Notes of a participant

V. Rechitskiy, Kharkov
On 18 March an all-Ukrainian conference ‘Referendum and we: from the public attitude to the public action’ was held in Kyiv in the Palace of art and culture of the National Technical University. The conference was organized by the initiative and joint organizational efforts of such public unions of Ukraine as the Fund of encouragement of rightful and political reforms, the Association of Ukrainian banks, the Association of young politologists and politicians, the Ukrainian Juridical Foundation, the all-Ukrainian charity fund ‘Citizens’ energy’, the Union of constitutional rights, and others.

The people’s deputies O. Moroz, A. Bilous, S. Golovaty, the former prisoners of consciousness L. Lukyanenko, E. Sverstiuk, scholars and representatives of the creative intelligentsia V. Skurativskiy, M. Tomenko, V. Musiyaka, V. Kampo delivered the main reports. Numerous public experts and other participants of the conference used the chance to turn to the public too.

The subject of the discussion and acute criticism became the referendum held on the people’s initiative, which was declared by the President’s Decree. The criticism concerned both the questions put out for the referendum and other political circumstances of its initiating and preparation. An especial interest was raised by S. Golovaty, who informed the participants of the conference on the results of the assessment of the coming referendum by so-called ‘Venice Commission’, a body of superior professional constitutional experts of the Council of Europe. The international experts considered that the referendum, as the form of direct imperative democracy is actually subversive to the legal procedure of introducing changes to the Ukrainian Constitution. So, in its actual version, it is anti-Constitutional. If to regard the referendum only as a form of learning the public opinion, then it follows that at the referendum people consults themselves. The Commission pointed out that the so-called ‘Presidential preamble’ in the Decree on the referendum is inadmissible, since it unambiguously urges people to vote for the questions, which presumably are initiated by the people.

The conference gathered about 500 participants, both the right and the left. One may say that the basis of the conference was intellectual and analytical resistance to the referendum. This attitude united such parts of the political spectrum, which are usually incompatible, for example, leaders of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN) with leaders of the communist party. The document summing up the opinion of the conference will be given separately, so here I will confine myself to some current commentaries.

The conference had a subtitle: ‘The referendum phenomenon in the context of the internal and external being of the Ukrainian state and society’. Correspondingly, its main topic was political and juridical analysis. Many speeches pointed out that the referendum, in particular, is an attempt and the possible future test of a large-scale manipulation of the mass consciousness. The questions put out for the referendum are not typical for mass consciousness. Typical citizens do not think in such categories as ‘permanent parliamentary majority’, ‘two-chamber parliament’, procedural aspects of introducing changes to the Constitution or other comparatively complicated notions even for experts of the constitutional right.

Besides, separate questions of the referendum were harshly criticized. Speakers said about the ambiguity of the questions. In particular, it is very fuzzy, what an abstract parliamentary majority can mean, when this majority is shaped, because shaping the majority depends on the subject of the discussion. Besides, it is possible to imagine a permanent majority obedient to the President in spite of the topic, as well as the permanent anti-presidential ‘subversive’ majority. It is also possible to imagine a majority which permanently abstains from voting.

If to assume that the majority in the referendum means just the majority of President’s supporters, then it is not clear for what purpose such a parliament must exist — then it will play the role of the Supreme Soviet in the USSR. It is difficult to believe that such parliament is wanted by the President — reformer. Nonetheless, this is the only meaning which follows from the analysis of the referendum text.

The speakers remarked that almost all questions of the referendum were aimed at the revision of the Constitution. But the procedure of entering changes to the Constitution is specially described in the Constitution in an unambiguous way, so the Constitution is protected from illegal changes (even by the people). The sense of constitutionalism, as it is understood in politically developed countries, lies in restraining the dictatorship and authoritarianism, including that of the people. That is why in the Western politology they use such notions as ‘simple democracy’, ’totalitarian democracy’ and even ‘super-democracy’. Under such terms the outstanding Spanish philosopher of our time J. Ortega y Gasset understood the direct and unrestricted will of simplified mass instincts.

Thus, from any point of view the referendum looks like a great and insolent fake. In fact, it is inspired by the executive power, is profitable for this power and corresponds to its modern intellectual level. If the Constitutional Court permits the referendum and it will be actually held, then it will not favor the progress of the Ukrainian society, but will inform the world that the Ukrainian democracy is of the same kind as the Belarus one, that the court in Ukraine is dependent on the power and that the Ukrainian people is easy to fool.

Summing up what was said at the conference, one must say that the referendum, in case of its successful (for the executive power) result, will actually harm the constitutional system of Ukraine, will make its Parliament devoid of any rights and will substantially increase the executive power and the President.
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