Archive for May, 2012

h1

“United Opposition” election manifesto launched

May 31, 2012

Well somewhat surprisingly, the “united opposition” parties of Ukraine (which does not include all opposition parties in Ukraine) has launched its manifesto for the forthcoming parliamentary elections in October.

I say surprisingly, as generally there is very little said by political parties in Ukraine about proposed policy as politics normally revolves around personality here.

Manifesto/policy launch may also be something of an exaggeration, but it is as close as we may actually get in Ukrainian politics for a while yet.  When I say manifesto launch, what I really should say is that Arseniy Yatseniuk rattled of a list of things the “United Opposition” will do if they are returned to power in parliament (and if President Yanukovych will actually sign anything into law that comes from a “United Opposition” majority in parliament of course).

So, what are these society engaging, clever, policy effective and implementable changes that will bring Ukraine rapidly to an ultra-modern State fully incorporable with European norms and the EU?

How are they different from the current government’s programme of reform and legislative change towards EU norms, and how are they different from 2.5 years ago when the “United Opposition” parties were last in the majority in parliament but failed to reform anything?

Well firstly they plan to increase the wages of government employees.  There is no mention of whether they will also cut the very bloated number of employees in an overly bureaucratic system in every part of Ukrainian life though.  Quite why they didn’t raise the wages of government employees or take any steps to tackle the overly bureaucratic administrative systems of Ukraine when they were in power for 5 years is anybodies guess.  They did have 5 years to do so and have only been in opposition for 2.5 years so far.  Surely the period in opposition has not opened their eyes to the major problems they ignored when in power in this regard for so long.

Where is the money for all these additional governmental wages (and subsequent pensions) going to come from if they are not going to slash the number of governmental employees?

Next, they plan to fight corruption.  Again something that they failed to do when in power.  In fact the cost of corruption when they were in power absolutely rocketed under their tenure comparatively to their predecessors.  Not only did it rocket but it seeped further and further into every day life and into parts of everyday life it hadn’t been so coercively present in before – this I can tell you from personal experience.  In short they did absolutely nothing to combat corruption and indeed looked on as it get far, far worse.

How are they going to tackle corruption effectively when successive governments (including their own when last in office) have failed dismally at taking on the regional fiefdoms and regional administrations?  Simply sacking corrupt heads of departments to replace them with corrupt deputy heads of departments will not achieve much at all.  If you sack all the corrupt judges, lawyers, prosecutors and defenders, where exactly will all the experienced replacements come from that are untainted by corruption in their careers to date?  Is there a box of uncorrupted experienced professionals laying around somewhere in a cold dank cupboard in the RADA?

Having mentioned corrupt judiciary, they also claim they will reform law enforcement and judicial systems.  Despite the Euro hundreds of millions pumped into trying to accomplish exactly that via EU aid and grants during their time in office, nothing changed.  Not technically, legislatively or in reality.  Are they going to undo the recently passed Criminal Procedures Code which by and large, whilst in no way perfect, is certainly on paper better than what was there before?

Arseniy Yatseniuk also promised that Ms Tymoshenko (and others) would be freed – quite naturally as the “United Opposition comprises ostensibly of her party and his – but there will be tricky legal and political questions over simply decriminalising the offences under which she was convicted and then retrospectively applying  them in order to free her (and others).  Can and should any legal changes be retrospectively applied and if so, should they be, and what precedent does that set across any further legal changes that do not affect headline prisoners?

All of that said, it is still unclear in this “United Opposition” power conglomerate,  who would become Prime Minister?  Mr Yatseniuk or Ms Tymoshenko (when released)?  The President is not up for reelection until 2015 after all.

Most right-thinking people would probably suggest Mr Yatseniuk has to become the PM as he is not as historically tainted as Ms Tymoshenko (even discounting her current plight), does not invoke the same fatigue across a Tymoshenko/Yanukovych weary domestic and international audience and indeed could be seen as something of a breath of fresh air in Ukrainian politics.  However, one doubts Ms Tymoshenko’s ego could play second fiddle for long (if at all) and any “United Opposition” majority coalition would soon disintegrate upon regaining power – if it doesn’t disintegrate before the elections even begin.

