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Press release

Democracy watch 2012, issue 12

04-16-2012 09:20 PM CET | Politics, Law & Society

Press release from: People First Foundation

/ PR Agency: Whites Communication
As the weakened relationship with the EU reaches breaking point, Ukraine's regime blames local representative. With the media reduced to promotion only content, the cultural elite calls for a new national direction.

Manipulation takes over mass media
The gap between Ukraine’s reality and its television news reports is widening. This year has seen a steep drop in stories covering political developments, leaving the upcoming parliamentary elections nearly uncovered. Recent research from the Institute of Sociology of the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine, in cooperation with the Ukrainian media, reveals that today only 20% of television news stories are about politics. This is only slightly more coverage than that given to local road accidents (16%) and climate change (15%) whilst the strained relationship with Russia takes up 10%. Meanwhile, the 2012 parliamentary elections and the governmental reforms receive only 2% and 1% respectively(1).

The low amount of news about politics does not mean higher quality content: with the elections around the corner the number of paid-for stories in the media is growing. Such stories cover the life and activity of individual politicians. According to experts, there were two times more paid-for articles in printed press in December 2011 than there were in September 2011. A story on a leading Ukrainian TV channel costs between one and several thousand dollars, depending on the allegiance of the politician. However, the over proliferation of paid-for journalism has meant that nearly 70% of Ukrainians are capable of distinguishing between biased and honest content, according to recent research(2). As politicians spend more and more on personal propaganda its effects are working less and less.

People First Comment: Even in 2012 Internet penetration outside of Ukraine’s city hubs remains low, often rendering TV a near-exclusive source of information from beyond the village borders. For many, keeping appraised of political developments is a struggle against a media swamped with stories featuring either insurmountable global issues or local accidental tragedies; both of which seem to undermine the apparent relevance of local politics. Of the political news available, only 15% relates to the two most prominent issues effecting contemporary governance - the system-wide reforms and the upcoming parliamentary elections - whilst the remaining 85% covers issues which are, by design, emotionally provocative but politically inconsequential.

Such issues serve the purpose of distracting the public from genuine conflicts, (such as political corruption or the failing economy) whilst providing individual politicians with low-risk topics upon which to posture. With the political debate largely neutered, electability becomes predominantly a question of recognisability; with the chance to earn celebrity status points making paid-for media attention a worthwhile investment indeed.

Whilst it is encouraging that 70% of the population appear to be able to recognise a “sponsored” article, that does not mean they are impervious to its effects. With limited information resources available, individuals are pressed to find something they can associate themselves with; once they have done so, the only biased information they are likely to notice will be that coming from the other side. If ever there were need of a proof case for the principle ‘divide and conquer’, contemporary Ukraine would be a perfect fit. If democracy is to be achieved in post-Soviet states, then those capable of seeing through the divisive smokescreens must find new ways of reaching out to the remote and the bemused.

Europe approaches a final warning
The Ministers of Foreign Affairs of Sweden, Czech Republic, Great Britain, Germany and Poland have voiced their concern over the political situation in Ukraine by sending an open letter to the Ukrainian authorities. The European powers speak plainly that relations between Ukraine and the European Union have come to a dead-lock due to the actions of the Ukrainian authorities. As a result the chance of Ukraine signing the Association Agreement with EU has all but disappeared. Instead of becoming the first former USSR country to have an association agreement with the European Union, setting an example to other nations, Ukraine, with its violations of democratic rights, has blocked negotiations over the agreement until at least after the parliamentary elections in October. The European ministers also mentioned the "legal prosecutions" of opposition leaders, selective administration of justice and restriction of freedom of speech(3).

The Ukrainian government's initial reaction to the address of the European diplomats was very quiet indeed. When they did finally comment, they had somehow interpreted the letter a a sign that Europe is more willing than ever to promote Ukraine's integration. According to the press-secretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine, this critical letter proves that Ukraine belongs to the European family of nations, whilst the Ministry of Foreign Affairs assured that Ukraine has never given up on dialogue with EU over topical issues(4). Deputies from the Party of Regions responded to the statement of the diplomats more loudly, noting that the EU was trying to force their vision of internal policy onto Ukraine(5).

People First Comment: It should not take letters from the Ministers of Foreign Affairs of five leading European nations to convince the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine that this country is part of Europe… Geography, history and the nations own population will tell them that Ukraine is as much a part of Europe as the authors of the letter. What the MFA spin doctors have tried and failed to do is to deflect the seriousness and intent of the letter.

The letter, despite being written in diplomatic speak, is actually saying is that Europe is getting sick and tired of the regimes arrogance, lies and lack of respect for both it’s own people and the standards to which all European nations should adhere. This is a diplomatic way of saying that time is almost up and that soon Europe and probably all of the democratic nations of the world are going to start applying sanctions if the regime does not wake up to the needs and will of the people. There is an arrogance that is directly applicable to those that have unduly benefited from their position or abuse. They believe that their wealth enables them to do and to behave as they please. Sadly for them and luckily for the rest of the population history has a habit of returning usurpers to where they belong.

