Following publication of their 2012 "Freedom in the World" summary report (click here for our earlier news item), Freedom House, a leading independent democracy and human rights monitoring organisation, has published individual country reports, including a report on Ukraine.

The report makes for disturbing and shameful reading in its analysis of Ukraine's progress towards freedom and democracy in 2011:

"During 2011, President Viktor Yanukovych’s administration systematically sought to eliminate opposition to the ruling Party of the Regions. Former prime minister Yuliya Tymoshenko, Yanukovych’s main political opponent, was convicted of abuse of power in October and jailed. In addition, the authorities increased restrictions on peaceful assembly, media outlets, opposition organizations, and private businesses. A number of political prisoners remained behind bars, and there were increased reports of police torture and the use of psychiatry for political repression. The government revised the electoral law to improve its chances in the 2012 parliamentary elections, while rampant corruption gave incumbents a strong incentive to retain power and avoid possible prosecution by their successors."

The report contains a damning evaluation of Ukraine's political system: presidential domination of the political system, including sweeping powers over the judiciary, police and political appointments; systematic elimination of political opposition; corruption at all levels of the administration; financial benefits to magnates through political associations and, most worryingly for Ukraine's democratic future, the lack of clear ideologies and policies of opposition parties, which are "...typically little more than vehicles for their leaders and financial backers..."

As if this was not enough, the report pulls no punches in its description of media harassment and intimidation; pressures on academic freedom - with budget cuts concentrated on schools with liberal reputations and in the west of Ukraine; an increasing number of court orders banning peaceful political protest; more protests being broken up by force: information being collected on protest organisers;and discrimination against the Romany minority, gays and lesbians and women, with equality not seen as a political priority.

There are some positive aspects which are worth highlighting, particularly on civil organisations and their continued activities:

"Despite an increasing number of hooligan gangs that intimidate and destroy the property of anyone who supports the opposition, civic activism seems to be on the rise. Intellectuals, students, and Ukrainian speakers are mobilizing against Tabachnyk’s policies; the women’s organization Femen has drawn attention to corruption and social injustice; entrepreneurs are rallying against economic stagnation and the government’s tax policies; veterans have protested cuts to their benefits; journalists have protested crackdowns on the media; a new leftist movement is emerging in Kyiv; and teachers have protested budget cuts."

In the first quarter of 2012, there is no indication that the Yanukovych government is making serious efforts to reverse the trend of 2011 and take concerted steps towards European standards of democracy, human and civil rights. Neither does it appear that opposition parties are able to move away from the cult of the individual towards coherent programmes and strategies that will give the Ukrainian people a real political alternative. Perhaps Ukrainians need to look to the civil organisations to express their concerns and create a grassroots movement that will provide an impetus for real and lasting change.


Ukrayinska Dumka


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