Posts Tagged ‘freedom of expression’


PACE – As 2014 ends, a question looms large

December 17, 2014

Last week, more or less unreported anywhere, a photo exhibition at the European Parliament took place at the instigation of Ukraine, entitled “Donbas – War and Peace” – and why not?  The parliamentary building is a public building and quite entitled to hold a public exhibition should it so desire.  Freedom of expression is a foundational part of democracy, and such a parliamentary building enhanced by the non-liability privileges that MPs hold is theoretically one of the most sacrosanct locations in any democratic nation/institutional infrastructure.

Whilst clearly an effort by Ukraine to keep the Donbas/Kremlin aggression uppermost in the minds of the European Parliamentarians, the exhibition appears to have drawn no formal or public comments – not even from Vladimir Chizhov, the Russian Ambassador to the EU.

The very same photo exhibition has been denied permission to be displayed at the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) by Anne Brasseur, the institutions current president.  Her letter explaining her reasons for denying the exhibition in January 2015 below:

PACE letter

It is of course a judgement call.

“Whilst appreciating the aim of the proposed exhibition, its content may nonetheless raise controversy and, potentially, further tensions, which would not be in the interests of the Assembly as a whole.  Furthermore some of the pictures could be misinterpreted and this would not be in the interests of Ukraine.  I therefore regret that I am not in a position to give my agreement to this proposal.”

Not having seen the photographs, it is impossible to comment upon their ability to be misinterpreted – although everything can be misinterpreted with sufficient effort.  It also has to be noted that any reactionary photo exhibition the Kremlin may have wanted to stage in retaliation, will also meet with the same response.

PACE however, is not the European Parliament.  It is a very different institution.

PACE does indeed include the Russian Federation – albeit Kremlin voting rights are currently suspended, with an extension to that suspension due for discussion very soon – or not.

By some accounts the PACE President is one of the voices supporting the return of Russia’s voting rights, although having suspended Kremlin voting rights in April until the 2014 year end in response to the illegal annexation of Crimea, it seems somewhat unclear what circumstances have changed to now return said voting rights.

If voting rights were suspended as a sanction to send a signal, or to contain or to change Kremlin policy, it is difficult to see how they can be removed without PACE looking weak at best – Crimea remains illegally annexed.  If the suspension of voting rights was a punishment – and not a sanction – then a 9 month ban on voting rights for the most serious challenge to all that PACE stands for, is without doubt is the most meager of admonishments.

Perhaps the existing suspension of voting rights will simply be allowed to expire quietly with no attempt to extend them – with Russia regaining its full participation within PACE automatically.  If so, what does PACE get in return, to avoid looking weak and/or appeasing of the Kremlin aggression that would otherwise unambiguously undermine PACE as an organisation with regard its stated goals of supporting rule of law, human rights and democracy?

The trade off, an end to Kremlin “humanitarian convoys” violating Ukrainian sovereignty?  Far greater and more tangible assistance with Ukrainian/Russian border control along the entirety of the currently very porous sections between Luhansk, Donetsk and Russia?  Both?

What would be the quid pro quo in allowing the return of Kremlin voting rights within the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe?

How much does the Kremlin care about its voting rights within PACE vis a vis what it is prepared to cede to regain them?  It is not an institution it dominates, can dominate, or have an influence multiplier (veto) within – unlike the UNSC.

Something to watch over the next week or so.


Why tell big lies when you can tell enormous lies instead?

November 8, 2014

A few days ago, an entry was posted lamenting the standard of Kremlin agitprop/disinformation/misinformation etc., and the chronically weak levels to which white, grey and black propaganda that is now discharged from the bowels of the Kremlin propaganda machine have reached.  A nostalgic entry – wistful for the bygone days when the Kremlin actually wanted those exposed to its propaganda to believe it, and/or struggle (for various reasons) to disprove it.  A good deal of time and effort was spent teasing out the truths and half-truths sometimes therein.

The following day, the Legatium Institute released the below on YouTube, highlighting some major points of a day long discussion:

All rather timely by way of raising the same issue.

