Ukraine: Politics Overdose

On April 2, Ukrainian president Victor Yushchenko dissolved parliament and called early elections, but prime minister Victor Yanukovych and his allies disputed the president's authority to do so (see here and here for earlier Global Voices translations). This week, Yushchenko dismissed the newly reappointed prosecutor general, Svyatoslav Piskun, who is the prime minister's ally. Interior minister Vasyl Tsushko accused the president of usurping power, and riot police stormed the prosecutor general's office. Yushchenko responded by placing interior ministry troops under his direct command. Yanukovych condemned the president's order, and the interior ministry said it would defy it. After a day of confusion over who controlled the interior ministry's troops, Yushchenko ordered extra units to Kyiv, but most were stopped on the way to the capital by traffic police acting on behalf of the government.

The outcome of this highly complicated conflict is yet to be seen, but one thing seems clear: many Ukrainians, on whose behalf the politicians involved in the current feud claim to be acting, suffer from politics overdose (and from unusually hot weather).

Here's what two journalists of the Ukrainian weekly news magazine Korrespondent wrote about this political and climatic heat on their blogs (RUS) on May 25.

Vitaliy Sych, Korrespondent‘s editor-in-chief:

I've a feeling that our politicians and ourselves have turned into parallel realities. And that our paths no longer cross. That's it. It's over.

Here's what you see on TV: the parliament wants to impeach the president, the president wants to fire the premier, the Constitutional Court's judges have been accused of taking millions in bribes. You watch it and think: So what? It doesn't mean anything anymore. The amount of important political news has grown so huge that it has practically lost all value. If tomorrow they show on TV that the premier or the president strangled and then ate three infants, everyone will say: How amusing.

Ukrainian politics has turned into a TV soap opera that never leaves the screen and no longer has any effect on the people's lives.

Local businessmen have understood this too already. Upcoming elections used to freeze most significant projects for a year, but now no one pays attention to the elections anymore. They have become routine. Yesterday, I looked through the English-language newspaper Kyiv Post, where I worked once myself. Never before has Ukraine seen such an influx of foreign investors. We used to run an item on arrival of a big investor in the market once a month. Now, there are five or six every week. Even the international ranking agencies have stopped downgrading Ukraine in their economic forecasts.

You'd think that the events like this should cause anxiety. No. No one gives a damn.

That's it, politics has strayed away from the people.

But please tell me one thing: if I [leave the city] for an overnight barbeque tomorrow, will they let me back in if the emergency state is declared?

Olga Kryzhanovskaya, editor of Korrespondent‘s The Country section

Sleepy Kingdom

The country has found itself on the brink of emergency state, two of the three branches of power have basically become illegitimate. Amazing, but there is no sign of it in Kyiv. There's no tension in the air, people are calmly discussing their weekend plans, no one hurries to turn on the news. After two months of political confrontation, it looks like everyone has simply lost interest to what's going on up there on the top. Summer, heat, beer in the open air. To hell with all this politics. The economy is working, banks are giving out money, stores are giving out food, subway is giving out tokens. This creates an illusion of everything being okay, and the TV news about the storming of the prosecutor general's office resembles yet another Jackie Chan action movie. Wake up, people! A healthy cynicism towards politicians is good. But at some point it becomes dangerous to be apathetic and carefree. Think of 2004. What would have happened if thousands of people hadn't come out into the streets and taken control over the situation? If only 300 paid extras had gathered at Maidan, instead of 300,000 citizens, there would have been no round table and no compromise. And now, until we turn into citizens again, politicians would continue making empty sounds with their authority, instead of looking for a way out.

UPDATE: Several hours after this translation went up, Ukraine's leaders reached an agreement to hold an early election on September 30. According to president Yushchenko, the political crisis is over.


  • The authority of the President to dismiss Ukraine’s parliament has been challenged in Ukraine’s Constitutional Court amidst concern that the President’s actions are unconstitutional in that he has exceeded his authority to dismiss Ukraine’s democracticly parliament.

    An appeal against each of the president’s decrees has been lodged in the Constitutional Court.

