Not Ministerial Material
Whether Voltaire in our day would defend the right to publicly express any views, however toxic and inflammatory, can be argued. Certainly democratic freedom of expression does not extend to denying established human rights crimes, spreading lies about an entire ethnic group and inciting racial or religious enmity.
Except, it would seem, in Ukraine.
There was some cheer with the recent warning over anti-Semitic utterances issued by the Broadcasting Council against a radio station owned by Kherson City Councillor, Serhiy Kyrychenko. It is regrettable that the station was able to spread its hate speech for a further 18 months after a wave of outraged complaints and it seems likely that political score settling was behind the recent moves. Nonetheless any decisive action against incitement to racial enmity is to be welcomed.
The problem is that three years before Ukraine is to hold the OSCE Chairmanship, such incitement is also coming from those holding portfolios in Ukraine’s Cabinet of Ministers. One notorious example is provided by the Minister of Internal Affairs, Anatoly Mohylyov.
The fact that Mr Mohylyov remains Minister is worrying. During his period in office there has been a sharp increase in unacceptable measures against peaceful protesters and widespread use of the traffic police to stop protesters, as well as believers from the Church not favoured by the present government, from reaching events in Kyiv.
The fact that he ever became Minister of Internal Affairs is quite incredible. The President’s Administration which expends enormous effort (and unspecified amounts of money) on trying to improve its reputation would do well to understand that the most expensive image-makers cannot achieve the impossible.
Virulent hate speech against an entire ethnic minority cannot be glossed over, nor explained away as the Minister’s “personal views”. What does it matter that Anatoly Mohylyov was not yet Minister when he wrote the article “A conflict along the lines of Kosovo is brewing in the Crimea”? All the more necessary and difficult, to explain why specifically Mohylyov was chosen to head Viktor Yanukovych’s electoral headquarters in the Crimea and was then made Minister of Internal Affairs.
Attempts to get a criminal investigation launched over incitement to racial enmity have failed, with the prosecutor claiming that Mohylyov was expressing a value judgment.
You can have value judgments on a whole range of issues. Stating that the Crimean Tatars were guilty of treason during the Second World War, the excuse used by Stalin for their deportation in 1944, can indicate only historical ignorance which should be acknowledged, with apologies rendered. There has been no acknowledgement of error or retraction, so we must assume that the author is deliberately spreading an accusation officially refuted more than 40 years ago.
With its factual distortions, inverted commas and offensive language, the article is just perfect for Krymskaya Pravda, a propaganda vehicle since Soviet times. It is much less in line with the career strides of the head of a Ukrainian party’s electoral headquarters and future Minister.
I quote: “a conflict is brewing in the Crimea, you’d have to be blind not to see it. And it’s being artificially provoked by specific forces and using specific funds … Our Slavonic brotherhood is like a thorn in the side of Western civilization … So that the conflict in the Crimea does not subside, it is periodically stimulated, both ideologically and financially. Here the roles are clearly delineated: the “aggrieved” side, the Crimean Tatars headed by the Mejlis; the “oppressors” – State authorities and the “occupiers”, that is, the rest of the population of the peninsula.”
The author does not lower himself to provide evidence although the accusations throughout are extremely serious. Now obviously readers of Krymskaya Pravda feel no need for proof, yet can the Prosecutor, stubbornly refusing to initiate a criminal investigation, seriously classify the perhaps vague, yet clearly defamatory, accusations as “value judgments”? Or is he classifying them as the words of a Minister, the words of those in power who are best not touched?
Conflict is indeed brewing. It is fuelled by such publications and quite deliberately. If Mohylyov were simply expressing his personal views, he would not deftly manipulate facts. He blurs different crimes and periods, names the number of Germans deported, not of the Crimean Tatar people, although why not if, as he asserts, “the fate of the Crimean Tatars among them [victims of Soviet rule] was a mere drop in the ocean”.
A week ago, Russia’s State Duma declared that the execution in 1940 of Polish prisoners at Katyn was a crime of the Stalinist regime. A crime, not a drop in the ocean.
Whether the President should have the right to appoint and dismiss ministers, can also be argued, but that right he now has. Mr Yanukovych can continue acting as though he knows nothing about any inadmissible behaviour by traffic police and other law enforcement officers under Anatoly Mohylyov’s leadership, or believe that all such accusations are the opposition’s fantasy. The article in Krymskaya Pravda he can read himself, and that blemish to his reputation the most expensive image-makers in the world will not remove.