When poking around in cyberspace for all things Ukrainian, it seems there is a fair cry from either foreigners in Ukraine and Ukrainians outside Ukraine, although thus far not much of a furore within Ukraine (yet), over the alleged political persecution of Yulia Tymoshenko.
Why is it that many governments and political institutions are warning against the “appearance of selective prosecutions” rather than condemning her trial (and that of others in the opposition) as “political persecution” which Ms Tymoshenko and supporters claim it is?
Kyiv, after all, is home to Embassies of almost every nation with Ambassadors who have easy access to Ms Tymoshenko, she to them, and also with the current authorities. The Ambassadors, Deputy Head of Missions and assorted mandarins at all these embassies are not stupid people and yet they and their governments go only as far as warning against the “appearance of selective prosecutions” rather than full and forthright condemnations.
Part of the reason, no doubt, is that these people have far more knowledge of the situation than the average person on the street. They do after all have direct access to both sides in person. There are also other on-going issues, quite possibly of reasonable bilateral consequence, that outright condemnation would jeopardise. Another reason is the case against Ms Tymoshenko is on-going and thus there is no finding of guilt (yet). Should she be found not guilty and the rule of law and judicial system run its course to that end without excessive external influence, it is no bad thing. People are found not guilty in courts in every nation every day.
There is also the possibility that amongst the many charges she now faces, she is indeed guilty of one or more of them. It may be the case that the luminaries and diplomats of other nations are actually aware that is probably the case and thus they are stopping short of “condemnation”. HM Ambassador Leigh Turner makes a valid point in the last paragraph of this blog entry.
I have no views on the rights and wrongs of individual cases. And I have read with interest a list distributed by the authorities designed to show that many figures associated with the present government are being prosecuted in addition to members of the previous government. The authorities argue that the list shows that justice is indeed being applied evenly. The problem is that when corruption is widespread, whatever the facts of individual cases, prosecutions will always risk looking selective if only some people are prosecuted. And in a democracy, any prosecution of important figures from the political opposition will always, rightly, be the subject of particular scrutiny both inside the country and outside.
He is absolutely correct and speaks from a position that is probably far more informed than most of the populous of the nation, who are in effect only following the media trial of both judge, court system and Ms Tymoshenko.
There are though other reasons to tread carefully. Only a few months ago, the EU was throwing garlands at Croatia for the beginning of prosecution of some members of its previous leadership. Somewhat very similar in principle to what is happening in Ukraine now, and yet there was no pause to caution over “political persecutions”. Of course Croatia is due to join the EU in 2013/14 and needs to be seen to be dealing with corruption and the powerful elite. Is that not where Ukraine is slowly heading though, even if it is 15 or 20 years away?
Then there are the issues with the already existing EU members of Bulgaria and Romania, both of which also continue to suffer with major corruption, organised crime and a very obtuse legal system. These are already members of the EU but fall so far short of the EU standards they were both subjected to something called the “Co-operation and Verification Mechanism” in which the EU actively monitors and reports upon the corruption, rule of law and judicial processes (and progress) in both nations. This has been going on for years and the latest report for Bulgaria is here, and the latest for Romania here. As you can see, both reports are dated 20 July 2011 and are therefore only a few days old.
Both nations are far closer to Ukraine than the EU when reading these reports when it comes to corruption, organised crime, judiciary and rule of law. One wonders where nations like Italy and Greece would also sit if subjected to the same scrutiny.
They make rather grim reading, however any report written upon Ukraine would be no worse. It should also be remembered that Bulgaria and Romania receive far more help in addressing these issues being EU members already than Ukraine does being outside.
In short, in both Bulgaria and Romania, just as with other nations like Serbia and Croatia, are being actively encouraged to go after and prosecute the elites regardless of whether they are in power, in opposition or retired from highly influential positions. Let us not forget the EU has been demanding successive governments of Ukraine to do the same for many years as well.
It is therefore very difficult for the EU nations in particular, to “condemn” Ukraine for “political persecution” for all the above reasons within this post and all the links within it. “Appearance of selective prosecutions” is about as strong a phrase they can currently use without walking dangerously close to the line of duplicity when calling for prosecutions, including opposition members, in other nations.
Once the legal course has been run in Ukraine, then that position may change, although one would expect an ECHR appeal by Ms Tymoshenko should she be found guilty, so even then, with on-going legal action, many nations may not move particularly far with regards to rhetoric until there are no further options.