war crimes in Ukraine

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Politics and human rights

The beginning of a legitimate constitutional process?

Presidential Decree №1294/2007 from 27 December envisaged the creation of a National Constitutional Council [the Council] which would include academics, politicians, regional representatives delegated by bodies of local self-government and civic figures. The makeup of the Council was to be affirmed by the President who would also head  it. The Council would discuss the concept for a new draft Constitution and prepare this draft. The Decree also envisages wide discussion.

However the makeup of the Council, as approved on 18 February by Presidential Decree № 139/2008, is a downright disappointment. Of 97 of its members, 40 are National Deputies [MPs] with 12 from the Party of the Regions; 11 from Our Ukraine – People’s Self-Defence; 9 from BYuT – Yulia Tymoshenko’s bloc; 5 from the Lytvyn Bloc; and 3 from the Communist Party. There are 9 employees of the Presidential Secretariat, 4 from parliamentary institutions; 2 civil servants; and 6 heads of regional councils. In a word, we see the entire political beau monde. There are only 13 specialists in law, including 5 retired judges of the Supreme and Constitutional Courts; 13 representatives of the National Academy of Sciences and higher institutes. There are 9 members of civic organizations, only two of which in my view can be considered unbiased – the Razumkov Centre and the Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union.

The Constitution is an act of civic society and cannot only be passed by professional politicians who will be unable to avoid the temptation of adapting the Constitution to suit their selfish interests or will sabotage it altogether.  A decent draft can only emerge with the participation of well-known civic leaders and lawyers whom people trust. Why have the Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union [UHHRU] members Myroslav Marynovych and Josef Zissels not been included? Where are the constitutional specialists Vsevolod Rechytsky and Viktor Kolisnyk or the human rights defender and publicist Mykola Kozyrev?  What about the UHHRU Executive Director Volodymyr Yavorsky, the philosophers Yevhen Bystrytsky and Taras Voznyak, the economist Ihor Burakovsky or the lawyers Oleksandr Vynnykov, Viacheslav Yakubenko or Oleskandr Severyn?  All of these people were put forward by civic organizations. Why are they not benefiting from the experience of retired Constitutional Court judges Ivan Tymchenko, Mykola Savenko and others? This list could go on and on.

I would hazard a guess that this makeup of the National Constitutional Council is a difficult compromise which was achieved in order to get a public constitutional process starting and to legitimize the Council. It would seem that no political forces, aside from Our Ukraine – People’s Self-Defence, consider changing the Constitution to be of priority, while without the participation of all parliamentary factions the Council will have no legitimacy. Yet will it be able to work with such a makeup, and could it not turn the preparation of changes to the Constitution into pure political squabbling? I would be glad to be proved wrong however it is difficult to believe that such a Council has any chance of succeeding. This was confirmed by the Council’s first meeting.

The meeting took place on 20 February. At first the President briefly spoke of the need to write a new Constitution and gave his views about the changes needed. He was supported by the Speaker of the Verkhovna Rada who called on all political forces to work together on the draft. However when the discussion turned to organizing the Council’s work, the various political factions’ entirely different attitudes became apparent. The Council Secretary Marina Stavniychuk suggesting dividing the Council up into five committees: on the fundamental principles of the constitutional order and the rule of the people; on human and civil rights and liberties; parliament, the Head of State and. the Cabinet of Ministers; the justice system; the territorial organization of power and bodies of local self-government, as well as choosing 15 members of a working group to prepare a draft Constitution. However this didn’t suit the politicians. Viktor Yanukovych said that first a concept for constitutional changes needed to be prepared by a working group and discussed, and only then should the committees be formed since it wasn’t clear how many and which there should be. Mykola Tomenko then stated that BYuT was against the creation of a new version altogether and supported only amendments and additions. It was therefore unnecessary to form a working group, and the five committees mentioned should work towards improving and optimizing the relevant sections of the Constitution.  Petro Symonenko said that before any working bodies of the Council were created, there needed to be discussion of the concept for constitutional changes and he proposed beginning that discussion immediately. In short, it was all extremely reminiscent of the Verkhovna Rada. Mykola Onyschuk explained that the working group and committees should work together, passing on what they had prepared and making both the concept and the actual changes more specific.  The President interrupted this discussion, saying that the makeup of the working bodies had been approved, that they would begin work the following Tuesday and ended the first meeting.

Predictions for the future work and the fate of this National Constitutional Council are fairly pessimistic. In this there is consensus between constitutional specialists and politicians. On the other hand, the Constitution which was destroyed in 2004 has become a source of systematic political confrontation and as a consequence of the destruction of the State. Without changes to the Constitution, there can be no end to this destruction. Those political figures who appreciate the burden of this responsibility simply must try to continue the constitutional process. For that reason, although at first glance the Council and its members would seem unable to function, we must seek a solution.

We should note that if a decent draft Constitution appears which people like, the question of the legitimacy of its adoption becomes secondary. In 1956, De Gaulle, having received parliament’s consent to make some amendments and additions to the current Constitution, proposed for referendum an entirely new draft which was passed. This was termed a “constitutional revolution”, yet France received one of the best constitutions in the world, which competes with the American Constitution and is a source of pride to the French.

Ukraine’s civic society must also put forward its position. There are suggestions of something like a civic constitutional council which could put forward its draft Constitution and demand that it be discussed and considered. The first steps – creating a Civic Constitutional Council which is proposing that a special representative body be created to pass a Constitution – have already been taken.

The Orange Revolution was Ukraine’s symbolic move away from post-communism. The adoption of a new Constitution will indicate a real departure from that world and re-found the Ukrainian State according to new rules. In my opinion, this process is irreversible since there is no reversing the establishment of a democratic order in this country which is within a strong and international trend of westernization. The question is only when this move away will take place and what price we will have to pay along that path.

Human Rights Ombudsperson reacts swiftly and constructively to criticism

In the early days of February, a monitoring report was issued on “Maidan” and here concerning the work of the Human Rights Ombudsperson in January 2008.  Among other things, the report mentioned the lack of openness of the Ombudsperson’s office, and specifically the lack of any information on their official website about the number of appeals received.

Four days later, the Ombudsperson’s Press Service informed that in 2007 the Human Rights Ombudsperson had considered over 77 thousand complaints from Ukrainian and foreign nationals and stateless persons.

“In the main it is people from the poorest spheres of society who send appeals – pensioners, disabled people, families with many children, war veterans, people involved in containing the effects of the Chernobyl Disaster. People complain that their rights and freedoms are being infringed due to the actions or omissions of the authorities and bodies of local self-government, law enforcement officers and judges”. The report states that:

  • In 2007 over 4 thousand disabled people approached the Ombudsperson complaining of discriminatory treatment;
  • During the last year there was a one and a half times increase in the number of appeals relating to pensions, for example, in the Vinnytsa, Poltava, Zhytomyr, Kharkiv, Luhansk regions and in Kyiv;
  •  One in four appeals alleges violations of the right to just defence via the courts.

