Archive for March, 2012

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The French Spring reaches Odessa

March 31, 2012

Sacrebleu mon ami!  The French Spring has spread to Odessa!

No, no – the French Spring has nothing to do with the so called Arab Spring despite the French being past masters of revolutions.

Once again Odessa City Administration is taking us on an entertaining, culture expanding, thought provoking journey into the world of international film just as it does each year with the Odessa International Film Festival every summer.

The French Spring film festival includes Cannes prize winners and takes place on 14 -15 April throughout various cinemas in the city.

That is not all.  French fashion in the shape of Helene Sorel gets an outing at the Odessa Philharmonic amongst other Franco events around the city.

The whole event is capped off with a cinema marathon “Long Nights of Short Films” program that presents 26 best short films, prize-winners of numerous international festivals.  (Let’s hope there are no private short films from DSK’s collection within.)

Mon dieu – How very bourgeoisie!

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Political Will (and application) – A matter of trust

March 30, 2012

It’s not often the opportunity arises to pop your head above the barricades to find both government, opposition and media all talking about the same thing at the same time and all leaving themselves open for a quick volley of fire before ducking back down behind the barricades and allowing them to play their games amongst themselves once more.

Our targets today are Prime Minister Azarov, Natalia Korolevska and an article in The Moscow Times.  The subjects justice, corruption and the political will to provide improvements to both.  All three see political will as the answer to the problems within the Ukrainian and Russian society.  I think it is something far more fundamental – Trust.

To keep matters simple, let us concentrate on their recent comments on justice systems and tackling corruption which apparently can be tackled by political will alone according to two out of three of them.  Only Azarov briefly  mentions the key underlying factor that regardless of political will accomplishing legal or systemic changes amongst the administrative arms of the State and judiciary, is required for any changes to be successful – That factor is trust.

No matter how well designed, no matter how tried and tested, no matter how safe and protective in an accident, or how beneficial to society and the environment an electric car may be, if you don’t think it will perform well, you won’t buy into the concept.

Similarly society must have trust in the political and judicial systems.  They are two foundational pillars of society and they have to be trusted to be effective.

Let us start with The Moscow Times article and this quote from it –  “Of course, no particular political willpower is required to dismiss someone whom a court of law has found guilty of corruption, but it is needed in large supply when firing someone whom a leader has good reason to believe — based on media reports or other evidence — has been involved in corrupt practices. No doubt the person who gets sacked will raise a clamor, remind his employer of their long personal friendship and possibly even threaten to sue for wrongful dismissal. The senior official will simply have to endure the unpleasantness, remind his old friend that nothing can justify taking kickbacks on state contracts and that he is free to seek justice through the courts if he feels he has been wronged. In other words, all that is needed to stop corruption is a little personal integrity and political willpower.”

Now there is nothing to disagree with contained in that quote whatsoever – if you have trust that the courts will back up your decision to sack the individual in question and that the individual in question is not better connected or in a financial position to influence the outcome of the court.  Unfortunately both Russians and Ukrainians are well aware that influence or money can provide a legal outcome that is completely opposite of what the evidence displays.

Just because you are somebody’s boss doesn’t necessarily mean you are more powerful than them in the grand scheme of things.  So distorted are matters that you may well sack somebody for corruption to then discover they are far more connected than you assumed, you lose in court when they appeal and find yourself sacked instead,  whilst they take your position as the boss.  9 times from 10 things wouldn’t go to court, however it only takes one instants to change your life in a surprisingly bad way.

Thus there is an absolute need to trust the judicial system if challenging the patriarchal system.

Next, let’s see what pearls of wisdom Natalia Korolevska returned from Brussels with after her Korolevska Foundation forum there a few days ago.  The answer is obviously no new pearls of wisdom at all, and she is saying nothing that dozens of RADA MPs haven’t already said over the last decade or more.

