Who and what can keep the powers democratic

The question of the activity of democratic institutions in Ukraine was discussed during the most recent session of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe in Strasbourg. As a result, a resolution was adopted — a document which obliged Ukraine to carry out a number of reforms in order to comply with European standards. Ukraine joined the Council of Europe 15 years ago, but has yet to fulfill some of the resulting obligations.

A few important amendments to the project of the PACE resolution were introduced right before the vote. They concerned such issues as freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, the role of the prosecution and the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU). The local elections were also discussed, with the Council of Europe stating that it hopes that they will be held without violations.

The Assembly’s resolution on the “Functioning of democratic institutions in Ukraine” was supported by 102 votes out of 109. There was one vote against it.

The PACE pointed out that it had been the first resolution to be adopted by an absolute majority for a long time. It is notable that the only vote against, that is supporting the actions of the Ukrainian government, was the vote of the Russian delegation.

Representatives of the Ukrainian government accepted the PACE decision. Adopting the resolution “Functioning of democratic institutions in Ukraine” is an important step on the way to European integration, according to a special commentary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine.

“The very course of considering the resolution, the debates which took place on The Day it was adopted in the Council of Europe, confirmed the existence of a thriving and competitive democracy in Ukraine,” the ministry asserted. “Some notes regarding drawbacks in the functioning of democratic institutions, and recommendations regarding their removal, which the resolution includes, will help the president, the government, and the ruling coalition to more efficiently elaborate and realize their policy aimed at reaching European standards.”

Nevertheless, the system of checks and balances in Ukraine was upset by the pivotal verdict of the Constitutional Court. In this regard, there is a logical question: who or what can become a “constraint” to the government’s activities, given the weak opposition and the passive attitude of the general populace?

COMMENTARIES

Ihor ZHDANOV, head of the open Policy Analytical Center:

“That is a very good question, I really think about it a lot. The situation after Viktor Yanukovych was elected president, and especially after the recent verdict of the Constitutional Court about recognizing several amendments as being unconstitutional, demonstrates that the current government does not have any internal restraints. There are external constraints, as Yanukovych is obviously interested in being seen shaking hands both in Moscow and Brussels. Regarding internal ‘limitations,’ unfortunately, there are none. Today the opposition is not only weak, it is ignored. On the other hand, we have a society which is indifferent to the actions of the government. All they do is grumble in the kitchen, saying that the representatives of the government do bad things. The current situation can be compared with a steam locomotive where a big fire was started, all safety valves were shut, and it started moving. So it goes, what is ahead of it is unknown — either the bridge of reforms or a ravine of procrastination. Or, alternatively, this steam machine will explode, since I’m sure that the accumulation of systemic mistakes by the government will lead to large-scale social protest. In this case, one can predict that the protest actions will probably differ from the 2004 version. Most likely they will be more drastic, with acts of aggression, destruction, violence etc. That is the problem. The government is going down the same path as Kuchma, only faster. Society has changed too. We inhaled a gulp of freedom, and lived a different life for the past five years.”

urii YAKYMENKO, director of political and legal programs of the Razumkov Center:

“In view of the absence of such traditional ‘constraints’ as the opposition or civic society, one should look for alternatives. Now they can be either inside the government itself, or outside of the country altogether. In other words, the competition of powerful groups that influence different bodies and institutions, is one of the ‘constraints.’ In this case, they will obviously be interested in preventing each of them from raising above the other, and not allowing for excessive concentration of power. This internal struggle, in a way, will restrain the government. The judicial and law enforcement systems cannot play the role of ‘constraint’ because they are subordinated to the government and cannot act independently. Under such conditions, an external factor can become a ‘constraint.’ I mean an external factor in a broad sense. First, these are international obligations that Ukraine signed up to while joining international organizations. Second, these are promises made within the framework of the bilateral relations of Ukraine. Thus, some countries can influence the Ukrainian government in order to keep it democratic. The opposition would like to play this role as well but they do not have any real leverage to influence the situation. Why? Again, because the legitimate channels of influence (the judicial system, parliamentary channels, etc.) are blocked by the government. What should the opposition, which, among other things, remains scattered and only under the influence of some extraordinary circumstances begins to unite, do in this case? Of course, it would be good if the opposition could be a real counterpoise, because it is part of a normal, democratic process. However, at this other mechanisms, which would aid the opposition to legally enforce their requests, should work in Ukraine. However, in Ukraine, I repeat, these channels are blocked. We cannot imagine a situation when a body or an institution appears which will only be guided by the principles of the supremacy of law. Unfortunately, it is difficult to even imagine such a situation in Ukraine. Now let us move to the passivity of the people that you mentioned. Let us remind ourselves about the situation before the Maidan. It was deteriorating for several years. Everything started with an abrupt decline in the social and economic situation (1997-1998 being the low point). After that came a gradual recovery. But soon the case of Gongadze and the creation of an authoritarian regime took place. This angered everybody, and the Maidan happened. The falsification of the first tour of the elections was the last straw. What did we observe after that? Great expectations, including hopes for democratization, and then growing disappointment. All this led to the victory of another candidate, and this system still did not reach the level of 2003. Thus, these changes have not yet reached ordinary citizens. In view of the fact that people have a positive experience of group actions and collective success, the time lapse can be narrower. So things can happen quickly.”

Kostiantyn BONDARENKO, political expert:

“The government’s instinct of self-preservation is the first ‘constraint.’ Each leader thinking about the future has some instinct of self-preservation. Another thing is the necessity of maintaining ostentatious etiquette, ostentatiously observing democracy. Every governmental official understands very well that Ukraine is seriously monitored by western institutions, which would like to see the development of democracy, not its decline, in our country. Correspondingly, democracy in Ukraine long ago became a symbol in talks with the West, so it should be maintained. The third nuance is that there are natural political and economic processes one should keep to. Medium and large businesses in Ukraine can also become a restraint on government. Regarding citizens, unfortunately, civic society is asleep, and people don’t mind. Obviously, hibernation is more comfortable and safe. The people who in 2004 came out to the Maidan are disappointed with the politicians it brought to power. After this people must have decided that there is hardly any sense in being involved in the political processes in the near future, since all politicians are the same there. I do not think that anything different was expected from Yanukovych, that there were any illusions about him. In the first week after the elections I was in Brussels, where they said that Tymoshenko should feel responsible for the situation in Ukraine, that she must realize how much Ukraine needs a strong opposition. But, unfortunately, Tymoshenko made so many silly mistakes that, as a result, she can no longer be considered as the leader of the opposition. The leader of the opposition cannot hold meetings that gather only two or three thousand people. It is just ridiculous. Unfortunately, there is no opposition in the country. Therefore, the government feels absolutely free. Regarding future actions, you know, it seems to me that Yanukovych will try to become the leader of all Ukraine. But he will do it aiming at the years of 2012-2015, when the next elections will be held. I think the figure of Taras Shevchenko will be one of trumps Yanukovych will use in the future. Even recent speeches and statements of Yanukovych show that he focuses attention on the figure of Shevchenko. This topic will be actively discussed. Among other things, Yanukovych will focus on the idea of holding the Olympics in Bukovel, and citizens of western Ukraine will like it very much. And there is the Euro-2012. All these topics will unite. Therefore, I think Yanukovych should not be discarded today judging from what was already done. One should also take into account what reserve cards he has.”