Declaration of the Ukrainian Committee ‘Helsinki – 90’

On 16 April the referendum was completed. The following questions were put out:

Do you support the proposition to add to Article 90 of the Constitution of Ukraine the new third item, which reads as follows:

‘The President of Ukraine may also suspend the power of the Supreme Rada of Ukraine before the proper time, if the Supreme Rada of Ukraine during one month could not shape the permanently acting parliamentary majority or if it did not adopt during three months the budget of Ukraine prepared and handed in the proper order by the Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine’

— which would establish auxiliary reasons for disbanding the Supreme Rada by the President of Ukraine, and the corresponding completion of item 8 part 1 Article 106 of the Constitution of Ukraine by the words ‘… and in other cases mentioned by the Constitution of Ukraine’?

Do you agree to constrain the inviolability of people’s deputies by deleting correspondingly part 3 Article 80 of the Constitution of Ukraine: ‘Criminal proceedings against peoples’ deputies of Ukraine may not be instituted and the deputies they may not be detained or arrested’?

Do you agree with diminishing the total number of people’s deputies of Ukraine from 450 to 300 and the corresponding change of part 1 Article 76 of the Constitution of Ukraine with the exchange of the words ‘four hundred and fifty’ with ‘three hundred’, as well as corresponding changes in the election laws?

Do you support the necessity of shaping the two-chamber parliament in Ukraine, whose one chamber should represent the interests of various regions of Ukraine and corresponded to their realization, as well as introducing the corresponding changes to the Constitution of Ukraine and in the election laws?

According to the data of the Central Voting Committee, more than 83% of Ukrainian citizens, who have the right to vote, took part in this referendum. Here are the results of voting for each question in percent:

Question No.















Observers of the Ukrainian Committee ‘Helsinki – 90’ attentively followed the course of the preparing and carrying out the referendum. Having summed up these observations, the Committee had to declare the following: the procedure of preparing and carrying out the so-called ‘all-Ukrainian’ referendum had nothing in common with generally accepted democratic norms.

The well-organized campaign of lies, which accompanied ‘the people’s will expression’ was striking.

The so-called ‘people’s initiative’, that is the collection of signatures for holding the referendum, was done by officials of local administrations by way of explicit administrative pressure: the officials threatened their subordinates by sacking from the state service in the case if they would not force (by the same method) their subordinates to put their signatures for holding the referendum. We observed many cases when the employees of state organizations did not get their salary until they collect the needed number of the signatures. Since the aim was to collect three million of signatures, the campaign of the ‘voluntary — coercive’ collection of signatures spread to all regions of Ukraine; directly or indirectly thousands of civil officers of various ranks took part in this campaign of arm twisting. However, the Presidential administration never officially confessed that they were initiators of the referendum, referring to the ‘voluntary initiative of groups of citizens’ our Committee tried to analyze the composition of so-called ‘initiative groups’, which collected the signatures. It appeared that these groups almost completely consisted of civil officers of the local administrations. These groups acted during the work-time of these officers, that is the campaign was paid from the state budget, that is at the account of tax payers.

All the time, when the signatures were collected, the agitation was carried out with the aim to convince the voters to give positive answers to all the questions. In many schools, hospitals and other budget establishments the agitation for the positive answer to the referendum questions was carried out in the form of official conferences, whose attendance was obligatory. In state-controlled mass media (in Ukraine they have the greatest audience) the opinions of the opponents of the referendum were not elucidated at all. What concerns the non-state mass media, they were under a great pressure from civil officers and state institutions, so the absolute majority of the ‘independent’ mass media reflected exceptionally the point of view of supporters of the referendum. In electronic mass media the very existence of the opponents of the referendum was not mentioned, to say nothing about presenting an opportunity to the opposition to make public their arguments. In printed mass media the point of view of the opposition was represented a little better, but it was done mainly in newspapers of those parties which opposed the referendum, and their circulation is very limited. The most of commercial publications were forced to support the position of the official power about the referendum or to keep complete silence about the existence of the problem. The reasons of such a position are quite understandable, if one recollects the unprecedented reprisals against independent mass media performed in Ukraine for the few latest years (closure of several newspapers, TV and radio stations, arrests of editors-in-chief, court proceedings against journalists, bankrupting newspapers by excessive libel claims, etc. — See Report of our Committee and international human rights organizations for 1998 and 1999). Thus, informing voters as to the meaning of the referendum questions and about the possible consequences of the referendum was one-sided. The absolute majority of voters were not given the opportunity to listen to a viewpoint different from the official one.