Unfortunately for Ms Korolevska, some of us have better memories than others and she herself acknowledged that all RADA members know what the problems are but don’t do anything about it back in 2006 – “It seems that everyone here is well aware of the difficulties, but nobody makes an attempt resolve them and to help the people.” – Ms Korolevska, you are working with and talking with the same people you mentioned in 2006.  Your latest statement, as you well know, means nothing as they all already know what you have tried to imply is a visionary way forwards.

She is hardly setting an example either.  Somehow she has managed to amount a net worth (as estimated in Focus magazine 2009) of almost $250 million and recently has expanded from her food empire and entered coal.  Claims she no longer has business interests and all business assets are in her husband’s name and under his sole control are understandably met with a great degree of cynicism.  Again, trust is the issue with making such a claim.

However, whilst we can broadly agree with most of what she states, this sentence we really do have to examine: – “Corrupt bureaucracy cannot be charged with implementation of reforms.”  – Sticking with the judicial system as the theme, it is simply impossible to remove all existing judges, prosecutors and advocats in Ukraine from the system as there are not enough to replace them all with new, uncorrupted, fresh out of the box replacements.  Accepting that, who else can implement the reforms?

If, as is desperately needed in Ukraine, the judiciary are allowed to be genuinely independent from their political and business masters (often one and the same thing), then it would be folly to grant them that independence and the necessary immunity from prosecution that goes with it (to prevent outside pressure influencing them), prior to reforms.

To grant them genuine independence and immunity prior to any reforms would leave the corrupt judges, prosecutors and advocats in place whilst also making them almost untouchable and exceptionally difficult to remove thereafter.

Also, the political appointing of judges would need to end.  As it currently stands in Ukraine, judicial appointments are made by the president in some cases and the RADA in others as per the Constition (Title VIII).  A completely non-political appointment system such as the UK’s Judicial Appointments Commission would need to be set up and have that authority, both to hire and to fire.

To do that the Ukrainian Constitution would need to be changed, but as Ms Korolevska and her opposition colleagues are refusing to participate in the ex-President Kravchuk led Constitutional Assembly tasked with working through the constitution and amending it, that work is stalled.

In the case of the judiciary, it seems impracticable to do as Ms Korolveska states and remove the existing personnel within the structure prior to those within it implementing any reforms.  The numbers of qualified and suitable replacements simply do not exist to take a hatchet to them all and then afterwards reform the system.

There is a very careful balance between the integrity of the judicial system, which at the end of the day is the absolute priority for any legal system, and the stability of it whilst reforming it (thus allowing it to function as reforms work their way through.)

Just how Ms Korolevska indeeds to reform the judicial system without those currently within it having a very large part to play in that I am not sure.  Hopefully she will explain how this can and will be done.  Maybe she has a cupboard full of brand spanking new and untainted judges, prosecutors and advocats ready to replace all those currently active within the Ukrainian justice system?

Lastly we get to the current Ukrainian Prime Minister, who at least manages to recognise that what is essential in any reform – trust.  He manages to use the word.

Unfortunately, for him, his government, the opposition and entire political class, trust is not a word used by society when referring to any of them.  Almost to a man/woman they have proven to be untrustworthy, opaque in their extra-political business dealings, corrupt and manipulative for their own ends.

If there is any trust between society and the political elite, it is that society trusts them to do what is right for themselves and not society more often than not.  When the entire RADA is made up of millionaires and billionaires in a nation that has a relatively poor GDP per capita income, society is obviously going to be suspicious of each and every one of them.

Under what circumstances does the average poorly paid Ukrainian trust a politician worth $ millions who made their money through opaque business practices or thievery from the public purse?

The politicians don’t even trust each other.  Why haven’t the opposition parties united?  Because they don’t trust each other.  To quote Ms Korolevska after she was expelled from Yulia Tymoshenko’s political block only 2 weeks ago, “Deputies from the so-called opposition have united with the majority factions; an anti-national majority consisting of representatives of the current and previous government has been formed in the Verkhovna Rada.”  – She doesn’t trust those she claims to be trying to forge a united opposition party with anymore than they trust her.  None of them trust each other.  They will not genuinely unite and they will remain dysfunctional because of this.

