13.12.2001 | Evgeniy Zakharov, the Kharkov Group for human rights protection .

Is our society respectful?


Recently, at a seminar devoted to the freedom of speech held in Kharkov, a participant from Kyiv, a well-known journalist in the past and now an official of a rather high rank, answered a question about major Melnichenko’s audio records with an ironic smile: ‘Such questions are not asked in a respectful society’. Everyone stayed silent.

More than a year has passed since Georgiy Gongadze disappeared, just one year has passed since the cassette scandal burst out. The open political opposition was defeated. The power instinct of President Kuchma appeared stronger than the freedom instinct of all Ukrainian politicians rolled together. Leonid Kuchma demonstrated tremendous political activity in this extreme situation, he managed to attract to his side many potential opponents. To all his interlocutors he said what they wanted from him, giving out promises hard or impossible to fulfil, but he won the time. In future, he hoped, there will be some ways to explain failures. So he issued the decrees on the land reform, on the freedom of the press, promised the warriors of the UPA to acknowledge them as a warring side, supported the former political prisoners, made some steps for reunification of Orthodox churches and so on and so forth. Even the visit of the Pope became another political victory of the President.

As a result, our servile ‘respectful society’ pacified itself with the version about the intrigues of enemy special services and preferred to ignore the questions, which still have no convincing answers. Do Leonid Kuchma and other top authorities have a finger in the disappearance of Georgiy Gongadze? Are special services used to fight the opposition and the press, and in which specific ways? What are the grounds to accuse the President and his camarilla of corruption and stealing the national property? Who and what is our political elite, and is the style of communication of the top authorities is so vulgar? It is difficult to hide from all these somber questions, they are braking our progress as lead weights, impeding our life and work. Being the chairman of a public human rights protection organization I cannot make myself, although it happens to be necessary, to write to the President, who, according to Article 102 of the Ukrainian Constitution, is a guarantor of citizens’ rights and freedoms. With some effort I make myself write the word ‘President’ with a capital letter. But after all my reactions are not so important. The more important question is: what are we, what is our society, may we respect ourselves, if we stand our government without convincing ourselves that it not involved in crimes? The more so that the very course of investigating Gongadze’s case is increasing doubts. And the indefatigable major throws in new accusations, thus increasing convictions of some people in criminality and immorality of the top authorities and convictions of other people that the operation of mysterious foes to discredit Ukraine is going on.

The mentioned questions and many similar ones must be answered. That is why both the supporters and the opponents of the President try to attract independent experts. Yet, in my opinion, the expertises like the one conducted by the private agency ‘Kroll’ (by order of the party ‘Trudiva Ukraina’) only discredit the President because its conclusions are very doubtful. What is the convincing force of one of the arguments: Kuchma refused from critical remarks ascribed to him, whereas the experts did not manage to meet with the other participants of the recorded talks; moreover, the President asserts that the fragments of his speech were taken out of context and concatenated, and there no witnesses, who can refute him. On the other hand, nobody can confirm his arguments. Taras Chornovil, Mikhail Sirota and others recognized their voices on the cassettes, and the President confirmed the authenticity of the fragments by saying that he has ‘similar vocabulary’. This means that at least some part of Melnichenko’s records is genuine! So, the problem remains unsolved: either the entire record is genuine, or it is a mixture of genuine and faked parts.

Since it has become clear that a technical expertise of the cassettes cannot solve the problem, the most adequate method from the legal point of view is, in my opinion, an independent parliamentary investigation to check the events mentioned in the records. The special parliamentary commission must get the broadest rights (the scarcity of the rights was the reason of the failure of the previous commission headed by Aleksandr Lavrynovich). This investigation shall not remain any questions unanswered, and the report on the investigation must be made public. Leonid Kuchma is the one, who must interested in such course of events most of all, since it is the only way to prove his innocence in the disappearance of Georgiy Gongadze and in other crimes, of which he is accused together with some other top authorities. On the contrary, his resistance to the investigation will increase the suspicions. On the whole, an independent parliamentary investigation is a dignified way out of the scandalous situation as to the image of Ukraine abroad, since there independent parliamentary investigations are common practices. Here is one example. When in 1989 it became accidentally known that Switzerland police wiretapped the telephone of an advocate, a so-called ‘catalogue scandal’ burst out. The special parliamentary commission was created that found out that the political police compiled for decades dossiers of opposition MPs, journalists, trade union leaders and human rights protectors by wiretapping their telephones. There were several thousands of such dossiers. Then the parliament adopted the special law on wiretapping and some documents stipulating the control over the police actions and informing people, whose telephones were tapped about the tapping, if it appeared that the suspicions were untrue.

One of the objects of the suggested parliamentary investigation must be using by the executive power the law-enforcing organs, such as the Ministry of Interior, USS, prosecutor’s office, tax militia and the like. Even the small part of the records that was published gives a lot of food for ruminating. I personally am most interested in the existence of secret special services, whose activities are not regulated by laws adopted by the Parliament, and who, according to Melnichenko’s version, execute special tasks, such as physical extermination of disagreeable people (remember a voice on the tape: ‘I have such a department, there are no moral considerations in their methods’?). The existence of such organs in a state, which pronounced itself as democratic, civilized and law-abiding, is absolutely impermissible. Nonetheless, such organs were sometimes created in some countries (e.g., Spain), and the Byelorussian President is still blamed for having killed his political opponents. Unfortunately, even the short 10-year existence of our country gives grounds to suspect such that secret services existed before and, possibly, exist now; that they carried and carry out secret operations inadmissible in a law-abiding state and impermissible for legally acting security services. Many rumors are circulating in the country about this, and many rumors seem quite plausible. I would like to mention some of them as examples of what the parliamentary commission must investigate. I understand that the examples need additional confirmation, but I believe that I must give the examples, since the problem is extremely important.

