Friday, April 30, 2010

Watershed week in Ukrainian politics

The disgrace in Ukraine's parliament on Tuesday was a watershed in Ukraine's democratic development. Although there have been many physical altercations in the main chamber over the years these have almost always been mainly posturing, or 'handbags at 10 paces' as they say in England. Deputies who exhibited agressiveness to one another in public were frequently known to have cordial or workmanlike relationships in private because of business connections, frequent meetings in committees etc.

However last Tuesday many journalists and witnesses reported that those PoR deputies in possession of 'a useful pairs of fists' , and, more sinisterly, some unidentified persons inside the walls of the parliament, specifically targetted older, more moderate, non violent members of the opposition for 'physical treatment', particularly those of the NUNS fraction.

Many 'beefier' BYuT opposition deputies stood idly by and watched without coming to their aid, maybe because of an unwritten rule whereby bullies 'ne zachipayut' other bullies.

In one of the worst incidents [video here ] Oles' Doniy, a most mild-mannered, academic NUNS deputy, was severely beaten about the head. He is still in hospital, confined to a wheel-chair, and suffering from concussion. Readers can make their own minds up whether the attack on him by PoR deputy Vasyl Stelmashenko, was unprovoked or not. Stelmashenko, is allegedly a reformed 'kriminalny avtorytet' [a.k.a. 'Kartaviy], who was involved in illicit alcohol production and tax evasion several years ago. He spent some time abroad but returned to Ukraine in 2000. He entered the VR a few weeks ago on this appropriate C.V.

Disgracefully, Volodymyr Sivkovych, current Vice Prime Minister of Ukraine in charge of the security forces, was standing just behind him studiously watching Doniy being 'whacked'. President Yanukovych's son, also a PoR deputy, [chip of the old block?] was allegedly involved in beating opposition deputies too.

I do not intend to defend the opposition's actions, egg throwing etc., save to say that PoR, BYuT, NUNS and others have often disrupted the working of the VR with similar protests so Tuesday's performance was not beyond the bounds of what happened many times before, but there has never previously been such a violent reaction from the ruling party. What was obvious was that Yanukovych had pledged to Putin that come what may, ratification of the Kharkiv agreement, 'gas for Black Sea Fleet base lease extension' struck the week before, would take place simultaneously in Moscow, Kyiv and Crimea.

I would not have been unreasonable for a debate to take place in the VR on this important issue before any voting. The government had nothing to fear, a majority in favour was assured, and a reasonable case could have been made to illustrate the benefits to Ukrainian citizens accruing from the deal, but for Yanukovych that would have been an impermissable indication of weakness.

Voting on that day was a farce in any case. Only 211 deputies had registered their presence at the start of the session, although 236 voted in favour of ratifying the Kharkiv agreement. Two of those voting in favour were in Strasbourg with the president at the time, a third in Western Ukraine, even though, according to Ukrainian law they have to present in person in the VR for their vote to be valid.

Reporters without Borders' wrote an open letter to Yanukovych a couple of days ago about their concern for Ukrainian journalists. Opposition politicians now have cause to be fearful too.

p.s. British Labour Party deputy leader Harriet Harman was fined £350 several weeks ago after admitting careless driving while using her mobile phone. Miss Harman, 59, was the first serving Cabinet minister in living memory to plead guilty to a criminal charge. In Britain there is [almost always] one rule of law for everybody...

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