Although the information is incomplete, we hope that this is just the beginning and that with time we will receive answers to other questions put in the January report. We hope to finally learn about the structure and staffing of the Secretariat; the number of proceedings initiated and their results; about the number of submissions made by the Ombudsperson to the Constitutional Court, or the authorities, bodies of local self-government or civic organizations over recent years; about decisions, conclusions, proposals and recommendations made by the Ombudsperson.

We also look forward to finally seeing the annual reports of the Human Rights Ombudsperson for 2006 and 2007.

The Human Rights Ombudsperson’s work in January 2008

Monitoring the work of the present Ombudsperson and her Secretariat is no easy matter: they remain extraordinarily secretive.

There is no information, for example, about the structure and staffing of the Secretariat.  Nor do they provide generalized accounts of their work, decisions, conclusions, proposals, recommendations or reports.

Their financial expenditure remains a tightly-held secret.

All attempts have failed to find out about the number of applications made to the Ombudsperson from different parts of society; about the number of proceedings initiated into cases involving infringements of rights;  the number of submissions made by the Ombudsperson to the Constitutional Court or to the State authorities, bodies of local self-government or civic associations, etc. Nor are there any summarized accounts of such proceedings.

According to Article 14.2 of the Law on the Human Rights Ombudsperson, the latter must protect confidential information. It would appear that the Secretariat considers its own activities to fall into this category.

Formal information requests to the Ombudsperson remain unanswered giving grounds for civil suits.

The fragmentary snippets from the Ombudsperson’s press service seem less about information than about self-advertising, and yet they remain virtually the sole source of official information about the Ombudsperson’s activities.

There were seven items in January on the official website. This, by the way, is a record: for the same period in 2003 there were 2; in 2004 – 3; 2005 – none; 2006 – 1 and in 2007,  the month preceding her re-election, there were 5).

It is cheering that the reports for January 2008 are less offensive than those last year. Their content gives some hope for positive qualitative changes in the work of the Ombudsperson in defending people’s rights. There is a chance that this year already representative offices of the Ombudsperson will be set up and begin working in the regions. At the end of January, President Yushchenko responded to an appeal from the Ombudsperson and sent a letter to the Speaker of the Crimean Parliament, and the heads of the regional administrations for the Dnipropetrovsk, Donetsk, Zhytomyr, Transcarpathian, Zaporizhya, Ivano-Frankivsk, Luhansk, Lviv, Odessa and Kharkiv regions asking them to provide all assistance in setting up premises for the Ombudsperson’s representatives.

It is to be hoped that the formation of national preventive mechanisms for the prevention of torture will finally be set up.  After lobbying for the ratification of the Optional Protocol to the UN Convention against Torture (OPCAT), the Ombudsperson refused to implement the recommendations of the Verkhovna Rada and create such a mechanism within the structure of the Ombudsperson’s office.

In January this year the Ombudsperson took part in the Paris Forum on positive moves in prevention of torture in places of imprisonment in Europe where the creation of such national preventive mechanisms was discussed.

From unofficial sources we have learned that Ms Karpachova is no longer objecting to these mechanisms being created within the structure of the Ombudsperson’s office.  It is a shame that two full years have been wasted during which Ms Karpachova ignore the Verkhovna Rada roundtables on preparing a strategy for the mechanisms. Better late than never, as they say, and we will hope for movement in this area from now on.

Before her departure for the Paris Forum, Ms Karpachova submitted proposals and additions to the draft Cabinet of Ministers action plan.  In the document submitted she proposes the creation of a national preventive mechanism in accordance with OPCAT.  

On 21 January there was a meeting initiated by the Ombudsperson between her and the President. They discussed improving cooperation between their secretariats and issues linked with constitutional reforms. The Ombudsperson submitted proposals regarding the makeup of the National Constitutional Council.  They also discussed prisoners’ rights and President Yushchenko supported the idea of a joint project aimed at decreasing the number of underage prisoners, including via pardoning.

At the present time there are 1902 underage prisoners in 10 special penal colonies. One in two has been sentenced to between 3 and 5 years. One in three is serving a sentence for thefts. Two thirds of the prisoners are between the ages of 14 and 17. 

We believe that the joint project will be more effective if after the young people are released, the Ombudsperson oversees their resocialization.

The Ombudsperson has stated that she plans to initiate the signing and ratification by Ukraine of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Disabled.  She also intends to oversee the creation of a State Migration Service and lobby for the ratification of the International Convention on Migrant Workers and their Families and a number of other documents protecting the rights of migrant workers.

The intentions have been declared. Let’s hope for their implementation.

Slightly adapted from

Against torture and ill-treatment

The Thing in itself

In philosophy the “thing in itself” is something’s true essence which we can only guess at, influenced as we are by our time and space-linked perception. Human rights defenders must also guess, although for somewhat different reasons, in trying to fathom the real essence behind the veneer coating Ukraine’s penal system, holding around 160 thousand prisoners, with over 1.4 thousand serving life sentences. 

It is extremely difficult to gain objective information, so glowing reports from the State Department for the Execution of Sentences have to be viewed in conjunction with information received by human rights groups or the media about cases of torture and ill-treatment, etc.

Pavel, who served a six-year sentence in a Kharkiv region penal colony, says that all of the prisoners had been beaten and that if they dared complain, that was a “death sentence”.

He recounts how in 2004, when it became too difficult to bear, he secretly connected into the administration’s telephone network and rang his mother, asking her to write to Oleksandr Moroz and Yulia Tymoshenko begging them to help. On 14 June 2004, a reply came from Yulia Tymoshenko, then four days Pavel was put in the punishment isolation cell for 15 days. He claims that a week later they used “handcuffs”, which is when two officers have your hands in the handcuffs pressed to your back and then squeeze so that they cut into the flesh. This happened three years ago, but the former musician says that he still doesn’t have feeling in his hands and can’t play a musical instrument.

Human rights groups say that such cases are not isolated, yet it is difficult to do anything since the penal system is secretive and legislation designed to make prisoners totally in the power of the administration.  For this reason from time to day protests flare up against penal personnel. There have been at least five such cases in the last three months.

On 3 February information was received about a hunger strike by around 10 prisoners in protest at alleged brutal treatment by the administration in Colony No. 123 in the Vinnytsa region.

On 25 January there were reports of an attempted suicide by three prisoners in Donetsk Penal Colony No. 124, again over conditions ( )

On 13 January there was a report that two prisoners in Colony No. 47 had covered themselves in prison and tried to set themselves alight in protest at inhumane treatment.