It is no surprise that so many Ukrainian politicians have family members in politics with them.  When there is no trust amongst colleagues then the patriarchal system brings with it that necessary but missing trust.

Therefore, political will and reform implementation are a matter of trust at its most fundamental level.  As it is, in Ukraine, the government doesn’t trust the opposition or the administrative arms of the State.  The opposition doesn’t trust the government or other the opposition parties, and they also don’t trust the administrative arms of the State.  Society doesn’t trust any of them.

So before there can be the political will, the reforms, the faith in administrative systems for individuals to act with personal integrity and know that there is a solid judicial system that will back them, there first of all needs to be trust.

That is something that will be incredibly difficult to produce.

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It’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs competition time!

March 29, 2012

OK – Stop what you are doing, go find your colouring books, paints and pencils, and put your creative thinking caps on!

Quite unusually for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine, it is seeking public participation.

It encourages designs/logos to be submitted by the very skillful and arty people of Ukraine in readiness for the  Ukrainian OCSE presidency during 2013.  The winning design will be on the boards behind speakers during interviews, leaflets, tags, visual displays etc.

Proposals should be sent to the Directorate of Information Policy MFA of Ukraine (concurrence@ukr.net) before 31st May 2011 marked in the subject line “Contest – logo OSCE.”

Any entry must incorporate the existing OSCE logo shown below:

Now I did throw this out to a few friends yesterday, so they have a head start, however thus far suggestions have been similar to this one – “A crazy dishonest woman with a braid behind bars, while a semi-literate buffoonish thug looms over her waving his fists and an oligarch is in the background pocketing the competition prize money!” – Wonderful imagery, but I suspect not quite the imagery hoped for or indeed likely to win.

Maybe those considering a design should ponder over the very real likelihood that OSCE, in October 2012, is likely to say the Ukrainian parliamentary elections were not free and fair and then shortly afterwards, Ukraine takes up the presidency of the condemning organisation? – No again, probably the wrong imagery.
Now whilst the Euro 2012 tournament flowery logo is certainly far better than the London Olympic condom logo, I am not particularly fond of either.  Indeed, would the soft and fluffy imagery for these sporting events even be appropriate for OSCE?
Should a designer have any consideration for possible winners of the parliamentary elections in October 2012?  Would the colour orange be diplomatically naive to slip into the design if you hope to win, or not?
Maybe a designer should simply over-impose the OSCE logo on a background of St Sophia’s?  Why not?  It’s not as though many beautiful buildings in Ukraine have been aesthetically ruined by neon or illuminated advertising unscrupulously attached without any thought.
Borrow the cleavages of two FEMEN ladies and simply write OSCE across them on a one letter per breast basis?  Again probably not a winning concept.
Imagery and symbolism  – Something mankind has struggled with since it managed to draw pictures on cave walls.  Particularly so when art is not for art’s sake.
Anyway, get doodling, get your creative juices flowing, and let us hope for something slightly more appropriate than has so far managed to appear in my mind.
Now I’m off to buy more poster paint and carve patterns in some potatoes and see what I can come up with!
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Which comes first? Democracy, rule of law, development or a strong State? – A question for Ukraine

March 28, 2012

Which comes first?  Democracy, rule of law, development/modernisation or a strong State when creating/rebuilding a nation?

Isn’t that a good question?

Given all are somewhat shaky in Ukraine in comparison to most other nations in Europe, which is the priority for the State and is it the same priority for society?  Not necessarily the same answer it has to be said.

Now I know that upon reading the question many of you readers will have chosen one of the four possibilities listed and can put up a reasonable and solid argument as to why it should take priority as the foundation for the rest.  But why did you choose whichever one you chose?  Is it based on logic, or culture or history?  Maybe just a gut feeling?

Is there a right formula or does it matter in which order priority is given?  Are they all necessary for a happy society anyway?

