Volodymyr Chemerys: 7 November is no special holiday for me and never was one


Yury Shelyzhenko, for the agency

Volodymyr Chemerys is a legendary figure, a member of the Board of the Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union, a participant in the student protests of 1991 – the “revolution on granite” which led to the resignation of Masol, one of the coordinators of the action “Ukraine without Kuchma” and a leading figure in the civic organization “Institut “Respublica” which is one of not many bastions of political idealism. Before the Ukrainian Presidential Elections in 2004 he did not on principle support any of the candidates and initiated the all-Ukrainian action “It’s shameful to vote!”. Mr Chemerys is a recognized specialist on the legal and technological aspects of civil resistance, “at home” among both those with left-wing and right-wing views.

Y. S: My first question, of interest to all of us at this time – will there be clashes on 7 November?

I would not like to be a prophet in the bad sense of this word, however I think there could well be run-ins. After unofficial conversations with representatives of various camps of confrontation, I have the feeling that they are getting ready for measures of force. As the events of 15 October this year showed, or those on 1 May 2004, the police cannot fulfil their proper function of protecting people’s rights. Monitoring carried out by the Institute “Respublica” has shown that this year there were far more infringements of the right to peaceful assembly than for the corresponding period of the previous year.

Y. S:  What does the Seventh of  November holiday mean for you?

For me it is no special holiday, and never was one. The question is who are the people who want to hold events for this occasions – those people who consider this day a special holiday, as well as those people who do not  consider it to be a holiday and don’t want anything special to be held. I believe that both sides have the right to express their position however they choose to do so.

Y. S:  Clearly such non-acceptance of the “red page of the Soviet calendar” is not typical for all Ukrainian left-wingers?

It is typical for the majority of the new Left, whose outlook is not based either on the official ideology of the Soviet Union which collapsed a long time ago, or on anti-globalist or anti-capitalist values of the world left-wing movement. I would like to stress that the new Left do not have a party, they exist still at the level of civic organizations – for examples, “Liva initiative” [“Left initiative”], “Robitnychy sprotyv” [“Worker resistance” – or of groups. There are also individuals who share our values, left-wing intellectuals such as Oleksandr Khomenko. As far as political parties are concerned, these are the old Left, the same communists who are sometimes called neo-Stalinists or Brezhnevites. All political parties presently to a large extent represent the interests of big capital. This also applies to the Socialist Party: the management of one commercial bank has virtually privatised their centres in the Kharkiv region.  We thought that elections based on proportional representation would change the situation, however in actual fact the complete opposite has occurred. Places in the lists are sold for massive amounts of money, especially after the appearance of such an “enticement” as Deputy immunity.  I know for sure that in one of the prominent parties, a place in the available part of the party list to the Verkhovna Rada costs 2 million dollars, to the Kyiv Council – 350 thousand and to district councils – 150 thousand.

Y. S:  How would you assess the actions of the Kyiv City State Administration which is attempting to have the holding of political demonstrations banned through the court?

They are behaving incorrectly, violating both Article 39 of the Constitution of Ukraine, and European practice, in particular judgements of the European Court of Human Rights and Article 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, which indicate that a State has the positive obligation to protect the right to peaceful assembly.  There have been well-known judgements of the European Court such as that from 21 June 1988 “Platform “Ärtze für das Leben" [“Doctors for Life”] v. Austria” where the court ruled that it was the duty of the State to safeguard, and not prohibit, the exercising of the right to assembly of both sides. The Institute “Respublica” called on the Kyiv City State Administration to stop its appeal to the court, however they continued regardless to made their application to the court for a ban on all demonstrations in the centre of the city on 7 November.  Previously the Shevchenkivsk Court had simply rejected such applications, however their latest ruling is extremely disappointing. The Communist Party of Ukraine has been banned from holding its holiday parade along Khreshchatyk Street and on Maidan Nezalezhnosti [Independence Square].  This court ruling is rather dubious from a legal point of view. However I understand that the Shevchenkivsk Court was, after the events of 15 October, acting on the assumption that the police would not be able to safeguard public order – possibly, from the point of view of the court, this seemed the only way to avoid confrontation.

Y.S:  A large number of different organizations have expressed the wish to take part in, on the one hand, the celebration of 7 November, or on the other hand, in anti-communist demonstrations.  Are conflicts at such demonstrations not attributable to poor coordination between those participating?

As far as I know, both right-wing and left-wing organizations do coordinate with all participants. There is however no coordination between the left and right wing. I am more interested in the fact that at one stage during hearings in the Verkhovna Rada, the Minister of Internal Affairs called for responsibility of the organizers of political rallies to be established. With this, the “new regime” is literally repeating what was said by the “old powers”, and, in addition, Mr Lutsenko showed his totally legal illiteracy, since responsibility in Ukraine, as everywhere else, is individual. If there are disturbances, the police must look into them: brawls, fights are crimes. If such crimes were planned, the organizers and perpetrators should be punished.  The organizers of a confrontation may not be the organizers of the rally. This, for example, was the case on 9 March 2001.  For those same “law enforcement officers” can send their people who begin fights. Whereas the regimes wants the organizers of the rallies to answer for this! The organizers can only call for order at a rally, they cannot themselves ensure that order is maintained there, since they are civilians and do not have such rights. This is the right and the duty of the police. Therefore, instead of looking for someone to hurl the blame at, the police should simply do their job – what they are supposed to do in accordance with the Law “On the Police” and with the Constitution.  However I cannot exclude the possibility that the disturbances of 15 October, and possible ones on 7 November could play into the interests of the regime. The latter may find a sharpening of confrontation at the present time convenient.