On 17 December 2007 human rights defenders reported that a group of prisoners in the so-called “Monastery” of Izyaslav Penal Colony No. 58 had gone on hunger strike over conditions

On 10 November the Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group reported that following an attempted escape by several prisoners serving life sentences in Penal Colony No. 60 ( Luhansk region) during which one person had been killed, a spetsnaz [special force] unit had been brought into the colony (  )

This case received a great deal of publicity because of the use of the “anti-terrorist” spetsnaz unit created through Order No. 167 within the State Department for the Execution of Sentences [the Department].  Human rights groups stress that this unit is used to carry out searches and beatings of prisoners. According to Yevhen Zakharov, Head of the Board of the Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union: “It all follows the same pattern: a spetsnaz unit with men in masks and full combat gear is brought in and beats up those prisoners brought to them.  The prisoners are then not given medical treatment unless they sign a piece of paper saying that they have no grievances against the administration and convoy”. 

Human rights groups hailed a victory on 24 December when the Ministry of Justice cancelled the State registration of Order No. 167, yet Mr Zakharov reports that on 31 January a unit of 25 spetsnaz fighters is again believed to have beaten up 16 prisoners at Penal Colony No. 46

As is standard in such cases, the Department denies reports of beatings, hunger strikes and self-mutilation, and suggests that the surge of such allegations proves the openness of the penal system. The Deputy Head of the Department’s Kyiv and Kyiv Region Division, Oleksandr Pavlov maintains :“All that was hidden a lot more before, and it has now all become open, everyone speaks of that. We aren’t saying that everything is fine, however the system is open and reforms are underway. However that doesn’t mean that anything goes. There are such things as security, regime, isolation”. Another employee of the system, who wished to remain anonymous, said that the level of transparency had increased over the last three years, leading to more attention from the press and civic organizations. He asserted that the public were more involved in re-education of prisoners.

Representatives of civic organizations categorically disagree with claims that the system is open.

According to Oleksandr Bukalov, Head of the Council of Donetsk Memorial, “It is very difficult to gain information about the real situation. Our organization tried to carry out a study and corresponded with the Department for more than 6 months. They asked for everything barring a blood test to decide whether to allow it, and in the end decided against giving permission. My colleagues from Chernihiv received similar responses.”

Yevhen Zakharov says that reports of torture and ill-treatment are not received through legal channels since no complaints leave the confines of the penal colonies by lawful means, with all correspondence being read. It’s impossible to check since the prisoner who leaked the information will be immediately punished.  He adds that the worst treatment is meted out to those who try to stand up for their rights and complain.  They get punished, put into punishment cells, on the most nonsensical pretext, like not making their bunk up properly, or not being dressed in uniform. They pile on a whole lot of such infringements and then increase the sentence for persistently failing to comply with orders.

The human rights groups’ complaints that they are not allowed into prisoners are rejected by employees of the Department as unfounded.  Mr Pavlov states: “They’re not authorized to carry out investigations. It’s the Prosecutor General, the SBU [Security Service] and Ministry of Internal Affairs. If any infringements have really occurred, this immediately becomes known to the public. 

Another member of the Department, refusing to give his surname, claimed that human rights groups are paid by bandits who don’t like the fact, as he claims, that the Department management is trying to build a system without corruption. .

Yevhen Zakharov agrees that criminal elements wage a battle with penal administrations. He stresses that human rights groups are very careful when dealing with reports from penal institutions and that only about one fifth are made public. He adds that they stress that they are unable to verify the information, however must respond when they hear of prisoners being held in cages in freezing conditions or press huts [where a prisoner is beaten by other prisoners specially enlisted by the administration for the purpose]. One of such press huts in No. 100 in the Kharkiv region was known as the “music chamber” since they played music to drown out the noise when beating up a prisoner. After a scandal when this cell was discovered by experts from Europe, it was closed, however recently disturbing reports have again started coming from there.

Oleksandr Betsa, a specialist on penitentiary issues, is convinced that the fault is in a badly though-out staffing policy beginning with the appointment of the Head of the Department Vasyl Koshchynets down to total staffing rotations which have led to managerial positions, especially in the regions, being given very often to outsiders understanding little as regards the specific work of the department and coming from quite unrelated departments. He says that for the first time since Independence there have been cases where the penal employees themselves have come out against the management. He points also to the huge divide between the pitiful salaries of those at the bottom, with the pay of management in the Department which can be more than thirty times higher.

Low pay often leads ordinary-level personnel to stoop to unlawful behaviour, this leading to rampant use of blackmail, selling of privileges, smuggling in of drugs and alcohol.  “The public cannot bring order into the system since these abuses are hidden in the name of the President and by the law”. Mr Betsa’s last words were drowned out by dozens of demonstrators who seemed to be employees of the penal system who had gathered around the UNIAN press centre to protest against the human rights defenders’ press conference.

“What do those dilettantes have to say?  They have spent a single day in a penal institution”

“They’re not allowed in”

“That’s there problem. There are requirements and a regime. The people in prison don’t want to carry out the demands, they don’t want to work, they want to relax in penal institutions at the taxpayer’s expense, and for that reason they resort to self-mutilation, so as simply to not work. “

“And who are you?” I ask a demonstrator.

- “I can leave my telephone number, you show me the article and then I’ll tell you my name.” Having understood that this attempt to censor the material wouldn’t work, the demonstrator lost interest in talking to me.

Another demonstrator who also preferred to remain anonymous said that there were always problems but not those spoken of at the press conference. He claimed that the real problems were about pay and conditions for staff, and lawless free for all that the prisoners could enjoy. According to him, the human rights groups through drawing attention to prisoners lead to the latter.  He and a colleague both asserted that the human rights defenders were being paid to do this.

Abridged from an article by Tetyana Pechonchyk at:

It should be mentioned (and this is not quoting the demonstrators!) that there were a large number of camera crews at the UNIAN press centre that day.  They filmed the picket, yet did not report it, which leads human rights groups to feel concern about other vital human rights – the right of access to information and to freedom of expression. Whether or not instructions were received to not cover the story can only be a matter of speculation, but given the number of demonstrators and wasted camera footage, some questions seem in order.


Prohibition of discrimination

Crimean Tatars accuse Crimean enforcement bodies of xenophobia

The Presidium of the Mejilis of the Crimean Tatar People believes that the investigation into high-profile recent events cannot be carried out by the Crimean departments of the Ministry of Internal Affairs and the Security Service [SBU].

The Presidium was meeting in response to the attack on the central Muslim cemetery of the Nizhnyohirske settlement during the night between 9-10 February.

The statement released asserts that a proper investigation is not possible given the number of officers in the Crimean MIA and SBU with a xenophobic attitude.  They cite as an example, the Head until recently of the Crimean Police Anatoly Mohylyov. “Mohylyov expressed his views openly in a number of articles in  the press after his removal from office in which he claimed that the deportation of the Crimean Tatars from the Crimean territory had been “lawful”.

The Presidium also spoke of “systematic attempts to destabilize the social and political system” having increased recently. It believes that attempts to destabilize the situation are seen both from the Crimean authorities and may possibly be initiated by outside forces.

As reported yesterday, more than 220 gravestones were totally destroyed, and the fence around the cemetery was partially ruined.  The perpetrators of this act killed the dog guarding the cemetery.

