Archive for January, 2014

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The day the crowds started to follow the opposition politicians? Ukraine

January 27, 2014

Yesterday I closed my entry with “In the meantime an all-encompassing national unity government seems the only possible way forward politically – whether society follows is a different question.

Hours after that was written, a very poor attempt at forming something loosely resembling a national unity government was offered by President Yanukovych – an offer quite rightly refused by the opposition leaders as it was neither all-inclusive, politically viable due to the current formation of the RADA, and in accepting it, it   would have legitimised the illegitimate new laws to mention a few “flaws” within the offer.

That misguided offer and the subsequent refusal may very well prove to be the moment when the opposition leaders will no longer be simply following along behind the crowds, struggling with legitimacy and traction, but have been propelled by President Yanukovych once again failing to understand the cause and effect of a poor offer, impossible to accept, to a position whereby they can now lead the crowds – or a significant number therein – with a reasonable amount of traction and approval.  Their chances of doing so have at the very least increased.

The possibility of the military and tanks on the streets of Ukrainian cities and towns now also seems extremely remote – effectively ruled out via Rinat Akhmetov via this statement from SCM.

The extraordinary meeting of the RADA on Tuesday 28th January now becomes far more interesting and unpredictable in its outcome than would have been expected 48 hours ago.

Room for maneuver for the President narrows almost daily – and the need for leadership from somebody grows in equal measure.  Concerns relating to who is doing what, and preparing to do what – from all sides – during the time that passes prior to Tuesday are obvious, both on the streets and within the RADA machinery.

A very tense few days awaits – and whilst buildings can be repaired, and cuts and bruises heal, lives cannot be replaced.

For the attention of regular readers – This will be my last regular entry for two weeks, as I am leaving for another democratically and politically stable nation – Thailand – tomorrow.

Whilst I am away I shall mull over the pro’s and the con’s of a “federal Ukraine” – for federalism most certainly has both pros and cons – when considering the best way to maintain the territorial integrity of Ukraine in the future.

The current situation if nothing else demands a cursory look at federalism as a possible solution to strong local and regional governance of particular bias whilst retaining overall territorial integrity.

Naturally I shall be following events at home closely, but will try to keep any comment to the 140 characters available via twitter for the simple reason I do not relish typing anything lengthy on an i-pad – and that is all I can be bothered to carry with me.

My twitter feed is at the right of this page should you want to keep up with my thoughts as things develop – intermittent as any tweeting may be.

I expect that matters will have progressed apace in Ukraine by the time I return – hopefully with the core democratic components of tolerance and inclusiveness driving the process – though perhaps for that to happen within a matter of two weeks is somewhat ambitious!

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The question of control in the immediate future – Ukraine

January 26, 2014

Here is a statement by Stefan Fule that raises some questions rather than answering many as the clock ticks on and the spiral out of control continues.

“In my talks I conveyed the deep concerns of the EU about the latest developments and underlined the need to end the cycle of violence, to fight against impunity of perpetrators of human rights violations and to continue an inclusive national dialogue to find a way out of the crisis that threatens to further destabilise the country.

My talks in Kiev showed the need for a series of concrete steps to first start to rebuild trust of people by stopping the spiral of violence and intimidation, to be complemented in a second stage by an inclusive political process leading the stability in Ukraine.”

Quite right – and says nothing that anybody with a modicum of common sense wouldn’t say – but seemingly ignores a key issue that has not been addressed over the past months by anybody with supposed leadership ability within Ukraine.

The key issue that has been continuously omnipresent and yet ineffectually addressed is that the situation exists whereby the opposition political leaders have continually been led by the crowds – rather than leading the crowds.

It is going to be very difficult to lead after following for so long.  It is a question of credibility amongst the masses who turn out to protest.  Standing on a stage spouting propaganda does not equate to leadership.

