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Tymoshenko: Elections ‘already rigged, stop this dictatorship’

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Sept. 21, 2012, 10:21 a.m. | Op-ed — by Yulia Tymoshenko

Ukraine's imprisoned opposition leader and former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko.
© www.tymoshenko.ua

Yulia Tymoshenko

Editor's Note: The following is a statement of Ukraine's imprisoned opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko in which she appeals to parliamentarians and leaders of democratic countries, international organizations and Ukrainians about what she describes as assaults on free speech and democracy in Ukraine. 

Appeal to parliamentarians and leaders of democratic countries, international organizations that work to strengthen freedom, and to all Ukrainians of the world


I am appealing to you from behind prison bars, where Ukraine’s president, Viktor Yanukovych, has put me and other leaders of the political opposition to his rule. He imprisoned me on totalitarian-style trumped up charges in order to deprive the opposition of a leadership voice, bury democracy and make his power eternal.  But here, behind bars, I am not alone because today, Ukrainian prisons are crowded with the rebellious people unwilling to surrender their liberties without a struggle: representatives of the middle class, civil society and those simply unwilling to watch dictatorship descend on their country with indifference. These are the people who once made Ukraine a free nation during the 2004 Orange Revolution.

I cannot predict at which moment Yanukovych will find it convenient to deprive me of even more than my freedom, so I hasten to do everything I can to change the tragic course on which he has set my country. I am not mistaken, nor am I exaggerating. Ukraine’s return to the dark world of dictatorship, when not long ago it was so close to becoming a fully accepted part of Europe, is an historic tragedy, both for Ukrainians, but also for Europe and all the free world, because the loss of any one democracy shows how fragile and perilous is the fate of all democracies.

To confirm these words let me quote from the most recent report of the international non-governmental organization Freedom House.

The authors of the report, as do most Ukrainians, “embrace the vision of an independent, sovereign Ukraine with strong democratic institutions, a prosperous free market, and consistent rule of law, embedded in Europe and a partner of the United States as well as Russia.” Yet today they openly say to the world that Ukraine is moving “away from” ALL of these bedrock democratic principles. Please understand me! Ukraine is already moving away from liberty and the democratic world! This is not something that may happen; it is already happening.  And this loss of freedom is hardening.  

Freedom House named this report “Sounding the Alarm” and this is a correct name because responsible world leaders, politicians, public figures, and journalists both in Ukraine and abroad view the situation in Ukraine with as much alarm as Freedom House and consider it necessary to immediately! stop this new dictatorship in Ukraine from consolidating itself.

There is no need to explain once again the importance of Ukraine for Europe and Eurasia and, as a result, for the whole world, because everyone to whom I am appealing  understands this very well. But Ukraine’s geo-strategic importance comes with 46 million decent, hard-working Ukrainians, people who, like people everywhere, want liberty in order to provide a better future for themselves and their families.

Not long ago, the Euro 2012 Football Championship, in which Ukraine was a co-host, took place in my country. The fans who came from all over the world brought back with them to their homes memories of Ukrainians as European people they could identify with in spirit, culture and essence. Such people deserve a confident and free life, not the closed off future that Yanukovych offers them! I believe that their liberties can be regained, but for that all Ukrainians, and you who are our neighbors and fellow democrats, will need to unite against the dictator and his ambitions!
Stalin for a time used to speak of ‘socialism in one country.’  Yanukovych has now done Stalin one better: he is building dictatorship of one family in one country. In the previously cited Freedom House report, the author’s called Ukraine’s new governing entity “the family.”   But another word for such a system is “mafia,” because its codes, its purposes, its loyalties, and most of all its greedy, murderous methods are identical.

On May 10, German Chancellor Angela Merkel openly and courageously said in the Bundestag that a dictatorship was being established in Ukraine and that Ukraine’s people were suffering from the lack of freedom and repressions. Hers was a precise and timely political diagnosis, one not made comfortable by ambiguous diplomatic niceties. Her clarity, and the consistent kindness and concern that she has shown to me during my imprisonment, tells me that Ukraine does have a real chance for an effective treatment and recovery from the disease of "familization," because the right diagnosis is always the first step in finding a cure for a problem.

