Posts Tagged ‘civil liberties’


EU “Smart Borders” – Easier traveling for Ukrainians?

March 4, 2013

Now, as we all know, Ukrainian Visa-free travel with the EU should be a lot closer to reality than it actually is.  Particularly as this issue has been deliberately kept free of personality/government image/perception politics and kept fully insulated within the technical and legal requirements to facilitate it.  No more and no less.

The simple fact is, Visa-free travel for Ukrainians is not as close to being a reality as it could be because of the inaction of the Ukrainian politicians failing to pass the necessary legislation and fighting over the business interests when it comes to who will actually get the lucrative contracts to  produce biometric passports etc.

In truth very little blame can be attached to the EU over the failure of Ukraine to do what needs to be done to actually make Visa-free travel a reality for its citizenry.  The goal posts are not moving.  It is in fact an open goal free from effects of  playing field shifting political shenanigans.  Failure to score in the gaping goal is completely and utterly the fault of the Ukrainian political elite – who one suspects are on the receiving end of far fewer Visa refusals than the average Ukrainian.  Quite frankly, nobody else is to blame.

However, whilst the population of Ukraine patiently wait for their lackluster and self-centered elite to do what is necessary to remove what is often a very expensive, logistically burdensome, heavily and often overly intrusive bureaucratic process, the European Commission is trying to convince the European Parliament to engage in a “Smart Borders” project to make travel easier for people from “third countries”.

The cost of this project – an estimated Euro 1.1 billion.  In EU speak estimated is equivalent to saying “at a minimum”.

The system is supposed to divide visitors to the EU into two categories.  Regular visitors (RTS) and occasional visitors (EES).

Regular visitors will apply to be registered as such – and if successful will be given some form of smart/swipe card and can simply swipe their way into and out of the EU – like some form of electronic Schengen Visa centrally issued and centrally monitored.

Occasional visitors will rely on their biometric passports – or not in the case of Ukraine which is still to generate its first biometric passport for the reasons I have listed above.

Those with biometric passport will have the details stored for 6 months on entry – unless they have previously overstayed when such details can be retained indefinitely according to the proposal – Privacy activists no doubt will have issues with “indefinitely”.

Further, all information gathered can be “available to” all national police institutions.  Whether they will be legally bound to delete all information they may take that was “available” after 6 months, I suspect, will become another major issue.  In effect they can “obtain” all biometric data of any non-EU member entering the EU from a centrally held data base (until deleted) at any time – and may not have to delete it after 6 months as the central data base will.


Privacy issues aside, surely there is only one simple question to be asked and answered here.

Will the new system make life significantly easier for the EU nations, easier for travelers, but strike the necessarily right balance against illegal/irregular migration?  At an estimated Euro 1.1 billion (guaranteed to be much more), “significant” is an issue here!

Anyway, if this manages to get past the European Parliament and actually become a reality, one has to suspect it will not become reality for a good 5 years at least – probably longer.

Will Ukraine have produced a biometric passport by then?

If it has, then many of the legislative (and business interests) that are preventing it actually making Visa-free a reality for its citizenry will have already been overcome.  The technical monitoring phase would be well underway.  Visa-free imminent, in effect.

So whilst the benefits for the EU from this “smart borders” project seem rather limited from the outset (whether that third nation is Ukraine or not) – and are replete with “privacy issues” – the benefits for Ukraine, as long as the politicians get their self-centred fingers out of their incredibly idle arses, should theoretically be zero given the time frames.

……..And yet, I write this in the full expectation of having to register my wife on the Regular Travelers Programme sometime after 2018 – which will have limited benefit to the EU, limited benefit for her and underline just how feckless the Ukrainian political elite across the entire political spectrum actually is.

Not that any of the above will help much with the UK – Due to my wife regularly swapping her eyeballs, altering her fingerprints frequently, and changing the bone structure of her face as often as the bedding, she will necessarily have to continue to haul herself to Kyiv to be “re-biometricised” every time she needs a new UK Visa.

Rather than be offered a postal service option, having already held 4 UK Visas and thus the UK having her biometrics that many times already – we will continue with the idea she is some form of shape-shifter.