Certainly whilst Vitali Klitschko may have emerged as the natural leader amongst Curly, Larry and Mo/The 3 Wise Men – that does not necessarily translate into traction with the protesting masses.  He – as they all have – has been booed by the crowds during the past few days.

It has been clear for a very long time, the protesters both permanent and the “Sunday masses” are not there for the opposition leaders or parties – their goals are many and fortunately mostly broadly democratic in nature when it comes to eventual desired outcome.

It also has to be accepted that there are certain elements within the crowd who are not represented by any opposition leader – even in part – and their eventual desired outcome may differ from that of the majority.

In short, the political class is so far removed from Ukrainian society, deals between themselves will be seen as exactly that.  It is completely different to striking a deal with the Ukrainian constituency as a whole – and Ukrainian society seems to be challenging the political order directly and nationally.

oblast update

As has been written a hundred times or more in this blog over the past few years, Ukrainian society outgrew the feckless political class a long time ago.  Whatever the outcome of the current situation over the next few weeks, a map similar to that above seems likely to reoccur once more, should the political class fail to catch up with the expectations of society.

The standard fecklessness associated with the political class of Ukraine in its entirety will no longer be tolerated is the message – and neither will attempts dictatorship, be they on paper or otherwise.  Yet I am still unsure whether it is actually being heard and understood by any of the political class whatsoever.

In the meantime an all-encompassing national unity government seems the only possible way forward politically – whether society follows is a different question.

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Crossing the Rubicon in both directions – Ukraine

January 25, 2014

The western cities of Ukraine (predominantly) have now crossed the Rubicon. Both Lviv and Rivne have now thrown out the presidents appointed governors and taken control of the governors administrative buildings.

Lviv Governor forced to resign in the street.

They have both declared de facto they not only do not recognise the president any longer, they are also appointing their own administration.

It is de facto a declaration of independence from control of the core – the questions is how temporary that will be and how to step back from the edge?

For them to row back from here means certain lengthy prison sentences (or worse) – the same trap the violent protesters have put themselves in.

For the government to send in non-local authorities to restore order will most certainly now be met by robust resistance and probably more bloodshed and death. Local authorities have not arrested anybody and therefore now must choose a side – and doing nothing will be interpreted as choosing the side of those who have taken control of the administrative buildings.

If the majority in Lviv and Rivne stand and defend the “people’s administrations” – and that seems almost certain in Lviv – then Ukraine begins to irrevocably split unless a way to reach a face-saving agreement for all concerned can be found with the belief that no “accidents” or “administrative reprisals” will follow – and trust is scarce.

The problem with passing laws en masse that give the perception of being dictatorial when viewed through the collective lens, and particularly so when considering the way they were actually passed, with no way of effective protest as a remedy, no legal redress via perceived politically controlled courts, newly created potentially media muzzling legislation etc, is that once people commit to a course of action that in any way breaches these new laws (and so badly are they written this post can be inferred and certainly judicially ruled as a breach) knowing the disproportionate sentences these new laws carry, and probably good beating somewhere in the system along the way, is that many will consider there no point in stopping once they start.

When the first day of the introduction of the new laws led to the deaths of those protesting them at the hands of a state institution, even many moderate and a-political people believed the authorities crossed the Rubicon.

As is usual for diplomacy and negotiation reciprocity occurs in the way things are handled, and when that is done between the people and the State in the current circumstances and in the current manner, an out of control spiral to the bottom ensues – especially when there are those within both sides who are seemingly encouraging that scenario.

It currently appears the people are leading the opposition political leaders rather than the other way around.

That is where we are at now – out of control.

Much serious thought now need occur to explore routes out of this mess – to the acceptance of not only the political actors but also the majority of those who protest – and the wider constituency too.

By Easter this will in all probability be resolved one way or another – but within the next week it may get far, far worse than it is now.

