In what world ranking of democracy does Ukraine score three of the top eight places?  As part of its end-year summary of the events of 2010, the respected British newspaper The Guardian recently published a picture gallery entitled “The Year in Parliamentary Punch-Ups”.   The piece features pictures from Italy, Turkey, Nigeria, Taiwan, Argentina and Ukraine.  Ukraine appears three times as often as any other country. 

Ukraine has an ugly tradition of physical violence in the Rada (parliament).  In my blog A bad day for Ukraine in September 2009 I noted the unfortunate habit of MPs of both main party groupings of blocking the rostrum to prevent the Rada working.  It was harder, I said, for Ukraine’s friends to make the case that this excellent country was moving towards the EU as a leader in democracy in the region when a bunch of burly MPs was blockading the rostrum or punching their opponents.  One of the most widespread international images of Ukraine in 2008 was a video of MPs fighting in the Rada, which appeared on international media channels alongside clips of tomato-throwing festivals in Spain and ugly dog competitions in California.  2010 was no better.

I’ve raised with leading figures of both main parties the damage such actions do Ukraine’s international image and European credentials.   They tend to respond with a “what can one do?” roll of the eyes, or with references to Ukraine’s young democracy.  These arguments are not convincing.  The leaders of Ukraine’s political parties are 100% capable of disciplining MPs who misbehave in the Rada; or of introducing sanctions, as in other parliaments, which will lead to MPs who do not obey the rules losing parliamentary privileges.  If they can ensure that in 2011 none of their MPs resort to blocking the rostrum or physical violence in the Rada, that will be a step forward for Ukrainian democracy.  If such behaviour continues we will have to assume that Ukraine’s leaders don’t really care about whether the Rada works properly – or how Ukraine’s democracy is perceived internationally.

Leigh Turner
British Ambassador to Ukraine

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Ukrayinska Dumka


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