A couple of years ago, yours truly engaged in a long debate with a famous politician. I tried to persuade him that the only tangible achievement of the “orange revolution” was enhanced freedom of speech, and the “orange” authorities could hardly be given sole credit for it. My opponent disagreed. In his opinion, the “orange revolution” also brought more political freedom. “Times have changed, – the minister argued – People are no longer made to join political parties, punished for ideological disagreement; judges do not rule on instructions from the top. Of course, there are problems: silent slaves in political organizations have given way to verbose climbers; the “telephone right” in courts was replaced with unmanageable corruption and prosecutors’ unjustifiable brutality – with inexcusable cowardice. Yet the prosecution of dissent has ceased to be part of public policy, I hope, for good, because people no longer fear the powers that be. On the contrary, those in power are afraid of people who have overcome their own indifference.”
The politician’s name is Yuriy Lutsenko. As today, then he chaired the Ministry of Interior. However, if we resumed our dispute, I think he would have far fewer arguments and less enthusiasm.
Subject to several criminal investigations, Yuriy Lutsenko complains of the authorities’ non-transparence. He argues that even Kuchma of the “Medvedchuk” period was more accessible than Yushchenko of the “Baloha” period. The “orange revolution” veterans either hint at or openly speak of the restoration of “Kuchmism”, of blackmail, of being forced into dubious political projects like the “broad coalition”.
Not long ago every political force had its “own” court and its “own” deputy prosecutor general. Idealists were indignant but admitted that “competitive corruption” was better than legalized political inquisition.
Now the situation has changed. The epoch of “quazi-democracy” is over. People in the know affirm that the administration has established (or shall I say “restored?”) total control over the judiciary and law enforcement. Recently, no important judgement can be passed without authorization from the Presidential Secretariat. Access to justice has been monopolized. The only license to use it has been issued to the blue-and-white. In exchange for their loyalty, I wonder?
Direct analogies with President Kuchma’s rule are lame and inaccurate. Circumstances, morals and manners have changed.
The Prime Minister publicly announced the other day that repressions had been launched in the country. Some will say it is an overstatement but the Premier’s statement is not devoid of substance, and of sincerity. People who know her well noticed fear in her eyes, which was not there even during the “Ukraine without Kuchma” campaign. The same fear shines through Yuriy Lutsenko’s words, his natural courage fighting with the instinct of self-preservation.
Can the latest developments be qualified as repressions rather than attempts to establish law and order? Probably, yes. According to experts, in the Zhvaniya, Syvulsky and Portnov cases there are circumstances incapacitating their continuation in principle. Those are available court decisions in these persons’ favour, and limitation of action. If it is so, what is the new punitive campaign if not combating dissent?
We are not in the position to judge if Lutsenko broke the law. A high-ranking official undoubtedly cannot afford to start fistfight. Nor can a minister use office cars for personal needs (although in the Lutsenko case no compelling evidence thereof has been produced as yet). So is the top police chief villain of the place? Have Ukrainian officials of all stripes and ranks stopped stealing and taking bribes? Or does their loyalty to those at the top shield them like in the old times? The ones who have taken a faux pas get a chance to publicly recant, as ill-starred traveler Rudkovsky did. According to our sources, the Head of the Presidential Secretariat demanded that Lutsenko follow suit…
The major difference between the present and past repressions is the targeted persons and timing. Leonid Kuchma was cruel but honest, in his way. He hit the opponents to keep allies alert. Viktor Yushchenko is not like him. He targets his allies (at least, in formal terms), the core of the so-called “democratic coalition”, so vehemently promoted by the President in public on every occasion.
Kuchma was no stranger to gratitude. Yushchenko seems to be patently devoid of it. It is common knowledge that David Zhvaniya funded Yushchenko’s political force in the hardest times, when most politicians and business persons ran away from the future president as if he were plague-stricken. Whatever one might think of such a controversial character as Zhvaniya, didn’t he give refuge to Yushchenko and his family when they needed it badly?
A lot has been, and is being said about distrust and animosity between Yushchenko and Tymoshenko. Yet wasn’t it Tymoshenko who urged Yushchenko forward to the Maidan when the revolution was in crisis and its formal leader in hiding?
Wasn’t Lutsenko one of those who brought Yushchenko to power in 2005, and his disintegrating political force to parliament in 2008?
You might say the law should equally apply to all, and you will be right. Yet do you remember what the falsification case ended in? In nothing, although the massive organized vote rigging allowed Viktor Yushchenko to challenge the second-tour election results and get elected in the repeat run-off. If there was no gross falsification, is Viktor Yushchenko’s presidency legitimate?
We do not call for witch-hunting. If the competent law enforcement authorities have found no incriminating evidence against Kyvalov, Rizak, Kolesnikov, etc, so be it. However it is strange that these competent law enforcement authorities demonstrate much less zeal in investigating the Bakay, Bodelan or Bilokon cases than the cases of those who stood shoulder-to-shoulder with the President on Maidan. Is the law applied equally to all indeed?
Why has the issue of Zhvaniya’s citizenship been brought to the fore today? Why was Lutsenko’s conduct re-qualified in the case of the tiff at the NSDC meeting? Why has Tymoshenko become a key witness in the case of Yushchenko’s poisoning? Why does she have to spend hours in the General Prosecutor’s Office giving testimony? Isn’t all of the above linked directly to the recent statements and actions of the above persons? If yes, what is it other than repressions?
The intensifying punitive campaign has become possible due to the selection and official positioning of ideologists and executors (and this is its second major difference from personnel purges under the previous president). I have no illusions whatsoever about Kuchma’s judges, prosecutors, police chiefs, etc. Yet most of them were guided by their understanding of esprit de corps, professional dignity and business ethics. You can call those principles whatever you like: defective, Soviet-style, clannish. Yet they existed and were observed, at least by the majority of the former uniformed officials.
The post-Maidan personnel policy triggered a massive drain of professional cadres from these structures. Those who come in their stead are young, daring and cynical. They recognize neither authority nor rules. Their unscrupulousness is close to an absolute.
Experts are concerned over the rapidly deteriorating professional knowledge and skills of major investigators and the fast decrease in their number. Does it mean their services are no longer required? Why? What are major investigators needed for, given that a whole bunch of them were assigned to Yuriy Lutsenko’s case about award guns? Was it the gravest wrongdoing in the country (which, notably, collapsed in court)?
Am I laying it on thick? Maybe. Yet it is better to get united at the idle threat of shooting than allow a real execution. The process has not become irreversible yet.
However, there is a high risk of reaching the point of no return soon. And this is the third major difference between the punitive policy of the incumbent and the toppled regimes. Not only has the repressive philosophy changed but also the essence of what lets the regime get away with those repressions, namely the public’s indifference. Whereas earlier it stemmed from people’s fear of the system, nowadays it is rooted in their inability to fear. Nothing touches us anymore: we are not afraid of threats, not astounded with exposures, not enraged with scandal. We have developed immunity to slander, lost trust and faith. And there is no one in sight to reinvigorate them in us.
Our multicoloured idols have been uncrowned by one another and by themselves. We have got sick and tired of them. We have no respect for them because they have wasted our respect by awarding orders to Potebenko, diplomas to Kyvalov, titles to Kirkorov; by bickering in political institutions. Moreover, they have undermined our respect for the state. What kind of country is it where political allies will not let the president make a speech in Parliament? What kind of country is it where the mayor of the capital city and a minister are ready to punch each other’s faces in their colleagues’ presence? What kind of country is it where a minister – an authorized representative of his nation – is urged to interrupt an official foreign visit so that the prosecution could question him?
Do such a state and such politicians deserve to be respected?
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