This is no longer simply about trade agreements or the EU or the CU. That stopped on the night of 31 November/1 December. It is no longer about the Right Spectre provocations or disproportionate Berkyt response that night. I’m not even sure that it is even about a choice between a colonial/dictatorial past or democratic future in the broadest of senses any longer.

With the Rubicon being crossed in both directions by both sides in two distinct ways within the past 72 hours, this now comes down to a choice between the people serving the State or the State serving the people in each major urban centre in the country and the perceptions of events over the past 72 hours of those within when making that choice.

The problem is then that it is not as easy as saying East or West or the Dnipro divide. It is not as clear cut as which language you choose to speak as a first language either. The demographics of support for one direction or another do not match so easily such black and white divisions that are lazily repeated in western media – which is why they rarely, if ever, include any academic surveys to corroborate such claims and just expect it to be accepted.

The last opinion survey published showed 51% of the nation would accept only democratic governance. A further 25% would cede “some” rights for “additional welfare” – but only 20% would be prepared to live under a dictatorship.

Quite obviously far more than 20% of the population live in the East of Ukraine.  As this was a national survey, not all that 20% that would accept a dictatorship comes from the East either.  Therefore to expect the East to any more easily accept the loss of democracy than other parts does not hold that much water when put under any serious scrutiny.  Those regions may simply take more pushing to the brink than others.

The cross cutting cleavages that join Ukrainian society far outnumber the lazily repeated divisions that separate them.

Nonetheless, the issue at hand is that control from the centre has been lost and a swift and bloodless way for it to return seems a very slim possibility at the moment – though I truly hope that it is the only one pursued.

city halls

For now at least, the situation seems very grim.

 

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A worrying poll for democracy adovcates – Ukraine

January 24, 2014

Well here is a poll any democracy advocate would consider worrisome in the current circumstances Ukraine finds itself in – and which prompted this very self explanatory twitter exchange:

It is difficult to take heart from the 51% robustly prepared to defend their existing democratic rights come what may – prior to the 21st January official introduction of the new dictatorial laws – unless we include the 25% who are prepared to barter away “some” of their rights in return for “social welfare” – as that would provide a democracy consolidating 76% in Ukraine.

Without knowing what rights those 25% were prepared to cede and for what social welfare, their line in the democratic sand remains unknown.  Much will depend on the questions and how they were asked as to how they were answered – as I have stated before when I briefly wrote about surveys and polls.

Not much more to say – worrisome for the immediate future of Ukraine considering the threat democracy faces.

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New Laws – first deaths. A grim day for Ukraine

January 23, 2014

candle

The first day the laws legislating a dictatorship enter force – the first deaths of those who protest them at the hands of the institutions of the State. Grim.

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And so passes democracy in Ukraine – A last “free” entry

January 22, 2014

With the publishing of the new rights repressing laws in the on-line version of Holos Ukrainy today, with effect from midnight 22 January 2014 – they become law – and so passes democracy in Ukraine.

I should certainly make the most of this last “free” entry to express my admiration for those Ukrainian people who refused to accept such Orwellian laws and the future they hold meekly.  It is unfortunate that so many lions were led by lambs.  Whilst dictatorship exists on the statute books effective midnight, I trust the fight for a democratic future pays such laws no heed – though I suspect the cost to be great in doing so for some.

From midnight it becomes almost impossible to publicly criticise the government or government policy in any form of media, lest it be interpreted as material around which it is intended, or quite simply is used by others to rally around regardless of intent, without the writer be prepared to be subjected to a large fine, lengthy community labour, or imprisonment.

It appears that by simply publishing anything of a political or public policy nature, I take the personal risk that others may rally around it, or include it amongst material around which they may rally, and in doing so illegally interfere with the activity of the State without being present at any rally personally.