If anybody is to bring Ukrainian politics out of the cesspit that it currently dwells within, it will not be Mr Yanukovych or Ms Tymoshenko.  It needs to be a completely new and far less corruption tainted figure.  Neither of the Yanukovych/Tymoshenko personalities can bring anything like the feel of a truly representative parliament, the feeling that a new page has been turned or indeed the belief that anything which leaves their mouths could actually be true.

Returning to the manifesto as described by Mr Yatseniuk, then aside from freeing Ms Tymoshenko, there is very little difference between the claims of the current government when it comes to refom of legal and justice systems, fighting corruption or increasing wages.  In fact there is no difference between this manifesto and the previous promises made by the current opposition when they were last in power and which they spectacularly failed to deliver (and even made worse in some cases).

So, once again, despite the existence of a manifesto (of sorts) the parliamentary election will come down to personality politics and who the electorate believe is more likely to actually deliver even a tiny percentage of what they say they will as both government and opposition talk of reforming exactly the same things.  Until we know where and how Ms Tymoshenko will fit into any new government should the “United Opposition” be successful, it is quite difficult to gauge whether a vote for Yatseniuk (and de facto the United Opposition and thus Ms Tymoshenko) will place him or her in a position to deliver, and which will be ultimately accountable for doing so, in the role of Prime Minister.

As the elections draw nearer, this question will not only be asked but will necessarily need to be answered.  How it is answered may very well have a positive or negative effect on the fate of the “United Opposition”.  Several more years of President Yanukovych verses Prime Minister Tymoshenko will be as disastrous for Ukraine as President Yushenko verses Prime Minister Tymoshenko was.

Let’s hope that this critical decision has already been decided between Ms Tymoshenko and Mr Yatseniuk, not only to avoid the “United Opposition” falling apart in the run up to the election,  but also to clearly inform the voting public who need to know sooner rather than later.

As for the manifesto promises – well as has always been the case in Ukraine, effective policy implementation rather than the creation of policy will be the critical issue – regardless of who wins the parliamentary elections.

h1

Euro 2012 – Racial insults & Ukraine

May 30, 2012

Elsewhere in cyberspace a heated debate amongst the Ukrainian Expat community and some English football fans is engaged, fueled by media coverage in the UK of Ukrainian and Polish supporters football violence and racist actions and chants.

Now there is no denying that there is a racist element amongst certain fans and in particular those associated to certain football clubs in Ukraine.

There is also one Ukrainian football club whose supporters are associated with anti-fascism (not that such a thing would be reported in the UK media).

However,  this heated debate between the Ukrainian Expat community and traveling English fans has now centred over the word “nigger/negro” (негр).

It is time to be crystal clear.  In Ukraine and Russia there is no racial derogatory slur attached to the word “nigger/negro”.  It is not an insult here and neither is it meant to be insulting!

Despite the negativity attached to the word in the UK and other nations, historically and currently, the word nigger has no such undercurrent in Ukraine or Russia.  It is not a word that Ukrainians or Russians would use to insult a black person.

In Ukraine and Russia, the word nigger/negro simply means a black person and nothing more.  It is politically correct here.

If a Ukrainian or Russian wanted to racially insult a black person, nigger is most definitely not the word they would use to do it.

They would use words like chernomazy (черномазый) or several others I won’t bother to list that have the same distasteful connotations as those attached to the word nigger in the UK.  Anyway, you get my point.

So, if you are in Ukraine for the football (or Russia or Ukraine for any other reason) and hear the word “nigger/negro” – it is not the insult you will automatically associate it with if you are an English football fan or western tourist.   It is a politically correct word with no insulting undertone whatsoever!

Do please remember not all words have the same insinuations or inferences in all cultures and languages.  Taking a drunken swing at somebody you hear using the word nigger here will land you (and not them) with a robust response from the police as they have said nothing wrong – in fact they have been politically correct.

Cultural, linguistic and historical awareness is a necessity if you are looking for an excuse to call racism over words like nigger in Ukraine.  Wonder if the BBC or UK media will actually highlight this, or whether they will simply be so ignorant as to see it as a racial insult – that it isn’t?

h1

Tymoshenko wins Oleska Himyk award

May 29, 2012

OK, before I start many of you will be asking who or what is Oleska Himyk.