Over the last two years, “the Family” has ruined all checks and balances inherent to democratic societies. We no longer have the separation of powers into legislative, judicial and executive branches. They all now do the bidding of one person.

All power structures and special security forces are now led by representatives of the Family, and all their capacities have been directed not to defending the national interest but to serving the regime and its quest for more – more wealth, more privileges, and most of all more power. They persecute civil society and destroy our free media, independent journalists, the opposition and ordinary freedom-loving citizens. Fear -- for yourself and for your family – has entered every Ukrainian home. The number of people who want to go abroad or at least to send their children there has increased mightily.  And they are fleeing, any way that they can.

Kleptocracy has become the primary governance marker in our country; it is the ruling style of a regime that is transferring into its own grasping hands -- without even the pretense of an open, transparent process -- state monopolies, land, even the private enterprises of others. The Family wants; the Family takes. We have become Zaire under Mobuto, Zimbabwe under Mugabe.  Priceless state-owned deposits of mineral resources, the budget, even funds on deposit with the central national bank have become the playthings of the family.  Louis XIV once famously said that the “state is me.”  Viktor Yanukovych and his clan live by that same greedy creed.

Can you imagine a U.S. president who transfers the White House into his own private property, where he breeds kangaroos and five-toed jerboas on the lawns? How would Americans react to this? Of course the image is absurd, but this is not meant to be funny. It is simply a reflection of the sad truth of Ukraine today, because this is actually happening in Ukraine: the Mezhygirya state residence has been stolen in this way, and for this same bizarre breeding purpose.

Yanukovych is getting away with is 24/7 stealing because all influential TV channels are now owned by clans close to the Family and, as in Soviet times, they are repeating the same Big Lies ad nauseum, lies which are given to them on instructions from the Family above. Moreover, the only TV channel independent from the government, TVi, is being systematically destroyed. It has been compulsory deprived of the right to broadcast on 80 cable networks and 12 cities in the centre, south and east of the country. It is being killed in the market by abusive regulation, legal shenanigans, and when necessary, thuggish threats. Using its media and cynical propaganda, the regime is trying to make Ukrainians believe that the authoritarian Sabbath that is taking place in our country and in our life is the type of freedom and justice people need. George Orwell’s Big Brother could not do better.

Of course, many Ukrainians see through the lies; they know that they are being humiliated, robbed and deprived of their rights, their hopes, and their futures. Over 90% of Ukrainians do not trust the country’s courts, but they have nowhere to go to protect themselves and vindicate their families when they are oppressed. The regime is tearing about Ukraine’s soul, which lives not for the pittances distributed all over the country by representatives of the government as October’s parliamentary elections near, but is sustained by self-respect and dignified treatment, at home and abroad.

I am writing this appeal to you after the regime adopted a law about that will diminish our Ukrainian language. For us, this is not just the next law aimed against Ukraine; this is an attempt to shatter our sovereignty.

After the law was adopted, young people went on hunger strike in the very center of Kyiv, on European Square near the Ukrainian House. They were ready to give their health and their lives for the right to be Ukrainian, for the right to have their own country, their language, for the right just to exist as a free and independent people, equal to all the other free peoples of this world.  Yanukovych knows that when you kill a person’s language, you cut him off from his past, and from his community.  You atomize society. But that is precisely what he is hoping for. For if every man stands alone, the wolves of the Family need never feel threatened.

Every day, we hear Yanukovych tell us about all the reforms that he is bringing to Ukraine. But these are mere words, not deeds. His reforms, indeed, are like antipersonnel mines disguised as children’s toy. At first sight, they appear shiny and attractive, but in reality they are filled with attributes that strengthen his dictatorship. These are not reforms; they are a well-considered process of usurping power by any means necessary, including violent ones.

