28.10.12. Ukrainian voters hope for knockout punch
Roman Olearchyk in Cherkassy
Ukrainians have for years cheered on the reigning world heavyweight boxing champion Vitali Klitschko as he conquered his opponents in the ring. Now millions of voters want to see the boxer deliver a political knockout to their president, Viktor Yanukovich.
They may get their chance next week. Riding on the shoulders of its towering national icon, Mr Klitschko's party is enjoying a surge in popularity ahead of parliamentary elections on October 28.
"His first punch as a politician should be against Yanukovich and his Regions party," said a smiling Natalia Tomenko of Cherkassy, a provincial capital in central Ukraine.
Looking on as Mr Klitschko rallied more than a thousand voters in the town's central square, the 20-year-old student, a first-time voter, said other politicians "had their chance in power, enriched themselves but did nothing for average people".
Speaking in broken sound bites, Mr Klitschko said it was time to knock out corruption, cronyism, autocracy and kleptocracy, telling his mainly disillusioned, impoverished voters that hope had to be kept alive.
The speech in Cherkassy this week was part of a campaign tour through rural regions where Mr Klitschko says his ancestors were once Cossack warriors. His Ukrainian Democratic Alliance for Reform party is better known by its acronym, UDAR, which means punch in Ukrainian.
"I am not entering politics to make money, I don't need money," Mr Klitschko told the crowd, lashing out at billionaire oligarchs and bureaucrats who abuse power for personal gain.
Polls show support for UDAR has doubled since the spring to 16 per cent, threatening to eclipse the party of jailed opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko, and creeping up on the 23 per cent held by Mr Yanukovich’s Regions party.
Mr Klitschko has twice unsuccessfully bid to be mayor of Kyiv, Ukraine's capital. But his leap on to the national stage has injected a fresh jolt of energy and hope for voters in this country of 45m people that seeks closer relations with Europe but feels the strong pull eastward by Russia.
The opposition is feeling the void left by last year's jailing of Ms Tymoshenko, an ex-prime minister and leader of the pro-democracy Orange Revolution eight years ago. Western leaders have condemned her seven-year jail sentence as politically motivated, while the EU has put a landmark free trade agreement on hold until Ukraine demonstrates a stronger commitment to democracy.
Mr Klitschko says he would support legislation to free Ms Tymoshenko, who is "no doubt a political prisoner". But his success is partially thanks to the absence of her charismatic campaigning. UDAR has made big gains in Ukrainian-speaking western and central Ukraine, Ms Tymoshenko's heartland. But polls show Mr Klitschko also doing well in Russian-speaking eastern Ukraine, where Mr Yanukovich draws much of his support.
Should the opposition win this election, Mr Klitschko said UDAR would unite with Ms Tymoshenko's Fatherland party to steer Ukraine back towards EU integration, democracy, rule of law and open politics.
In a country where politicians race down highways in luxury vehicles guarded by police escorts, Mr Klitschko is campaigning from a Volkswagen minivan. Rare for Ukrainian politicians, he takes questions – sometimes tough – from voters at rallies. This week he was criticised by villagers, for example, for building a party out of untested new faces and "discredited" bureaucrats.
"To some extent he is an unknown quantity," says Mychailo Wynnyckyj, a social sciences professor at Kyiv Mohyla Academy. "But Ukraine needs new political faces and Klitschko’s party is bringing many in."
Positioning UDAR as centre-moderate, Mr Klitschko talked of reforms that would lift the middle class and small businesses. "This is a rich country with lots of natural resources," he tells the Financial Times, but it is all in the hands of a few "oligarchs" and the "family" – Mr Yaner. "He is younger, stronger, he can give our children a future," she says.
Ukraine's authorities have repeatedly pledged to hold a free and fair poll. Prime minister Mykola Azarov highlighted the installation of webcams in all 34,000 polling stations.
But cynicism is sky high with many voters. The pre-election atmosphere is fearful; many voters in rural Cherkassy region refused to speak to this newspaper, fearing that authorities would punish them or their relatives.
Holding up his three-year-old son in the crowds of Klitschko supporters, Pavlo Zelenko, an unemployed 30-year-old, said: "I will vote for Klitschko’s party to see what he does. There is not a lot of hope left."
16.12.12. SKU CALLS UPON HIGH-RANKING EU OFFICIALS
TO EXPEDITE SIGNING OF EU-UKRAINE ASSOCIATION AGREEMENT
UWC PRESIDENT EUGENE CZOLIJ CALLS UPON HIGH-RANKING EU OFFICIALS
TO EXPEDITE SIGNING OF EU-UKRAINE ASSOCIATION AGREEMENT
On December 11-13, 2012, in Strasbourg, France, Ukrainian World Congress (UWC) President Eugene Czolij held a series of meetings with high-ranking officials of the European Union (EU).
Eugene Czolij presented the UWC position on current Ukrainian issues to the former President of the European Parliament (EP), Jerzy Buzek, the Vice President of the EP, Jacek Protasiewicz, the Chair and Vice-Chair of the EP Delegation to the EU-Ukraine Parliamentary Cooperation Committee, Pawel Kowal and Siiri Oviir, and Members of the EP: Libor Roucek, Vice-Chair of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats, Jacek Saryusz-Wolski, Zuzana Roithova, Jan Kozlowki, Tunne Kelam, Marek Siwiec and Kristiina Ojuland.
