What now?

Halya Coynash

“Ukraine fatigue” is palpable in the wake of the parliamentary elections. It is in a sense even understandable, after all what do you do when all the assurances have proven entirely empty and Ukraine’s leaders stubbornly continue trampling on democratic values?  What can be done is for the EU, PACE and other structures to determine behind closed doors however two highly dangerous laws just signed into force by the President make it amply plain that turning away cannot be an option. 

Following a rather unconvincing pretence of applying his power of veto and demanding minor amendments to the notorious draft Law on a Unified State Demographic Register, President Yanukovych has now signed it into force.   This is a major victory for Vasyl Hrytsak, the Party of the Regions author of the bill and the SSAPS Consortium [the Single State Automated Passport System] which he is linked with.  It is a major blow to all Ukrainian citizens who will face crippling costs in organizing 13 biometric documents.  It is also a grave threat to Ukraine’s democracy since the register will store an unlimited amount of private information about Ukrainian citizens which will be shared between different ministries and authorities.  The register is also more than likely to end up on the black market since there are no safeguards envisaged for highly sensitive information.

This mixture of corrupt dealings, scope for mass snooping on opposition figures, civic activists etc, as well as likely descent into chaos and incompetence, is presented as being in compliance with Ukraine’s obligations under the EU-Ukraine Visa Liberalization Action Plan.  This is pitifully unconvincing since the EU requires only that Ukrainians have biometric passports for travelling beyond Ukraine’s borders.

Two days earlier, President Yanukovych signed the Law on National Referendums which is in grave breach of the Constitution and provides a set up which could enable “the people” to decide that there are no restrictions on the number of presidential terms; that the President can be elected by parliament; that Russian should be a second State language, etc.  The arrangement would be similar to that for the organization of the October parliamentary elections and vote count, only without even the guarantees of equal opportunities for all parties.  There is no indication of a minimum turnout, yet the results of this “referendum” would be binding.  More details can be found in Bypassing the Constitution and in the links below that.

In both cases the President has ignored calls from authoritative civic and human rights organizations, legal experts, as well as Ukraine’s Constitution and recommendations from Council of Europe bodies.  2012 has already broken all records for dangerous legislative acts which do all of the above.  Most notorious were, of course, the Law on the Principles of State Language Policy which effectively gives Russian near-State language status (see Language Law vs. Ukraine’s Constitution) and a Law on Public Procurement which removes State enterprises from any tender system whatsoever.

Even more calls have been heard for the release of Ukraine’s two most prominent political prisoners – former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko and Interior Minister Yury Lutsenko.

They were also heard for free and fair elections although it was obvious from the outset that political opponents should be fought on the election trail, not via the courts.

The problem is that we shout over and over again that laws, politically motivated trials, etc, are in breach of the Constitution and Ukraine’s international commitments, that the President is ignoring widespread calls to veto dangerous laws, that the elections must be fairly run, etc   They don’t cease to be relevant nor is the danger any less. In fact it is much greater precisely because of the repetition – people switch off. Let’s hope that behind those closed doors tangible measures will be passed.  The danger warrants them. 



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