Y.S:  How exactly, in your opinion, could street disturbances prove to the advantage of the regime?

The right to peaceful assembly is one of the most crucial elements in implementing Article 5 of the Constitution, in accordance with which “Ukraine is a republic. The people are the bearers of sovereignty and the only source of power in Ukraine. … No one shall usurp state power.”  Before the 2006 Elections there might be those with an interest in limiting freedom of assembly. At present our Draft Law “On freedom of assembly” is in the Verkhovna Rada and has been officially tabled for consideration. I saw how after the disturbances of 15 October, both in the Verkhovna Rada and in the Kyiv City Council, applications from ministers and other influential individuals demonstrated the intention to restrict the right of people to political rallies and to completely prohibit such rallies in the centre of Kyiv, on Khreshchatyk (St), near State institutions, for example, that of the Cabinet of Ministers, the Secretariat of the President.  On this issue a draft ruling of the Kyiv Council has already been put forward, but thank goodness, has not yet been adopted. All these disturbances at very least encourage both public opinion and the opinion of Deputies of the Verkhovna Rada and Kyiv City Council to veer towards supporting normative acts banning activities.  If the heightening of confrontation continues, various scenarios will become possible, some of which may near appear wildly improbable – for example, the dissolution of the Verkhovna Rada.  Such warnings have already been heard in questions to the Speaker of the Rada, Lytvyn.  And, of course, disturbances will lead to a worsening of the international image of Ukraine on the eve of parliamentary elections.

Y.S.: Have you heard that the organizers of brawls on 7 November are being paid 1000 dollars each as on 15 October?

There are such rumours, however I would not like to comment on them since I simply have no exact information. Nonetheless, it is entirely possible. We know many examples where various parties – both right- and left-wing have paid people to participate in political rallies. One of those involved in a round table at the institute “Respublica” was the deputy chairperson of the department of public safety of the Ministry of Internal Affairs (MIA), Anatoly Mayevsky and he stated that many such instances had been documented by the MIA.  In our draft law we have established responsibility for providing any payment for participation in political rallies, and all the more where this payment is for taking part in disturbances or the organization of disturbances. That is а crime which must be condemned.

Y.S.: How would you comment on the warnings of the press service of the OUN-UNSD (Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists – Ukrainian National Self-Defence) about the possibility that offices of political parties will be occupied by force on 7 November?

If they are in possession of such information, they should take it to the police. MIA must ensure that all political forces are protected from violence.

Y.S:  How do you relate to participation in the actions of 15 October, and as is planned, in those of 7 November of foreign political structures such as the “National-Bolshevik Party” or the “Eurasion Union of Youth”?

In brief, calling the blue and yellow flag “banderivsky”[1], they are themselves under a “vlasov” flag, under the Russian three colours of the ROA.  As far as reports are concerned of participation in the activities on 7 November of activists from Russia and Byelorussia, if one concentrates on purely legal concepts, then foreign citizens and stateless individuals, according to the Constitution, have exactly the same right to assembly as citizens of Ukraine, therefore there are no grounds for banning their participation in political rallies.  Remember the picketing of the Byelorussian Embassy in Kyiv by members of the Byelorussian opposition, the picketing of the Uzbek Embassy by the Uzbek Diaspora in Kyiv – they have every right to hold such peaceful meetings. Ukrainians during the Orange Revolution in just the same way picketed Ukrainian embassies in other countries. It would be an incorrect and illegal action to prohibit foreigners from taking part in public events in Ukraine. If these people take part in any actions which are against the law in Ukraine, our law enforcement officers have all levers available. They can simply deport them from the country, or bring criminal charges against them in Ukraine. Moreover, the Ukrainian government, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the border guard service have the possibility of not allowing certain foreign nationals onto the territory of Ukraine, just as before the Presidential elections they did with the activists of the Serbian “Otpor” [“Resistance”], Oleksandr Marych.  This would provoke a negative response from public opinion and from human rights activists but I don’t imagine that it would cause a diplomatic scandal.

Y.S..: What would you advise the law enforcement bodies to do on 7 November?

To protect the rights of those who come with the intention of taking part in a peaceful gathering, and to maintain order, regardless of who it is who might disrupt this: Ukrainian, Russian or Moldavian citizens. I think that the present situation of confrontation can be compared with the behaviour of fans before a football match. “Our” fans and “their” fans are aggressively inclined, but the police must avert fights between them while at the same time allowing them to jointly root for their teams.  As a rule, the people who come to football matches organize disturbances, however it would be a thoroughly undemocratic step to restrict entry of such people to Ukraine, with such a diplomatic means being reserved for exceptional situations.  It is quite another matter that football teams may be penalised for excessively aggressive behaviour of their fans, and in politics this would scarcely be feasible. We are aware that Ukrainian law enforcement officers have on many occasions subdued fans of “Spartak” or “TsCK”  (football teams) which had come from Moscow. One would hope that now too law enforcement officers will carry out their functions. For the police it should not matter whether people are gathering on 7 November for a political demonstration or for a football match. State bodies are created not in order to detain people and disperse political demonstrations, but to protect civil rights. It is for this that taxpayers’ money is for.


[1] Stepan Bandera was the leader of one of the most hard-line factions of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists and Resistance Army (UPA). 

Recommend this post

forgot the password




send me a new password

on top