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18.01.2008 | Halya Coynash

A Headache of some benefit

   

Hurl your eggs and tomatoes (hopefully virtual) and shower me with righteous indignation, but I have to say it. We should all be thanking one Russian fugitive who holds unspeakable views. If you’ve already taken aim, stop for one moment. This is no encroachment upon the foundations of the State, and no lamentable lack of patriotism. It reflects the clear awareness that the Russian authorities in hurtling across the border in pursuit of one politically out of sync young man have presented Ukraine with an invaluable test and an opportunity to demonstrate its maturity to the world. .

  On Monday National Deputy Gennady Moskal criticized, albeit mildly, human rights organizations for defending Mikhail Gangan, the Russian seeking asylum in Ukraine. The parliamentarian perceived inconsistency in their activities, as well as disregard for Ukraine’s interests. It’s not quite clear whether he was referring to specific organizations, or speaking generally. However, since any human rights defender by definition must oppose the extradition of any asylum seeker prior to an official consideration of the person’s application, I will endeavour to address the points raised.

  Mikhail Gangan is an active member of the National Bolshevik Party [NBP] which is banned in Russia. He was detained by Ukrainian law enforcement officers at the request of the Russian authorities on 31 December 2007. Despite having previously approached the UN High Commission for Refugees to register his application for refugee status in Ukraine, the court ordered that he be remanded in custody for 40 days. This ruling was appealed and in part thanks to the efforts of human rights groups, Gangan was released. It has been stated at the highest level that there can be no question of his extradition while his asylum application is being processed.  Meanwhile, arguments about this case are causing more than one Ukrainian Internet forum to seriously overheat.

Mr Moskal stated in his interview (http://human-rights.unian.net/ukr/detail/186868 ) that he “would like our human rights organizations which have spoken out on behalf of Gangan to ensure that the group from the Eurasian Youth Union which last year came here from Russia and desecrated Ukrainian State symbols on Mount Hoverlia is condemned. Then human rights organizations’ activities would be understandable, adequate and consistent. There must, after all, be one law for both Mikhail Gangan and those who committed a crime against Ukraine’s statehood.”

With all due respect, Mr Moskal, do you really believe that you could find even one human rights organization which has not unequivocally condemned the disgraceful desecration of Ukraine’s emblems on Mount Hoverlia?  There can be no question that this was an outrageous and criminally liable offence, and if the Eurasian Youth Union were responsible, they should be punished. No question, except perhaps one: what do you expect us to do?  We cannot apply for their extradition and it is categorically not our place to decide for the court whether or not they are guilty.

There is however a fairly overt subtext.  The implication is somehow that opposition to Gangan’s extradition equals support for his views.  This is a thoroughly faulty equation.  Furthermore, as far as I am aware the link clearly suggested between the National Bolshevik Party and the Eurasian Youth Union was severed some time ago and they are now bitter enemies.

22-year-old Mikhail Gangan has been sentenced in his absence to 3 years imprisonment. In 2004 he was one of a group of National Bolshevik Party members involved in the peaceful seizure of a presidential administration reception office. Having already spent a year remanded in custody over this unlawful, yet totally non-violent protest act, he received a three year suspended sentence. In 2007, new criminal proceedings were brought against him in connection with his organization of the Samara “March of those in dissent”.  He was charged with infringing the rules of his suspended sentence.

It strains credulity to believe that this new and entirely real term of imprisonment is not linked to the young man’s opposition activities. The authorities’ determination to imprison Gangan reeks of punishment for political beliefs. After all in any democratic country one does all possible to avoid sending young lads to prison.

Do I need to share his views to understand this? Not for a second.

Are their views so unacceptable that it is possible to extradite the person holding them without considering their asylum application?  There are no such views.

There are crimes stipulated in agreements on extradition. It is to be hoped that the Ukrainian authorities will experience the same difficulty as we have in believing that Gangan’s misdemeanour falls within this category of crimes.

Mikhail Gangan must not be sent back to a country where he will face persecution for his political views, however repugnant we may find these.  This would be a violation both of Ukraine’s legislation and its international commitments.

Human rights defenders also stand accused of a lack of patriotism. I would, however, defy anyone to suggest that our firm belief that Ukraine, like any law-based country, should adhere to international agreements on the rights of asylum seekers demonstrates insufficient patriotism or disregard for the interests of the country.

I imagine that many a doctor has had to save the lives of people whose views or behaviour he or she totally condemns. There would surely not be many who would welcome law enforcement agencies being entitled to decide themselves who is worthy of their protection, and who is not.

The fact that we observe civilized norms does not in the slightest mean that we do not protect ourselves. Quite the contrary, we are positively obliged to take all measures needed (including legislative means) to adequately respond in all cases of incitement to enmity or other criminal activities. It is worth pointing out that human rights groups have long been suggesting changes to certain provisions of the Criminal Code in order specifically to increase protection from discrimination and xenophobia. This seems to us entirely in Ukraine’s interests and those of its population.

It is without a doubt frustrating to see how many primitive ideas abound in this world and how many people are willing to abandon freedom of thought for the comfort of simplistic slogans. Unfortunately we have to accept the existence of views we find staggeringly narrow-minded for the sake of democracy and pluralism. Otherwise we try to “manage” democracy and what that leads to can now be seen without even turning to the history books. There is no third option.

Recognition of the fact that Mikhail Gangan cannot be handed over to those who are persecuting him for his opposition activities and granting him political asylum will demonstrate to the world community that Ukraine has broken free from the yoke of old Soviet relations and detrimental ideological clichés, and that there can be no going back. This, I am convinced, is in the very best interests of an independent and free Ukraine. .

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