26. Sept. 2012
(In ukrainian)

28. Sept. 2012
(in english)

Ukrainian Week

Andreas Gross: «Ukraine needs another democratic revolution»

Confronted with the fact that politics is completely run by money, most Ukrainians feel helpless.

Interviewer: Oleksandr Pahiria

On September 20-21, an observer delegation from the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) visited Kyiv for the pre-election monitoring and evaluation of the election campaign in Ukraine. After the meeting with Ukrainian top officials, diplomats, members of the major political parties, NGOs and reporters, they called on the Ukrainian government to take a number of steps to ensure free election and pluralism in the media, and stop abuse of administrative leverage. The Ukrainian Week talks to Andreas Gross, head of the delegation and Chairman of the PACE’s social-democratic Group, about PACE’s evaluation of the election situation in Ukraine.

UW: Can you share your observations of the pre-election process in Ukraine?

I’m very much concerned about political situation in Ukraine. Especially, I refer to those who see no real political alternative. Many citizens feel helpless, confronted with the fact that politics is QUASI totally dominated by money. -- People who made the Orange Revolution, especially it’s many thousands young supporters are totally disappointed today, they turn their back to politics, and are lost for Ukraine’s future and nobody tries to get them back. Only a open and pluralistic system would attract them, but it’s rather closed and colonialised by big money an oligarchic interests. These people are fed up with this situation and would prefer to leave the country.

I have been observing elections in Ukraine since 1997 and I’ve been to Ukraine since then for 30 times now. My impression is that the parties are fighting for power for themselves only, not for the general social interest. Therefore, I lost many illusions I still had before I came here the last time. There is no constructive public dialogue. Political forces do not hear each other. The government denies any positive element about the opposition, and the opposition does the same about the government. Everything is black and white, but the real society and real politics are much more subtile and diverse.

UW: How does PACE evaluate the planned crush of the government on independent media over the past few months?

The media situation is a disaster in Ukraine. It is a symbol of what is wrong in the country. I’ve heard that one can even buy news on TV. All big TV channels, other than TVi (which is now losing audience because it is removed from the lists of channels provided by operators) are owned by oligarchs who thus determine the state of democracy in the media. UUkrainian TV and radio has no pluralism. This undermines the essence of professional journalism and is essentially the end of journalism. At the same time, courts are dominated by the government. With all this on your plate, you might think that YOU MIGHT THINK, THAT you need another democraticrevolution. But for this you have to wait another 25 years for another generation to make it, because you can not make a revolution every other ten years.

UW: Does the procedure to set up election commissions implemented by the Ukrainian government meet the CoE standards?

This looks like farce to me. The composition of nearly all the election commissions will be one-sided. The main task of election commissions of all levels – from local to central – is to choose people who feel as referees, not players. In Ukraine, there are too many players in the commissions. Therefore many citizens have lost their trust in the election process because there are no conditions for a transparent and fair process, no pluralism in the media, and no reliable sources of information. People feel helpless. This is the reason why so many of them turn their back resulting in the degeneration of the political process.

That is why you have so much cynicism and no power alternative to that of money in politics. The power of money can only be balanced with the power of citizens but Ukrainian citizens are now losing their faith in themselves and their future. This is so disappointing and even depressing to me.

UW: Yanukovych’s government is trying to persuade the international community that it can control the election using Putin’s video observation at the polling stations. What is your opinion on the efficiency of this technology?

The web cameras in Russia were counterproductive to the Kremlin because they helped the opposition to prove what really happened in the March election. And at the end of the day, the web cams documented the vote counting process. In Ukraine, we’ve just heard from the Central Election Commission Chairman that the law had been prepared so badly that he does not know whether the cameras will be turned off after 8 p.m. before the counting, or whether the counting will also be recorded – and if so, will this be for the Central Election Commission only, or for the great public too?

This proves that the parliament is not functioning properly because such laws should be clear. A good discussion is a necessary condition for taking the right decision – this is one of the essential roles of a parliament. Good laws cannot be made without good discussions. Now, there is a law that is difficult to implement. We have pointed this out at that at our meeting with the Central Election Commission Chairman. There is no way that every polling station uses web cameras as it wishes.