Although to be honest, when the next one expires we may never go again – the UK really isn’t that interesting compared to the rest of Europe – and Schengen Visas are easy to get without leaving Odessa should the “Smart Borders” project be rejected and the old systems remain in place.


The trials and tribulations of being an independent TV station in Ukraine

July 23, 2012

Normally I stay away from the headline news in Ukraine, quite simply because you can read about that in other places, albeit I wouldn’t guarantee the objectivity, accuracy or unbiasedness of the reporting in those places necessarily.

Like so many foundational pillars of society in Ukraine, the media here also too often sets low standards and routinely fails to achieve them.  That is not necessarily a criticism of the journalists themselves, although you are oft left to ponder if they ever bother to check facts or the validity of what comes from “sources”, but one of editorial policy and quite probably in some cases, ownership influence.  That accounts for media outlets that have a bias for any side of the political line.

In fact it is sometimes quite difficult not to feel sorry for those journalists who try to provide a balanced, factual and thoughtful article considering the hurdles that lay in wait when trying to get anything published.  Naturally this can lead to self-censorship just to earn a crust.

Anyway, amongst the very few media outlets that appear genuinely neutral and will give critical coverage to both government and opposition alike, is television channel TBi.  It is a channel that I regularly watch if I want to know what is happening in Ukraine rather than just Odessa and feel confident there is at the very least some element of balance in the reporting.

For events in Odessa, I tend to watch C Odessa which is biased towards the current opposition parties, hardly surprising when they share the same offices as Arseny Yatseniuk’s Front for Change political party, and occasionally Art TV which is owned by my neighbour and leader of Party Rodina, Igor Markov, which is equally as biased in favour of his own party naturally.  Nevertheless for local news of events, current and future, in Odessa, they are both fairly good and I am very well aware of their bias.

Returning to TBi, back in 2011 they were involved in a tax situation with the tax authorities which went to court and they lost.  They then appealed and won.

Unsurprisingly, the tax authorities then changed their centre of attention from TBi itself to those individuals who own and control it.

Now, as already declared I am something of a TBi regular when it comes to daily viewing and it would therefore be quite easy for me to simply say this is government pressure on a television network that is often rightly critical of it.  That said, having lived in Ukraine for a decade I also know that tax avoidance is a national pastime for rich and poor alike on a daily, if not hourly basis for the vast majority of 46 million people.

Even I, who pay my taxes in Ukraine, at the end of last year had to cough up an additional few thousand US$ in taxes, not because I wanted to avoid paying, but because the tax system is simply so difficult to navigate even the tax authorities regularly work things out wrongly (or indeed are bribed to work things out wrongly by those who pay paxes).

So, knowing that even with the very best of intentions and a complete openness with the tax authorities can lead to being wrongly taxed even by their calculations, I accept that there may be a tax case to answer.  Quite simply, I very much doubt anybody at a personal level, ever actually pays exactly the right amount of tax either deliberately or inadvertently.

The issue here is therefore not necessarily that the owners of TBi are being investigated for tax issues, but the timing of the investigation immediately prior to the official 90 day electioneering campaigns.

A popular national television channel and the people within, who are openly critical of the current government when appropriate, being subjected to tax investigations on the eve of parliamentary electioneering screams indirect government pressure via the tax authorities.

Quite simply the investigation could have been delayed until after the elections to avoid the inference of political pressure.  Any evidence of any wrong doing is not going to disappear during the electioneering window.

Further to that, apparently, TBi disappeared from the screens of those viewers in Dnipropetrovsk, Kyiv, Luhansk, Zaporizhya, Donetsk, Poltova, Symferopol, Sumy, Kharkiv and Odessa from 20th July.

Except it didn’t.  My coverage of TBi in Odessa has not been interrupted at all.

It appears that those people who watch TBi via Triolan cable provider are affected but no others.  How many people are subscribed to Trilan, I have no idea, however if my cable provider pulled TBi then I would dump them and use another, watch TBi via the Internet or get it via satellite if dumping the provider proved a severe pain contractually.