If I look back at the British history, rule of law would seem to be the foundation.  When the Normans came across the channel, promptly putting an arrow in the eye of King Harold and set about ruling southern England, they brought with them words and practices such as “jury”, “justice”, “judge” and “evidence”.  Mon dieu!

A strong Franco/Anglo State followed and several hundred years later after kicking the French back across the Channel,  (mon dieu nouvaeu!), a rather undemocratic, robust parliament was formed by the elite in essence to try and prevent the King treating England as his Kingdom (which it was) and doing just how he pleased (which he did).

Eventually we do get to a more democratic parliament, a more subdued monarchy and thus we have rule of law, democracy (unless you are a woman), and a strong State.

Development/modernisation is a more difficult concept as it can occur slowly and time makes it almost invisible, or it can happen swiftly as it did with the industrial revolution.  To keep things easy, we will identify development/modernisation with the industrial revolution rather than the UK’s globe-trotting empire building  and development by assimilation.  (After all Ukraine is unlikely to go for global dominance and empire building so there could be no comparisons.)

So, in a matter of (only) 900 years or so, the UK goes from patriarchal gang governance to rule of law, then gets a strong domestic State free of external interference, then democracy (of sorts), followed by development/modernisation on an industrial scale and eventually a far more inclusive democracy when women eventually get the vote.

Is that the model that works most effectively?  It is the same model followed by the US when it broke away from the UK after all.   Is it the model Ukraine must follow to get where we would all like to see it go?  Well possibly – but not necessarily.

China has had a strong State for about 2000 years, and yet only recently it has seen rule of law and development at an incredible pace (in comparison to its history), but there is still no democracy and never has been.  Eventually there will be democracy no doubt, but it has accomplished its position in the world today without it so far, and didn’t start with rule of law like the UK.

So is this the model Ukraine should follow?

What of some other nations such as Indonesia in Asia?  It is a strong democracy (and is much overlooked as a success story in Muslim democracies).  Development/modernisation is strong, but rule of law is weak and corruption is rampant thus making the State weak as well.

However, if you chose democracy as your foundation for Ukraine, is the Indonesian (and some other nations) the right model and the UK or Chinese models are thus wrong for Ukraine?

Are we right in thinking that the middle classes, which are a vital part of any democratic society as they keep the elite from running amok and also prevent the peasants from revolting,  are always going to seek democracy?

Being middle class,  would they be just as content with the rule of law being applied with equality across society by a strong State which is continually developing/moderising and thus improving their quality of middle class life?

Would they topple a competent and benevolent ruler for a gridlocked or ineffective democracy just to have a democracy at the expense of rule of law and development/moderinisation?  Would they topple a poor democracy and insert a ruler to get effective rule of law and development/modernisation?

As I have stated, Ukraine suffers from a very weak and often ineffective rule of law that is far from being applied evenly, the State is weak and cannot control its administrative organs who regularly obstruct any reforms, development and modernisation is retarded.  Democracy is only 20 years old here and it is subjected to personal popularity contests rather than policy based voting.  In fact democracy in Ukraine is not so much a beauty contest but a contest to find the least ugly and poisonous of the hydra’s heads.  A question more of whether I would want to remove my eyes with a spoon or a fork.

It does though, have all the ingredients in my opening question in existence already, both on paper and in practice.  It just happens that none are remotely robust.

Of these weak, small saplings, which requires the most care and attention for the others to also develop in the protection of its shadow from the elements?  In nurturing the one most likely to eventually allow the others to grow under its protection, what image does that portray to those looking in?

If we look at Ukraine over the past 20 years, under Kravchuk (unsurprisingly as the nation was falling apart after the collapse of the USSR) and Kuchma there are prima facie parallels at efforts for a strong State.  Under Yushenko and Tymoshenko efforts at democracy.  All failed.  Under Yanukovych we return to the strong State foundation.