I ask world leaders, particularly those from the IMF, to follow Chancellor Merkel’s example and call things by their correct names. Yanukovych doesn’t “do” reform; he does theft, corruption, and racketeering. You, the world’s leaders, must not encourage the dictator by giving him the gift of careless language at a time when every action he is taking is meant to consolidate his dictatorship. Words do matter, and overly generous and vague words when applied to Yanukovych are a dangerous and improvident policy that will lead only consign Ukraine to despair and deadlock.

The democratic world and its leaders have already done a lot to save Ukraine’s sovereignty, its democracy and European choice. Joint resolutions have been adopted and strong public actions taken. I would like to thank all who have defended Ukraine in this way. We know that you are standing up for our freedoms and independence. But we also know that Yanukovych has not heard you, or if he has, he doesn’t care because he has not changed his destructive policy one iota and gives no sign of ever being willing to do this!  

It is useless to further give him reasonable advice or send him signals of concern!

Will a cannibal become a vegetarian if people ask him to sit and eat a salad? The answer is no!

Today, the position of the democratic world has already been clearly formulated – the next parliamentary elections that will take place in Ukraine in October are the key test for Ukraine’s government concerning its respect of democratic European values -- as if the government of Ukraine deserves additional time, and an additional test, to prove that it is able to change. But today it is already obvious that they are not even willing to attempt to hold elections in democratic and fair way; they are using this additional time for another purpose – to finish the construction of the Family’s dictatorship.

Already, six weeks before the parliamentary ballot, vote rigging is already taking place in Ukraine: beginning from puppet courts and a Central Election Commission wholly controlled by the government, to systemic bribing of voters by candidates, to voting rules and constituency structures that the opposition will find it impossible to penetrate, the Family has already so corrupted that the KGB of old would be proud. But repressions against the opposition and independent media, and adventurist ways of forming election commissions are just the beginning. Comparing to what is happening today, the ‘’election” of president Yanukovych in 2004 that lead to the Orange Revolution was “an example of fair play and good faith”.

I do not want to fall into self-delusion or delude others – the truth is that the parliamentary elections have already been rigged. If we do not immediately take measures to stop the dictatorship then, after the elections, the dictatorship will fully consolidate itself. Ukraine’s liberties, and its independence, will be finished.

I ask the democratic world to support the position of the politicians who are urging the world not to deceive itself, not to expect fair conduct of the parliamentary elections from ukraine’s government. The elections are already rigged even before they have started. we must immediately, before the elections, find the means to break the grip of the dictatorship before sham elections give it unquestioned control! It will be too late to do this tomorrow, after the parliamentary elections! I repeat once again: it will be too late!

I may have made mistakes as a politician, but I have almost never made wrong political forecasts. And I am not mistaken this time! Every minute of delay today may lead to big losses for Ukraine and the world’s democracies. Help us, and help yourselves by doing so.

When I urge the whole democratic world to fight against the dictatorship together it does not mean that we, Ukrainians, are weak and helpless. It means that there are other similar regimes behind our Ukrainian neo-dictators which support and strengthen one another and defend the same world order where there is no place for democracy and values recognized by humanity.

I firmly believe that the world neither wants, nor needs, global authoritarian conglomerates in the post-soviet space and on the borders of the EU and NATO. Therefore, the cause of protecting democracy in Ukraine has to be finished safely and quickly, because only a free Ukraine can serve as a vanguard of liberty that will draw out the whole region from behind the bars of the post-Soviet imprisonment.

In times of globalization, the humanity has become a single organism with one circulatory system, with one life for all. However independent and ambitious separate countries may be, the recent financial crises, natural disasters, terrorism, chain reactions of revolutionary events and civil wars that divide the world into opposing camps have proved that threats to the global world are, in actuality, joint threats wherever and whenever they appear. Just as no man is an island, no nation is either.

The birth and rapid consolidation of dictatorship in one country, whatever is that country’s name, cannot be purely its internal problem. It is a problem for the whole democratic world.  The loss of its freedom poses a threat and challenge to everyone. I ask all of you all to fight against this threat to freedom jointly and effectively, and not to slacken until the result in liberty is assured.