During voting the pressure on voters reached the scale never observed before in the independent Ukraine. Our observers noticed the massive application of the following trick: heads of state establishments (in particular, schools, higher schools, hospitals, state-owned enterprises, etc.) made their subordinates vote under the threat of sacking. Teachers of higher schools, under the threat of discharge, had to vote and to guarantee coming to the voting of their students. Thus university professors coerced students to vote, threatening them with discharge from the university! In the elementary and high schools the situation reached the top of absurdity: teachers, afraid to lose their jobs, had to organize parents’ meeting, where the parents were warned that if they do not vote, then their children will be punished at school. In villages the former communist chairmen of kolkhozes (now they are called heads of the cooperatives) threatened non-voters with not giving fodder for cattle, gas for heating houses, etc.

It should be noted that the process of voting was not controlled by public organizations. First, the process of voting actually lasted ten days — from 6 to 16 April, but representatives of public organization were admitted to the voting stations only on the official, last day of voting. The procedure of pre-term voting is permitted by Ukrainian laws as an exception for those people, who have mitigating circumstances not to come to the voting station on the day of voting. During the previous election of the Parliament and the President the proportion of people, who voted before the time, never exceeded 1% of the total number of voters. During the referendum the pre-term voting became the daily practice: entire collectives of state enterprises voted before the term. Our representatives observed cases when the oblast authorities distributed among heads of state-owned establishments special forms of reports, where the number of people, who have already voted, had to be reported daily. Owing to the brutal coercion and impossibility of the public control over the pre-term voting the majority of regions of Ukraine reported that more than one third of people voted before the time. On the last day the control of public organizations over voting was formally permitted, but it is difficult to call this control efficient: out of 30,000 voting stations only 1000 was controlled, as to foreign observers, their number was 70 throughout Ukraine. At the few controlled voting stations the observers noticed plenty of various violations: from the facts when one person voted for all members of the family to putting into urns faked bulletins. All the complaints of our observers were left without any official reaction. Another source of faking the results was voting at home, when representatives of voting commissions attended voters at their homes with voting urns. According to the law, this procedure is permitted for handicapped and the gravely ill, but actually this practice was applied on the massive scale and was uncontrolled.

Thus, summing up the referendum results, our Committee is obliged to draw depressing conclusions. The unprecedented large-scale farce has occurred in Ukraine, and it endangers the achievement of the Ukrainian democracy for the last decade. The control of the authorities over the mass media reached the absolute mark. The unprecedented administrative pressure was exerted upon voters, the voting procedure was completely removed from the public control. In fact, the referendum was initiated and exerted by the Presidential administration with the use of illegal methods. But all this chain of illegal pressures was labeled as the ‘democratic will-expression of the Ukrainian people’. Thus, authoritarian methods of people manipulation are planted in Ukraine as democracy. The main result of these activities is the disappointment of an important part of our population in democratic institutes and procedures. In fact, fear before officials, slightly forgotten during the recent decade, return to the population. The interrelations between the state and citizens return to the stereotypes of the communist times when a citizen feared to express any idea different from the official one, and all initiatives of the authorities were declared as ‘people’s initiatives’ and were immediately praised by everyone. The referendum is a great step to the side opposite to democracy.

It should be separately noticed what President Kuchma declared after making public the referendum results. Some of his words may not be treated otherwise as direct threats to the opposition. In particular, he declared that ‘At the referendum the people unambiguously worded its relation to those parties which were against the referendum. Let these parties now reconsider their position and concord it with the position of the Ukrainian people’. The President called all arguments of the opponents of the referendum as ‘insinuations’ and said that he ‘was not sure if it is possible to call Ukrainians the authors of these insinuations’. Such a tone of political discussions we remember from the communist totalitarian times…

We believe that it is not needed to explain in our document the danger, which the authoritarian power might bring to Ukraine. We appeal to everyone to be vigilant and give an assessment of the anti-democratic farce now, until it is not too late to prevent its horrible consequences.

Head of the Ukrainian Committee ‘Helsinki-90’ Yuri Murashov

Executive director of the Committee Evgen Dykiy
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