A criminal investigation has been initiated under Article 297 of the Criminal Code (desecration of graves).

Crimean Tatars warn Council of Europe of possible conflict in the Crimea

Participants in the protest action in Simferopol calling for land to be allocated for the construction of an Assembly (Coborna) Mosque have appealed to the Council of Europe. They are calling for the issue of repatriants’ to be considered at the Council of Europe conference on Ukraine’s regional development to be held in Yalta in April this year.

The letter mentions systematic discrimination by the Crimean regional authorities.  The authors assert that a difficult social situation has developed which could lead to open conflict.

Criticism is also directed at the recent decision of the Simferopol City Council which refused to allocate the land previously agreed for the construction of the Mosque.  Those involved in the protest have called on Halvdan Skard, President of the CE Congress of Local and Regional Authorities to send representatives to the Crimea to study the human rights situation and resolution of urgent issues related to the repatriation of the Crimean Tatars.

As we have already reported, the Crimean Prosecutor has also appealed against the decision taken by the City Council.

On 23 January Muslims in the Crimea began an indefinite protest action alleging discrimination on religious and ethnic grounds. They held a picket and prayer service in the place where the Simferopol City Council had previously given permission to build the Soborna Mosque.  At one of the last sessions, the Council’s deputies reversed this decision which has prompted the Muslims of Crimea to call on Kyiv to dissolve the Council and hold new elections for Mayor of Simferopol.

In November 2007 Crimean Tatar civic organizations approached the OSCE Human Rights Commissioner “over the ever-increasing discriminatory policy of the Ukrainian government with regard to the Crimean Tatar people”.

Based on information from

Environmental rights

Protest over planned nuclear waste container at Chernobyl

Civic organizations are perturbed by statements made by the National Atomic Energy Company “Energoatom” that they are considering building a storage container for spent nuclear waste in the Chernobyl zone.

Environmental groups believe that it would be better to build such containers near each nuclear power station, rather than having one centralized point. This would minimize the risk to the population from transportation of radioactive material around the country.  This option was considered and was not much more expensive than a single storage container.

Dmytro Khmara from the Ukrainian National Ecological Centre says that they are not prepared to accept Energoatom’s plan to turn the Chernobyl zone into a graveyard for radioactive waste. “Each station must answer for the waste it produces and not lay the responsibility on the State.”

Given the impact this plan would have for the entire population, environmentalists are insistent that there should be public hearings in Kyiv.

“You get the impression that Energoatom is trying to hold hearings merely with its own employees in the city of Slavutych. This decision cannot be taken without full public debate which the nuclear energy people are trying to avoid at all costs”, Mr Khmara stresses.

Interethnic relations

Court upholds Crimean Muslims over land for the Soborna Mosque

The Crimean Economic Court has ordered the Simferopol City Council to conclude a lease agreement within ten days with the Spiritual Directorate of the Muslims of the Crimea for the landsite on Yaltynska St for the building of an Assembly [Soborna] Mosque.

This was reported by the Deputy Mufti of the Crimea dealing with construction and administration, Dzhemil Bebyshev, who said that the court had passed this ruling after hearing all parties to the conflict.  UNIAN was unable to find anybody in the Economic Court or the Simferopol City Council to comment.

As reported here already, the issue of land for a Soborna Mosque has been fraught for a number of years now.  The Spiritual Directorate submitted all applications and documents for permission to build on Yaltynska St two years ago, this entailing considerable expense and effort.

On 10 January this year, a session of the Simferopol City Council passed a decision to change the location, allocating a different site.

The Crimean Prosecutor registered a protest in support of the Spiritual Directorate’s claim for the site on Yaltynska St. 

At this site, on 12 February, Crimean Tatars launched an initiative to gather stones for the building. They called on Muslims and other residents of the Crimea to bring one stone each. The organizers explained that their purpose was not to collective material for construction but to demonstrate to the authorities the Crimean Tatars’ unity and determination.

The First Deputy Head of the Mejilis Refat Chubarov has stated that the construction of the Soborna Mosque will commence only after the land is formally allocated to them. The Simferopol City Council has asserted that the stone-gathering initiative is unauthorized.

Based on material at

Penal institutions

Open letter to Ukraine’s leaders over serious problems in the Penal System

The following open letter expresses the concerns of human rights groups and penal system experts regarding shortcomings in the State Department for the Execution of Sentences. It is addressed to the President, Prime Minister and Speaker of the Verkhovna Rada

We wish to draw your attention to serious failings which have over a considerable period been observed in the work of the State Department for the Execution of Sentences. It is extremely secretive, virtually not subject to control and is not accountable to the public. A body designed to increase public safety is increasingly becoming the source of extremely dangerous situations. This situation is leading to grave violations of the rights both of prisoners and personnel of penal institutions, to the use of unlawful force against people deprived of their liberty and to abuse of official powers, for example, through the squandering of State funding. Information about these violations is periodically provided by human rights organizations, while checks carry out by the Control and Audit Department, the Tender Chamber, and the Government Inter-departmental Commission have uncovered numerous financial irregularities.

Our experience of defending prisoners’ rights leads us to the following conclusions:

1.  The Penal Service over recent years has become even more removed from public scrutiny and from the media. The real human rights situation in penal institutions is concealed by the Department’s management, and the public are quite often given incorrect information. There have already been a number of examples of court rulings on the unwarranted concealment of information however the management remains unperturbed by these violations.

2.   Checks into publicized allegations by prisoners are neither transparent nor public. Lawyers and human rights defenders are often not allowed to see prisoners and this leads to biased conclusions and well-founded doubts regarding the legality of penal staff’s actions. The lack of reliable information from penal institutions renders impossible an objective and unbiased assessment of the human rights situation there.

3.   Over the last three years the Penal Service has seen a decline. Flagrant human rights violations in penal institutions have become widespread. Prisoners are virtually deprived of the possibility of legally complaining about the unlawful behaviour of the penal administration. The prosecutor’s office is most often passive, there is no parliamentary control and any complaints lead to unlawful acts of force by the administration. Prisoners lose any faith in a just resolution of their problems and complaints.  Flagrant violations have prompted prisoners from a number of penal institutions to turn to human rights organizations and the national media complaining of inhumane conditions, torture and ill-treatment. They have also resorted to protests, such as hunger strikes and self-mutilation.

4.   Numerous human rights infringements are caused by the inadequate Penal Code and subordinate legislation.  Penal legislation requires major reworking, both at the conceptual level and in details. According to current legislation a prisoner is entirely in the unlimited power of the penal administration whose behaviour s/he cannot complain against.  Internal normative documents of the Department do not pass through the appropriate expert assessment and discussion, neither with specialists nor with the public and they often clash with current legislation and fail to comply with international norms and human rights standards.

