A Ukrainian court has sentenced another leading opposition politician to prison, raising further concern about the country’s democratic regression. The sentence coincides with new opinion poll findings which reveal that only 13 percent of Ukrainians believe President Viktor Yanukovych (right) is taking the country in the wrong direction. .
Valery Ivashchenko, an ally of opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko, was sentenced to five years in jail on charges of abusing his powers in privatizing a ship repair yard while defense minister. The prosecution was politically motivated, said Ivashchenko’s lawyer.
“The case was clearly ordered up. It was simply decided to settle scores with him in this way,” said Borys Nechiporenko.
Pessimism over the country’s trajectory has increased since December 2011, said the International Republican Institute, the Washington-based democracy assistance group, as it released its most recent survey of Ukrainian public opinion, the second in a series of polls gauging attitudes on economic, social and political issues:
The three most important issues facing Ukrainians are: unemployment, low industrial production and corruption within the state bodies. Seventy-four percent of Ukrainians do not support giving away part or Ukraine’s entire gas transportation system to Russia if it were to result in a reduction in the price Ukraine pays for imported gas from Russia.
Several members are former dissidents who served sentences in Soviet labour camps, an asset in a region where moral currency is often measured in years spent imprisoned by the Communist regime.
The initiative’s first round-table event, held in Kiev last Thursday, gathered 70 members of the Ukrainian intelligentsia to discuss relations between state and society. Their banner, “A Free Person in a Free Country”, is a reaction to a society they see as basking in consumerist indifference; or, as Yevgen Sverstyuk , a philosopher, put it, “like a varenyk [dumpling] in butter”. You can see a video of the event here.
In pushing for a stronger, more responsible society, and one that is closer to Europe, these grandees turn to abstract themes: human dignity and responsible citizenship. They hope to drum up interest through a series of local round-table meetings. The initiative aims to include all Ukrainians, regardless of political affiliation.
Ukraine’s media have begun speculating about parliamentary elections due in October. If the message of the 1st December group begins to resonate before then, it could become a significant political player. But some think its influence will be better expressed through a gradual renaissance of civil society, and as an influence for future generations of Ukrainians. RTWT
The growing profile of the far-right Svoboda party is raising concern about anti-Semitic and racist sentiment in Ukraine, but the real source of illiberal political attitudes is the country’s divisive president and his Party of Regions, argues analyst Taras Kuzio.
“A leaked strategy document from the Yanukovych election campaign outlined plans to escalate conflict ‘along each of the main lines of division – Galicia [West] vs East and South; West (USA, Europe) vs Russia; Russian language, threat of rising extremism and so on’,” he observes.
The ruling party is cultivating an indigenous anti-Semitism that draws on two traditions, Kuzio writes. “On the one hand, it does indeed stem from nationalism in western Ukraine. Yet the overwhelming majority of instances of racism, xenophobia and anti-Semitism in Ukraine come from Eurasian nationalism and neo-Soviet anti-Zionism in eastern Ukraine, where the Party of Regions holds on to a monopoly of power.”
Leaked US embassy cables revealedthat neo-Nazis are most active in the eastern regions of Kyiv, Kharkiv, Kherson, Sumy, Donetsk, Dnipropetrovsk, Vinnytsia, Odesa, and Zhytomyr, he notes, while a recent survey by the Razumkov Ukrainian Centre for Economic and Political Studies,* found that western Ukrainians are slightly more likely to oppose racial and ethnic discrimination than their eastern neighbors (but only by 3.9 percent to 3.3 percent).
The gruesome killing of Oksana Makar (left) has sent shockwaves around the country, Alexey Matsuka, Editor-in-Chief of the independent internet newspaper ‘Donbass News’, writes in Open Democracy.
“Ukraine is at present going through a process of establishing the ground rules of a civil society, and the case of Oksana Makar has shown that citizens can fight the abuse of power and contempt for the law if they present a united front, whether on the streets or social networks,” he notes. “However Makar’s murder has also exposed another issue – that power is concentrated in the hands of a group of people who do not always respect either legal or ethical principles.”
* The Razumkov Ukrainian Centre for Economic and Political Studies is a grantee of the National Endowment for Democracy, the Washington-based democracy assistance group. IRI is one of the NED’s four core institutes.