UW: Can one say that the Ukrainian government has failed its free election and democracy test?<

t’s too early to say this. My personal opinion is very pessimistic when I see what is happening in these weeks in Ukraine. The worst thing is the power of big money which dominates and breaks the promises and platforms of the parties after elections and people no longer trust them. This is a disaster for the development of a democratic society. Therefore, I’m very pessimistic by now. But I still wish that some things will happen that will change the situation but you have to take so many changes for that.

UW: What is your opinion on the draft law to restore criminal liability for slander that the parliament passed in the first reading?

Now is the worst moment to do such a thing even if it would be well-done. But this is a very bad draft law. Doing it in this shows that its aim is to intimidate society further more and restrict open debates in the media. Slander is a very sensitive issue, so you should be very careful with it and follow the experience of democratic countries and the standards of the Council of Europe, the EU and the UN – but the draft law is denying them.

UW: The government’s attempts to impose elements of a police state based on the Russian practice have recently crystallized in Ukraine. Does this mean that Yanukovych’s regime is primarily focusing on the Russian experience?

Ukraine is in some ways worse than Russia today because you don’t have big demonstrations and a mobilized civil society here which are the asset of Russia. Today Since December last year, they have been the sign of a growing and strengthening civil society and there have been many positive developments in Russia. Ukraine doesn’t have any. Eight years ago, Ukraine had a revolution. Ever since, millions of Ukrainians have become disappointed and turned their backs on politics. I see today many similarities with the times of Kuchma again, especially in the lack of free speech, open media an fair laws. Everybody thought after the Orange Revolution that pluralism and freedom of speech could never ever again be destroyed. Now, it is almost ruined. Ukraine’s democracy is regressing, Russia’s is progressing. My impression is that Yanukovych is not following Putin. Instead, he is organizing his own clan and trying to “clanify” Ukrainian politics. This is even worse.

UW: Will you discuss Ukraine at PACE’s October session?

I don’t think that we will discuss Ukraine in October because of the election. Russia will be discussed at the plenary session and a resolution taken. We will discuss Ukraine after the election in January 2013. Our delegation will monitor the election process in Ukraine and prepare the relevant report on the election.

UW: In one of his latest interviews for Die Presse, Minister of Foreign Affairs Kostiantyn Hryshchenko claimed that the Ukrainian government would not release Tymoshenko to sign the Association Agreement and the FTA Agreement. It looks like no efforts of the European community to call on and persuade the Ukrainian government will have the desirable effect …

As far as I understand, he sacrifices the interests of the majority of Ukrainians to personal failures of the ruling class, if not the president. I believe that the interest of 45 million of Ukrainians is much more significant than the personality of Ms. Tymoshenko. She has to be punished politically by the people who know that she has made heavy political mistakes through elections, not through the criminalization and by bad government decisions. If the Association Agreement is not signed within the next five years, the living standards and the economy will not improve the way they would together with the EU. Ukrainian citizens will pay a high price for not signing the agreement. I think the Ukrainian government should not allow this to happen and should do everything possible to sign the agreement.

UW: The US Senate Committee for International Affairs has recently passed a draft resolution proposing sanctions against Ukrainian top officials unless they fulfill demands to release Tymoshenko and other imprisoned opposition leaders. Does the Council of Europe have sufficient grounds to exert pressure on the Ukrainian government?

I’m not a fan of “black pedagogy”. The US and the EU have a lot of political, economic and military power. The Council of Europe has the power of values, the respect for principles and the power to convince and deliberate as its tool of international influence. We do not apply sanctions. This is not our currency. We can only convince others, but not press them with sanctions or restrictions to do anything against their will and own conviction.

UW: Over the years of Yanukovych’s rule in Ukraine, oligarchs have gained much more influence over Ukrainian economy and politics. How does this affect democracy in Ukraine?

This is the question I asked many people in Ukraine and could never get a clear answer. No other country in Europe has such influential and powerful oligarchs. This shows the legacy of totalitarianism and a specific weakness of Ukrainian society. You don’t have many forces that unite the country but many who divide it. After the sufferings caused by totalitarianism and the artificial Famine of 1932-1933 organized by Stalin that killed millions, many people are especially afraid of politics. There were some grave mistakes done after the independence. With the weakness of the rule of law and the lack of understanding of the market liberalization needed, the oligarch system had a chance to establish itself firmly. We need a basic common reflection and deliberation why this happened and what has to be done to change this.

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