Well, he was a Ukrainian engineer back in the darker days of the USSR and regularly in and out of the gulag for insisting on speaking Ukrainian much to the annoyance of the Soviet authorities, and can rightly be classed as a Ukrainian dissident.

In 1978 near the tomb of Taras Shevchenko, Himyk self immolated to mark the 60th anniversary of one of Ukraine’s attempts at being independent.  An act that has imortalised Himyk with the nationalists naturally.

Not a very well known story and one that certainly didn’t get the attention in the west that Jan Palach, the Czech student, got when he did the same thing 9 years previously in the centre of Prague.

Anyway, there is in existence the Oleska Himyk Foundation which has recently bestowed its 2012 Award to Ms Tymoshenko – at least according to her website.

The award has been given for Ms Tymoshenko for “selflessly upholding the interests of the Ukrainian nation and the Ukrainian State, defending democratic values and Ukraine’s European choice in difficult conditions of political and criminal persecution and imprisonment.” 

What a wonderfully worded paragraph, however I am struggling to find any consistency in the personal actions of Ms Tymoshenko past or present that actually add substance to those words.

At what point has she ever been selfless in anything she has done?  What exactly did she achieve when prime minister that was in the interest of Ukraine and the Ukrainian State other than winning one personal vendetta with Dimitry Firtash to have him removed as the official gas intermediary between Russia and Ukraine because he had the gall to take  the place of her United Energy System Ukraine company’s place at that trough?

As far as my personal experience of Ukraine goes, the best time had here was in 2007 when there was no sitting government for 6 months and neither Yanukovych or Tymoshenko had any power because Yushenko had potted them both as Prime Minister within the space of 12 months and dissolved parliament.

Defending democratic values?  This is the same woman who in 2009 was voted the 3rd most unfriendly personality to the media by the media, refused to accept defeat in 2010, whose party voted with the current majority to change the election laws, thus in effect barring most parties from gaining seats in the RADA through supporting the now in place 5% threshold?

This is the same Tymoshenko that a diplomat whose current western government sits in the same EPP umbrella party within the EU as her own, said to me “She is not the champion of democracy she pretends to be”.  Most people in Ukraine are more than aware of that fact, but it is nice to know those in the foreign diplomatic corps are also.

Are we talking about the same Tymoshenko who managed to reform precisely nothing when leading the government, to align Ukraine with European legislative norms?  It surely can’t be the same Tymoshenko who was prime minister when the cost of corruption absolutely skyrocketed under her tenure in every single walk of life.

Politically persecuted is a matter of opinion (although I believe she has been to some extent) however, I like all other foreign politicians, diplomats and commentators stop a long way short of saying she is actually innocent.  Nobody with any sense has dared say she is actually innocent because the gas price Ukraine pays to Russia thanks to her deal speaks for itself, and no right-minded government would have supported such a deal.

Many, myself included, believe that she certainly had a conflict of interests when negotiating the 2009 gas deal, considering her UESU company had a private debt to Russia of $405 million (and still does) and was therefore entirely the wrong person to get involved.  What was wrong with the Energy Minister or even the Foreign Minister negotiating with Russia and keeping Ms Tymoshenko and her private gas debt to Russia out of the mix in 2009?

Can somebody please provide some solid evidence and incidents that actually provide some substance to the wording quoted above relating to the Oleska Himyk award.  Even though it reads nicely and I don’t think Ms Tymoshenko should be in prison (even if guilty there are alternatives to prison), in the decade I have lived in Ukraine and followed Ukrainian politics I can recall no selfless acts by Ms Tymoshenko whatsoever.

I’m afraid plagiarising Vaclav Havel works from a prison cell does not count towards selfless acts even if it does encourage people to read Havel.

In fact, I can recall no selfless acts by any Ukrainian politician during the decade I have been in Ukraine and thus any award given to any Ukrainian politician with the word “selfless” contained within the preamble is guaranteed to  draw my ire.

Anyway, congratulations to Ms Tymoshenko for winning this award, if nothing else it keeps her plight in the domestic spotlight fleetingly.

h1

What ever happened to the image of human rights?

