Before the early winter of 2004 Ukraine was nothing but a grey smudge somewhere on the periphery of a contemporary Europe. It was a country with a developing democracy and with its fair share of problems as it tried to shake off the legacy of the Former Soviet Union, but when the Orange (R)evolution took place, the world started to take notice. As a result of the bloodless revolution, a revolution of smiling cooperative Ukrainians, wanting to build a better nation, one based on democratic principles, Ukraine was offered a carrot. That carrot was the Euro-2012 Football Championships which it is to co-host with its Western neighbor Poland; a country that through a great deal of shock therapy reformed itself from being a key member of the Warsaw Pact into a functioning democracy.
However, Ukraine somehow, to this day, even twenty years of independence has not gone through the reforms necessary in order to become a truly functioning democracy. The unlawful trial, unethical detainment and the flimsily grounded, yet brutally enforced verdict on former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, announced by a clearly in-the-pocket judge, is just one such incident – prominent because of Tymoshenko’s high international profile, yet very indicative of the unmistakable ruthlessness of the current regime.
“In Tymoshenko’s trial, however, many elements of Stalin’s grotesque legal charades are present: a near-hysterical prosecutor, a compliant judge, a ruler who washed his hands of the affair like Pontius Pilate.” wrote Nikita Khrushchev’s great granddaughter, Nina Khrushcheva in the The Daily Beast on October 10 a day before the verdict was announced.
Yanukovych’s master of spin Hanna Herman had at some point stated that the president was “not aware of the charges brought against Tymoshenko” and annoyed by this, but how will his annoyance play out? Particularly if one takes the time to ask oneself: If despite all the heavy international condemnation of this trial, and despite all the looming political and economic consequences, for a regime that appears so busy trying to build some sort of legitimate image abroad, the verdict was still followed through on, in full force, without even blinking, then one can only speculate about the level of ruthlessness which this government goes about with its daily business when the rest of the world is not watching, and Ukraine is not under the microscope?
Earlier, if the modus operandi by those who came to power was divide and conquer, now it is clearly seek and destroy, using any possible means. It appears that at times principles of revenge are placed higher than any political or even economic rational. Although, there is very well grounded political and economic rational behind eliminating from politics the regime’s Number one opponent.
So who will the regime’s next opponent be? Maybe when the consequences of this show trail are felt by Ukraine’s politicos, they will with the restrained brutality of Stalin, put an end to the political careers of the prosecutor and judge in the case as suggested by Nina Khrushcheva? After all they were nothing but useful-idiots employed by the regime to eliminate the opposition, they too are expendable.
But will there be consequences? Yanukovych’s advisors are certain that Ukraine’s strategic importance is too big for Europe to simply switch to hard measures of boycotts, travel bans, account freezes, etc. The officials in Kyiv think that they can manage to balance their instances of unconcealable lawlessness, corruption and brutality, with their efforts to appear democratic and progressive by appeasing the West with select deals and partnerships. Getting ready for Euro-2012 in the most pompous way possible, is one of these efforts.
Yet the common everyday good people of Ukraine have nothing to do with the Euro-2012 Football Championship. Most eek their way through life based on principles that are so far away from the current occupiers of government seats. In speaking to a friend yesterday, his mother’s pension was recently reduced again, and that considering that the average pension in Ukraine is somewhere around 100 dollars a month, in a country where prices for everyday necessities are topping those in the West. In short, any standard of life is unthinkable, and it is a continuously spiraling downward.
Meanwhile Deputy Prime Minister Borys Kolesnikov is touting the economic viability of the country and how all the stadiums and infrastructure for Euro-2012 as such an economic accomplishment. An economic accomplishment that was presented to the people of Ukraine as one that would be financed by foreign investors. Now who can tell me how much direct foreign investment has come into Ukraine because of the wonderful and honorable game of football? Probably not a single nickel! The roads, airports and many other things were all things that should have been taking place regardless of whether Ukraine was hosting Euro-2012, they were things that had to be done and now those in power are doing them in such a way that they can ingratiate themselves to the tune of at least 30% of each project’s value.
For example, let’s take a look at the reconstruction of the Olympic stadium in the nation’s capital. By the best estimates of any professional in the industry, the project should have cost at the very most 300 million dollars, but when you hear that it cost close to 550 million dollars, one has to start seriously wondering. So where did 250 million dollars vanish to? These are monies that could have gone toward pensions, improving the state of health care or education?
The boycotting of the Euro-2012 should be just one of many different repercussions of the grotesqueness of the current state of affairs in Ukraine. The Ukrainian Canadian Congress is calling on the Government of Canada to “send a clear message to President Yanukovych,” however; the Government of Canada better brush up on its lexicon before sending that message, or it, like the many other messages that were intended to be shots fired across the bow will have no effect. Warnings are not enough for these types, as I tried to make clear earlier, they don’t understand diplo-speak. Those shots should not be going over the bow, but actually hitting it, because unless all members of the regime of Yanukovych feel the economic and political consequences on their own skin, Ukraine will continue to slip further away from democracy.
The powers that be in Ukraine think they are entitled to hosting the Euro-2012 championships. They are not entitled; Ukraine was given a carrot for a job that was ongoing in terms of developing a democracy. Under the current regime that democracy has been floundering in many different areas. The common every day people of Ukraine will only be empowered by a complete and ultimate boycott of the Potemkin Euro-2012 village that those in charge are trying to take away from the people that enabled the carrot in the first place.
Vasyl Pawlowsky Independent Consultant
This commentary was first published on the Ukraine Business Online site.