections were falsified in 1999 and 2004 -- on both occasions with the assistance of Yanukovych at the local and national levels. Under Yanukovych, local elections were falsified last year. Free elections can only be trusted to democratic forces such as Yushchenko, under whose watch high-quality elections were held in 2006, 2007, and 2010. Yanukovych is destroying the institution of free elections that brought him to power.

In the 2002, 2006-07, and 2010 parliaments, Kuchma and Yanukovych both sought to bribe, coerce, and blackmail opposition deputies to defect to the ruling coalition. Usually these were business leaders in the opposition, whether members of the Liberal Party in 2002 led by Volodymyr Shcherban or the Party of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs led by Anatoliy Kinakh in 2007.

The Communist Party (KPU) never entered government under Kuchma, but has joined both coalitions established by Yanukovych: the anticrisis coalition in 2006-07 and Stability and Reforms since 2010. The neo-Stalinist KPU is antireform and anti-Western, and therefore any coalition that includes such a political force cannot honestly be described as "reformist."

There has also been regression on national identity questions. The KPU and Yanukovych's Party of Regions voted against the 2006 law on the 1933 artificial famine (Holodomor) and the pages on the famine on the presidential website were removed on February 25, 2010, the day Yanukovych was inaugurated. In 2003, by contrast, Kuchma launched an international campaign to support the designation of the Holodomor as an act of genocide.

Collapse Of Independent Institutions

Parliament became a rubber-stamp institution under Yanukovych for the first time in its history, because Kuchma never had a stable majority. Yanukovych's Stability and Reforms coalition has bought in 50 opposition deputies, giving it more than 260 in total in the 450-seat Verkhovna Rada.

The courts are in far worse condition today than under Kuchma. Supreme Court Chief Justice Vasyl Onopenko told the "Kyiv Post" that "courts as judicial bodies and judges have lost their independence. This is a direct threat to the judicial protection of human rights."

After the summer 2010 reform of the judiciary. "the Supreme Court has been denied the ability to perform its constitutional function," Onopenko said. "No one guarantees the unity of case law and equal application of laws in state courts. The Supreme Court, which previously did it, is now deprived of such powers."

Yanukovych has marginalized the Supreme Court as personal revenge for its December 2004 annulling of his second-round election victory. In a February 11 interview with the BBC, Yanukovych again repeated that the Supreme Court had infringed the constitution in 2004 when it annulled his election and that he had won a "free election."

Under both Kuchma and Yanukovych, the unreformed "siloviki," or security forces -- the Security Service (SBU), the Interior Ministry (MVS), and the Tax Police -- have been used against the political opposition and independent media.

Prime Minister Mykola Azarov led the Tax Police throughout its first seven years of existence (1996-2002). The SBU under Yanukovych has adopted authoritarian tactics against academics, NGO activists, politicians, and journalists for the first time since under its predecessor, the Soviet Ukrainian KGB, in the pre-Gorbachev era.

In the 1990s the MVS was more under democratic control than today, as its Internal Troops had been taken away in 1991 and transformed into a National Guard. But these were returned to the MVS in 2000 and have, like in other postcommunist systems, become the president's praetorian guard. On November 28, 2004, the MVS troops were ordered to Kyiv by Prime Minister Yanukovych, over Kuchma's head, to violently suppress the Orange Revolution. But they were turned back by the army.

Journalists Disappear

Under Kuchma the murder of journalist Heorhiy Gongadze became an international scandal after a tape recording was released in which the president allegedly ordered Interior Minister Yuriy Kravchenko to violently beat Gongadze. What is less well known is that journalist Ihor Aleksandrov was also killed in 2001 in Donetsk when Yanukovych was governor of the region.

Last month, "The Washington Post" asked Yanukovych about Kharkiv editor Vasyl Klymentyev, who disappeared only seven months after Yanukovych was elected. The MVS assumes he has been killed. Yanukovych nonchalantly replied, "Many journalists disappear all over the world."

Media censorship took place under Kuchma, but the situation is worse today. What differentiates the Kuchma and Yanukovych presidencies was that total censorship under the former was impossible because of the strength of the opposition, inside and outside parliament, and pluralism within the ruling elites.

Yanukovych claims that "mercenaries" in the West have been bought to write negatively about Ukraine and that the Czech government was bribed to grant former Economy Minister Bohdan Danylyshyn political asylum. Yanukovych's worldview exports Ukraine's domestic situation -- where Ukrainian journalists are often paid to place articles and politicians and cabinet ministers are often corrupt -- to the outside world. This worldview does not see either the legitimacy of Western criticism or the legitimacy of domestic criticism by the opposition and media.

Yanukovych refuses to acknowledge that democratic regression is taking place on his watch and, in this, he is similar to Kuchma. But, in five areas -- political repression, parliamentary independence, media censorship, the use of the "siloviki," and quality of elections -- democratic regression is worse under Yanukovych than it was under Kuchma. If it continues, it will lead to Ukraine becoming ranked as "not free" by the end of Yanukovych's first term in office, following Kyrgyzstan, which dropped after its 2005 Tulip Revolution from "partly free" to "not free" in 2010.

Taras Kuzio is an Austrian Marshall Plan Foundation visiting fellow at the Center for Transatlantic Relations, School of Advanced International Studies, Johns Hopkins University. The views expressed in this commentary are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect those of RFE/RL
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Comment Sorting
by: UkrToday
February 16, 2011 02:26
Ukraine will never be a free independent democratic state as long as it retains the presidential :"rule by decree" system. of governance.

if Ukraine wants to be integrated into the European community it is best to adopt a full parliamentary system of Government. Yanukovych previously supported such a proposal but it was opposed by Victor Yushchenko who consistently undermined Ukraine's democratic development.