Much has been done to strengthen and harmonize the global economy, but little at all has been done to protect, increase and strengthen the values that – in terms of culture, democracy and the rule of law – are needed to consolidate freedom in my country, and in every other country. What is needed first of all is an effective system for diminishing dictatorships.  In Syria, a dictator kills tens of thousands of people, yet the rules and procedures of our international organizations allow this to continue. In many post-Soviet countries, whole nations have become hostages to ruling clans who are often the same people, or the sons of the very people who ruled in Soviet times. Around the globe, “dictatorship” and “authoritarianism” are, twenty years after the fall of communism and the supposed end of history, as common as ever. Quite simply, the world’s laissez faire strategy for dealing with them is inadequate to the task.  

Fortunately, there are positive ideas, embraced by both the democratic right and the democratic left. In the face of the resilience of dictatorial regimes, the “Community of Democracies,” that many senior statesmen and stateswomen have embraced as a means to give freedom a greater voice in the counsels of the world, now needs to move from rhetoric to reality.  But there are also more practical steps to be made.  Those who enable dictators to loot their countries – the lawyers and bankers who move ill-gotten gains around the world in secret – should be publicly named and shamed.  So too should the political technicians who help dictators dress themselves up as democrats to win elections.  Such cynical advisors should not be able to sell their souls to dictators one year, and then the next year turn around to become trusted advisors for candidates in truly democratic elections. Having helped to destroy democracy in one country, they should never get to hold office in their own democracy.

But most of all, the world’s democracies should stop offering hospitality to the world’s dictators, their families, and their cronies and henchmen.  Why should these people be free to travel anywhere they wish, spend whatever they wish on luxury items, when their citizens are imprisoned and impoverished back home.  Visa watch lists ought to be developed to keep dictators and the friend of dictators confined to the systems that they have created.  

Finally, we need to forget the idea that there is such a thing as a “useful” dictator. They may prove useful for a time, but the bitterness they engender among the people they misrule will be far more long lasting.  We need only look at Iran for confirmation of this.  Too long an embrace of the Shah left behind, after his fall, a bitterness that an even worse regime has fed upon to maintain itself in power.

In the fight against the usurpers of liberty we have to move to a new political approach similar to the fight against terrorism: no talks with political terrorists, no concessions or ransoms – only political elimination by joint internal and external efforts and immediate release of all hostages, the nations they control.

It is a big mistake, indeed, to think that all people at all times can free themselves from a dictator’s grip. They might not have enough force for this in the global world as dictators in this world are not alone, they are united and coordinated.  Today, they act almost as a single bloc. Nations enslaved by dictatorships have no fair elections to help them regain liberty, no free media, little experience, stunted institutions, and few of the necessary financial resources to battle for freedom. The absence of all these important components, as we have seen in Syria, inevitably leads to an impasse and bloody revolution, because the world does not leave any other means for people to liberate themselves.

The democratic global world can eliminate dictatorships in sovereign countries quickly, by non-violent means and within international law. But to achieve this, we need to stop applying double standards towards dictators and their entourages. They must no longer be beyond the law.  Indeed, when sanctions are applied, they should be targeted at them, not the citizens they misrule. Why should their unfortunate people and nations be deprived of rights and commerce.  Let’s stop taking the easy way out when applying sanctions and act directly against those who personify authoritarianism and dictatorship.

So, let me offer a “Defense of Democracy” program. First, without delay or any wasting of time, the world’s democrats should establish a mechanism to undertake international anti-corruption investigations against ruling dictators and their entourage.  Such investigations ought to be a normal thing for every nation hijacked by dictatorship. All dictators, without exception, misappropriate state resources and use the territories of democratic countries for their illegal operations with funds and property. Maybe, the state of affairs has been temporarily beneficial for some banks where they store their dirty money, but strategically this is fatally dangerous for preserving the values of our global world.

Second, based on international and national legislation of democratic countries, we must start sequestering and confiscating property and illegally obtained financial resources from dictators and their entourage.  This may be complicated, it may take time, but the rule of law should no longer be used to protect dictatorial plunder.  Let it instead protect the people whose resources have been plundered for the benefit of a tiny few.

Third, we must make it possible to prosecute dictators and their entourage in the countries where their corrupt transactions have taken place, without waiting for them to be tried by the Hague Tribunal for massive genocide of people who will be forced to revolt.  Thus, when a dictator is overthrown, the world’s democracies need to offer support to the new regimes to offer effective, transparent, and honest trials at home. 

Fourth, we must declare dictators and their entourage persona non grata in every democratic country.

These are only a portion of the peaceful and fair measures that will ensure the desired result. But this “political sewer cleaning” can only work if world leaders decide that curtailing dictatorship needs to be on their agenda.  Our leaders need to take a vow not to cultivate them just for some immediate political convenience; not to train them, because this training is usually in the end turned on their own people; not to use them as tools and not to give them a single chance to justify their misrule. Otherwise, thousands of millions of people on our planet will remain deprived of a chance for freedom and justice.

The steps I have outlined are certainly the right way to conduct relations with the Yanukovych dictatorship. I have conveyed all strong evidence of international corruption of Ukraine’s regime to the relevant international institutions. But we must act immediately, not after the parliamentary elections, when the Family will finally privatize Ukraine’s parliament and destroy sovereignty and the rest of our democracy. Do not give them a chance to consolidate! And then, the same logic could be applied to other countries where people are suffering under dictatorship.

My country is balanced on a razor-edge – it will either return to European values, or cement regional authoritarianism in the post-Soviet space.

Of course, during a crisis when they are suffering themselves, powerful democracies may feel too tired to help young democracies in need.  You may feel it is up to us alone to deal with the Yanukovych regime. Let a strange and unpredictable country, you may say, sort out its own problems. However, there have already been similar cases in history when people brushed aside some problems only to see those same problems come crashing against the gates of Prague, Warsaw or Paris.

This appeal may cause suspicions to arise in some people that we have lost our hopes for victory. But this is not true. Our hope is that Ukrainian civil society will rise up, that our journalists will cast off their shackles and resist censorship, that the men and women who have led the struggle for freedom in our country for decades will once again become a moral pivot in the struggle for freedom, that the opposition will be wise enough to unite.  I also believe that our middle class, which wants to develop freely and successfully, and our young people, who were born in an independent state and still want to live in a free country, will rise as one in defense of their freedoms and the freedom of their families and friends.

We, Ukrainians, will firmly stand for our independent, European, democratic and just country, for our dignity and freedom until we win. No one doubts that if elections in Ukraine are fair, the mafia that lords over us will be politically eliminated. Unfortunately, I stress once again, there is no hope left for fair elections!  But we will not rush to the rear or into the camp of dictatorship, where people are well fed in their servitude and for their betrayals. We have no moral right to abandon our struggle for freedom, because our defeat and their victory will change Ukraine and influence the whole Europe in the worst way.

In many post-soviet countries the hopes for democratic development have been lost for a long time. We have not lost them in Ukraine! You have already done a lot and we thank you for this help, but do not stop. Ukraine still has a fighting chance! Do not stop! Do not let us lose this chance!

I would also like to appeal to my dear Ukrainians, both in the Motherland and in the whole world, wake up! Revolt! Independent Ukraine has never faced such difficult times as these! No matter in which corner of the world you are – unite and find an opportunity for joint actions and protests. Ask the governments of your country to help and support Ukraine. Protect Ukraine, protect your land, and give a piece of your life to it now. It needs the help of its sons and daughters all around the world.

At the moment, I cannot communicate with you personally but I know that you hear me and that it matters to you as it matters to me. Here, behind bars, I feel the pulse of our great unity, solidarity and mutual understanding between Ukraine and the world.

I believe that the unity will change things for the better. This is our hope, our Ukrainian chance, the chance for a strong and enlarged Europe.

Yours,

Yulia Tymoshenko

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