On Tuesday, I flew to Washington with nine other Ukrainians for the purpose sharing with United States government officials and others our concerns about the increasing repression of civil society in our country. Our delegation included journalists, leaders of civil-society organizations, and three members of the Verhovna Rada (Ukraine’s parliament) including myself. We all felt this mission to be important enough that we left our jobs and other responsibilities and financed our trip in order make sure official Washington understands what is happening in Ukraine.
In the case of those of us who serve in parliament, we left Kyiv on a day when there was a possibility that a terrible piece of legislation might be brought to a vote by the majority coalition in the parliament which would, if enacted, delay parliamentary and presidential elections.
When we arrived at Dulles International Airport I was immediately bombarded by phone messages and e-mail messages asking me how I could possibly have supported such legislation. I could not and did not. Nevertheless the story was being spread in Ukraine that I had cast my vote in favor of the legislation.
This could not be. Each Member of the Rada has their own individual voting card and a vote can only be recorded by using that voting card. Yes, there is a blatantly unconstitutional practice by some in the Rada of voting other member’s voting cards, right in front of the television cameras, but no one could have voted with my card. At the time of the vote my card was in my pocket some 30,000-plus feet above the Atlantic Ocean.
Upon learning about this clear act of voting fraud in the Rada I had one of my colleagues take a picture of me at Dulles Airport holding my voting card in my hand and e-mailed the picture along with my statement back to Kyiv for publication in the Ukrainian press. I also wrote to the chairman of the Rada demanding an investigation. The evidence is overwhelming — somehow the supporters of the legislation to delay elections, President’s Party of Regions, had manipulated Ukraine’s parliamentary voting in order to cast my vote knowing my clear opposition to the legislation, without my voting card and without my knowledge. They were caught, their gross act of political corruption exposed to everyone: genuine transparency.
You would think the only way the Party of the Regions would or could deal with being caught would be to demur to answering questions and announce that it would look into the matter. But normal standards do not apply with the brazen Party of Regions. Members of the Party of Regions bloc in the Rada instead told reporters that they saw me on the floor of the Rada on the Tuesday of the vote! This takes the absurdity of Ukraine’s public corruption to new levels and the timing could not have been better for our delegation.
The Party of Regions allowed this story to spread across the media of Ukraine and to be picked up by international press at the very time our delegation was meeting in Washington to tell of the growing public corruption in Ukraine and the government’s repression of our society. The miscreants made our case for us — a timely, personal and a most transparent example for us to present in Washington. And present it we did.
Our message here in Washington was twofold: Under Ukraine’s new government there is growing repression and yet civil society is alive and vibrant, and needs to be encouraged and supported.
The heroes of the so-called Orange Revolution in 2004 were the people in the streets, the members of civil society who demanded a fair election. Ukraine’s civil society did not collapse with the failure and disappointment of the “Orange” government. The people still expect the kind of government they demonstrated for in 2004 and they are still very active in pursuit of the government they deserve. Ukraine’s civil society is still scoring victories. Peaceful demonstrations in cities all across Ukraine with no politicians involved recently backed the government off an attempt to change the tax code. Other examples of similar success by civil society include a new law to open government files, a law on the right to assemble, and the defeat of a law to make Russian an “official” language as well as Ukrainian.
If the United States genuinely supports democracy it must not accept President Yanukovich’s phony words and must challenge him on the actions of his government, and support and give voice to the people of Ukraine’s civil society.
— Volodymyr Ariev is a member of the Ukrainian parliament.