5.   One of such acts is the notorious Order of the State Department for the Execution of Sentences № 167 from 10 October 2005.  The Order allowed for a special anti-terrorist [spetsnaz] unit within the Department which is used for carrying out searches of prisoners and penal institutions and pre-trial detention centres, and effectively for intimidating those deprived of their liberty. According to the Department’s figures, the spetsnaz was deployed in penal institutions 43 times during 2006.  During these spot searches, the unit which is colloquially known as the “mask show” since the “fighters” arrive at the institutions with masks over their heads and in full fighting gear, with bullet-proof vests, batons, handcuffs, tear gas is guilty of grave human rights violations. The pattern is always the same. They burst into the cells of the pre-trial detention centres or living area of penal colonies yelling “everybody on the floor!”  They then proceed to walk over the prisoners lying on the ground, kick them or use their batons against various parts of their body or head. They force each in turn to run down the corridor with “fighters” positioned on each side who continue to beat them with batons, force them to bend down or do the splits, crawl along the floor, do 100 sit ups or press ups. Other “fighters” wreak total havoc with the prisoners’ personal possessions, destroying food items, mixing sugar with tobacco and washing powder, spilling tea and coffee onto the floor, stealing cigarettes, preserves, lighters, etc.  Men from these special units are also used in terrible beatings of prisoners who dare to make complaints against the administration.  The public learned about shocking beatings on 22 January in Izyaslav Penal Colony No. 31; on 7 June at Buchansk Colony No. 85 and on 10 November in the Slovyanoserbsk Colony No. 60 and others. At first the prisoners are beaten, and then forced to write that they have no complaints.  And the prisoner thus broken down submissively repeats all of this to the Prosecutor, and forensic medical experts, since he knows that he is totally dependent on the administration. As a result, it’s as if the beatings didn’t happen. And it’s impossible to check information about such beatings since the system is closed to scrutiny. And if a prisoner does nonetheless complain, the administration will find a number of ways to get its revenge: by depriving the prisoner of needed medical care; destroying their personal things; imposing numerous disciplinary penalties for offences such as “not being asleep after lights out”. Other measures can be periods in the different forms of punishment cells or the lengthening of a person’s sentence by applying Article 391 of the Criminal Code.

Even after State Registration of Order No. 167 was revoked on 24 December 2007 by the Ministry of Justice, there have been cases reported. For example, on 31 January at 6.30 in penal colony No. 46 near the village of Katerynivka in the Rivne region, a group of around 25 spetsnaz officers in masks and full fighting gear was deployed and viciously beat up 16 prisoners

We have written testimony to the effect that sometimes these special units have had weapons and dogs, and that they claimed that they had been given the right to use weapons and dogs by the President. Viktor Andriyovych, did you hear that?  They are threatening to shoot at prisoners and set dogs on them in your name!

6.   Financial audits carried out into the Department’s activities uncovered a number of gross infringements, cases of abuse and use of large amounts of budgetary funding not as intended. For example, the Central Control and Audit Department just in the second quarter of 2007 uncovered financial irregularities leading to losses of 7.9 million UAH (among them expenditure in violation of legislation and non-targeted spending). Infringements of procurement procedure were found to have cost 21.1 million UAH, and the Tender Chamber identified flagrant infringements of legislation to the tune of 217.98 million UAH.

7.   Social standards of fairness have changed significantly in the Department with the latter demonstrating personal immodesty in regularly awarding itself extremely large bonuses against the modest incomes of the average employee of the Service. This concern of the management only for themselves generates even greater social inequality between the bosses and their staff at middle and lower level, as well as corruption.

8.   To a large extent the reasons for this situation is the incompetence of the Department’s management, combined with active resistance to fulfilling Ukraine’s commitments made when joining the Council of Europe in 1995 regarding the subordination of the Department to the Ministry of Justice. Initiatives of the Ministry of Justice’s leaders for improving the situation are ignored by the Head of the Department and the Ministry as yet has no legal mechanisms for influencing the Department’s activities.

We consider that the State Penal Service as an independent body under the present management is incapable of competently, responsibly and effectively carrying out the tasks it has been vested with.

A considerable amount of the material regarding infringements in the penal system has already been make public, and brought to the attention of the mass media. This gives us grounds for insisting on the use of decisive and effective action in establishing order and affirming respect for the law and for human rights in the State Penal Service.

The following is urgently needed:

  • Attention must be paid to the numerous problems with observance of human rights in penal institutions, to the level of competence of their management and their ability to resolve current issues on holding prisoners;
  • Strict adherence from the management to standards of social fairness, respect for the dignity both of prisoners and of personnel of the system, real openness of its activities for the public, including for human rights organizations and the media;
  • The political will at long last to transfer the State Department for the Execution of Sentences to the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Justice as demanded by the commitments, as yet not fulfilled, to the Council of Europe;
  • Consideration of the expediency of Vasyl Koshchynets’ and his deputies remaining in their posts since in our view they have demonstrated their inability to manage such a complicated and specific department. The capacity of the department to ensure the implementation of the tasks before it will depend largely on the resolution of these staffing issues. This in turn has direct impact on public safety, as well as on the image of the President, Government and Ukraine as a democratic and civilized European country.

We will maintain our zero tolerance for the flagrant violations of human rights in the penal system and abuse of position which are at present typical of the activities of the State Department for the Execution of Sentences.


Yevhen Zakharov, Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union, Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group

Oleksandr Bukalov, Donetsk Memorial, Ukrainian Penitentiary Society

Oleksandr Betsa, independent specialist on the penitentiary

Unlawful violence yet again in the penal system

On 6 February we reported that a spetsnaz [special forces] unit had apparently once again been deployed in Penal Colony No. 46 in the village of Katerynivka in the Rivne region.  According to information received, 16 prisoners had been brutally beaten.  In the last few days we have been informed that the conflict has been settled in the colony and that “the prisoners have come to an agreement with the Head”. Supposedly there was no spetsnaz and no beatings.

Today, 18 February, a similar report came, this time from penal colony No. 26 at Zhovti vody in the Dnipropetrovsk region. Seemingly, on Saturday evening, 16 February, the Head of the Colony together with some investigative officers visited the SHIZO [punishment cell], after which during that night 20 prisoners from the SHIZO “cut themselves”, with one so badly hurt that he was transferred to the normal hospital in Zhovti Vody.

Penal staff claim that such actions by prisoners are demonstrative acts, often unmotivated, and sometimes aimed against the administration to force them to certain actions. However, it remains as ever impossible to even check the level of self-inflicted injury since the system is closed to independent observers.  Until the system becomes more open to scrutiny, such allegations and concern about unlawful violence in penal institutions must inevitably continue.

Not again?

The Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group has received information that at 6.30 on 31 January in penal colony No. 46 in the Rivne region, a group of around 25 Spetsnaz [special forces] officers in masks and full fighting gear was deployed. They allegedly subjected 16 prisoners to such a beating that some of them are still scarcely able to move.

