Human Rights in Ukraine. Website of the Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group
15.06.2008 | Halya Coynash
Point of view

Moral responsibility


The scope of human song seems unlimited: we sing of love and hatred, about grief and joy, revenge, crime. We don’t, admittedly, sing about the Holocaust, about Holodomor, or Chernobyl. This list, if you think about it, is also long. The reason surely needs no articulating.

We don’t sing about them, yet we increasingly compare or use them as metaphor.

The author of an article entitled “Moral Holodomor. When will we stop it?” ( ) blames the President and Ukrainian politicians for what she calls the Moral Holodomor of the Ukrainian people, more terrible she suggests than Holodomor itself.  That the criticisms are warranted I wouldn’t dispute for a second, and indeed could add quite a number. Doubts about using such a metaphor I would have kept to myself, only the parallel, as well as certain conclusions, seem disturbingly misleading

75 years ago millions of adults and children were the victims of a murderous regime which sentenced them to a slow and terrible death by starvation. They had nowhere to run and could do nothing to save themselves and their families.

The accusations in the article are against politicians who have not lived up to our expectations. .The problem is that they never do.  Are Ukrainian politicians worse than others?  The shameful cavorting over recent years might lead some to think that they are a particular mutant form and that abroad all is well. I would suggest remembering how children (in any country!) behave after being spoiled rotten and encouraged to believe that they can do what they like. Perhaps we should give this some thought before attempting stringent measures against mutants?

Difficult not to recall the classic Anderson tale  the  Emperor’s Fine Clothes . The Emperor proved naked, and oh horrors, his entire entourage as well.  The image is not only grotesque, but disturbing, however another parallel requires adjustment. We are not dealing with kings and queens, nor with a good (or bad) tsar-batyushka, but with democratically-elected leaders. 

Yes, the system is flawed and needs changing. However, Maidan convinced the world of Ukraine’s unequivocal choice - democracy. It is worth remembering that none of the elections since have changed that assessment.

What nobody is convinced about is that Ukraine’s politicians have learned their lessons.

Perhaps it’s time we teach them?

Appealing to conscience is undoubtedly correct however this should not preclude looking for other forms of leverage. Politicians want to stay in power and are all too often prepared to do just about anything to achieve this.

Except keeping their promises, however this is true the world over. What stands out in Ukraine is the degree to which they break their word with impunity. In an ideal world, children understand themselves that they shouldn’t be horrible to others, and politicians realize that they are not there to serve only their own interests. This being a less than ideal world, they need to be reminded – and often.

At the last elections the socialists had a head-on encounter with a fundamental principle of democracy, or more accurately, with the danger of ignoring it. I imagine they’re still smarting now, yet judging from the rumours about negotiations in parliament, there are still those wishing to step into the same potholes. Some marriages, regardless of the degree of convenience, were and remain unacceptable to many voters. It is incredible that any politician should even be discussing such variants.

If politicians are convinced that they can get away with anything, then we are doing something wrong.

At present politicians make assurances that x or y will be done, and when they’re not, people abuse them a bit and then fall silent.  After the tenth such occasion (and only politicians really slow on the uptake need so many), it all becomes as convincing as the declarations of love on a soapbox opera.

The charge against politicians of being unable to unite is valid however surely it applies also to voters.  Perhaps there would be less lost votes (for marginal parties, or against all candidates) if we could put aside disillusionment and frustration, and agree certain demands which must be kept.

Open candidate lists are vital, and unwillingness to agree to them looks seriously suspicious for any political faction.  Such reluctance should look just as dodgy every day, every week until they buckle under. There are plenty of issues which will inevitably lead to fierce discussion. Yet surely there could be agreement on those fundamental points which are placing the very nature of democratic choice in jeopardy? I have in mind lack of transparency with candidate lists, excessive levels of deputy immunity and no guarantees that the party you vote for will not radically change its affiliation.

So what do you do if they’re all equally reluctant to learn?  Well, firstly, Darwin can’t have been that seriously off track and they’re probably not all devoid of at least the instinct for surivival. Secondly, there are plenty of other levers. Some changes we almost take for granted.  In 2004, Kuchma visited Putin for a mere few hours before one of the rounds of voting (whether to get advice or to report to “Big Brother”, we don’t know). In 2006 and 2007, all political parties vied for the attention of European politicians whom they unfailingly assured of their commitment to democracy and the rule of law.

If politicians take so much trouble over democratic gloss, then it’s safe to assume that the child’s question about why the king is naked would be less than welcome.  During the Human Rights Ombudsperson’s frequent trips abroad, it wouldn’t hurt to ask how she finds the time and (considerable) funds for such trips when, in violation of the law, she has not provided reports for years on her work. A public question during a meeting abroad about why her Secretariat sends letters from prisoners seeking her protection to the penal department most interested in concealing allegations of wrongdoing, would do her reputation no good. It will do anything but harm to the cause of human rights in Ukraine.

The President appears to have abandoned vitally needed plans for judicial reform the concept for which he himself approved two years ago.  If he now considers such reform inadvisable, let him explain why, both to his own citizens and to Europe.

This is an area where the media have a vital role to play.  Yes, easier to repeat fine-sounding words about plans for the future from public officials or politicians. Sometimes news headlines give the impression that all problems are solved. One ministry is apparently about to deal with the rise in xenophobia, another with unemployment. All without fail know who’s responsible for the dire state of the mines and will definitely make changes … until the news becomes stale and the media fall silent.

And yet huge amounts of homework are not required, after all. A mere perusal of some of the current reports on human rights websites will provide ample material and a clear indicator of where another opinion might be less than glowing. 

If Darwin wasn’t wrong, then politicians will themselves cotton on to the fact that unwillingness to answer for your actions leads not only to moral catastrophe, but to undesirable political consequences. We can help the understanding process.

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