Under both strong State and democratic models corruption flourished, a second massive cash driven black economy thrived, modernisation (if you call McDonalds and shopping malls appearing in towns and cities modernisation) has arrived through FDI and the oligarchy copying small parts of town planning from the West, but thus far none have actually managed to address the core structures of society effectively.

Is the UK’s model of rule of law first and foremost, a strong State (which is almost a default position from rule of law), then democracy and modernisation/development the right model for Ukraine?  It took us 900 years to accomplish and Ukraine is only 20.  Even if it followed that blueprint it would do well to achieve sustainable, robust results across the board over 60 years. Would the Ukrainian society want to follow that model and is it patient enough to wait that long?

As democracy came a very long time after rule of law and a strong State in the UK model, certainly the EU would want democracy to be higher up this “to do list”.  But as nations such as Indonesia show, democracy without rule of law and a strong State to enforce it leaves society engulfed in rampant corruption.  In fact the Yushenko/Tymoshenko years governing Ukraine are very much a mirror to Indonesia prima facie.  The cost of corruption rocketed and the State weakened.

So, the question is not as easy as when you plucked your priority policy from it upon first reading.  There seems to be no steadfast model to follow when it comes to creating a successful State.  Many of the ingredients are the same, but all have differing prominence in different nations.

So the question again,  Which comes first?  Democracy, rule of law, development/modernisation or a strong State?

Anyone with a definitive answer that can be implemented in a timely and peaceful manner, please send it to every developing nation on the planet, the UN, World Bank, IMF, the countless think-tanks and innumerable academics.

Do mention this blog and me in the preface and acknowledgements of what will undoubtedly be a best selling book!

Meanwhile we will muddle along as always in the knowledge Ukraine will get there, or thereabouts, sometime in the future, by playing with the alchemy of democracy, rule of law, a strong State and modernisation/development. – Hopefully without blowing up the laboratory in the process or finding the mice have lost patience and are in revolt!

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It’s not always bad news

March 27, 2012

It seems I am forever writing about poor policy decisions, existing operating cycles that are cancerous to society requiring imagination and creativity to break and reform (which is sadly lacking), effective policies ineffectively applied or rallied against and obstructed by those they effect within the administrative organs of State, and the occasional completely counterproductive policy for good measure.

Of course whilst I write specifically about Ukraine, there are others just like me writing the same things about the UK, USA, France, the EU and many other nations and entities bemoaning all the above as well, often more impassioned and occasionally with a jerking knee and name-calling.

The issue with policy is just how long do you give it to be effective?

Some policies have an immediate effect, others take time to take effect and some are simply ineffective and were always doomed to be so.

Yet others are set for the very long term and are a drip, drip corrosive instrument and purposely designed to be so without making any headlines at all.

There are then other policies which begin as effective or are perceived to be so, displaying the initial desired results but then as time goes by prove to actually be ineffective.

There are grand overarching long term, holy grail policies and there are probably the very worst of all policies, knee-jerk, short term populist policies.

Anyway, one of the EU policies towards the EaP nations of which Ukraine is probably the most important, was to engage with, and directly finance  platforms for, NGOs more actively.  I mentioned a speech of Stefan Fule back in December, but here it is again to refresh your memories.

There are of course issues with NGOs as far as governments are concerned.  Firstly they must be registered and operating legally in any nation where they are active.

There is a question of funding, who is funding them and to what more opaque ends than some would declare.

There are numerous examples of Arabic and Islamic NGOs and charities throughout the West having their official status  removed and no doubt MI5, the FBI etc paying particular attention to them during the past decade.  The same can be said for CND, Animal Rights and numerous other organisations to which certain government agencies (or government themselves) begin to have serious concerns over.

Harassment, agent provocateurs, deep cover law enforcement espionage within such organisations is not only the preserve of the FSB, SBU or KGB.  Trials were falling apart only last year in the UK over such matters.

