No Playground matter
It has long been standard to compare Ukraine’s parliament to a playground or sandpit. Absolutely all factions in the Verkhovna Rada have over recent years been involved in blocking parliament’s work, in verbal or, not infrequently, fist fights. The mayhem in the Verkhovna Rada on 27 April over ratification of the controversial agreement on the Russian Black Sea Fleet was certainly more extreme, though hardly less theatrical. It’s not every day that the Speaker of Parliament ducks under a huge umbrella (which does just happen to be on hand.) Nor, of course, would we wish children to be playing with smoke bombs. However the events over the last week are more serious for other reasons.
We learned on Friday that the Kyiv Prosecutor had initiated a criminal investigation against two National Deputies from the opposition party Our Ukraine – People’s Self-Defence, Yury Hrymchak and Andriy Parubiy for their part in the events of 27 April. The investigator’s application for the Deputies’ immunity to be removed has been supported by the Prosecutor General.
It is extremely difficult to ascertain who was involved in the events on 27 April and who in fact initiated the bedlam. Since there were only 211 deputies registered 30 minutes before a vote in which 236 Deputies (or deputy cards in many cases, despite this being prohibited) voted for ratification, there are already major question marks regarding who was in parliament that day. Photos on some websites (for example, Obkom) show the President’s son, who is not a deputy and some other younger men involved in the brawl.
All of this remains in the distant background, while what we know is that two opposition deputies are facing criminal charges under Articles 296 (hooliganism) and “unlawful influence on the Speaker of the Verkhovna Rada and National Deputies aimed at preventing them from carrying out their duties, carried out by a person using his official position by prior group conspiracy (Articles 28 § 2 and 344 § 2 of the Criminal Code). Certainly Yury Hrymchak and Andriy Parubiy were there and they did, seemingly, throw smoke bombs. Suggesting, as did Deputy from the Party of the Regions, M. Dzhyha, on Monday, that this be classified as “terrorism” seems excessive, but it’s certainly not good behaviour.
Neither, though, is so badly injuring another opposition Deputy, Oles Doniy, that the latter is still in hospital in a serious state three weeks later. It was only on 18 May that the same Kyiv Prosecutor organized a medical examination in order to determine whether Mr Doniy be considered a victim. Yet on Friday he had already initiated proceedings against two other Deputies.
This makes the Prosecutor’s assertions that all Deputies are being questioned, regardless of their party affiliations, somewhat hard to believe.
During Monday and Tuesday there were aggressive noises from some members of the ruling coalition insisting that Parubiy and Hrymchak would soon be stripped of their immunity. There were also noises from the Speaker, Volodymyr Lytvyn, suggesting “agreement” would be reached. So is it a criminal matter or not?
The same question must inevitably be asked after the new development on Tuesday, 18 May. Mr Parubiy’s sister, Olena, was one of three people from the Lviv Tax Inspectorate who were arrested by officers of the Department for Fighting Organized Crime on suspicion of bribe-taking. The media reports, presumably circulated by those in authority, said that she had been caught “red-handed”.
By evening, we learned from Deputy Head of the President’s Administration, Anna Herman, that Olena Parubiy had been released. We learned also that Andriy and Olena are wonderful people; that they grew up as orphans and so forth. We are told that Ms Herman doesn’t want anyone comparing her people to the “orange regime who put us in prison for nothing”.
Criminal investigations, as well as serious bodily injury inflicted by Deputies or those registered as their assistants, are no longer playground matters. If there are serious grounds for the allegations, they should be dealt with by those with the relevant authority, not by politicians. Any suspicion that various law enforcement bodies or other authorities are being used to settle scores or to intimidate the opposition can only undermine confidence in the new regime’s commitment to democratic standards and seriously damage Ukraine’s reputation.