As reported here, on 24 December the Ministry of Justice cancelled the State registration of Order No. 167 of the State Department for the Execution of Sentences, regulating the activities of the special anti-terrorist unit. If this new information is correct, then the Department is paying no heed.

As usual, such information cannot be verified given the lack of openness in State Department.

Human rights protection

Volodymyr Yavorsky: People are ready to defend their rights when they believe they can and when they know how

Since 2004, people have become much more active in defending their own rights. Has the situation changed, however, and is Ukraine in danger of xenophobia and intolerance?  We spoke on these subjects, and about today’s human rights movement with the Executive Director of the Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union, Volodymyr Yavorsky.

Which rights are most often infringed in Ukraine?

I would highlight the right to a fair trial, to liberty and personal security and freedom from torture and ill-treatment.

How popular or unpopular are human rights organizations in Ukraine?

Hard to say, and we haven’t carried out such surveys. I’d mention only that tens of thousands of people receive help from human rights organizations every year.  In fact though, we are more concerned with having influence than on making ourselves popular.  There can be a problem with greater popularity: because the number of appeals from people increases and our resources are obviously limited.

It’s worth mentioning also that some human rights measures are not so popular. Who is going to defend a rapist or murder from being tortured?  Members of the public don’t necessarily understand such defence. We also often defend those who are in a minority (language, national, sexual, for example) which is not a popularity winner.

In your view which are the three most successful human rights organizations in Ukraine?

That’s always subjective. The ones that for me are the most interesting are the Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group, Freedom House – Ukraine and the International Women’s Human Rights Centre “Ukraine – La Strada”.

A lot has been said recently about racism, xenophobia, intolerance. How serious are the problems for Ukraine?

On the one hand, the level in Ukraine is actually much lower than in all neighbouring countries, and also Central and Western Europe. The exception here would perhaps be religious intolerance which is particularly strong in post-Soviet countries, including Ukraine.

On the other hand, over the last few years we have seen a significant increase in rights violations on such grounds, and this must be a source of concern.  It is not so much the number of such cases as the fact that the numbers are rising. It’s important here to mention that we lack mechanisms for stemming this rise since those who commit such offences or incite enmity remain unpunished.  If we don’t do something now, and discuss the situation publicly, it could become really serious in a couple of years.

Are people prepared these days to defend their own rights?

People are ready to defend their rights when they believe they can and when they know how. Since 2004, civic activity has increased markedly. This can be seen for example in the greater number of civil suits against the authorities.  This activity fell however in 2006.

The problem is that people are now aware how to effectively defend their rights, and when their attempts don’t work, they give up. For example, they send complaints to the prosecutor’s office, the President, the Human Rights Ombudsperson, or other bodies, yet don’t approach the courts. In fact, the courts are the single effective mechanism able to defend individuals’ rights. We should mention here that most members of the public cant’ afford lawyers fees which diminishes their chance of defending their rights.

What prompted you to work in human rights defence?

I found people who have the same views as me about various social issues and react like me to injustice.

Are there people who you look up to and what like to be like?

I prefer to live without such authoritative examples on principle. Each person has their own weaknesses and strengths. There are people who by their actions give a lot to others. For me that would be first of all the ten people who founded the Ukrainian Helsinki Group back in 1975. Their action, aimed at opposing the totalitarian machine must inspire. There are a lot of such acts in our history and that of the world and they’ve made a huge contribution.

Do friends or relatives often ask you for help in defending their rights?

Fortunately no, since their rights aren’t particularly violated, however they often ask for advice on legal matters.

Do you have to apply your knowledge on the street, in shops and other everyday situations?

Extremely rarely. Our rights are infringed by the State, and fortunately we don’t see the State involved on the street, in shops and in everyday situations. Most often we have contact with police patrol officers.

Is there a country which you think is worth emulating as far as human rights are concerned?

Each country has its own cultural milieu and it changes all the time. You can look at the USA as a bastion of freedom, yet over the last decades the country’s actions have destroyed this authority. From the point of view of human rights I’m very impressed by Scandinavian countries however that doesn’t mean that there aren’t any human rights problems there. There is no such thing as an ideal country.

What are your wishes for civic activists?

I would wish them support in their efforts, since it’s hard to break down obstacles without support. This is particularly true for civic activists who are largely impelled by their own idealism.

The Interviewer was Lyubov Yremicheva

Victims of political repression

Reaching out

Any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore, never send to know for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee

John Donne

Making people silent is all too easy.  The Soviet regime reminds us of that wherever we turn. Millions were silenced for ever.  Others understood that to survive they should say nothing.  The leaders of other countries seldom saw a need to say anything.  There were always reasons, always interests to be protected.  There were those who were not silent – and our infinite respect to them.

These words are written with Holodomor 1932-1933 in mind.  They could be about many places, many horrors.  Each totally unique, and each bitterly familiar in one thing alone – that the world looked away.  

So why should they want to know?

St. Augustine said that until asked he understood what time was.  Perhaps it is the same here: the very question of why we should want to know diminishes our humanity.

 The following will therefore only consider why we must know in order to draw vital lessons, and will examine certain arguments based on binary and highly questionable logic.

I’m Ukrainian and therefore …

Most, although by no means all, of those who call for Holodomor 1932-1933 to be recognized as an act of genocide are Ukrainian.  It is fashionable these days to talk of each ethnic group’s "memory".  If Holodomor is an undoubted source of pain primarily to Ukrainians, does this in any way undermine its reality?  It does not.  The crime is not subject to question.  The food was available, with enough grain exported in 1932 to have prevented any deaths at all from starvation* Grain procurement policy effectively took all food from the Ukrainian countryside.  The resistance from people fighting for their lives and those of their children was strong at first, but was broken through repression and brutality - and through hunger. And then they closed the borders, those between Soviet Ukraine, Soviet Kuban and the rest of the USSR and prevented peasants travelling anywhere by train in search of food.  

Many agree that the regime was monstrous, but argue that ill intent, so to speak, was not directed at any specific group.  This is not borne out by the facts.  Correspondence between Stalin and Kaganovich indicate that he saw Ukraine as a threat to the integrity of the Soviet empire and wanted to crush the process of Ukrainization which encouraged the use of the Ukrainian language and allowed nationally conscious Ukrainians to attain positions of authority at local level. The removal of food from the Ukrainian countryside coincided with a ferocious onslaught against Ukrainization.  This is most graphically reflected in a secret decree signed by Stalin and Molotov on 14 December 1932**

It is important to note that the target of repressions was not only Ukraine but also Ukrainians in the Kuban and other regions of RSFSR with high percentage of ethnic Ukrainians. In the Kuban region of the Northern Caucasus, with a very large Ukrainian population, all the measures applied in Ukraine itself were used: hunger, an attack on Ukrainization and the closing of borders.

