Report from the House of Commons meeting on 21 November 2016 organised by Liberation and sponsored by Chris Stephens MP and Kelvin Hopkins MP
Liberation Generation Secretary Maggie Bowden opened by thanking Kelvin Hopkins and Chris Stephens for sponsoring the meeting and noted that an Early Day Motion in defence of civil and political liberties in Ukraine had been tabled in the previous session. She welcomed the guests from Ukraine, both distinguished academics. Dr Yevgenii Gerasymenko and an anonymous source.
Professor Gerasymenko, a lawyer, opened. He expressed his thanks to Liberation for the opportunity to discuss the violations of civil and political freedom in Ukraine. He stressed that these violations were not restricted to the Communist Party but extended to other Leftist parties and to any public expression of any sup-port for Marxist/socialist ideas. Even an NGO that had taken its title from a poem by Mayakosky has been refused a licence.
The attack on civil and political liberties began immediately after the coup when the newly installed government ordered the immediate dissolution of the 32 strong groups of Communist MPs elected by 13 per cent of the popular vote in the 2012 elections.
Dr Gerasymenko stressed that the Communist Party had long called for the Ukrainian state to recognise the national, cultural and linguistic diversity of Ukraine and had advocated that these rights be recognised constitutionally by some degree of regional autonomy. The new post-coup government now used this as the basis for its next step: the demand for the judiciary to declare the Communist Party illegal for violating the territorial integrity of the Ukraine. Similar cases were brought against individuals in lower level courts. During 2014-15 there were over 400 criminal arrests – some without notification (in one case a member ‘disappeared’ in prison for over a year). This was in a period of political turmoil when far-right paramilitaries sought to exercise street-level power and had penetrated parts of the security forces. Dr Gerasymenko was involved in defending many of these cases. In almost all cases the courts rejected the prosecution declarations.
The next stage of legal action to restrict civil liberties was the Decommunisation Law signed by President Poroshenko in May 2015. This was modelled on that adopted by the Republic of Moldova in 2012 but subsequently repealed when condemned by the Council of Europe’s Venice Commission for Human Rights.
This Act was very far-reaching and pro-scribed the use of any symbols associated with communism or the Soviet Union – symbols including writing that were in any way favourable to the Soviet Union or communism. The use and dissemination of such material became a criminal offence with a prison sentence of five years and the confiscation of property. The same legislation also contained a section calling for the Honouring the Memory of the Fighters for the Independence of Ukraine in the Twentieth Century – legislation condemned by the Polish government as honouring the Ukrainian SS battalions responsible for the mass murders of Poles and Jews.
The Ukrainian government used this law to ban the Communist Party from standing in elections and sought to ban the party itself. On 24 July 2015 the Interior Ministry issued a decree prohibiting the Communist Party of Ukraine from standing in elections. Legal proceedings were begun in July 2015 to ban the party itself. The judges in the Kiev Administrative Court hearing the case were placed under considerable pressure by the government (offices searched and computers seized) and ultimately all resigned on the grounds that the case was ‘politically motivated’. Some of them were subsequently subject to criminal proceedings themselves and served with papers for military service. In these circumstances one judge took the case in December 2015 in a hearing from which the public was excluded; the Communist Party and its lawyers were not permitted to be present.
The Communist Party of Ukraine has appealed the verdict to the European Court of Human Rights. This appeal is currently pending; meanwhile the formal ban on the Communist Party itself cannot be enforced. However, the party remains subject to the Decommunisation Law, members continue to be arrested, the party’s newspapers have been closed and the one TV channel that was favourable to the Left has been refused a licence to broadcast. In December 2015 the Venice Commission issued a statement condemning the Decommunisa-tion Law.
Dr Gerasymenko raised the issue of right-wing paramilitaries, their intimidation of local courts and councils and the disappearance and murder of journalists and others. He saw these developments as profoundly concerning. After the coup there were attacks on homes and party offices and the burning of: books, news-papers and records. Although most of the paramilitary formations have now been incorporated into the army, police or security forces, a great deal of extra-legal violence and intimidation continues.
More recently, on 20 October 2016, the Ukraine Parliament had adopted the Law “On amendments to some laws of Ukraine to re-strict access to the Ukrainian market of foreign printed materials with anti-Ukrainian content”. This has allowed the authorities yet further limit freedom of expression. Although possession of writings by Marx or Lenin, or books from the time of the Soviet Union, is not in itself a criminal offence, any attempt to distribute, or promote them is. Most recently this act has been used to ban an American made film that was considered to present a character from the Soviet era in too favourable a light.
The case of former Communist deputy Alla Allexandrovska, a sixty seven year old in very poor health, who was arrested early in the summer, and remained in prison without access to medical care for six months and who has now been placed under 24 hour house arrest was raised. No trial has taken place.
Chris Stephens MP formally welcomed the guests from Ukraine. He said that events un-folding in Ukraine caused him and many of his colleagues’ considerable concern. He agreed to raise within parliament any issues which concerned the involvement by the British government either directly or as a signatory of the EU Association Agreement with Ukraine.
Kelvin Hopkins MP agreed with these remarks and noted the importance of resolving the current situation on the basis of the full implementation of the Minsk II Peace Agreement.
In response Dr Gerasimenko indicated that such implementation would ultimately provide the only way forward to ensure the restoration of civil liberties across of the whole of Ukraine within a political framework that provides guarantees for peace, free elections and for civil and linguistic rights. Unfortunately the policies of the current government ran directly contrary to such implementation.
The background to this is the intensifying economic crisis in Ukraine. There is very high un-employment. Inflation has sharply cut wages. Pensioners have been reduced to a level where they can no longer afford even mini-mum heating or housing provision. Corruption is rampant at every level of the state.
In these circumstances the electoral support for the government parties had fallen dramatically. The government parties do not want elections and are fearful that any resolution of the ‘Anti-Terrorist Operation’ in the East would lead to the return of large numbers of far-right para-militaries to Kiev with detrimental consequences to all.
Free elections, the resolution of the conflict in the East, as well as the restoration of civil rights, do not unfortunately appear to be on the immediate political agenda. Instead, Ukraine is descending into a level of disorder that threaten surrounding states – with 9 million illegal firearms and large-scale trafficking in munitions, drugs and humans.
In discussion it was noted that Ukraine is largely dependent on economic and military support from a range of NATO powers – including Britain which currently has 75 military personnel assisting the Ukrainian army. NATO and EU governments therefore have considerable bargaining power, should they wish to use it, to secure policies to lead to a peaceful resolution.
Maggie Bowden, General Secretary of Liberation summed up the meeting by thanking participants and pledging Liberation to take up the issues for a continuing campaign – noting that Liberation, as a United Nations recognised NGO, had rights to raise issues at UN sessions in Geneva three times a year.