1. When the program ‘Clean hands’ for fighting the corruption was adopted, the secret department was created, whose task was fighting organized crime in the law-enforcing organs. It happened in the brief period of friendship of the President with Grigoriy Omelchenko, who allegedly headed this department. No legal acts to regulate the work of department were adopted, it seems, the department was appended to the General Prosecutor’s office. This information was obliquely confirmed by a criminal case considered in the Kharkov. In this case our organization defended the accused K., who disarmed a drunken man. The latter, waving his gun, demanded some special brand of beer from a frightened salesgirl. The drunken man appeared to be an USS colonel C., who later complained that he was beaten and his service gun was taken away. During the trial it became clear that the department, where C. served was disbanded. C. carried a service gun and the invalid USS ID that he handed back to the Kharkov Group for human rights protection directorate only after this accident. According to the reference from the saving bank, C. was a pensioner since his department was disbanded. Being asked by the judge how C. could manage to get salary being a pensioner, C. answered that he worked in a secret unit, which fights the organized crime, and that he ‘gets pension instead of salary’. We requested the USS Directorate in charge of personnel about the existence of such unit. The answer read that there exist no parallel organizations, unmentioned by Ukrainian laws, which fight the organized crime. Contrariwise, the commander of C.’s department, placed in Kharkov at a quite definite address and having a service car, declared to the judge that his unit was secret and was subordinated to the General Prosecutor’s office. The General Prosecutor’s office, being requested by the court about C.’s job, gave no answer at all.

2. For the first time I learned about the existence of state killers in summer 1998 from the interview of Sergey Golovaty, the former Minister of Justice, given to radio ‘Liberty’. Several weeks later there was an attempt at the life of well-known opposition political figure Sergey Odarych. Odarych declared that he had no ties with business and that there exist only one opponent, who would profit from his killing – President Kuchma. According to my observations, this statement did not cause any reaction of the authorities and the society, no comments or refutations followed. On 24 October 1998, speaking at the seminar in Kharkov, at the National institute of interior, devoted to the 50 thanniversary of the Universal Declaration of human rights, where several MPs and other well-informed persons were present, I mentioned this example and told that a convincing refutation of this statement must be made, otherwise Ukraine may be considered as a police state. I remember quite well that the seminar presidium and the audience were embarrassed, but nobody raised an objection. In the lobby one of the MPs told me that a libel case was started against S. Golovaty, but later I heard nothing about this criminal case.

3. In the 7 thand 8 thextracts from the first published fragment of major Melnichenko’s records one can hear voices similar to those of President Kuchma and Leonid Derkach, the then head of the USS. They speak about opposition editions, in particular, about the newspaper published in Kremenchug by Grigoriy Omelchenko with caricatures of the President. Among other things it was said: ‘Do not you know the proper methods, applied throughout the world?’ and ‘Then what, cannot the security service together with the prosecutor’s office start a criminal case?’ They meant the Kremenchug weekly ‘Informational bulletin’, which supports G. Omelchenko and strictly opposes Leonid Kuchma. Indeed, the newspaper underwent strong pressure. There was an attempt to start a criminal case against the newspaper, printing shops, one after another, not only in the Poltava oblast, but also in the neighboring regions and the capital, refused to print the bulletin. As Tamara Prosianik, the editor-in-chief of the weekly, affirmed, she was permanently tailed, her phone was wiretapped, and the entire run of the 39 thissue of the bulletin was confiscated from a Kyivan printing shop by USS officers. Frankly speaking, I did not believe Tamara Prosianik at first, since her accusations of the USS looked quite fantastic. Yet, I had an opportunity to be convinced, when the next run of the weekly was also confiscated by USS officers in the same fashion, but in another place. Certainly, these episodes should be investigated.

It should be noted that nowadays both parliamentary and non-parliamentary control over the legality of activities of the USS and other law-enforcing organs is extremely weak, and it remains to hope for the personal qualities of the heads of these organs. We shall hope that now, when Vladimir Radchenko, who tried his best not to meddle the USS into political struggle, returned to his post, the security service will act according to laws.

To sum up, it is difficult to give an unambiguous answer to the question of the heading. The society is split: the majority, caring about their personal prosperity and relative freedom, prefer not to notice the persecutions of the President’s opponents, the minority, in its turn, does not want to put up with it. Yet, both the opposition, as well as the President, does not want to use laws, it prefers to use political technologies, its activities are frequently senseless and destructive. The opposition’s motto is the Voltaire’s appeal: ‘Crush the serpent!’, but the present status quo is determined not only with personal qualities of Leonid Kuchma. In my opinion, the main task of the society must become the change of the present political and legal system, the main principles of which are irresponsible behavior and absence of control, which makes possible to grow monsters out of political leaders. Yet, the change of the political and legal system only will not be worthwhile, until we understand that our main enemy sometimes are we ourselves, and that the moral and transparent policy must become the everyday routine. Only then, I think our society will have the right to be called respectful.

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