former President Victor Yushchenko has clout.
Is it because his Wall Street Journal piece (Aug. 23 “Ukraine’s democracy hasn’t
come of age”)
supports Russia’s imperial goals? Or, is he a gofer for President Victor Yanukovych,
by downplaying the current leader’s illegal incarceration of opposition leaders
while calling on the European Union to grant Ukraine a free trade and
association agreement? These are issues
dear to the president’s heart and he buys American advisers’ know-how to get his
message to decision makers.
is at stake. Either the EU signs and in
so doing abandons incarcerated opposition leaders, or it stands firm and upholds
democracy. Yushchenko does not seem to want the latter. His writing helps to deliver a win-win for
The EU should not listen. Here’s why.
The WSJ piece, Yushchenko
hails his own democratic achievements–dubious to many– while condoning the
incarceration of his former prime minister, Yulia Tymoshenko, and warns that
non-signing of the agreement because of her has “serious consequences.” This is
true. But first things first. Europe’s reluctance to sign stems from the president’s
actions. His disregard for his country’s Constitution and laws are criticized
by most of the free world. Yushchenko fails to say that and though silence legitimizes
the president’s behavior.
Were Yushchenko the democrat he claims to be, he
might have written the piece differently. He might have pointed, for instance, to the astounding
accumulation of wealth by the Yanukovych family; his son’s meteoric rise to
power, and that of his chums; the president’s personal palatial estate
constructed at the state’s expense. But
then, Yushchenko is no stranger to cronyism.
He and his family still reside in the official presidential palace.
democrat taking advantage of the West’s free media might contrast it with the
situation in Ukraine, where journalists are bought-off or intimidated by violence
or even death. This week, the last independent television station, TVi has been dropped by major cable providers. Its editor-in-chief, Vitaliy Portnikov, may be in danger. Other stations
are controlled by the government. Many
fear the Internet is next.
Furthermore, Yushchenko the democrat would have
warned that there’s little hope for change under the current regime as the
judicial system is corrupt and parliament is a joke. Laws are passed by absentee deputies whose
interest in being there is the immunity from prosecution it provides, or to
favor Russia’s demands. The handover of
internal security and defense demonstrate this amply. In short, the political system in Ukraine is
corrupt, dysfunctional; even seditious.
It serves the politicians not the people, and Russia rather than
The Wall Street Journal article deals with none
of this. Instead, the author is up to his elbows supporting the president’s
agenda to pacify global anti-Yanukovych criticisms and capture some of Ukraine’s
pro-West votes by discrediting Tymoshenko, Ukraine’s key symbol of resistance.
This, in turn, is meant to undermine the United Opposition, the party that can
break the stranglehold the president has on Ukraine during the Oct. 28 election.
Yushchenko’s own party, dressed
up to look pro-West, may have the same purpose. Recently, it joined another habitual loser,
Yuriy Kostenko, whose key contribution to Ukraine’s politics–starting with
Vyacheslav Chornovil, the legendary late Rukh leader of the 1990s — has been
to fracture the opposition. Their party has
no prospect of reaching the 5 percent threshold of voter support needed to
enter parliament, but it can draw votes away from the opposition. This could tip
the balance in favor of the Party of Regions. With the Communists getting 8
percent support, the leading parties are neck-in-neck in the polls. However, with some 30 percent of Ukraine’s
electorate is uncommitted, Yanukovych is seeking support wherever he can get
Many mistrust politicians–
no small thanks to Yushchenko’s betrayal of the 2004 Orange Revolution that
brought him to power. Others, however, are loath to give up on him.
The Congress of
Ukrainian Nationalists, historically a feisty fighter of foreign imperialism, has
joined his fold and still considers him to be the champion of Ukraine’s nationalism–read
World War II symbolism — rather than one who uses them to serve his ends. Yushchenko’s
piece in the The Wall Street Journal provides comfort to such supporters and
seeds doubts about the value of voting for the United Opposition when
Yushchenko’s party seems closer to their hearts. How ironic that the very symbols of freedom
for which so many perished in battle and in the Gulag are now being used to lure
supporters away from Ukraine’s independence.
The battle is intense. If Ukraine’s next parliament is formed by the
Party of Regions, there is good reason to fear that it will lead to further dismantling
of democracy and integration with Russia.
No wonder many call Yushchenko Judas Iscariot.
Not a noble choice, Wall
Bashuk Hepburn is a former director of the Canadian Human Rights Commission.