US Ambassador Geoff Pyatt (fortunately for Ukraine a career diplomat who knows his stuff, and not a US fund-raiser for a presidential campaign awarded an ambassadorship as a “thank you”) made the following point – rightly:

Indeed.  There is no better way to puncture a lie than with the truth.

However, as Mark Twain is attributed as stating “A lie can be half way around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes” – and in the age of the Internet, a lie has now fully circumvented the globe in a second.

Yet another top ex-diplomat left a comment under the entry lamenting the current Kremlin propaganda – the ever-wise and erudite Charles Crawford:

“The explicit dishonesty and stupidity of such propaganda are designed to show that Russia under current management just does not care about weary ‘Western’ distinctions between Truth and Lies. They send a mighty message: Russia will do whatever it takes to win, where winning is defined as what the GRU/Kremlin say it is today.

In other words, why worry about Big Lies? Go for Absolutely Enormous Lies instead. Why not, after all?

And, if Russia succeeds in stealing land allegedly ‘lost’ when the USSR dissolves, perhaps that’s all the ‘lasting impact’ the GRU/Kremlin care about”

A very insightful point.

The entry linked above, a repine for the quality Kremlin propaganda from yesteryear relates to a time when the Kremlin cared about/wanted to be believed – or at least sow sufficient doubt upon any retort that may have come.  Now, such is the scale of truly abysmal  propaganda  spewing forth, it is quite clear that the Kremlin no longer cares if its propaganda is believed, pondered, briefly entertained, dismissed, or simply lampooned.

That such a strategy of bombarding the information sphere with easily rebuffed nonsense has a potential for diminishing returns when it comes to those who believe what is being offered up is clear – indeed, the Kremlin is far beyond the point of being judged by its word – it is now only actions that many will judge it by.

Nonetheless, no matter how preposterous the lie, no matter whether the lie is “big” or “absolutely enormous”, Ukraine and its allies must still wearily put the shoes on the truth and send it running off around the world, chasing down the lie as Ambassador Pyatt pointedly states.

However, as ex-Ambassador Crawford alludes to in his comment here at the blog,  whilst “the west” is busy playing whack-a-mole with Kremlin lies, realities on the ground are perhaps, to the exclusion of all else, all that really matters for The Kremlin – truth, reputation, and international trust be damned.

(And yes it is rather awesome to have Messers Crawford and Pyatt amongst the readers of this blog.  Quality – not quantity you see!)


Does being lame duck mean lame legislation? RADA Ukraine

August 14, 2014

As seems clear, and as was predicted months ago, the current RADA is likely to be officially dissolved in full compliance with The Constitution of Ukraine, on (or about) 24th – 26th August (11 – 13 days from now), in order to meet political time tables to allow for new RADA elections to take place on the same date as the scheduled local elections – 26th October.

As such, whilst the current RADA is as yet not officially a lame duck, it is certainly a lame duck in waiting – and knows that it is such.

It would be fair to say that many current RADA MPs are unlikely to return following the 26th October polling.  Those who are not returned will lose their immunity and thus ability to act with absolute impunity.  Understandably many of those that will be rightfully sacrificed at the alter of public opinion are less than willing to play an active and productive role for the remainder of their terms.

Others, who will survive, continue to churn out truly dreadfully crafted legislation.  There is nothing unusual in that, for the feckless bunch have consistently churned out truly awful legislation, despite having a choice of 28 European nations with similar legislation to copy – or at least plagiarise – with a few Ukraine-centric nuances and tweaks.

One would be forgiven for wondering just how difficult that apparently is – despite more than a few plagerised dissertations behind the academic awards held by some of these legislators.

Yesterday at the RADA, a dismal example of a lame duck (in waiting) legislature combined with the usually atrocious crafting of legislation, came to pass.

Bills on electoral reform – not necessarily well timed so close to an election albeit understandable – and a law on lustration failed to get adopted – That lustration laws were not adopted is unsurprising when many soon to be ejected from the RADA by public vote are likely to be subjected to any lustration law.  Turkeys and Christmas and all that.