“extremist materials shall be understood as documents on paper, electronic or any other media intended to be made public and containing extremist information, i.e., call for, substantiate, or justify the necessity for carrying out activities related to planning, organization, instigation, preparation, or commission of actions aimed at violent change or overthrow of constitutional order, encroachment on territorial integrity, inviolability, sovereignty of the state, forcible seizure or retention of power or functions of authority, illegal interference with activity or prevention of legal activity of state authorities, local self-governance authorities, other power entities, election commissions, civic associations, their officials and public officers, call for, substantiate, or justify the necessity for inciting of social, racial, national, ethnic, linguistic, or religious hostility, as well as the necessity for mass disorders, disruption of public order, hooliganism and acts of vandalism on the grounds of social, racial, national, ethnic, linguistic, or religious hostility and hatred, infringement of rights, freedoms and legal interests of persons, including direct or indirect restriction of rights or establishment of direct or indirect privileges for a person and a citizen on the basis of race, skin color, political, religious or other opinions, gender, ethnic or social background, property status, place of residence, linguistic or other characteristics, propaganda of exceptionalism, superiority or inferiority of a person (social group) on grounds of social, racial, national, ethnic, linguistic, or religious background, or attitude to religion.”

For those who do not write but read, a simple retweet or Facebook “share” may very well be interpreted by the politically controlled courts as supporting something that will then be interpreted as “illegal interference with activity or prevention of legal activity of state authorities” – be careful what you retweet and share henceforth.

It becomes difficult  to avoid what will probably be deemed libel vis a vis attempts to hold people accountable:

1. Defamation, i.e. intentional dissemination of knowingly false information that disgraces the honor and dignity of another person –
shall be punishable by a fine in the amount of up to 50 non-taxable minimums of citizens’ income, or by community service for a term of up to 200 hours, or by correctional labor for a term of up to one year.
2. Defamation contained in a work of art publicly presented in mass media or online, as well as committed by a person previously convicted for defamation –
shall be punishable by a fine in the amount of up to 300 non-taxable minimums of citizens’ income, or by community service for a term of 100 to 240 hours, or by correctional labor for a term of up to one year.
3. Defamation connected with the accusations of commitment of a grave or aggravated felony –
shall be punishable by correctional labor for a term of one to two years or by restriction of liberty for a term of up to two years.

Again ironic, sarcastic or cynical media retweeted or subjected to “share” on Facebook or VK becomes problematic – when those in power and behind the power can be very thin-skinned over what amounts to what they consider disgraces the honor and dignity they perceive they have.  And as “false information” is to be defined, accepted or rebuffed by politically controlled courts – There will be only one winner in any defamation case.

Naturally it follows it is now illegal make any comment on the ability or legality of a judge’s decision:

Illegal collection, storage, use, destruction, or dissemination of confidential information about a judge, his/her close relatives or family members, distribution of materials or information of a patently offensive nature and demonstrating blatant disrespect towards a judge or towards justice; pressure, intimidation or any other influence on a judge’s activities, committed with the view of revenge, interference with a judge’s official duties, or obtaining a wrongful decision; or public calls or dissemination of materials with the calls to commit such actions shall be punishable by a fine in the amount of 300 to 500 non-taxable minimum incomes, or by correctional labor for a term of up to two years, or by arrest for a term of up to six months, or by imprisonment for a term of up to two years.

So better not to do anything other than accept whatever the judge states and rules lest he deem it blatantly disrespectful landing you further in the mire.

Thus it becomes exceptionally difficult to do anything other than throw garlands at the government and applaud loudly any government official from midnight tonight in Ukraine – questioning policy publicly or attempting to hold them to account  in any form of media will now carry what could be severe risks.

By logical extension, it follows that when the elections in 2015 be rigged far beyond the parameters of reasonable manipulation – on the presumption that many government critical voices are not slowly but surely “picked off” with effect from midnight over the coming months anyway – who will report it knowing that it will be deemed as material likely to incite violence, be deemed defamation and considered interference with government and the results upheld by the judiciary – all of which can also no longer be held to account publicly before the domestic constituency without severe risk of lengthy imprisonment for those who dare try?