Had Ukraine followed in the footsteps of Estonia and Latvia and adopted a Parliamentary model it would be much better off today.

The main reason Ukraine is not a democracy is the opposition by Yushchenko and his party Our Ukraine. Yushchenko and Our Ukraine betrayed those who has previously supported them in the hope that they would transition Ukraine into a democratic state. Yushchenko and Our Ukraine’s policies opposed Ukraine becoming an independent democratic state, having pursued the retention of presidential rule and undermining the stability of Ukraine’s parliament.

Yushchenko in 2004/5 had the support of 52% of Ukraine in 2010 Yushchenko support had collapsed to just 5%.
In Response

by: Gene from: US
February 16, 2011 17:03
UkrToday is forever espousing the value of a parliamentary system, while fully supporting the ruthless and brutal repressive regime of Yanukovych.

The issue of the parliamentary system has nothing to do with the loss of democracy in Ukraine. Much of that has to do with the total incompetence of its' previous president Yushenko...and the repressiveness of the current govt of Yanukovych, who has no love for democracy or a free press.
In Response

by: Ukrtoday
February 16, 2011 22:25
Gene Nelson's comments "while fully supporting the ruthless and brutal repressive regime of Yanukovych" is false and offensive. He should speak for himself. I most certainly do not and have not supported any Presidential authority which is the main focus of my comment. To charestorise Viktor Yanukovych's presidency as "brutal and repressive" is also extreme and emotive, and as pointed out by Dr Kuzio in his article is incorrect.

For better of worst Yanukovych has restored stability in Ukraine stability

Mr Nelson correctly reflected in the uincompetance of Victor Yushchenko's administration as resulted in the cause in Ukraine's current situitaton.

Yushchenko's dismissal of Ukraine's previous parliament and his interference in the operation and administration of Ukraine's constitutional court seriously undermined confidence in democracy and rule of law. It destabilized Ukraine causing seven months of political instability and civil unrest. It was an abuse of authority denying Ukraine the right to democratic representation.

Mr Nelson's statement "the parliamentary system has nothing to do with the loss of democracy in Ukraine" demonstrates a lack of understanding of the basis of governance and constitutional power. In fact the last five years of instability in Ukraine has very much been focused on the abuse of presidential authority and the struggle to adopt a more democratic system of government.

The presidential system has clearly failed Ukraine and will continue to do so.

The system governance as outlined in Ukraine's constitution is the foundation stone on which Ukraine's governance and authority is established.

Until Ukraine can address the fundamental issue of constitutional reform and remove presidential authority it will continue to be at the Merci of autocratic rule.
In Response

by: Truth Serum
February 27, 2011 08:30
"How To Turn A 'Partly Free' Ukraine Into A 'Not Free' Ukraine"

As if Taras Kuzio is a reasonably objective enough source to be considered a valid judge.
In Response

by: UkrToday
February 27, 2011 11:17
in all fairness I dio not think Taras Kusio is putting himssefl out to be a judge but is mearly expressing his personsal opinion and assessment based on his experience and study of Ukraine. It is up to the reader to make of it what they will and to consider any alteranative assessment.

It would be more helpful if, in your criticism of the messenger, you put forward your arguments and basis of your assessment as opposed to just shooting the messenger.

Although at times I might fully agree with Taras Kuzio I defend his right to express his opinion which is worrthy of consideration.
In Response

by: Truth Serum
February 28, 2011 15:42
It would be more accurate to get other Ukrainian views in English language mass media, in greater proportion to what has been the status quo.

It's fair to say that the likes of Kuzio reflect a minority of Ukrainian thinking on a number of issues including Russia.

by: Max from: Kyiv
February 16, 2011 07:49
While I detest the incumbent president's and his retinue's ruling style, methods and 'whitewashed' reforms, one cannot deny the fact that Yanukovych and his Party of Regions enjoy support of a half of Ukraine's population.

However sad it may be, tens of millions of people in this country don't mind being ruled by a president who has criminal record and a party made for the most part of former communists and industrial tycoons who seem to have little understanding of the concepts of national identity and pride.

It is unfortunate that it is going to take several generations for Ukraine to get purified of its Soviet past and reverse things into truly democratic path of development.

by: UKR FAN from: Canada
February 16, 2011 19:53
Everyone in Ukraine should read Timothy Snyder's "Bloodlands." If after reading this wonderful book anyone who would vote for Yanukovych should seek instant psychiatric help. For the life of me, I can't understand why the voters in the last election voted for Yanukovych. During my last visit to Ukraine, it seemed to me people were in favour of freedom, and would not return to the oppressive regime of Yanukovych.
In Response

by: Truth Serum
February 27, 2011 08:32
Alternatives like Yushchenko and Tymoshenko are greatly responsible for Yanukovych's rise.

by: hopingForBetterFuture from: USA
February 17, 2011 04:16
A man posted a video he had taken of a police traffic stop in Odessa on youtube, which caused a national controversy, now I hear a couple weeks later this man is under arrest for something undisclosed.... perception is everything, the internet provides a great tool for empowerment and fairness to the people, it must be kept free and people must not fear speaking out about injustice.

by: Vas from: England
February 21, 2011 11:45
Yanukovych is so bad that he makes Kuchma look good.
In Response

by: Truth Serum
February 27, 2011 08:33
Yushchenko and Tymoshenko are so bad that they greatly contributed to a bump in Kuchma's popularity.

by: marsupial from: kyiv
February 25, 2011 13:04
probably what is saddest is that ukraine's brightest and best minds are fleeing to canada or australia - they see no future in ukraine