May 28, 2012

What happened to the clear and clean cut image of human rights I had when I was younger?

Although being without the Internet for 2 days was annoying, it certainly provided some time for reading real books, made of paper, that smell like books and feel like books and provided a glorious reminder of why I actually like the traditional tomes.  It also gave me time to sit and ponder a few things that seemed so very clear cut and cleanly defined when I was somewhat more youthful.

Human rights is one such area that appeared so simple to define, identify and support back then.

When I cast my mind back, people such as Vaclav Havel, Alexandr Solzhenitsyn, Andrei Sakharov, Nelson Mandela etc were all (obviously high profile) easy to identify with and understand the issues surrounding the inequality and persecution surrounding them.  That is true of some modern day examples of course, until recently Aung San Suu Kyi would be a prime case that meets the traditional identifiers and is easy to understand .  Andrei Sannikov in Belarus would be another.

However, it has all become somewhat more murky and in some cases rather unwholesome.  That is particularly so when we stop looking at individual cases and look at regional issues and national peoples.  Then add to that mix, the UN Charter and its uncomfortable fit with Right to Protect (R2P) when R2P progresses all the way up the scale to armed intervention.

Libya set a precedent that many feel (not just Russia and China on the UNSC) that severely overstepped the remit given.  Syria now bears the fruits of those who have misgivings that should Syria follow the Libyan R2P route, armed intervention will become the rule rather than the exception.  Thus at no cost should Syria become the next Libya is the argument.

Once R2P moves into some form of armed boots on the ground scenario, despite what many may think, it is quite probable that a limited R2P role becomes much harder to accomplish than an all-out armed intervention.  For example, humanitarian corridors and safe havens sound wonderful – but – what happens when your safe haven comes under mortar fire or sniper fire?  The immediate military response is to push out and force that firepower back thus either expanding that safe haven exponentially, or pushing out temporarily and then ceding that ground once again when returning to the agreed safe haven boundaries and awaiting the next time the mortar rounds are in-coming because the opposition have decided to take pot-shots from the formal boundaries.  Fish in a barrel?

Oh the dilemmas of not being able to lawfully act despite a moral legitimacy to do so!

We also have the statements from nations and structures like the EU relating to human rights whilst they are not exactly beacons of human rights excellence themselves.

If we take Ukraine, it is under immense pressure from the EU and US over Ms Tymoshenko (and others) over their human rights for example.  That would be the very same USA that is condemning Ukraine whilst Gitmo is roundly criticised internationally, renditions and back ops/prisons are under investigation by the Council of Europe, the death penalty is actively condemned and the support and arming of Bahrain continues despite the clear, obvious and on-going human rights abuses by the government of Bahrain supported and buttressed by the USA.  Amnesty International is hardly glowing about the USA record on human rights in its 2012 report.

It would be the same EU that is criticising Ukraine which the recently released Amnesty International report states “Too many people are falling through the gap the EU’s stirring rhetoric on human rights and their lack of implementation.  The EU’s actions have actually blunted its own human rights tools such as The Charter or non-discrimination laws.  It seems to go backwards rather than forwards.  All too often this makes the EU a decidedly toothless tiger.”  Not exactly a comforting statement for an EU which claims to have the “silver thread” of human rights running through all its foreign policy.

This prima facie hypocrisy is not new of course.  Even influential and very western friendly activists and dissidents such as Lilia Shevtsova have for many years been telling “The West” the best thing it can do for activists in Russia is to do as they tell others to do rather than preach like some pious clergyman to the masses, and then when the congregation is not looking, interfere with a choirboy.

The problem is, of course, that whilst no nation or structure can claim to have a perfect score when it comes to human rights, when it comes to telling others they are out of line, they act as though they do, immediately eroding the legitimacy of their statements.

Every time a nation or structure shouts from within its glass house at another over human rights, all those stones created by their own failures are returned with force undermining their (normally well intentioned and often justified) statements.

Another issue is that human rights seems to be an ever expanding area.  Whether that is mission creep for political ends or whether we as a global society deem far more things as fundamental human rights than ever before, I am not sure.

We all, each and every one of us have more sympathy with certain human rights (and human rights cases) than others.  If you want to light my blue touch paper and then stand well back as I go off on one, then human trafficking would be human rights issue that really gets me going.  For other people it is other areas within the ever broadening human rights arena.