Three or four laws did pass – with acceptable, or below par crafting naturally.

However, perhaps the most odious and clearly draconian law of the day was adopted at its first reading.  A law specifically designed to censor the media.  Perhaps well meaning during this time of war and obscene porpaganda, but entirely wrong nonetheless.  It prompted this immediate response from OSCE:

“I call on the members of the Verkhovna Rada to drop the provisions of the law endangering media freedom and pluralism and going against OSCE commitments on free expression and free media.

“I fully understand the national security concerns expressed by the Government of Ukraine in relation to the ongoing conflict, but this should not justify a disproportionate restriction on freedom of expression and freedom of the media.  The measures included in the draft law represent a clear violation of international standards and thus directly curtail the free flow of information and ideas – the concept that lies at the heart of free expression and free media. The draft law effectively reverses much of Ukraine’s progress in media freedom.

All citizens must have the right to access all available information, irrespective of its source, without interference from the authorities and regardless of geographical or political boundaries, so that universally recognised human rights and democratic processes can be reaffirmed and strengthened.” – OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media Dunja Mijatović

Quite rightly too – the law is absolutely awful as currently written and desperately needs to be rethought or rewritten to keep Ukraine within the international obligations under numerous Charters and Treaties it is a ratified signatory of.

If a genuine and consolidated democracy is where the current leadership and political class have finally decided to take Ukraine, then that – in part – requires adhering to the international obligations it has undertaken with integrity (even when they are not politically expedient to uphold).

The Ukrainian political class need to put an end to rule by law and act within the rule of law, even in the circumstances Ukraine currently finds itself.  Basic freedoms and democracy are not something that can be shelved and replaced by Soviet-esque diktats in difficult times – especially so in difficult times – if they are to ever become the consolidated spine of the nation.

A lame duck RADA does not need to produce lame legislation – particularly when that legislation is crafted by MPs that are likely to survive the culling at the ballot box in October.

Fortunately, whilst there be a war on in the east keeping the attention of many, plenty of domestic and international good governance/democratic eyes remain focused on the activities of the RADA and the legislation it produces.

Perhaps, following on from yesterday’s entry, there is some scope within, to produce a programme that would teach the feckless political legislators how to craft robust, clearly defined and unambiguous laws, that hold fundamental justice, State integrity, fairness and proportionality at their core.

It could be named “Legislate in haste – repent at leisure” – as now the RADA is faced with the choice of passing this law at the second reading and forcing the President to veto it, dropping it altogether, or significantly rewriting it in way that that it could and should have been written in the first place.

Significant European and international support for Ukraine will be lost should this law make it all the way onto the statute books.


Adding fuel to Mr Putin’s fire – and to domestic difficulties

March 20, 2014

I had written something regarding the broader future of Ukraine for today following yesterday;s illegal annexation of Crimea  – which will now wait until tomorrow.

Rarely do I write about specific incidents as it is too easy to get lost in the minutiae and lose the perspective of the bigger picture.  As regular readers know I generally write in broad political and policy brush strokes and cause and effect thereof.

However,  some occurrences rank so very highly on the scale of absolute stupidity and poor timing they cannot be ignored.

On the very day President Putin annexes Crimea on the premise of protecting Russians (ethnic and language speaking) from the fascists that have (apparently) taken over the leadership of Ukraine in his view, the right wing Svoboda Party has its members – including a leading member Ihor Miroshnichenko (the man with the long hair in a pony tail) – caught on camera threatening the CEO of 1tvua for airing statements about the party they disagree with.  They in fact forced him to resign under threat.

You would think that Mr Miroshnichenko, a journalist himself – awarded the title “Honoured Journalist of Ukraine” in 2006 – would have a little more respect for freedom of speech and freedom of expression – clearly not.

All those who would seek to try to justify Mr Putin’s illegal actions in Crimea, handed a propaganda golden egg.

Quite simply rank stupidity of the highest magnitude – and at the worst possible time.

That this will rightly be raised by the foreign politicians, diplomats and in the media – if some wrongly attributing it as a mitigating excuse for illegal Kremlin actions –  is only half of the issue.  There are the domestic consequences too.

