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Ukrainian president and European values

By YURIY LUKANOV, UPI Outside View Commentator   |   Sept. 12, 2013 at 12:06 AM   |   Comments

KIEV, Ukraine, Sept. 12 (UPI) -- When Viktor Yanukovych was elected president three years ago a lot of Ukrainians hoped that he had changed and become more democratically minded. Ukrainians believed that after coming to power Yanukovych wanted to put this image behind him and respect the constitution and laws.

They were completely wrong.

Yanukovych has shown himself to be more Soviet than European with no respect for private property, human rights, the rule of law and democratic values in general. This view of the world is made doubly worse by the influence of his past twice imprisonment in Soviet Union, which explains the appearance of aggressiveness toward political opponents, journalists and civil society.

Why then should the European Union extend its Association Agreement to Yanukovych at its Sept. 20 meeting that will decide the European Union's course of action at the summit of the Eastern Partnership to be held in two months' time in Lithuania?

Since coming to power, Yanukovych has demonstrably shown that European democratic values have little meaning for him and only repeats democratic rhetoric when talking to the European Union or to his voters while at the same time purposefully undermining them.

Yanukovych increasingly resembles the last long-term Soviet Ukrainian leader Vladimir Shcherbytsky, who was a member of Leonid Brezhnev's so-called Dnipropetrovsk mafia during the 1970s and first half of the 1980s. Shcherbytsky -- like Yanukovych today -- presided over an "era of stagnation" in economic reform, undertook political repression and suppressed media and cultural freedom.

Both Shcherbytsky and Yanukovych installed people from their home region into every high-level position. Of the 23 Cabinet positions nine are from Yanukovych's home base of Donetsk, including the prime minister and his first deputy. Chairmen of Parliament, Constitutional Court and Security Service, the prosecutor-general and his deputy are also from Donetsk as are 90 percent of regional governors.

Yanukovych's Soviet approach to running Ukraine is reflected in his penchant for a complete monopolization of power. In his first year in office he coerced and bribed the Constitutional Court to return Ukraine to a presidential system, transformed Parliament into a rubber-stamp institution through buying up of opposition deputies and introduced legal "reforms" that placed the judicial system under executive control.

The current Ukrainian Parliament has become a modern-day version of the Supreme Soviet of the Soviet era. The opposition has little voice because proposed changes and draft legislation are either snubbed or they are bribed to join the pro-presidential coalition.

Legislation is adopted by "piano-voting"; that is, Party of Regions and Communist deputies vote for multiple colleagues. Meanwhile, as in Soviet times, the Party of Regions faction leader raises his hand and those who are present vote unanimously.

That Ukraine no longer has an independent judicial system was clearly demonstrated by the farcical trials of opposition leaders Yulia Tymoshenko and Yuriy Lutsenko.

Tymoshenko, who was sentenced in October 2011 to seven years in prison and banned from public office for three years, was convicted with massive infringements of the rule of law by two articles still in place from the 1961 Soviet criminal code.

Journalists are increasingly turning to the Independent Media Trade Union for protection from physical attacks and surveillance by the security service and police, who, just this month, were collecting intelligence on myself.

Civil society activists, such as the Femen gender movement and Road Control that monitors police corruption, have suffered from horrific beatings by pro-regime skinheads with ties to organized crime.

In a highly corrupt country such as Ukraine the very idea that, of 15 Ukrainian governments since 1991, only a government led by Tymoshenko is guilty of "abuse of office" is of course unbelievable. Especially at a time when corruption and corporate raiding is growing on a massive scale giving Ukraine, the Heritage Foundation says, the worst business climate in Europe.

This is most vividly seen in the expansion of what have been described as "The Family" -- a new clan originating from his home region of Donetsk that is rapaciously expanding his assets at the expense of other businesses and oligarchs who have lost favor with the president.

Yanukovych's eldest son, Oleksandr, a dentist by profession, entered Ukraine's top 100 wealthiest only a year after his father came to power and the All-Ukrainian Development Bank that his son owns has expanded 13-fold.

By imprisoning Tymoshenko on trumped up charges coupled with his unwillingness to not permit her to travel to Germany for medical treatment, Yanukovych has shown he is a Homo Sovieticus representative of the past and the major obstacle to Ukraine's integration into Europe.

The onus is on Yanukovych to prove he is a European by releasing Tymoshenko and permitting her to participate in elections and until then the European Union should not provide Ukraine with an Association Agreement.

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(Yuriy Lukanov is chairman of the Independent Media Trade Union of Ukraine and a well-known freelance commentator and documentary film maker on Ukrainian politics.)

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(United Press International's "Outside View" commentaries are written by outside contributors who specialize in a variety of important issues. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of United Press International. In the interests of creating an open forum, original submissions are invited.)

© 2013 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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