All that being said, when human rights are being abused, things need to be said – even if your own recored is somewhat blemished.  In the pursuit of excellence, throwing out what is only good because it isn’t excellent would be a very foolish thing to do.

Still, the clear cut, clean and wholesome image of human rights is no longer as it was when I was younger – or maybe it was always such a murky, grubby image and I simply failed to see the bigger picture for what it was all those years ago.

h1

Are bloggers journalists? – A question with Lord Justice Leveson

May 27, 2012

OK – This has nothing to do with Ukraine – yet – but legal precedents have a habit of seeping across international borders if they suit the establishment in other nations that have similar issues and can see similar solutions.

For many, many months I have been following the Leveson Inquiry via the website and the live podcast supplied by the Guardian On-line here in Ukraine.  It is an inquiry set up by the British Prime Minister in the wake of the News of the World phone hacking issue but has a broader remit to look at all matters journalistic, from ethics (or the lack of them), paparazzi, invasion of privacy (and thus hits the difficult issue of Article 8 verses Article 10 of the European Human Rights Act), press regulation etc.

It has, to be fair, been extremely interesting and has brought about statements from people such as Lord Puttnam that “Leveson has uncovered a Banana Republic.  Corrupt press, corrupt police, corrupt politicians.”  It all sounds very Ukrainian, despite the fact he is talking about the UK.

Amongst the issues that could affect each and every one of us, aside from the clashes between a right to a private life and the right of freedom of speech within the European Human Rights Act, another major issue which affects us all, has been the Internet.

Within the Internet issue the subject of bloggers has been raised several times.  Now some journalists blog (or tweet or both).  However many bloggers are not journalists.  Many have no journalistic training, are only vaguely aware of what may or may not be libelous or defamation, have no concept of where the line between “public interest” and “interesting to the public” falls, and may be completely oblivious to any national or international laws relating to electronic communications etc.

In short, most bloggers are the writers, editors and moderators over any comments they allow to be published under any entry they write.  They are entirely responsible for anything that is publicly available on their websites but without any real accountability as long as they remain within the rules of the hosting server – which could be anywhere on the planet.

Under whose laws does a blog fall if the author is of nation A, the entry is written in nation B, but the website in hosted in nation C and yet the reader is in nation D?  (Which is the case with most of my websites and international readers.)

As more and more people turn off from the main stream media and get their news from blogs, twitter, Facebook, VK, Futubra etc., is there a greater responsibility for the more popular blogs and bloggers?  Why should they have more responsibility than unpopular blogs or the same responsibilities as journalists?

Is there a responsibility for the international blog directories?  At the moment, if you look at Technocrati, one of the biggest international blog directories in existence, you will find my very own Odessatalk is categorised as a world leading blogging authority on Ukrainian politics.  Very humbling, however in making that claim as a directory, do they have any responsibility to their users for directing them to me?

Fortunately I am very careful about libel and defamation.  I am very considered in what comments, and their content, I allow to be shown that are made by my readers.  If I am told something interesting by somebody important who would prefer to remain anonymous, then I invoke the Chatham House Rule (as I would being a Chatham House Member) to protect their identity but allow for their  comments to enter debate and discussion on the blog.

As I rank so highly amongst the millions of blogs at blog directories such as Technocrati, I have a moral and ethical duty to those who will find me via such a directory and read my site when trying to discover matters Ukrainian, to do so in language free from academic jargon, management speak and associated gobbledygook whilst trying to impart my thoughts on any issue Ukrainian (or regional) I may decide to write about.  Above all however, I think  I must be honest and remain impartial unless I otherwise state a certain position.

For somebody who’s interest lays with policy rather than political party or political personality, it is fairly easy to remain impartial, as a good, bad, or indifferent policy can come from any source.

But –

That is not true of all blogs or bloggers and rightly so.  Some blogs are written to convey a certain party or social line quite deliberately.  Some of those bloggers who write these blogs are well connected within certain parties or social groups and are paid by them to promote a certain slant on issues to meet their paymasters bias.  Some NGOs and many think-tanks are no different, so why should blogging be exempt?