Those consequences are not limited to more of the population in the east and south growing in anxiety about the far right.  There are now consequences for the current interim government which comprises of Ms Tymoshenko’s Batkivshchyna Party and Svoboda from which these MPs are members.

In days gone by, such incidents would have been roundly ignored by all governing administrations – to be sure, indeed such incidents were ignored under each and every President and Prime Minister – but these are different days.  Those that stood, died and were injured at protests in Kyiv and beyond, did not do so to usher in a new set of political faces just as feckless, inept, contemptuous of rule of law and basic human rights – Svoboda politicians included.

Interim Interior Minister Arsen Avakov (Batkivshchnya) has already publicly condemned the incident – whilst also making it clear that as those involved are MPs with immunity, there is nothing he or the police can do – stating it is a matter for the Prosecutor General.

The Prosecutor General is Oleh Makhnitsky of Svoboda – the same party as the offending individuals caught on camera.

All eyes, regional and domestic – and not just in the south and east – will now be looking to the interim leadership to see what action – if any – will be taken against these Svoboda MPs trampling on democratic rights and rule of law.

Will there be the same turning of a blind eye, or will there be disciplinary action, either within Svoboda itself and/or by the interim government and RADA, and/or by the legal institutions?

The Prosecutor General calling them in “for a chat” and nothing more will obviously not suffice in the eyes of many.

Will inaction be tolerated by a still volatile and  angry electorate who expect systemic change rather than simply a changing of the faces?


Ukraine – The sanction question(s) – Yes there’s more than one!

January 6, 2014

With the on-going obvious and yet distanced (to a degree) campaign of pressure by the current leadership toward євромайдан, its supporters, those deemed influential within and on its periphery continuing, there is a mounting cry from opposition MPs and some parts of civil society for the EU to implement sanctions against “the regime” – or to be more specific – those notable individuals of particular influence over such a campaign of pressure and intimidation.

Every other tweet from Arseniy Yatseniuk currently seems to make such a call.  Mr Klitschko has recently joined the call too, though not with anything like such frequency.

In response thus far, come broad statements from various EU and EU Member State politicians that they will do what they can within their spheres of influence (FATF?) – but no resolute statements of implementation to be sure – and to be quite blunt that is all that can be expected, as all the EU could realistically do is coordinate the actions of its Member States anyway – for it is Member States who decide who they deem persona non grata or are prepared to implement sanctions against.  It is not an “EU decision” per se (as if all EU Member States adhere to EU decisions without deviation anyway).

Ergo, the strength or weakness of any arguement for – or against – sanctions is very much dependent upon the receptiveness and willingness of the nation in question to implement them.

Under The Rome Statute, to which Ukraine is a signatory, but not a ratified signatory due to a Constitutional Court ruling on 12th July 2001 – yes I have written about Ukraine and The Rome Statute before unsurprisingly – it may be possible to make an arguement that the current leadership are, due to certain recent events, in breach of parts of that still to be ratified agreement.

As an aside, it should also be noted, that Article 8 of the (unsigned) EU Association Agreement required Ukraine to ratify The Rome Statute – despite Article 124 of the Constitution of Ukraine preventing that, per the 2001 Constitutional Court ruling.  An issue I pointed out at the time when the contents of the EU AA became known.

However, sanctions are a prickly diplomatic, political and economic issue which may be better framed a different way – one that perhaps may be strictly interpreted as impersonal and as beneficial to the nation and its recently declared domestic policies.

I recently read an article stating Iranian-esque sanctions would be a stupid tactic to take – as if it was a serious possibility.  It is of course a stupid tactic and would never be considered so disproportionate and ill-fitting is that approach for the Ukrainian issues.

Thus there is the Belorussian option – and that to which Messrs Yatseniuk and Klitschko undoubtedly refer – of personal sanctions.