"Rewriting history"

The Russian authorities, echoed by increasingly sycophantic journalists, have been accusing Ukraine over recent times of rewriting history in their own political interests.  It is true that under President Yushchenko, there has been a concentrated drive to gain official recognition worldwide of Holodomor as genocide.  Whether any individual leaders have their own political motives is simply not relevant.  There are archival records which do not distort, but confirm the testimony of witnesses and studies carried out by historians. Many historians, including Nicolas Werth, who were originally doubtful as to whether this was a case of genocide have, on the basis of this new evidence, acknowledged that it was***. It should be noted that while the Ukrainian Security Service has now made public all archival material in its possession, the Russian FSB [Federal Security Service] is not providing access to material they hold.  In our appeal to the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs ( ) we therefore call upon them to make all information available.  We can all only benefit from the truth about Holodomor. We wish to know the truth, not rewrite it.

Looking for covert nationalists or devious tricks

The aim of our appeal is to unite people of all nationalities in seeking the truth about a crime not only against the Ukrainian nation, but against humanity.  That sounds ambitious however our expectations were per force modest. The discomforted efforts to avoid eye contact were all too familiar, as were the responses like "not our problem" and "we don’t want to make problems with your neighbour".  

There has been a lot of support which is cheering.  It convinces us that we mustn’t stop. Aspirations are higher, and we are reaching out.  We do not believe that recognition of Holodomor is a Ukrainian matter alone. We are realistic and do not believe that simply calling such crimes by their names and honouring their victims can ensure that they never occur again. Rwanda and Darfur are bitter reminders that it is all much more complicated. Nonetheless, an end to the conspiracy of silence means a great deal.

Each Russian signature, we admit, was particularly appreciated, as was coverage on Russian human rights sites (, and others).  In trying to fathom why there has not been more support from Russians, we encountered some strange reactions.  Some scoured the text and could not give specific places, yet asserted that "nonetheless" nationalism seeped through.  Proving that something which isn’t there is indeed not there is as difficult as expressing this task in words, so I will pass.

There were also torrents of examples from Russian history with one rather defensive aim in mind, this being to prove that Russians have also been victims.  Who is denying this?  However, 75 years ago a crime was committed against the people of Ukraine and ethnic Ukrainians in Kuban and the Don. 
The bizarre somersault of "logic" would seem to be "if they were victims, then we weren’t".  Or, more primitively, "If they were victims, we were monsters, and we can’t live with that."  The conclusions are obvious".

We were all victims of a monstrous regime.  Understanding how this was possible cannot be easy for any of us, but is part of a vital process of freeing ourselves from that past.  By repeating the lies of those times, including the denial of Holodomor, we not only betray the victims of genocide, but ourselves remain victims of our past.

No competition
 It is, unfortunately, not only Russians who show signs of defensiveness with regard to Holodomor.  It is difficult to even write these words, yet there seem to be people who feel that promoting knowledge about Holodomor, Ukrainians are trying, somehow, to minimize the horror of the Holocaust. The suggestion is so distressing that it is hard to find any words.  The Holocaust can never be in any way minimized, and the mere suggestion that recognition of Holodomor would do this, is preposterous.  
 "Competition" in terms of numbers or any other scale is quite simply unthinkable. 
 All crimes, however, must be known, and downplaying one on the pretext that it may offend those more immediately concerned about another, is an affront to the memory of all the victims. 
 I believe that any arguments about numbers, including heated controversy regarding the number of victims of Holodomor, are totally inappropriate and run the risk of blurring the real issue.  All such information must be known, but cannot influence our assessment of the crime. 
 Any attempts at comparison, arithmetical or other, are frightful.  Promoting awareness of the suffering and the crime of Holodomor are not a nationalist issue and are not aimed at settling any scores.  Nor, however, must they be a matter of conviction alone.  Efforts to find out all information about Holodomor, including the number of victims, must be totally unwavering.   
 Let’s leave our comparatives for everyday life and not insult the memory of victims of a crime against humanity. Suffering does not lend itself to comparison.
 All crimes of genocide are crimes against you and I.

You can read (and sign) our appeal at:  (scroll down for English).  If you prefer, write to: [email protected]  (It helps if you say which country you’re writing from). The world was silent too long – let’s be heard together

*  “The grain exported from the 1932 harvest was sufficient to assure the survival of all the victims of the famine. Besides this, USSR had another million and a half tons in grain reserves that could also have been used.”  Roman Serbyn, “The Ukrainian Famine of 1932-1933 and the UN Convention on Genocide”

**  Resolution No. 121 from 14 December 1932 “"On Grain Procurement in Ukraine, Northern Caucasus and the Western Oblast” which can be found In the original Russian version online at:

*** “La grande famine ukrainianne de 1932-1933” in La terreur et le désarroi. Staline et son système. Paris 2007

News from the CIS countries

Sergei Kovalev: Open Letter

Vladimir Putin, President of the Russian Federation

Vladimir Churov, Chairman of the Russian Federation Central Election Commission

Sergei Lavrov, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation

Gentlemen, I have no doubt that you are well aware that the free expression of the will of free citizens via free democratic elections can never result in 99.4% of the votes being cast for one party with a turnout of 99.5% of the voters.

Now obviously that is only impossible where there is open, transparent political competition between electoral candidates, with equal opportunities for public campaigning, where there is no administrative pressure on individuals and where one finds impeccable honesty and scrupulous accuracy from the election commissions.

Yet all these are surely the crucial conditions for democratic electoral procedure? 

No need to prove to you that these very 99.4% votes “for” provide incontrovertible evidence of vote-rigging. You know that as well as I do, and as well as any remotely literate citizen with at least commonsense, not to mention a basic awareness of the nature and possibilities of the popular vote. You of course also know that such results far above 90% (i.e. the same fraud) did not happen in isolated polling stations, no, in several subjects of the Russian, if one may use the term, “Federation”.  This unfortunate circumstance is more than sufficient to correctly assess the tasteless farce being played out by untalented directors on the entire boundless Russian stage on 2 December, and for good measure in the coming event on 2 March.

It is entirely redundant to tediously collect up the electoral commission protocols rewritten in retrospect, or evidence of shenanigans with ballot papers etc – it’s all clear enough anyway. The authorities (who by the way you represent, Gentlemen), mangled electoral legislation and then wantonly, with no finesse, came up with some kind of imitation of elections.  In doing so they sneered at the Constitution and armed themselves with administrative resources. The simulation was not for us but for the West you so dislike.

I am not in the slightest claiming that “United Russia” would not have got into the State Duma without the rigging.  For goodness sake, obviously they would have been in first place anyway. That’s quite another, also painful problem for the country.

However on another subject now. Through your deliberate efforts, Gentlemen, in a country where the democracy was only budding forth, we once again have no elections – the main criterion for a democracy. And for a long time.  Not even Stalin could have dreamed of the Chechen record. In his “elections”, that sort of percentage was gained by a single candidate with no alternative.  While in the present case this pathetic 0.1% was supposedly shared by virtually 10 parties.