Triolan are citing technical difficulties in continuing to carry TBi – a strange phenomenon considering on 19th July and for the previous years they had encountered no technical difficulties carrying TBi and yet on 20th, there were technical difficulties. – Hmmm

Fortunately, no other cable providers are following suit or intending to do so.  Thus I will continue to have uninterrupted coverage of one of my preferred channels.

One wonders though, how such a move will effect the subscriptions to Triolan as time passes.  Maybe they will resolve their technical problems with TBi just after the elections are over?  Now that wouldn’t surprise me at all.

With TBi standing firm to the inferred governmental pressure, maybe the Triolan was put under the similar pressure.  Maybe it is owned by a member of the government who simply made a decision not to carry a channel critical of themselves and colleagues.

Whatever the case, I very much doubt that technical issues are the cause of TBi being dropped.


Constitutional Court rules on the issue of immunity

July 13, 2012

As regular readers will know, I have been following the attempts to remove the absolute immunity MPs currently enjoy and the limitations of those immunities to something similar to UK’s parliamentary privilege.

Well, the Constitutional Court has ruled.  It has also ruled very much as I expected it to rule.

MPs can indeed be stripped of their absolute immunity retaining immunity only against prosecution relating to how they vote on an issue and the results and impact those votes have.  Very good and there should be much rejoicing if the bill actually gets through its second reading and receives presidential signature after the RADA recess concludes in September.

Also unsurprisingly the absolute immunity for the holder of the office of President remains and its removal deemed unconstitutional.

Absolute immunity also remains for judges, although they are so beholding to the politicians for their office and ability to be sacked from office, in effect they have no immunity if they cross the most powerful of Ukrainian society.  What judges need is absolute immunity from political interference, but one fears that is still some time away unfortunately.

Anyway, that is the result which is final and without appeal process.  It therefore makes Arseniy Yatseniuk’s plan to remove the current president an almost impossibility, not that it is a campaign based on any real legal hope in the first place.  Just empty electioneering rhetoric.

But there we have it.  Yet another step closer to the removal of absolute immunity for MPs.  I am starting to think it may actually happen (at least on paper).


RADA holidays begin – Whilst the opposition were distracted, what got through the RADA?

July 8, 2012

Well, the RADA holidays have begun, and the last week was a particularly busy week for the first readings and passings of new laws, many of which are poorly written, open to nefarious interpretations and corruption and some seemingly unworkable in practice.

This was allowed to happen because the United Opposition parties allowed themselves to be solely focused on the language law which raises the 18 minority languages of Ukraine to that of regional language status, meaning local authorities could use them in written official local authority business.

To be quite frank, the ability for a regional authority to reply or make proclamations in those languages in writing alongside (not instead of) Ukrainian would really be the only change from the introduction of such a law.  All other issues such as politicians, civil servants and regional administrations speaking in those languages to their regional populous, tv broadcasting, schooling etc was de facto anyway.  The new law would make it de jure in those regions that qualified.  As the statistics gathered over the past 10 years show, most Ukrainians don’t consider language a major issue anyway.

Meanwhile, whilst an outraged opposition gathered their 1000 or so protesters, which either underlines the fact that most Ukrainians aren’t that bothered over the language issue as seems statistically the case historically, or the fact that the opposition really is incapable of generating any serious form of public rally, the RADA pushed through some very poor laws in their absence – dozens in fact (although amongst that number they range from good, to indifferent to bad).

I should perhaps also point out that the language law is still not law.  For it to become so, the Speaker of the RADA must sign the bill and then send it to the President who must sign it and publish it.  None of this has happened as yet, and the RADA is now on holiday until the middle of September, at which point it returns with a parliamentary election at the end of October.

As an aside, the Speaker, Mr Lytvyn and his party, although allied to the majority PoR, comes from a region where Ukrainian is mostly spoken.  Threatening to resign and standing firm in refusing to sign the law, thus preventing it from reaching the president, will no doubt do him some good with his voters with elections coming in October.  If so, then his 44 MPs (if they all survive the electoral vote – and it should be noted 20 voted for the language bill) will be invaluable to the PoR who may just survive as the majority.  Time for the spin doctors to do their magic!

