Democracy Watch, 2011 - Issue 17
The good, the bad and the imaginary enemies of Ukrainian media
The National Union of Journalists of Ukraine put Yan Tabachnyk, a deputy from the Party of Regions, at the top of a list of government officials and media owners actively repressing journalists' rights after his allegedly spurious allegations that all Ukrainian journalists only write made-to-order articles, in a comment in a popular TV show. The second spot on the list went to Mohammed Zahour, owner of "ISTIL Group" and "Kyiv Post", for his decision to fire Brian Bonner, editor in chief of Kyiv Post, and in recognition of the subsequent strike of the newspaper's team. (Since retracted)
The Institute of Mass Media and the Kyiv Independent Media Trade Union have presented the anti-rating "Enemies of the Press 2010" with President leading the list.
Representatives of these organisations explained that in 2010 the presidential guard repeatedly prevented journalists from performing their professional duties, and criticisms of the president were forcefully withdrawn from broadcasts. Prime Minister Mykola Azarov came in behind the President as a close second . Pro-government journalist Vyacheslav Pikhovshyk referred to this rating as a "special forces raid against Yanukovych" intended to position the president as the "the number one enemy of the press". At the same time the President has officially requested that journalists report actual examples of interference by the authorities, promising to respond to them. He also expressed his desire to enter into an honest dialogue with the press.
Perhaps journalists taking it upon themselves to advocate the right to free speech would achieve more through efforts to establish an effective dialogue with the President – rather than focusing purely on divisive criticism.
People First Comment:
The plight of the media in Ukraine can best be summed up by the bravery and honesty of the now former head of the Meteorological department of National Radio, Lyudmyla Sachenko who put her career on the line by expressing her personal opinion on the current national environment in the middle of the weather forecast. On May 12 during a live broadcast Lyudmyla started talking about the weather in terms of the beauty of nature. “You cannot be indifferent to this beauty which is summarized by the gentle smell of lilacs and lilies of the valley and the melodic warble of birds. Sometimes it seems that nature presents us such wonderful days as a compensation for the mess, lawlessness and injustice which are taking place in our country. It is unimaginable how one cannot love this heavenly spot, this country and our Ukrainian people. How one can treat them so cruelly …?” she added.(1)
National Radio terminated her employment and will now use recorded forecasts using only state approved texts… but still the authorities claim there is no censorship in Ukraine. As for the journalists they should follow the example of journalists the world over by forming a strong union where an attack on one is an attack on all which could easily provide grounds for a national media strike.
Unfortunately, the political culture of the Ukrainian opposition has long since stopped surprising European politicians where egoism and narcissism have replaced policy and constructive dialogue. The press will find little comfort here as what the opposition say and do whilst in opposition is rarely reflected when in office.
Brain and muscle drains out of Ukraine
Economic and social difficulties have been named as the main causes of Ukraine’s haemorrhaging of workforce – an issue that primarily benefits Russian industry. According to Sergey Tigipko, Vice Prime Minister of Ukraine and Minister of Social Policy, only 10% of the approximate 3.5 million Ukrainians working in over the border in Russia are legally employed.
As a result the Russian Federation finds itself able to combat the deficit of skilled labour force, however the impact on Ukrainian human resources is yet to be fully understood. Thus it remains to be seen how Ukraine will compensate for this loss of qualified and efficient national assets.
This year has seen unemployment rise to over the 1 million persons mark. Yet statistics show up to 500 thousand open job vacancies due to a lack of qualified specialists. The Ministry of Social Policy predicts that the deficit of labour force may climb up to 1.5-2 million within the next couple of years. The latest research by the World Bank, which places Ukraine in the top 5 countries in the world’s by highest emigration rate, comes as now surprise considering that 6.6 million Ukrainian citizens now work abroad. Even if the authorities rectify the crippled national economy the serious deficit of skilled labourers may have irreparable impact on the future prosperity of the nation.
Thus, whilst all agree that a focus on new business and new jobs are a much need step forward, action must be taken immediately in the social sphere if Ukraine is to retain a sufficient volume of skilled workers to sustain a economically viable future.
People First Comment:
75% of the Ukrainian population live in relative poverty, 12.5 million live in actual poverty therefore is it really any surprise that so many have chosen to leave. In 2004 the Ukrainian diaspora community world wide was estimated at 20 million(2). Add to that the 6.6million that are estimated to have left in the past decades and it won’t be long before there will be more Ukrainian’s living outside Ukraine than left at home. Economic migration is a natural phenomenon, thousands try to enter the EU from Africa every year, 25,000 have already landed in Italy from Tunisia and Libya whilst millions of Mexicans and South Americans have migrated North all in search of a better life.
What is ironic is that many of those who choose to live as illegal economic migrants have more rights and a higher standard of living than they would have had by staying in Ukraine. Put bluntly Ukraine’s most expensive export at present isn’t steel or coal or chemicals, it’s people… it’s Ukrainian brains… it’s Ukraine’s tomorrow. Ukrainian workers qualify as some of the best in the world as they are well educated, highly skilled and very hard working and hence very much in demand. Ukraine already has over half a million vacancies for skilled workers but who in their right mind would want to come and live in today’s Ukraine where the GDP is third world, salaries are pitiful, prices are sky high and human rights are a figment of political imagination.