It’s not by hearsay that we know what’s happening to a country which receives a sycophantic puppet parliament, a decorative Constitution, a justice system working to order and an uncontrolled leadership reappointing itself (like the profoundly expressive word “successor” which has sullied our political lexicon for a good 10 years). Details are hardly appropriate. It would seem that that does not frighten you and you have decided to try it yet another. Or maybe you simply don’t know anything else.

Well, the choice – conscious and well-thought-out - has undoubtedly been made –, and long ago, and I am quite well aware that I can’t stop it.

I do have a question, however: will you be able to stop if at some stage you don’t wish to follow things through to the all too familiar end?

It’s clear that the lies exuding from all your lackey screens, are powerless to hide the electoral shame. Yet despite that, you are forced to lie shamelessly and hopelessly, with arrogance and anger jumping down on any doubts (like “… let them teach their wives …”). You don’t have another choice, I mean you can’t say: “Well, we took over here, slightly corrected the results, and there they went overboard. Well don’t be too critical, it’s all though their enthusiasm and uncontrollable functionary zeal.

And in your step there are the adepts hurriedly bustling to get themselves onto the patriot register. Earlier our leaders quite often had to lie tediously and brazenly for decades, denying the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, or the Katyn Massacre of Polish prisoners of war, or the arrest of Wallenberg. In a word, what was obvious to all around them and now it’s you. History is unfortunately repeating itself.

The lie which you so decisively have again established in government use and which you are incapable of rejecting has an important and extremely dangerous quality - I would say a particularly corrupting force. The point is that the majority of your listeners don’t believe you, and that includes your convinced supporters. That is, they are of course pleased with “United Russia’s” victory, but they understand very well whatever you say how the mould for such a victory was set.

We have a paradoxical change – you lie, your listeners know this and you know that they don’t believe you, only pretend to believe, and yet they also know that you know they don’t believe you. Everybody knows everything.  The very lie no longer aspires to deceive anyone, from being a means of fooling people it has for some reason turned into an everyday way of life, a customary and obligatory rule for living. You have a Mr Markov, supposedly a professor, supposedly a political expert, and in fact a hardened and dense cynic. Speaking with him about our “politics”, a journalist said: “lies have short legs”. “Human memory is even shorter”, was Markov’s response. Horrible, yet it would seem that this is in fact the case. Of course they’ll forget a lot about the two grubby spectacles in succession in a couple of months after 2 March. However they’ll never forget something else – that the top figures of the state lie through their teeth. And how could they forget when lying is your natural element?

This memory is catastrophic and its results irreparable because the customary lies of leaders always generate and cultivate cynicism in society and cannot achieve anything else. Whatever your people now say about freedom being better than lack of freedom, about the right to self-expression and so forth, these pompous speeches are fixedly (and fairly, by the way) perceived as a continuation of your untruth. They’re mere words. There is exactly the same attitude to the bombastic ambitiousness of your utterances about the guaranteed phenomenal and swiftest successes in all conceivable areas, matters and issues.

It would seem, however strange this may be, that for us, coming from the Stalin era, those in power also need public support. So you want to rely on cynicism? Yet cynicism is cowardice, the flight from burning problems and hard-hitting discussion.  It is the lowest pragmatism, petty timeserving teetering on the verge of baseness, or having toppled over that edge. It is intrigue, preferred to competition, and a rejection of moral taboos.

Can any serious political force really base itself on such social tendencies? Well, yes, cynicism does not scorn obsequious enthusiasm.  We all remember well enough the paid mobs of your “nashy”, 150 per body. So what do you expect - they’re your prop in the flamboyantly announced “innovations” and other achievements? Enough, after all you, Mr President, openly shared with us your devastating assessments of your main people – the party of power “United Russia”. What other “innovations”?

What then, do you expect with pitiful charms about “four and “to turn a mob into a creative force? Now that is foolish!  From dishonesty, Gentlemen, nothing grows barring new dishonesty. On that road you have already achieved your real main goal. Publicly you name it ponderously as stability, whereas in fact its total power. Simply speaking, modernizing and improving (cynically, yet reasonably subtly one must say) Soviet ideology and political practice, you have built a political construction in Russia within which it’s impossible to win the elections.

Not even squeeze them in any way in parliament. Not even exert any noticeable political pressure. This is a blind alley that can no way lead to democracy. And gradually going back by the same path we came on is almost impossible since you are doomed to lie. As I said before, you can’t renounce the lies once spoken, or your whole system will come tumbling down.

What you are to do in this situation is of no interest to me. Most probably you’ll continue your course, perhaps on the way filling your pockets (those in the know say that you’ve long being doing this – I don’t know, I’m not an expert in this area). What the country is to do, having ended up under you, now that is the question. It is immoral and very dangerous to put up with you indefinitely. Since your present shameless “elections” are absolutely useless, we therefore need an entirely different instrument in other hands. We don’t need “political experts” and “political technology specialists”, not economists and not politicians in the traditional sense of the word. We need intelligent, daring and extremely well-meaning leaders who instead of loud opposition noises, can create a decisive, calm, persistent and unwavering protest and not allow it to slip out from the tradition of the great peaceful Eastern European victories over despotism, to not allow bloodshed and the brown-shirt plague. This is incredibly difficult. It is much harder in Russia than it was in Poland or Czechoslovakia, harder even than in Ukraine.

Yet who promised that our life would be easy? I believe that these people will at some stage come. I see no other possibility for overcoming our shameful moral crisis.

However it’s not with you that these problems need to be discussed.

With the most sincere and unwavering lack of respect,

Sergei Kovalev

Solovky Stone in Moscow in danger

Moscow “Memorial” has issued a strong protest against plans to move the Solovky Stone to make space for construction work. The Stone was brought from Solovky Labour Camp and is the central memorial to the victims of political repression in the USSR.

Their statement reads:

“Reports have appeared recently in the press of plans to temporarily relocate the Solovky Stone - the most well-known memorial to victims of political repression in Moscow and in Russia”.

Memorial explains that it learned of the planned construction work in December.  The area on Lubyanka Square would, as a result, be a construction site and a new location was planned on the territory of the square.

Memorial expressed firm opposition to this immediately and says that they found complete understanding from the Moscow Committee for Cultural Heritage and the Commission attached to the Moscow Government on reinstating the rights of those rehabilitated and victims of political repression.

“However at the present time the construction plans have not changed.

Nor has Memorial’s position. Despite assurances that the monument will only be transferred temporarily, we consider such treatment of the monument unacceptable. We are convinced that the Solovky Stone, like the Grave of the Unknown Soldier, are sacred places, demanding special respect.

The present situation is insulting for all those whose relatives or friends were victims of the communist regime.”

Memorial calls on the Moscow Government to find an alternative site for the metropolitan construction work.  If the work does nonetheless commence, then they call for guarantees that the Solovky Stone will be in place by September and that the territory around it will be brought into a state befitting such a monument.

“Prava Ludiny” (human rights) monthly bulletin, 2008, #02