So whilst the outraged and distracted opposition and their supporters were exchanging pepper and CS spray with the police, numerous other laws were getting through their readings in the RADA unhindered.

Scratching the surface of what went through the RADA whilst the opposition were distracted, a very poorly written law on cashless transactions (e-banking/commerce) made its way through, a very corruption prone law on State procurement followed, a possibly coercive law on leased land and State cancellation of leases, a law defining what are charities, what spheres charities are recognised to work in, banning charities and philanthropy from having any political influence or engagement in political campaigning, amendment to the tax code prescribing upfront tax payments rather than retrospective collection against audited accounts, the removal of MPs immunity, as well as several other things such as allowing CCTV cameras in electoral polling stations.

All this whilst the opposition and 1000 supporters were elsewhere accomplishing very little as the Speaker (and Deputy) had refused to sign the language law allowing it to go to the President for signature anyway.  In effect they were protesting a law that is not (yet at least) law.

It may never become law even if the current government wins the next election as I strongly suspect they will need Mr Lytvyn and party to remain loyal to keep the majority and he won’t sign it, plus as it is badly written, it may well get sent back to parliament by the president for further work anyway – if it ever reaches him.

Now, all these other laws have passed.  Too late to even go on record as opposing them by way of registered votes, let alone attempts to defeat them.

Who are the strategists within the opposition to seemingly allow themselves to be outsmarted again?  Are they sure they want to rally around the language law for electoral purposes when it matters so little to the majority of Ukrainians compared to a dozen or more things the public rank as more urgent in opinion polls?

It’s a time for cool heads and and clever strategy within the United Opposition to form policy and implementation plans for the top priorities of the entire country, not a nationalist rallying around a law that does not exist yet and barely registers  with the public amongst issues needing urgent attention.

That said, are such easily duped politicians deserving of office anyway?


Ukrainian officials should be treated in Ukrainian hospitals – Tomenko

June 27, 2012

When one considers the shear scale of reforms and improvements necessary for Ukraine to close the social, legal and democratic gaps with its neighbours, it is quite an awesome task for any leadership.  That said, with regards to democracy, if Ukraine treads water long enough there is a real possibility that its neighbours will regress to where Ukraine is.  Particularly in the case of the EU institutions themselves as is becoming more and more apparent to the citizens of the EU.

However, amongst the massive amount of internal issues for Ukraine is the recovery of its health system which, certainly since independence, has been allowed to rot on a national scale if we disregard the private health care services which meet (and occasionally surpass) western standards and value for money.

That is not to say the standards of the doctors or medical staff in Ukraine is poor.  The conditions they work in and salaries they receive in the State system however are far below the expected standards of western Europeans.  My brother-in-law, for example, is a well regarded brain surgeon who on 4 occasions has been approached by the USA to relocate and work there.  He has, needless to say, refused all attempts to head-hunt him and continues to work in a State hospital in Odessa.  Not only is he a man who takes his Hippocratic oath very seriously but he is also very passionately patriotic to Ukraine.  Bravo!

Indeed, so well is he regarded that he is flown across Ukraine and Russia on occasion in order for his expertise to be practiced on the more affluent members of the Slavic society over and above his daily work with us common folk.

That brings me rather neatly to a recent bill submitted to the RADA by Tymoshenko’s top ranking RADA man, Mykola Tomenko, Deputy Chairman of the RADA.  He has issues with the top politicians seeking medical treatment outside Ukraine, something which he considers undermines and stunts the development of the national health system in Ukraine.

Naturally, we can pass a cynical eye over the timing of this, not only with an election on the very near horizon, but we can also ponder why it was not submitted when his political leader, Yulia Tymoshenko, was doing all she could to get treatment in Germany for so many months, instead of in Ukraine.

Now it has become clear such treatment will not be forthcoming in Germany for her, all of a sudden, a bill stating all  politicians should be treated in Ukraine is forthcoming. – Hmmm!