It will most likely start with either travel bans or expose’s of real wrong doing, it will be followed by the freezing of personal and business bank accounts and then move into applied sanctions such as steel and chemical exports, then the defence industries will be targeted and so on until the regime is literally ground to a halt. In response the regime might seek to cut energy supplies to Europe but this would have little effect in the summer months and would only enflame an already tense situation with Russia who would most likely simply pump more gas through the new Nord Stream and the Belarusian pipelines. Ukraine will be totally alone and the regime will only have its self to blame.

Cultural authorities call for new direction
Ukrainian religious, cultural and social activists have decided to initiate a moral revival in Ukraine. December 1st last year, the 20 years anniversary of the referendum in which 90% of Ukrainians voted for independence, the Heads of the Ukrainian Orthodox Churches of Kyiv and Moscow Patriarchates, as well as the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church encouraged the general public and intelligentsia of Ukraine to support a National round table aimed at finding a new direction for national development. This event has now been scheduled for the first half of April 2012. The national round table could become the first step in developing a new agenda for Ukraine. So it seems that in Ukraine it is up to Spiritual and cultural groups to find answers to the needs of the people and ways to overcome contemporary challenges and to develop a practical social strategy. The slogan of the December 1st Initiative was: "Free person in a free country"(6).

The event is designed to persuade each and every Ukrainian that a great deal of responsibility for the future hangs on them. The initiative was joined by 11 representatives of the Ukrainian intelligentsia, including: preachers, writers, economists, statesmen, doctors, historians and philosophers. They have decided to appeal to the general public, rather than the political elite. The national round table will also attempt to draw people closer to honest values (7).

Mykhaylo Chechetov, Deputy Head of the Party of Regions parliamentary fraction, commented by saying that only one person in Ukraine can decide on the future of Ukraine, and that is the President. He noted that "philosophers should be executing the Presidential 10 year programme with their sleeves rolled up"(8).

People First Comment: It’s about time… For the past twenty years the Churches of Ukraine have spent more time arguing over who should own the treasures of the past than ministering to the needs of the flock. However just as Paul was redeemed on the road to Damascus so the churches have recognised that all is not well and it is time for them to display the moral backbone that has been missing in Ukraine for so long. Ukrainians are, on the whole, a religious nation who, quite understandably, want to believe in a greater power than the regime. They want the church to display spiritual and cultural guidance as it is only out of a spiritual and cultured society that any meaningful political culture can emerge.

Clearly Party of Regions would not agree… their comments merely underline their real lack of democratic understanding as in a democracy the President is elected to serve the people, not the other way round. It is not the philosophers who need to role up their sleeves but the politicians most of whom have grown fat on the sweat and labours of the poor. At least the churches have recognised the reality of Ukraine today and are trying to do something about it. We can only wish them luck as divine intervention may be the only solution left.

Criticized Regime seeks to divert attention
The Ukrainian authorities are trying to shift the guilt for frosty relations with the EU onto someone else - they chose Jose Teixeira, Head of the EU Delegation to Ukraine. The reason behind the government's discontent with the main representative of Europe in Ukraine was been his comment about Yanukovych's failure to combat corruption and improve business conditions. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine issued a statement saying that Teixeira constantly gives evaluations of political events in Ukraine, instead of representing the EU's diplomatic interests. The Ministry has also complained on the tone of his statements and mentioned that Teixeira has been trying to engage in internal political processes in Ukraine. At the same time Kostyantyn Gryschenko, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Ukraine, stated that Teixeira's statements and relations with the Ukrainian opposition did not contravene diplomatic ethics (9).

The EU responded with a joint letter of support and solidarity signed by all European ambassadors in Ukraine – effectively approving of Teixeira's activity in Ukraine with one voice. Shortly before that Catherine Ashton, High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, stated that Teixeira has the full support of the EU behind him(10).

Having blocked relations with the EU right before the planned signing of the Association Agreement, the government of Ukraine is trying to avoid criticism in relation to the failing democratic development of Ukraine by shifting guilt to other people. It is no wonder that the EU has lost the desire to finance Ukrainian reforms, as reported by Kostyantyn Gryschenko(11).

People First Comment: The truth always hurts, especially to those who have either a guilty conscience or an inflated ego and this regime is full of both. The sad part is that the regime simply does not understand why the world does not love them. They wear the best suits, they display the best watches and they drive the best cars, they even believe that they are the new Ukrainian aristocracy and as such they should be treated like royalty. Alas nobody else thinks the same way. Power today is only respected if it is used to improve the lives of the people. The civilised world is simply not impressed by bling and wealth resulting from corruption and criminality. What impresses most are action, honesty and humility something this regime and its supporters clearly do not understand thus when an ambassador has the temerity to shatter their little dream world with a few home truths it is the regime that finds it the hardest to accept.

Quote of the week:
Freedom is when the people can speak, democracy is when the government listens.

Alastair Farrugia
Human rights activist

People First Foundation

1 Skovorody St 04070

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