Undoubtedly as far as the EU (or its Member States) is concerned, it is far better to engage openly and with NGOs in country with the hosting government’s knowledge, than to have to use NGOs and businesses, Embassies and Consulates for more clandestine meetings or third party contacts with dissidents who are particularly out of favour with a particular government.

As such, the EU has been quietly but openly pushing Ukraine to amend certain laws relating to NGOs that operate within Ukraine which would ease the EU’s EaP strategy.  It has been pushing this issue quietly for quite some time.  Now I don’t always agree with Mr Fule, however I do have respect for him and I do consider him to be a very determined, clever and quite dynamic operator.

A recent disagreement between us came on 23rd February, when Mr Fule had this to say to me ” If I may, the point about looking at these issues from a geopolitical angle is not really helpful, because our version of regional integration is seen as opening up multilateral links and not closing them down…” – However I wasn’t looking at the issue discussed from a geopolitical angle, but pointing out that there were those in the RADA that were – unhelpful or not.

Anyway, one assumes, given that NGOs/Civil Society are now the EU’s preferred policy partners for promoting democracy (rather than dysfunctional opposition parties) within the EaP nations, that Mr Fule must be reasonably happy with himself (and Ukraine) as it seems he has managed to get changes to the law he sought.

@StefanFuleEU – Good news from#Kiev:parliament adopted Law on Public Organisations.Important for civil society as our key partner in #neighbourhood policy”

Unfortunately I am going to have to take Mr Fule’s word that it is good news.  I can’t find the new law (at least not yet) to see what it now states.

Still, it’s not always bad news.

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UPDATE!!!!

The new law (well the draft at least) can be found here and  it comes into effect from 1st January 2013 as stated.

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On-line EU Jobs Day – Он-лайн ЕС Рабочий День

March 26, 2012

It’s been a while since I wrote anything in Russian on the blog, but today for search engine reasons, we have a bilingual post to draw attention to the On-Line EU Jobs Day to be held on 29th March.

Это было время, так как я написал что-нибудь на русском языке на блоге, но сегодня по причинам, поисковые системы, у нас есть двуязычное сообщение, чтобы привлечь внимание к Он-лайн ЕС Рабочий День, который состоится 29 марта,

OK – normal policy ruminations resume tomorrow!

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Hearing date at ECfHR for Lutsenko v Ukraine (Case 6492/11)

March 25, 2012

Now there is a strong rumour that the powers that be in Kyiv have stated through diplomatic channels they will abide by any ECfHR rulings in relation to those opposition members incarcerated as I have mentioned before.

First up will be the case of Yuri Lutsenko who’s case (Lutsenko v Ukraine 6492/11) goes before the court on 17th April, just under a month from now.

Given the nefariousness and underhandedness of Ukrainian politicians of all parties, as always it is probably better not to speculate upon whether he is actually guilty, and better to concentrate on the issues that such trials, albeit they may meet Ukrainian norms, do not meet the standards of the international community.  Thus due process and not guilt is subject to scrutiny in this case, (and other pending politicians appeals), as far as the ECfHR is concerned.

That said, the length of sentence handed out, even if he is as guilty as sin, seems excessive in comparison to the shenanigans that occur amongst the political elite on an almost daily basis across the entire political spectrum.

Given that his appeal to the ECfHR was made on 21st January 2011 it will have taken just a few days short of 15 months for proceedings to begin.  Quite how long it will be before there is any formal and final ruling remains to be seen.

Equally, just how quickly Ukraine will abide by any such ruling is an unknown.

It is fair to say that many sovereign states are not exactly swift at implementing ECfHR rulings when they are delivered and the result goes against the State.

Considering the time frames, even with Ms Tymoshenko on the ECfHR fast track system, it seems unlikely she will be taking part in elections in October as even if she is freed by that time, as one has to suspect she will miss any candidates registration date limitations.  For the sake of opposition unity, that may well turn out to be a blessing however.

Anyway, Lutsenko v Ukraine gets an airing with effect from 17th April at the ECfHR and it will be interesting to see what happens and how quickly from there on.

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