Many of these blogs are extremely popular because of the access they have to influential people and thus become a quasi official PR/media outlet for the paymasters.  Again quite rightly for that is what they were set up to do.  The issue then becomes just how close to journalism is this type of blogging?

This is the issue now being wrestled with by Lord Justice Leveson over in the UK, for it is he that must make recommendations on the future of the media to parliament and it is the media representatives and witnesses that are continually highlighting the fact that a great many extremely popular websites and blogs are not so very far removed from (if at all) traditional journalism.

The UK media is attempting to smudge the line between traditional media and copy with certain areas of the blogosphere  and state any regulations recommended for the media will have to be made for bloggers as well given that some blogs are just as influential as any printed newspaper.

Just where and how Lord Justice Leveson can or will draw the line on this remains to be seen.  It also remains to be seen just what will seep across national borders when it comes to other nations following the UK lead when conclusions are eventually reached.

Hmmm

Do I consider myself a journalist? – No.

Do I consider myself an authoritative commentator?  That depends upon what specifically I am writing about on any particular day.

Do enough people read what I write for me to take some care over legal issues? – Yes (and thank you all for reading).

Am I a dedicated blogger?  Hmmm – I write daily about Ukraine but I am not paid to do so, it was simply a new hobby that became a habit some years ago.

Should I be subjected to any decision reached by Lord Justice Leveson or a Ukrainian counterpart in the years to come? – I don’t think so.

h1

The Gods of Internet strike thee down!

May 26, 2012

Apologise for not having written anything yesterday and only this brief statement today, but to plagerise Ezekiel 25:17. The path to the Internet in Ukraine is beset on all sides by the inequities of the selfish and the tyranny of evil men and poor coverage. Blessed is he who, in the name of charity and good will, shepherds the weak through the valley of the darkness and repairs my Internet at 2115 on a Saturday night. For he is truly his brother’s keeper and the finder of lost children and technically challenged bloggers. And I will strike down upon thee with great vengeance and furious anger those who attempt to poison and destroy my brother or stop him reading my daily ruminations.

Normal service resumed tomorrow!

h1

MP’s removal of immunity vote in July.

May 24, 2012

On 4th May I mentioned a desperately needed proposal to remove MPs absolute immunity from prosecution in Ukraine.  Since that time it has been rather quite on this subject.  Have the RADA turkey’s decided not to vote for Christmas after all?

Seemingly the proposal is still in the bureaucratic works at the RADA but will be going to a vote, probably in early  July.

At present the draft bill is undergoing consultation and proposals and amendments are welcomed until 7 June.  The reason this takes so long is any proposal or amendment to the draft requires 150 signatures from MPs, thus one assumes, showing there is reasonable support to consider any proposal or amendment for inclusion.

A parliamentary committee then goes through the proposals and amendments to the draft bill (which gained the support of 150+ MP’s) over the course of the following month and it is then submitted to the RADA for vote.

Therefore my best guess, given the cut off date for proposals and amendments being 7 June, the bill will actually go to the RADA for voting sometime between 5th – 10th July.

As yet there is very little point in commenting upon just how much immunity and in what circumstances the RADA turkey’s will vote to remove from themselves.  It is unlikely that they will remove their immunity absolutely, and depending on what is stripped away and what is kept, that may be a reasonable thing to do if we consider issues such as Parliamentary Privilege in the UK that allows MPs to say exactly what they think free from the prospect of prosecution as long as it takes place within the parliament itself.

Unfortunately, we can expect more than Parliamentary Privilege immunity to remain I expect – but I hope to be surprised, just as I was surprised when the issue of removing immunity was seriously mentioned in the first place.

I know the current draft, prior to any proposals and amendments, does not propose the removal of immunity from the President or judges for example.

Whether that will change before the beginning of July remains to be seen, however even if it does not, any faltering step, any removal of immunity under whatever circumstances are eventually passed, it is a step in the right direction.

Of course nobody will be ecstatic with what does pass through the RADA (unless it is a carte blanch removal of immunity) but it would be rather foolish to dismiss any moves in the right direction simply because it does not reach perfection. – We are, after all, expecting turkey’s to welcome the coming of Christmas!

%d bloggers like this: