On Feb. 5, Azarov decided to take a trip to a supermarket located in the same prestigious Pechersk area as his spacious office. The visit itself was set up like a Potyomkin Village. It was announced in advance so that the icy streets where people broke their legs just a day before were cleaned up, price tags in the supermarket halved and cashiers all forced to come to work and smile, for once.
Azarov looked serious and regarded cheap cabbages with great attention. But despite the best effort of the multiple guards, one of the local visitors managed to shout over the freezer to catch the prime minister’s attention, and complained about the true state of affairs in the supermarket on the days that no big shot guests conducted show visits.
He also complained about a sex shop located near the supermarket entrance. On the way out, Azarov told the deputy mayor to take care of the shop. At night, the owner boxed up the love paraphernalia and the next day the kiosk was gone. The city authorities explained to the media that the place did not have proper documents to run legally.
The kiosk is located within a block or two from several local authorities, including the general prosecutor’s office, the district tax office and the area police station, so it would be hard to imagine a sex shop running here without permission.
Opening a small business without permission anywhere, in fact, would be suicidal because all inspectors imaginable would consider it their duty to flock there for cash.
Even when businesses do open without all due documents, licenses and stamps, it happens due to over-regulation on most occasions and owners try to fix the problem fast.
Moreover, Kyiv has next to no zoning and planning rules, so it’s not exactly well-regulated what kind of businesses can run where, with some exceptions regulated by other laws.
I don’t care if it’s a sex shop or a kiosk selling cabbage, but closing a business down just because the prime minister pointed his finger shows just how vulnerable anyone or anything is nowadays. People and circumstances decide your destiny. The rule of law fails to work in everyday life, for small business, which should be nurtured and encouraged.
It is to restore this very rule of law that a handful of deputies from Vitali Klitschko’s Ukrainian Democratic Alliance for Reforms (UDAR) faction had a sleepover in parliament on the same night when the owner of the sex kiosk was packing up. Newly elected deputies stayed to guard the session hall from the invasion of the pro-presidential Party of Regions while leaders of the opposition continued to pressure parliament’s leadership to strictly enforce personal voting on legislation by the deputies.
This is a demand of the opposition, which they have carried through the fall election campaign, and to which the Verkhovna Rada leadership keeps resisting, coming up with the most ridiculous excuses. For example, fingerprint voting (one of the options proposed by the opposition) is bad for one’s health.
Although a constitutional requirement, personal voting has been ignored for years by the pro-presidential majority, exposing parliament for the rubber-stamp institution that it has been for the powers – or power that be – namely President Viktor Yanukovych.
Many laws have been approved with violation of this requirement, including state budgets, pension and tax reforms, and so on. This procedure of mass voting for colleagues challenges the validity of most of the country’s legal acts approved in the last few years, and the parliament itself. The opposition in the past has been just as guilty.
But the new opposition’s stance is wonderfully, refreshingly and stubbornly naive. It’s a return to simple, basic concepts such as the rule of law, which could nevertheless have a profound effect on Ukraine’s future.
In one twist of the plot, for example, it could lead to the president’s rethinking of his own long-term idea of turning Ukraine into a parliamentary republic, where the president is elected by the legislature. He simply can no longer trust the Rada to do as he wishes, even if he controls the nominal majority.
But implications of this campaign have a much greater scope than that. It’s the return of rules, starting with the parliament, where for years elected deputies thought they are above rules and laws.
Unfortunately, there is no guarantee that the opposition will hold out. But it’s delightful that they’re trying.
Kyiv Post editor Katya Gorchinskya can be reached at email@example.com.