Notwithstanding this particular issue, it is commonplace for politicians who are about to be held accountable for their actions, disappear and suddenly reappear in foreign hospitals with apparently serious conditions.  Just not serious enough to have ever stopped their nefarious acts prior to any investigation of course.

Now he does have a point, more famous/infamous/affluent public figures attending Ukrainian hospitals, who would most certainly subsequently complain loudly and publicly about the conditions within State hospitals would not be a bad thing.  However, everybody in Ukraine is quite well aware of the condition of Ukrainian State maintained and State run hospitals.  That is the reason why the famous/infamous/affluent choose to seek medical treatment abroad in the first place.  It is not news to anybody.

We should also not turn a blind eye to the fact that when Mr Tomenko was in power and holding a very senior position within Ms Tymoshenko’s party,  they actually did nothing to remedy the issues of State provided medical care and the conditions Ukrainian doctors have to work within.

In fact the only major stories I recall health related during the time he and his party were in power concern a multi-million US$ planned hospital by ex-President Yushenko’s wife that never appeared (but the money disappeared), and Ms Tymoshenko  jerking her knee over a flu pandemic that never came and paying well over the odds for vaccines that were never used.  There was also an issue of buying numerous new ambulances at inflated costs via a protracted and opaque procurement prior to the Presidential election in 2009/10 and slapping “Vote Yulia” stickers all over them, but that is about it.

Anyway, returning to this bill submitted by Tomenko, it does raise questions about free choice, free markets and personal liberties.  I have a close friend who owns a very well known restaurant in central Odessa who has problems with one of his legs.  He regularly goes to Germany for treatment.  3 or 4 times a year in fact.

Now he could go to a hospital like Into-Sana in Odessa (which is accepted by all major US medical insurers and is outstanding I will add) but he likes to visit Germany and wander about whilst there when not being treated.

Why should he be allowed to freely go to Germany for treatment and yet any Ukrainian politician or senior official be prevented from doing so because of the office they hold?  Why should their rights to seek treatment where ever they choose be curtailed?

Heaven forbid Mr Tomeko has a very serious health issue, but if he does, is he, despite his wealth and considerable influence, going to stay in Ukraine in a standard State run hospital?  At the very least one suspects he will go to a private Ukrainian hospital which is financially just as far out of the reach of many Ukrainians as being treated abroad.

Normally I have time for Mr Tomenko as he is one of the better and more considered politicians within the BYuT camp, however, this is the second time this year I find myself at odds with his policies or public statements regarding personal freedoms and liberties.

Quite simply, any Ukrainian citizen, regardless of office or public persona, should have the right to freely choose where they will be treated for whatever ailments they have if they can afford to do so.

What Mr Tomeko should be thinking about, should he be returned to the governing powers after the October elections, is how to repair and maintain the existing hospitals Ukraine has, how to increase the wages of the health staff employed by the State, and how to effectively implement those upgrades without the budget being pocketed by corrupt and nefarious central government and regional officials.

That would do far more for the development of the State health services than attempting to force MPs to be treated in Ukrainian hospitals.


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.


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.


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.


Ukraine told to stay away from EC meeting 14/15 May

May 10, 2012

Well, I had a little mental note to look out for some aggressive, robust and chastening press releases following the EU meeting of the European Council (the council of EU Foreign Ministers) that meets on 14/15th May in Brussels as I had heard a whisper from within the bowels of Brussels that Ukraine would be on the agenda.

In the current political situation, the prevailing winds from the EU blowing in the direction of Ukraine are bitterly cold.  Thus thought I, some interesting press releases to follow said meeting.

Now, it has become public knowledge that Ukrainian Prime Minster Azarov had intended to attend but has been told in no uncertain terms, he will not be welcome.

Herman Van Rumpoy, the European Council President is quoted as saying “When the Prime Minister of Ukraine announced he would come to Brussels, we said “Stay home!”  It is a clear message from our side that they have to change inside Ukraine.  Ukraine was a model democracy in 2004 and it has to become that once again.

The way Ukraine is dealing with the former Prime Minister, Yulia Tymoshenko, is just unacceptable.  We have said this very, very clearly to President Yanukovych.