Which raises the question of whom to sanction?  If we are to believe the political opposition and civil society, those most responsible and therefore should be sanctioned are:


Thus, no president, no president’s family, no prime minister or family etc.  The effect on “the family” at the very top if sanctions are limited to these four men? – Are we to believe that the very top are not instigating this and that it has lost control over those above (except President Obama of course to whom the appeal was made)?  Perhaps opposition and civil society recognise there are insufficient grounds to sanction those at the very top?  Perhaps this would be enough to carry the message anyway?

(For those wondering, the two on the left are Governor and Mayor of Kharkiv, the two on the right, Interior Minister and Deputy Prime Minister.)

Will sanctioning them drive them further into the Viktor Medvedchuk Russia orientated camp, and therefore be counterproductive in the longer term?

Will the USA act in concert or discord with the EU and its Member States?  Will the EU act as one?  Different nations have different bilateral interests and therefore different timescales.  How long before consensus can be reached?  What of those Member States who may disagree with sanctions either due to Ukrainian interests or to be belligerent in an effort to win concessions over internal EU affairs?  What carrots or sticks are others prepared to use to gain their approval and thus a consensus?  Any missing link will be exploited.

Despite the desire “to be seen to do something”, is this the right thing to do now – or in the future – how effective will they actually be?

Is there a need to expand the circle of those directly affected by using money laundering laws as the instrument?

If so, the next problem is defining what is truly personal when it comes to actual effects – and what is corporate and has direct casual effects on those whom may currently be supportive of the EU and yet suffer as a result.  The question of collateral damage.

For example, to target the recent purchase of a chain of 200 petrol stations in Germany by a young influential person from Kharkiv – when it comes to unfortunate causal effects to those employed by his other business interests in Ukraine – seems fairly risk free for the average Ukrainian when it comes to keeping their jobs.  To target Ukrainian operations that depend upon (in part) EU consumers may not have the same risk-free desirable result.

To target the purchases of exclusive real estate in Vienna, where a certain politician’s family live, has little effect on his numerous interests in central Ukraine where hundreds of Ukrainians work.  If Viennese assets can be seized or frozen during money laundering investigations and his family returned to Ukraine persona non grata – PoR Deputy and son of one of the highest ranking PoR politicians or not – few in Ukraine would lose their livelihood.

I could go on and on, but the point is if sanctions are pursued undoubtedly great care would need to be taken to insure that and outcomes did not disenfranchise any currently pro-EU workers employed by those targeted wherever possible.  Lest we forget support for the EU AA signing is still very much short of a robust majority without disenfranchising yet more.

The question, if following such a strictly targeted policy, is just how much pain would such sanctions cause those individuals identified – either through retrospective action over existing EU assets, additional money laundering hurdles being placed upon on-going acquisitions with regard the origin of money, or future purchases once the gauntlet has been thrown down? – How high is the pain barrier before it actually becomes painful rather than simply being written-off as the cost of doing business?  A mere irritation for the incredibly wealthy?

A unified response seems highly unlikely from the 28 EU Member States when it comes to the height and robustness of such barriers and hurdles.

As an aside, do continued calls from Messrs Yatseniuk and Klitschko for sanctions, accompanied by continued inaction in response from the “EU” (to whom they appeal presumably as the collective) and the USA undermine the credibility of the EU and USA to some supporters who may expect such pleas to be heard and actioned?

Perhaps they have built up diplomatic momentum amongst the USA and EU Member States via the embassies that have given assurances of delivery that are yet to become public?

Alternatively, do they further undermine the opposition leaders as actors of insignificant weight on the EU stage when it comes to influence and delivery, if no sanctions are forthcoming?  Perhaps domestically, looking forward, that will prove to be a more critical issue than it may currently appear.  Perceptions of the Ukrainian voting constituency and all that!

The issue of sanctions is always difficult, and the results when they come, perhaps not timely either.  Whether or not they will come is very difficult to say.  That demands have been made by certain leaders in the public realm may also fail to provide the desired results in more ways than one.

A lot of questions to answer before answering the sanctions question.

All rather messy at the moment to be frank!


