13.12.2006 | Olga Goncharova

Can you step into the same river twice?


It seems you can if you’re a member of the Party of the Regions. And if you’re also the Mayor, who gained your position conning Kharkiv residents by claiming that communal charges didn’t have to be increased, and that he’d make Russian a state language, or at least “regional”. For Kharkiv voters that was all music to the ear.

However there wasn’t time to place the ballot papers in the archives before all changed. And how! Not only did prices for heating, water and electricity rise, but also rents 4,5 times,  The amount of rubbish in the city has increased with nobody cleaning the streets, the roofs are full of holes, the lifts don’t work, and the number paying communal charges has fallen to 25%!

Incidentally the Kharkiv Mayor quickly explained that the blame for Kharkiv residents being so bad at paying communal charges lies with the media since they tell the population that you only have to pay for those services that are actually provided!

At the same time the city authorities decided to get rid of “small architectural forms”, i.e. kiosks, especially those whose owners do not belong to their team. Then there was a new idea, to get rid of 7 markets in Kharkiv, and most oddly, those in the most convenient places – one in the centre, and others near metro stations. Representatives of the authorities cynically explain to Kharkiv residents that we’re moving towards Europe, and that they’re doing it for us, so that we’ll buy products in supermarkets where the conditions are better. Yes indeed the conditions are better, however the prices at the markets are lower which is very important for many people. And anyway, the argument is feeble. In the centre of Munich there is a clean, respectable market which is well-frequented. The authorities in European markets make sure that order is maintained, and that they’re clean. But we have our own way – to drive all into supermarkets, and preferably to those belonging to “our people”.

And then there are the corruption scandals and the total lack of respect for the local community. It’s unheard of – even in the days of absolute secrecy of the authorities, access to the buildings of the City Council was open. At most the guard might ask who you were going to see. Now the new authorities have banned free access to the city executive buildings. Well, they don’t want to see the public, they stop them from working.

Then Kharkiv people came round!  An organization “MIska varta” [“City Watch”] appeared, with its members deciding to organize a referendum in Kharkiv, to express a vote of no confidence in the City Mayor Mykhail Dobkin. It’s seemingly allowed by law. However the law on local referendums is written so that nothing can be carried through to its logical conclusion. According to the law, the instruction on initiative groups must be signed by the Mayor, and then the City Council must give permission to hold the referendum. This all means that the law contains norms which unquestionably protect the local authorities.

The Kharkiv authorities chose another path. The first meetings of citizens held in all districts of Kharkiv to form initiative groups were declared to have been run with serious infringements, at 4 o’clock when it was already almost dark and with people from other districts, etc.

Repeat gatherings were scheduled for 9, 10 and 11 December however all of them were disrupted.

People who planned to take part in meetings of residents of the Moskovsky district have approached the Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group. They consider that the city authorities did not provide for and protect their constitutional right to peaceful assembly. The events which they describe were as follows: the meeting was scheduled for 4 o’clock in the Ukrainian Cultural Centre. The notification that the meeting would be held had been submitted on time to the city authorities, the premises had been paid for, however the meeting was disrupted. At 14.00 buses arrived at the Centre from which elderly women were escorted out, taken into the hall and these then occupied all of the places. They behaved very aggressively, not letting anyone into the hall and making registration of the participants impossible.

A little later some young men of a specific appearance arrived, among whom were also deputies from the City Council and official of the city executive community. They burst into the premises, interfered with the meeting and even provoked scuffles. Cars belonging to members of “City Watch” had their tyres burst.

The organizers of the meeting called the police however the latter, perhaps deciding not to intervene, did not come.

All of these events are almost exact replicas of the events in 1989 when State Deputies of the USSR Vitaly Korotych and Yevgeny Yevtushenko were put forward as candidates in Kharkiv. The halls were also filled with their people, tyres were also let down and the police never intervened in the conflict. And what did it achieve?  They gained not just a majority in Kharkiv, but 87%. The stupid and clumsy actions of the authorities caused confrontation, leading to people joining together and learning to stand up to the authorities.

Then there were the presidential elections in 2004. The same disrupted gatherings and meetings with presidential candidate Viktor Yushchenko, the same burst tyres,  the young thugs in black leather brought there in buses.  Vote-rigging at the elections, threats to officers at polling stations. And the result – confrontation between city residents, between citizens of Ukraine?

Then it seemed that Maidan had wrenched both the authorities and society away from their post-Soviet state.  However post-Maidan events showed that society has not moved so far and the authorities simply long to go backwards. Sometimes it even seems that for the Party of the Regions the best was the experience of the Bolsheviks – a single party system of power and Soviets which carried out Party orders.

Maybe they will with time swallow up the communists and the socialists, and simply get rid of the others. The experience is there. It’s true that it will be uncomfortable to use bank accounts in foreign banks since the single party system demands an Iron Curtain.

[From PL: We can provide the numbers of the buses in which “brothers” were transported to the Ukrainian Cultural Centre]

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