When once the Ukrainian Prime Minister announced intention to visit Brussels, we told him “Don’t come, stay at home.” 

About time too, if that is the strategy the EU now intends to take with regards to Ukrainian political figures in the political arena.  That said, I still have my doubts about the effectiveness of a political leadership boycott of Euro 2012 when considering the EU’s EaP strategy of direct contact with society rather than via political channels.

I am still of the opinion that being present on Ukrainian soil and speaking live on Ukrainian television, Ukrainian radio, to the media and directly with the Ukrainian people, a robust and prickly continuing set of statements will have a far bigger influence on the Ukrainian public than simply staying away and shouting a message over an EU border than many struggle to get Visas to cross.

The entire concept of not tyeing the Visa-free road map to national politics was and is to facilitate people to people contact, and thus through the masses, encourage change to match the standards within the EU they would experience.

The entire strategy of the EU EaP putting the Ukrainian politicians (governing and opposition) to one side and engaging directly with Ukrainian civil society was to encourage exactly the same without political interference from the political elite of any persuasion.

Does shrinking from directly engaging with the Ukrainian public on Ukrainian soil do anything to reinforce that message to Ukrainian society?

I am far more convinced by the strategy of shunning top level political meetings with the current administration.  Of course back-door diplomacy will continue at a high level but those things are done behind closed doors by those tasked to do so within the diplomatic (and not political) circles.

The problem here is that Yanukovych doesn’t have that many legal options to release Tymoshenko and maintain his line that he has had no personal involvement in her case in the present circumstances.  An overtly illegal action to release her would be a disaster for him and any which way things play out in the future almost all bode badly for him as well.

The most politically mitigating solution for him is a favourable result for Ms Tymoshenko via the ECfHR, which has seemingly been fast-tracked on a very slow train by the Council of Europe.  Enforcing their ruling as and when it eventually comes, is almost a get out of jail free card for him, although it still does not avert his nearly certain political demise (or revenge from Ms Tymoshenko that will very probably come if she returns to power).

Nevertheless, an interesting statement to the press from Mr Von Rumpoy on the day that Ms Tymshenko ended her hunger strike and agreed to be treated in a Kharkiv clinic by the German doctors.

Will all this political pressure building on the current Ukrainian government and president work?  I doubt it (but hope to be surprised).

The truly sad fact for Ukraine is that whenever Ms Tymosehnko is released, should she even return to power, when you strip away the veneer, Ukrainians are very unlikely to be any better off once the dust of EU victorious euphoria settles down.

As one diplomat from an EU nation told me, after she had been jailed and the EU publicly rallied to her cause, (and I now invoke the Chatham House Rule) “Ms Tymoshenko is not the champion of democracy she claims to be.”    To be honest, hardly breaking news to many in Ukraine, however, it is not her specifically that matters but the perception of the due process her jailing has left.

Also, to be fair to Ms Tymoshenko, it may also be that having gone to trial, then to jail and currently remaining in jail, Ms Tymoshenko may have changed.  She has certainly been reading a lot of the writings of the late (and great)Vaclav Havel.  (To the point of almost plagerising him on occasion.)  Maybe democracy will have taken root with her?

That said, I have read Marx, Mein Kampf, Lenin, Nietzsche, (as well as many others) and the idea of Communism and fascism or any radical “ism” never really took hold with me.  As a very famous Greek chap called Aristotle stated  “It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it”.  We can but hope that should Ms Tymoshenko ever return to power, she will do more than entertain the true concepts of democracy and the pillars upon which it is built.

Anyway, let’s see what particularly prickly statements come from the European Council meetings on 14/15th May towards Ukraine.  I anticipate some rather barbed language.  In the meantime, senior Ukrainian politicians would seem to be person non grata in Brussels – particularly when Ukraine is on the agenda.

(One wonders if the same unofficial  person non grata status applies to ex-President Yushenko who actually started the criminal proceedings into Ms Tymoshenko over the gas contracts and misuse of office investigation prior to his leaving office?)

Let’s see how well this strategy works on Kyiv, and what, when, how and if, any Ukrainian retaliation is forthcoming.

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