(2)World Ukrainian Congress
Is authoritarianism avoidable?
Ukrainian’s shift towards authoritarianism has been identified by several international non-governmental organisations. A 2010 report from the watchdog ‘Freedom house’ noted that Ukraine’s democracy is diminishing allowing a slide towards authoritarianism and kleptocracy. It also reported that Yanukovych’s administration has the capability to combat the anti-democratic trend but identified the interference of the security service in internal political affairs as a cause of great concern. The Ukrainian World Congress, which represents 32 Ukrainian organisations and the interests of over 20 million people, warned of the international backlash should authoritarianism take hold in Ukraine. The provocation for this statement being a recent government order: that every flagpole that bears a Ukrainian flag on victory day, May 9th, must also bear a red soviet flag as well.
Ukraine observers often refer to Yanukovych as a follower of Russian style in politics. This is however erroneous. Both leaders are as different in character and psychological make-up as Ukrainians are different from Russians. Although, this far from rules out the possibility of an authoritarian future for Ukraine. In truth there are few other options; the country may fracture into feudalism as local and central leaders abandon the rule of law, opting instead for an imposed Orwellian model of rule of the elite over a perpetually impoverished serfdom.
The least bleak option for this resource and culture rich nation is an evolution, sparked at grassroots level, into a fully democratic European state to mutual benefit of the people and the region.
People First Comment:
It doesn’t take a report from Freedom House to demonstrate that Ukraine is sliding back into the autocratic atmosphere of the past. You can feel it in the air. You can see it on the faces of the people in the café’s and bars. Less than a year ago politics was the subject of open public discussion. Now it is the subject of whispers and hushed tones. Where once there was frank debate, fear has returned and caution is the watch word.
Whether this has been a result of government policy and a lack of opposition or of the public perception of policy is a semantic argument as the facts speak for themselves. The people of Ukraine no longer feel free and this is influencing the whole way they live their lives. Quite what this ‘fear’ was supposed to achieve is questionable as there can be no political or social gain for those in power. They will be despised all the more and not just for the blindness of their policies but for the fact that it is one thing to be born into an authoritarian system, it is another to have your freedom stolen and replaced by a fear that serves only the interests of a self styled elite few, whether they are already at power or belong to the equally power-hungry opposition.
What inspires Ukrainians to take to the streets?
The conservative ethos and compulsion to take to the streets is on the rise in Ukraine, as shown by the research of the Razumkov Centre in April. 53.9% of respondents state that if living conditions grow significantly worse they will have to publically protest. However, a further 22.8% are wiling to endure financial hardship for the sake of peace and order in Ukraine. Of those willing to protest, social and economic issue provide the primary motivation. 42.5% of those in favour of protest would do so in the event of a significant rise in the price of consumer goods; 34.2% in the case of withheld wages; 29.2% for reduced wages and 26.9% for large-scale job cuts. However, at the current time 70.3% of respondents would not be prepared to take part in public protest, despite significant dissatisfaction with government policy in a number of areas. This could be due either to an inherent placidity in Ukrainian nature, or to the belief that public protest will avail no substantial result.
The geographical spread of motivation to protest, as measured by the sociological group ‘RATING’, shows a western bias with 52%, with the northern and central regions following with 45% and 43% respectively. Other less potent motivators for protest include: an increase in the retirement age 18%, introduction of fee based medical care 14%, raised allowances for deputies 13%, roll back of democracy 9% and violations of human rights and freedoms 8%.
Thus if the governing powers are interested in preserving civil order a renewed commitment and measureable delivery in the social sphere may be the only option.
People First Comment:
In the 1790’s the then Queen of France, Marie Antoinette asked of her advisors why the peasants were protesting at the gates of Versailles… “They have no bread madam… then let them eat ‘cake’ she responded”. Her blind arrogance and that of the whole royal court cost most of them their lives under madam guillotine.
Ukrainian politicians would do well to note the record of history as Egypt, Tunisia, Syria and Yemen may be the headlines of today but they are only examples of the fact that pushed too far peoples, the world over will react. Mubarak may have commanded the largest army in Africa but today he and his family face justice. History also shows that all authoritarian regimes fall and most are ejected by disgruntled populations. These numbers are indeed a cause for concern as public descent is the fuel of revolution not the spark that ignites it and it only takes one spark.
The biggest problem of political choice for the people is the absence of choice. As of today Ukraine has no new politicians or political parties that offer anything new thus falling into chaos may become inevitable.
Quote of the week:
This country, with its institutions, belongs to the people who inhabit it. Whenever they shall grow weary of the existing government, they can exercise their constitutional right of amending it, or exercise their revolutionary right to overthrow it.
The 16th President of the United States (1861-1865)
Democracy Watch is the weekly monitor of the People First Foundation and serves to raise public awareness of how government and parliamentary action is impacting upon Ukrainian democracy and democratic due process. The information is copyright free and may be reproduced but we ask that any comments are reproduced in full and with reference to the People First Foundation.
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