Attention President Yushchenko: Here’s A Simple Test For Democracy!

Jul 8th, 2005 | By | Category: Access to information, Civic Actions, Right to Know, Ukraine

by Maidan Alliance

“Orange Democratic Revolution.” That’s how a part of the Ukrainian society – those people who supported Viktor Yushchenko in his fight against the regime of Kuchma and Yanukovych – calls the events of fall and winter 2004. The part of the Ukrainian society that opposed Yushchenko calls these same events “Orange Madness,” and believes that they were instigated, as well as financed, by the USA.

There is little doubt that those events were truly a revolution. Suffice it to say that we observed a turning point in the people’s mentality, a rejection by the Ukrainian society of the nepotistic, “clanish” and authoritarian principles that formed a foundation of the Ukrainian post-Soviet social structure. Yet, the question remains: is the new team, the team headed by President Yushchenko, the team whose rise to power was facilitated by the people who stood on the Maidan, ready to prove that the real results of that revolution are democratic in their character?

In his inaugural address of January 23, 2005, President Yushchenko stated that he saw Ukraine as a country where the law rules. He stressed that to liquidate corruption would remain one of his most important goals. He repeated essentially the same on April 6, when he was making a speech at a joint session of the two houses of the US legislature, adding that Ukraine must come up with “a new model of conduct of its authorities, one that makes authorities subservient to the citizenry and one that protects the citizens’ rights, the citizens’ constitutional freedoms.” Mr. Yushchenko summarized his speech as follows: “We want to have a people’s government, a government by the people and for the people.”

It is simply impossible not to welcome such great intentions, especially when they are expressed by a man who is credited as a highly trusted person. However, why are some Ukrainian activists from the human rights movement sounding the alarm, again?

The new Ukrainian government team talks about open society, and about transparency in the actions of our government. It insists on rejecting the “Kuchmist” system of power that relied on clans, nepotism and corruption and never held the government accountable to the people. Yet, a problem remains unsolved there, and the existence of this problem makes people skeptical when they hear this talk.

We are taxpayers, and we would like to know what our government is doing when it spends our money. How, then, are we supposed to react to a statement that the body of laws signed by our statesmen is merely information created through the fiscal support of the state budget and, therefore, a property of the state?

We are the people who are getting used to knowing our own rights and responsibilities, the people who are ready to defend our rights if they are infringed. How, then, are we supposed to react to a statement (made by the Ministry of Justice) that since laws are a property of the state, the state therefore has its own right to decide whether to make the content of these laws open to public, or not? But that’s exactly the opinion of the Ministry of Justice of Ukraine, whose head, Mr. Roman Zwarycz, is known as a person who got his education in the USA!

Finally, we are citizens who are getting used to the idea that law should be respected. How, then, are we supposed to react to the fact that our government officials of the highest rank blatantly ignore the law? But that’s exactly what is being done by high-positioned bureaucrats in the Secretariat of the President, and by high-positioned bureaucrats in the Cabinet of Ministers, and by high-positioned bureaucrats elsewhere.

Here are some facts. Leonid Kravchuk, the Chief Ideologist of the Communist Party turned the first President of Ukraine after it had become an independent state, issued, during his three-year tenure, 137 written administrative decisions in the form of secret memoranda that were never made public. Leonid Kuchma, who is often criticized for shaping his state bureaucracy into a kind of private semi secretive company with limited access, issued, during his 10-year tenure, 873 of such secret memoranda.

Now, Viktor Yushchenko, who is at the moment personifying all hopes of Ukrainians that their country will be some day “de-Kuchmified,” has already managed, since his inauguration in January 2005, to issue 41 such memoranda. His closest ally, the Heroine of the Orange Maidan revolution, the incumbent Prime Minister of Ukraine Yuliya Tymoshenko has issued 7 memoranda that remain completely hidden from the public (her predecessor, the unsuccessful presidential candidate Viktor Yanukovych, who held his position for 2 years, is credited for 101).

Please note that, apparently, these documents have nothing to do with state secrets, because neither the Ukrainian State Secret Law, nor any other laws that regulate classifying of information were ever cited by nameless bureaucrats who hide these documents.

The trend to issue secret documents or to classify information frivolously is not characteristic exclusively of the highest-ranking Ukrainian officials. Local officials demonstrate it, too.

Perhaps this can serve as an example of the ultimate absurdity (not to mention lack of any legality): on December 28 2002, the office of the Attorney General of Ukraine issued its famous Order Number 89, which makes it mandatory to classify “all reports about all calamities or accidents or any other events that caused human fatalities or serious material damage.” Do we want to continue like this?

No. Instead, human rights activists in Ukraine are joining their efforts under a motto: “Free human beings live in a free country.” To continue their fight for democracy and civil society, they have formed a new association, called “Maidan Alliance.” Some corporate members of this organization are the well-respected Kharkiv Human Rights Group, as well as the famous “Pora!” (“It’s Time!”) group, which served as a “street frontier” of the Orange Revolution.

Their demands are fairly simple. They want the illegal practice of classifying each and every law or state act to stop. Besides, they want all government documents that were made secret in earlier times, especially during the Kuchma regime, to be made public and to be scrutinized for potential gross conflicts with the acting laws.

The Maidan Alliance activists call the ongoing practice of classifying state acts “the gravitational center of corruption.” Meanwhile, they insist that they have no intention to discredit “their” President; rather, they want to help him break the odious system created by those whom he beat during the last elections.

It is hard to dismiss the statement that there is no open society without transparency of government, without this government fully informing taxpayers about its actions. Indeed, George Soros, a well-known international financial mogul, confirmed this when he recently visited Ukraine. And, of course, there is little doubt that the more complete and accessible is the information about a country’s acting laws, and the more law-obedient are the state officials of this country, the more attractive this country looks to international investors.

Those who initiated the campaign against the practice of illegal classifying of the state documents claim that their position is based on principles of legality as well as morality. They keep saying that they will have their way whatever it takes, even if it takes a legal trial. Paradoxically, if President Yushchenko loses this trial, – and there are no judicial grounds to expect the opposite, – then, he will in fact win as a carrier of Maidan ideas in whom the people put their trust. Then, we will have more proof that our Orange Revolution is truly democratic.

On July 7, a representative of Maidan Alliance filed his first formal lawsuit against the President of Ukraine. This was done after the President had failed to provide a mandatory reply to a request of information regarding terms of de-classifying the so-called “secret ordinances” of the government. If the Ukrainian powers-that-be continue to ignore legitimate questions from human rights activists, they run the risk of getting a surge of lawsuits from those who supported Yushchenko at polls and on the streets.

Speaking to the Congress of the USA, President Yushchenko said: “The great Pope John Paul the Second used to teach people that it is always difficult to walk down the road of truth, but it is never impossible to do so. As for us, we have embarked on that road, and we will never leave it.” We wish President Yushchenko to be consistent and impartial as he leads us down that road. And should anyone want to lead us down any other road, Maidan Alliance is poised to make that an impossibility.

Translated by George Pinchuk

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