Sorry I won’t be coming, a matter of principle – Євромайдан 1st January 2014

December 30, 2013

Regular visitor as I am to Євромайдан in Odessa, partially in a supportive role of gaining a more genuine, robust and responsive democracy in Ukraine – eventually – and partially due to quite obvious political science interests, I must explain why I won’t be attending the Євромайдан gathering on New Years Day.

This is not going to be due to a lack of sleep or an overindulgence of alcohol.  It is not due to a weakening in my support for the cause of democracy – that remains as robust as ever.

It is due to one simple decision by Svoboda – and by default the opposition parties of UDAR, Batkivshchyna, and civil society through either their firm or tacit support by allowing that day’s gathering to be hijacked.

Svoboda has decided that as 1st January is the date upon which Stepan Bandera was born, it will be a celebration of his birth – and that the gathered  Євромайдан crowds will celebrate it with them.

Well, to be blunt I won’t allow myself to be used in such a way.

I do not stand in the cold and/or rain, talk to people, take photographs and make my support for a more democratic Ukraine known, for it to subsequently be reframed as support for a Ukrainian historical character of dubious deeds and that represents far right nationalism in today’s Ukraine.

Neither will I partake in any nationalist chanting or flag waving.

I am not supporting the democratic ideals behind Євромайдан for it to usher in nationalism – whether it does or not as a result.  And legislation such as this opposition proposal stands a very good chance of being misused if that ever happened!

Whilst I recognise the current need for there to be, if not unity, a working relationship between opposition political parties and their supporters – and I readily accept that Svoboda has far higher demonstrator representation, vis a vis the other parties, than is representative of their national political popularity otherwise – I have no desire to spend that day perceived to be idolising Stepan Bandera or supporting Ukrainian nationalism.

I am no more supportive of far right nationalism than I am of communism.  Both are exceptionally cancerous and damaging ideologies to which I have not, do not, and will not, be associated with by way of misrepresentation should I simply turn up – as I would otherwise have done – for Євромайдан 1st January.

Quite why UDAR, Batkivshchyna and civil society has allowed what would otherwise be a significant day – the first protest gathering on the first day of 2014 – to have its integrity compromised like this is beyond me.

I refuse to be used as a “numbers pawn” in what will only magnify east/west divisions over Stepan Bandera and the OUN, with harm to the integrity of Євромайдан itself a likely result.

Inclusiveness and tolerance are what is needed to unite all of society behind the democratic cause – for that is a genuine societal cross cutting cleavage.  Svoboda’s branding of the New Year’s Day Євромайдан demonstration a celebration of Stepan Bandera’s birthday is most definitely not going to do that.

In fact, if I worked for the forces of Mordor it would be used to as ammunition to further erode Євромайдан support in my traditional voter constituencies.

Thus I shall probably show up at the following Євромайдан gatherings later in January – and with nothing to get up for on 1st January any more – will probably drink a little in excess now too.


Shooting the messenger in the Donbass – євромайдан

December 28, 2013

Much of what has been written in this blog over the past few weeks has been євромайдан-centric.  It has been generally supportive and also occasionally critical – as I am a democracy advocate.

Anything peaceful and law abiding that promotes or strives for democracy and all its supporting pillars I would find very difficult not to support.

However, it would be easy to think that the entire country supports the євромайдан cause given the majority western media coverage.  In the interests of fairness, it is necessary to be mindful that it is most certainly not so.

The above YouTube clip – with English subtitles – clearly makes that case.

Or does it?

Marching through Donetsk with the EU flag is probably not the best way to engage many there in open minded dialogue.  The response would be similar to marching through Lviv with the Customs Union flag and expecting an open minded dialogue.

It is not as though people in Donetsk – at least those I know – do not want a more robust and responsive  democracy.  They do.  They want rule of law, a free media, their basic freedoms of speech and assembly and all the other pillars of a democratic society.

The problem for them is not necessarily the message – but the messenger (and the messenger’s paraphernalia).

Not exactly an intractable problem to find or create a different and more acceptable messenger (with or without different and more acceptable paraphernalia) carrying the same core message that would gather public support in the East.

%d bloggers like this: