Tuesday, August 23, 2016


Does 'Black Thursday' Mark End Of Ukraine's Democratic Decade?

The legislation appears aimed at shutting down the boisterous pro-European protests that have convulsed Kyiv since Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych rejected an EU Association Agreement in November in favor of closer ties with Russia.
The legislation appears aimed at shutting down the boisterous pro-European protests that have convulsed Kyiv since Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych rejected an EU Association Agreement in November in favor of closer ties with Russia.

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Ukraine's Antiprotest Law Draws Int'l Fire

There has been international condemnation of sweeping legislation to curb protests in Ukraine, with the European Union and United States expressing "deep concern" over the measure.
By Daisy Sindelar
With a disorderly show of hands, the Ukrainian parliament appears to have not only shut down the country's pro-European protests, but rolled back an entire decade of reforms that once made Ukraine the leader of the post-Soviet neighborhood's democratic hopes.

Pro-presidential lawmakers in the Verkhovna Rada on January 16 passed a package of radical legislation that cracks down on street protests, strips opposition politicians of immunity, and imposes a raft of free-speech restrictions that have critics crying censorship.

Most immediately, the legislation appears aimed at shutting down the boisterous pro-European protests that have convulsed the capital, Kyiv, since Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych rejected an EU Association Agreement in November in favor of closer ties with Russia.

Longer term, the proposals could have damning consequences for Ukrainian civil society and independent journalism, which continued to flourish even as Yanukovych, in office since 2010, began to roll back reforms.

"The law fully restricts all types of expression, across all platforms. It makes it possible to shut down websites, block access to the Internet. It makes it possible to control all SIM cards so they can track any person who says something bad about the government at a forum, on blogs, or even from a mobile phone," says Taras Shevchenko, the director of the Kyiv-based Media Law Institute. "This 'bad' thing can be labeled as extremism, defamation, slander, insulting law enforcement or judges -- whatever is needed."

Surpassing Russia, Belarus

Opposition lawmakers attempted to block the parliament session, prompting scuffles that left one deputy with a split lip and another with a bloody forehead. But they failed to prevent Yanukovych's Party of Regions from leading a slapdash, show-of-hands vote that they say legitimately passed the measures.

Yanukovych's official website announced he had signed the bill into law on January 17, imposing some of the strictest limitations on public activity seen in Ukraine since the Soviet era.

The legislation bans protesters from placing tents in public places and using helmets and other protective gear, which the bill's authors say encourages violent clashes with the authorities. In addition, it strips immunity from lawmakers who participate in unauthorized protests -- a clear move against opposition leaders Arseniy Yatsenyuk and Vitali Klitschko, who have appeared regularly at the Euromaidan protests.
Ukrainian opposition leaders Arseniy Yatsenyuk (left) and Vitali Klitschko (right) appear at a rally on Kyiv's Independence Square December 2013.
Ukrainian opposition leaders Arseniy Yatsenyuk (left) and Vitali Klitschko (right) appear at a rally on Kyiv's Independence Square December 2013.

It also loosens interpretations of libel and envisions stiff penalties of up to two years' jail time for violations. (Russia, by contrast, imposes only fines under its 2012 libel law.) In a clear nod to Moscow's own legislation, the Ukrainian bill grants the government the right to refuse registration to any NGOs that receive foreign funding.

Vasyl Filipchuk, the former director of the Ukrainian cabinet's EU-integration department, says he was "deeply shocked" by the turn of events. "Some of these new rules are not even imposed in Russia or Belarus, so my fear is that President Yanukovych decided to be more authoritarian, more aggressive in his attacks against his own society than our eastern neighbors," he adds.

The surprise move by the Ukrainian parliament has drawn rapid condemnation from Ukrainian activists, many of whom have dubbed the legislation the "dictatorship bill."

"Here in Ukraine, we once had human rights. Now we're still human. But we have next to no rights," deputy editor Katya Gorchinskaya wrote in the English-language "Kyiv Post." She added: "Welcome to the new police state. We call it Little Russia."

From Partnership To...Dissolution?

Several EU officials have expressed concern that the restrictive legislation violates Ukraine's international obligations as a member of the Council of Europe and the holder of an EU Partnership and Cooperation Agreement.

READ MORE: New Law Draws International Condemnation

It remains uncertain, however, what the West can do at this late stage to affect Yanukovych's thinking in a season that has seen a dizzying reversal of course in Ukraine, once the regional vanguard of EU integration efforts.

Kyiv was the first of the Eastern Partnership countries to conclude negotiations for the Association Agreement, and even under Yanukovych seemed willing to risk irritating Moscow in return for closer ties with the West.

As the largest and most powerful of the six partnership countries, Kyiv was expected to take a historic step with the signing of the association deal at November's Vilnius summit -- particularly after Armenia's sudden withdrawal from the pact in favor of joining a Russian-led customs union.

WATCH: Ukrainians voice concern at 'scary' new laws.
Ukrainians Voice Concern At 'Scary' New Lawsi
January 17, 2014
A day after Ukraine's parliament passed legislation that limits freedom of speech, cracks down on street protesters, and punishes opposition lawmakers, residents of Kyiv expressed grave concerns over the new laws. (RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service)

Paul Ivan, an analyst with the Brussels-based European Policy Center, says Ukraine for months attempted to maintain a balance between Russia and the EU by "deciding not to decide" which path to take. Now, he says, the government's choice is beyond doubt -- and may leave smaller partnership neighbors to wonder whether they will be the next to succumb to pressure from Moscow.

"Now in these days we have a better image of the true colors of the regime. With these measures, they much more clearly said 'no' to Europe," Ivan says. "This does affect their relations with the other Eastern Partnership members. A Ukraine that would have signed the Association Agreement would have made life much easier for Moldova, especially, since it's an immediate neighbor, but also for Georgia. It also gives a boost to President [Vladimir] Putin to create his Eurasian Union."

Observers worry the decision spells a decisive end to an eventful decade that began with the pro-democratic Orange Revolution and appeared prepared to end on an optimistic note with the massive Euromaidan protests.

Now, they say, the democratic experiment appears to be over. Looking at Ukraine's sharp internal divides, Filipchuk says he's worried there may be even more dire consequences to come. "I'm really afraid that it's even more than the end of Ukrainian democracy. I'm very much afraid that even Ukrainian statehood and Ukrainian independence and Ukrainian territorial integrity can be under attack," he says.

"Maybe they feel that in order to rule this country in a secure and prosperous for them personally manner, they cannot rule the whole of the country and they might be tempted to somehow consider some regions as not necessarily part of Ukraine, to ensure that they control all of the country. I hope this craziness will stop. Let's hope it will not take place."

RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service contributed to this report
This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
by: James from: London
January 18, 2014 09:23
This was done so that the opposition leaders can be disqualified from standing in the elections of 2015. Yanukovych will let the protests die down and will then strike.

I hope that the protest movement can regain enough momentum to turn parliament and the oligarchs against the government. Without this, they can kiss goodbye to democracy for a generation as they're subsumed by a new Russian Empire.
In Response

by: Eugenio from: Vienna
January 18, 2014 16:19
Let's imagine for a second that the "parliament and the oligarchs turned against the government" - what will happen afterwards? We have seen this happen in 2005-2010 already: the (post-) Orange camp (the three gentelemen pictured above) will spend the next years fighting with each other the same way as Julia Timoschenko and Victor Yushchenko have been fighting with each other between 2005 and 2010.
As a matter of fact, often it seems to me that those in the West (like yourself, James from London) support the "real democracy" in Ukraine actually prefer to see the Ukrainian politics in chaos and the Ukrainian leaders fighting with each other, the same way Julia and Victor used to. Obviously, in this case it would be so much easier for you to use their infighting in order to cajole Ukraine into signing such unfavorable to its economic development deals like the free-trade agreement that Yanoukowitsch refused to sign some 2 months ago.

by: Eugenio from: Vienna
January 19, 2014 17:14
By the way, about the end of the "democratic decade", here you can see a few VIDEOS of how desperate the defenders of the bankrupt ideas of the Euro-desintegration are getting on the streets of Kiyv - no wonder and as Hillary Clinton would put it, "their days are numbered and they know it" :-)): http://www.kommersant.ru/doc/2387726
In Response

by: Eugenio from: Vienna
January 19, 2014 20:57
VIDEO: Violent clashes erupt in Kiev between police and protesters - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Auh1ayXnuMw&feature=youtube_gdata_player

by: Anonymous
January 20, 2014 03:15
also these violent actions of protest
would not be admissible in a concept of democracy !

If I well remember
in a democracy
is vote that changes things
and not the square.

Yet .... our western champions of democracy
have nothing to say about this "modus operandi"
no one condemning the real violence,
the one of the demonstrators
on the streets
in the buildings
on the squares !

western champions of democracy
prefer stand at the window
waiting for events for get their advantage

by: Elena from: London
January 22, 2014 00:15
The Fan Clubs of “Dinamo Kiev” and “Dnipro” Football Teams are forming Kiev Defence units to protect the capital from extremist militant group “Titushki”. “Titushki” recruit the school boys from small regional cities of Ukraine, supply them with drags and cold weapons and direct to destroy private cars and property in Kiev. These are organized criminal gangs, sponsored from outside with the only aim to destabilize the population while the President of Ukraine and ALL the Opposition leaders again and again reinforce their peaceful and ONLY peaceful protest message.

by: neil richard from: canada
January 22, 2014 16:08
I have more faith in the independent Ukrainian spirit to ultimately prevail..... They have identified Yanukovich for what her really is.......an ambitious career criminal who with his effete son are trying to run Ukraine like it is some African kleptocracy......The people have looked evil in the eye and what they see is the president and his band of bozo thugs who are too stupid to know that their days are short......The great culture will win in time!

by: Anonymous
January 23, 2014 16:20

I would like to know
all of you who write from your IPERdemocratic Western countries .......
how long your governments
would tolerate the violence and unrest
occurring for two months in Kjev
by an absolute minority ?

If I remember well in USA w
ith the friendly movement "Occupy Wall Street"
nerves of the central powers shoot down very fast
enough for very little provocation

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