The New Face Of Ukrainian Democracy Can Cost Ukraine EU Membership

NEW YORK, USA -- After a few years of quiet, Ukraine seems to be getting back into the spotlight. This time, however, not in a positive way.

Yulia Tymoshenko

The West condemns Ukraine for jailing former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko and Interior Minister Yury Lutsenko without a fair trial.

Tymoshenko is nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.

By showing their criticism, the US and Europe have made it clear that an Eastern European country of such great potential for European integration is not taking democratic values seriously.

For the first time since Ukraine has become independent there is a loud political case that likely classifies as a human rights issue.

Former prime minister of Ukraine, Yulia Tymoshenko, a popular Ukrainian politician, internationally recognized for her signature braid even by those who don’t care about politics, has been forced out of the Ukrainian political scene.

She is serving a seven-year sentence in a Ukrainian prison colony for overstepping her authority while negotiating a gas contract with Russia.

Her subordinate Lutsenko has also been charged for abuse of office and embezzlement.

How did it happen that Tymoshenko was thrown in prison?

She was the only strong opponent to the current president of Ukraine.

Back in 2005, after the Orange Revolution, Tymoshenko became the prime minister of Ukraine and later lost the presidential elections to Viktor Yanukovych in 2010.

Her 2011 sentence went hand in hand with a three-year ban on holding public office.

Tymoshenko was accused of abuse of office while negotiating the price of natural gas with Russia and the veteran politician denied any wrongdoing, declaring the accusations and the verdict politically motivated.

Now, Tymoshenko’s case is in the European Court of Human Rights, where her hearing will be given priority treatment in view of the serious and sensitive nature of the allegations raised.

In Ukraine, Tymoshenko is not exactly perceived as a heroine by all Ukrainian people.

But the disapproving remarks from European officials and her nomination for the Nobel Peace Prize — among candidates such as Bill Clinton and Helmut Kohl — give her the official status of a “face of democracy” and a “political prisoner.”

It looks like Ukraine shows a fundamental misunderstanding of what it means to be part of the European Union.

Ukraine’s Foreign Ministry hopes that the country’s Association Agreement with the European Union would move forward, despite Western criticism.

However, at a recent hearing at the US State Committee on Foreign Relations “Ukraine at a Crossroads: Whats at Stake for the U.S. and Europe?” it was stated that while the Ukrainian government focuses on technical negotiations with the EU, it demonstrates lack of comprehension of what it means to become part of Europe.

While it might seem that the current president, Viktor Yanukovych, has made more progress in his negotiations with the EU than his predecessors, it wouldn’t fool people in the West who follow the case.

The Ukrainian government has shown an unwillingness to understand the connection between technical issues and value issues, shared norms based on human rights law and democracy.

This also matters for investment and business companies, that get scared away by the manipulation of the judicial system, complex tax regulation and raises the question of whether it’s the right business environment for American and other western companies to branch out.

When the news about the Nobel Peace Prize nomination came out, Ukraine had a mixed reaction: supporters of Tymoshenko became more confident in their hope that she’d be freed and would continue to fight her opponents, while some members of the ruling Party of Regions called the nomination a joke.

In their opinion – which many Ukrainians might support – Tymoshenko’s gas contracts with Russia endangered the Ukrainian economy and essentially affected the wallets of average Ukrainian citizens.

Non-political Ukrainians openly say that if Tymoshenko had won in 2010, she, too would have imprisoned Yanukovych for one reason or another.

The idea that she was sued for corruption, by a government that is not exactly honest itself, seems to be a prevalent perspective.

During the presidential elections in Ukraine in 2010 the country was divided between the current president, Viktor Yanukovych, and his opponent Tymoshenko, and even though there was a great deal of mistrust towards both candidates, Yanukovych, as the most familiar and predictable, prevailed.

Ambitious, materialistic, aiming for the highest leadership positions in politics, unstoppable Tymoshenko seemed too scary for average Ukrainians.

She couldn’t convince the Ukrainian majority that she cared about the country more than she cared about her political career.

Whatever happened within Ukraine has became larger than just another political battle in a country that is still struggling to find its way out of the post-Soviet chaos.

Ukraine is anticipating an Association Agreement with the EU but, moving towards the full membership largely depends on the legal situation surrounding Tymoshenko.

After all, even if she doesn’t get the Nobel Peace Prize, in western eyes she is the face of Ukrainian democracy.

At the moment, anyway.

Source: Forbes