    On April 19 the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe passed a resolution in consideration of a report titled Functioning of democratic institutions in Ukraine. (Items 13 and 14) stated:

    “ The Assembly deplores the fact that the judicial system of Ukraine has been systematically misused by other branches of power and that top officials do not execute the courts’ decisions, which is a sign of erosion of this crucial democratic institution. An independent and impartial judiciary is a precondition for the existence of a democratic society governed by the rule of law. Hence the urgent necessity to carry out comprehensive judicial reform, including through amendments to the constitution.

    The Assembly reiterates that the authority of the sole body responsible for constitutional justice – the Constitutional Court of Ukraine – should be guaranteed and respected. Any form of pressure on the judges is intolerable and should be investigated and criminally prosecuted. On the other hand, it is regrettable that in the eight months of its new full composition, the Constitutional Court has failed to produce judgments, thus failing to fulfil its constitutional role and to contribute to resolving the crisis in its earlier stages, which undermines the credibility of the court.

    There is an urgent need for all pending judgments, and in particular the judgment concerning the constitutionality of the Presidential Decree of 2 April 2007, to be delivered. If delivered, the latter should be accepted as binding by all sides.

    The associated explanatory report under the sub-heading of Pressure on the courts expressed concern that “Several local courts have made decisions to suspend the Presidential Decree only to then withdraw them, allegedly under pressure from the presidential secretariat.” (item 67) In emphasis the report (item 68) stated

    “This is a worrying tendency of legal nihilism that should not be tolerated. It is as clear as day that in a state governed by the rule of law judicial mistakes should be corrected through appeal procedures and not through threats or disciplinary sanctions ”

    On April 30, on the eve of the Constitutional Court’s ruling on the legality of the president’s decree dismissing Ukraine’s parliament, President Yushchenko, in defiance of the PACE resolution of April 19 intervened in the operation of Ukraine’s Constitutional Court by summarily dismissing two Constitutional Court Judges, Syuzanna Stanik and Valeriy Pshenychnyy, for allegations of “oath treason.” His move was later overturned by the Constitutional Court and the judges were returned by a temporary restraining order issued by the court.

    On May 16,Viktor Yushchenko, for a second time, issued another decree dismissing the two Constitutional Court Judges Syuzanna Stanik and Valeriy Pshenychnyy.

    On May 23, The Constitutional Court of Ukraine acted to prevent the president’s undue influence on the court system. The court’s ruling was made after Viktor Yushchenko unduly sought to influence the court by illegally firing two Constitutional Court judges Valeriy Pshenychnyy and Syuzanna Stanik for allegations of “oath treason.”.

    On July 20 Susanna Stanik won an appeal against the President in the Shevchenko district court of Kyiv. The Court ruled the President’s actions illegal and reinstated Ms Stanik’s entitlement as a member of Ukraine’s Constitutional Court. According to the ruling, the President is obliged to cancel his decree on discharge of Mrs. Stanik..” The other two judges who were also illegally dismissed had previously tendered their resignations and as such were not subject to the courts order.

    Following the president’s intervention the Constitutional Court still has not ruled on the question of legality of the president’s actions.

    Stepan Havrsh, the President’s appointee to the Constitutional Court, in prejudgment of the courts decision and without authorization from the Court itself, commented in an interview published on July 24

    “ I cannot imagine myself as the Constitutional Court in condition in which three political leaders signed a political/legal agreement on holding early elections, which also stipulates the constitutional basis for holding the elections… How the court can agree to consider such a petition under such conditions. ”

    Olexander Lavrynovych, Ukrainain Minister for Justice, in an interview published on Aug 3 is quoted as saying

    “ According to the standards of the Constitution and the laws of Ukraine, these elections should have been recognized invalid already today. But we understand that we speak about the State and about what will happen further in this country. As we’ve understood, political agreements substitute for the law, … The situation has been led to the limit, where there are no possibilities to follow all legal norms.

  • Judges may be either appointed or elected to office, and hold office for specified terms or for life. However they are chosen, it is vital that they be independent of the nation`s political authority to ensure their impartiality. Judges cannot be removed for trivial or merely political reasons, but only for serious crimes or misdeeds–and then only through a formal procedure, such as impeachment (the bringing of charges) and trial in the legislature. .

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