Non-violent protest will not overturn any such electoral result just as non-violent protest (and small scale violent protest) has failed to prevent these rights crushing laws entering into force in a few hours time.

Thus having deliberately and undemocratically removed any effective remedy within the law to challenge any government decision, institutional act or individual therein – let alone change the established order in any hollow “elections” – the only effective remedy for Ukrainian society challenge anything post midnight would therefore seem to lay without.  A dangerous place for Ukrainian society and the authorities alike.

It is perhaps timely to offer hollow acknowledgement to President Yanukovych on his successful reelection  now – I may as well be amongst the first and do it now whilst I am “free” to do so rather than coerced into doing so once the new laws come into effect.

As for the international condemnation that will follow – what dictator takes much notice of that?

Only the most willfully ignorant cannot see the slow-moving car crash that legally begins to unfold from midnight.

Tomorrow, my first entry in what will have become a deliberately engineered legislative dictatorship with the single goal of retention of power at all costs for the current authorities.

The most grim of chapters has been opened within the Ukrainian history books of the 21st Century.

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Ukrainian politicians talk, EU makes statements, USA sanctions…….

January 21, 2014

And so, following the events of yesterday and the collapse, either temporarily or permanently, of the peaceful persona of Euromaidan the following has occurred today.

Opposition leaders and representatives of the current authorities meet to negotiate a way forward.  That seems incredibly unlikely when points for negotiation are presented as demands as the opposition always seem to do.  There is far too much use of the zero sum terms “demand” and “must” to allow for meaningful and effective negotiation – even if both sides have a genuine will to negotiate in good faith – and it seems much more likely that at least one side of the negotiations will be doing so in bad faith.

It does not seem at all clear where the positions, interests and needs of the opposition will coincide with the positions, interests or needs of the current authorities.

Skipping past the usually unattainable opening “positions” which are obviously not the same for both sides and are rarely left standing unmoved at the end of any negotiation, there seems little commonality in the “interests” of both sides that can be met on a nicely compromised middle ground – currently at least.  Whether the “needs” of either side coincide, which are the lowest common denominator of any negotiation,  is also a subjective question in the current circumstances – and it is circumstance that often has sway of some significants when it comes to finding common ground within “interests” and “needs” in a toxic and volatile atmosphere.

It seems unlikely that much of significants will come from the Ukrainian political dialogue – for now anyway.

Meanwhile the EU has made a statement.

Clearly no overt sign of sanctions on the table across the entirety of the 28 Member States.  But there are a lot of questions to answer prior to answering the sanctions question.  Even if there were consensus – and there is not – is now the best time to apply them – or would it be wiser to apply them closer to the 2015 elections to more and more individuals as electoral norms are breached one after another in the run up to, and in the aftermath there of?  For how long do you keep your powder dry vis a vis a premature sanctions ejaculation leaving everybody less than satisfied with the result?

The USA, however, it seems, has begun to implement sanctions by way of Visa refusal/revocation effectively adding specific people to its persona non grata black list.  Minor as this may be in the grand scheme of things it is a sanction taken against a senior Ukrainian government official, even if the symbolism far outweighs the actual effects on the individual.

In the meantime angry young men remain squared off against the police in central Kyiv.  The situation a tense stalemate at the time of writing – though that can revert to the violence of yesterday in a moment.  The raft of odiously civil rights repressing legislation remains signed, despite it appearing quite unconstitutional.  The entirely ineffective Delegation of the EU to Ukraine now has protesters outside demanding the EU impose sanctions – when the EU cannot impose sanctions without the agreement of all 28 Member States.  Perhaps they would be better placed picketing embassies of the most reluctant nations such as Germany?

All in all, a little bit of this, a little bit of that, a sprinkling of these and a splash of those.  It doesn’t really seem like the right recipe to put democracy in Ukraine onto the swiftest path to recovery – but then what do I know, I was never much of an alchemist.

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