In separate meetings, Eugene Czolij asked that Ukraine not be equated with its governing authorities. He also called upon officials to help expedite the signing of the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement, which is of strategic importance to collective European interests. This will also help Ukraine to distance itself from Russia’s imperialistic plans, which have become evident in the “Russkiy Mir” ideology and the pressure being exerted by Russia for economic integration through Customs and Eurasian Unions. Moreover, the UWC President emphasized the need to promote a pro-European course among the Ukrainian people, namely through student exchanges and the easing of visa requirements for travel between the EUand Ukraine. He cited the results of surveys in Ukraine which revealed that support for EU membership is strongest among young Ukrainians and people who have visited one of the EU member countries, the United States or Canada. Eugene Czolij also called for more action by the EU to strengthen Ukrainian civil society. With respect to breaches of democratic principles by Ukraine’s governing authorities, the UWC President encouraged the EU to consider adopting legislation similar to the Magnitsky Bill, passed by the US Congress. This bill contains measures such as the denial of visas, forbidding of transactions and freezing of assets, for individuals who commit serious human rights violations.
Eugene Czolij also raised the same issues in private conversations with the Chairman of the EP Committee on Foreign Affairs, Elmar Brok, and the European Commissioner for Enlargement and European Neighbourhood Policy, Stefan Fule.
On December 12, 2012 the UWC President attended the Plenary Session of the EP during which issues related to Ukraine were discussed. Thereafter, the EP adopted a Resolution on the situation in Ukraine, which contains the following provisions:
The European Parliament [ ... ]
9. Expresses continued support for the European aspirations of the Ukrainian people; regrets that the recent parliamentary elections did not constitute meaningful progress in advancing Ukraine’s credentials in this regard; stresses that the EU remains committed to working with Ukraine, including civil society (NGOs, religious organisations, etc.), in order to improve democratic institutions, strengthen the rule of law, ensure media freedom and advance essential economic reforms;
10. Confirms the EU’s commitment to further advancing relations with Ukraine through the signing of the association agreement as soon as the Ukrainian authorities demonstrate determined action and tangible progress, as called for above, possibly by the time of the Eastern Partnership Summit in Vilnius in November 2013; notes that progress in political association and economic integration is dependent on Ukraine’s tangible commitment to democratic principThe Canadian Group for Democracy in Ukraine (CG4DU) applauds the unanimous decision by the European Court of Human Rights in condemning the violations of human rights of Ukraine’s former prime minister and key leader of the opposition Yulia Tymoshenko in her detention and incarceration by Ukraine’s authorities.
Specifically, the Court decided that “Ms. Tymoshenko’s pre-trial detention had been arbitrary; that the lawfulness of her detention had not been properly reviewed; and, that she had no possibility to seek compensation for her unlawful deprivation of liberty.”
The CG4DU wishes to point out the error, in public statements by Ukraine’s authorities, that interpret the Court’s finding as censuring Ms. Tymoshenko for “contemptuous behavior” during proceedings. In fact the opposite is true. On this point the Court states that it “found that, given that the judge had referred to her alleged hindering of the proceedings and contemptuous behaviour, her right to liberty had been restricted for other reasons than those permissible.”
The CG4DU strongly supports Canada’s position as stated by John Baird, Minister of Foreign Affairs: “With this ruling, the European Court of Human Rights sends a clear message that court proceedings in Ukraine fell short of internationally recognized norms of fairness, transparency and due process.”
Like Canada, the CG4DU remains concerned about the political bias and arbitrary prosecution in this and other cases which undermine the rule of law and continue the back sliding in Ukraine’s democracy.
It calls on President Viktor Yanukovych to ensure a return to the rule of law. It also calls on Canada, with other like minded friends, to exert the greatest pressure possible on Ukraine’s President to comply with conditions set out by the European Union for further integration via the Association Agreement. The most critical is the release of Ms. Tymoshenko.
The CG4DU also urges NGOs mandated to uphold human rights, promote democracy, justice, rights of women, among others, to support publicly the Court’s decision. The Ukrainian World Congress has already done so. Other Ukrainian organizations in Ukraine and in the diaspora may wish to state their position clearly as well.
les, the rule of law, the independence of the judiciary and media freedom;
14. Welcomes the signing of the amended visa facilitation agreement between the European Union and Ukraine, which introduces clear improvements in the delivery of visas for Ukrainian citizens, compared with the agreement currently in force; calls on the Council to advance EU-Ukraine dialogue on visa liberalisation ahead of the Eastern Partnership Summit in Vilnius in November 2013.
The UWC is the international coordinating body for Ukrainian communities in the diaspora representing the interests of over 20 million Ukrainians. The UWC has member organizations in 33 countries and ties with Ukrainians in 14 additional countries. Founded in 1967 as a non-profit corporation, the UWC was recognized in 2003 by the United Nations Economic and Social Council as a non-governmental organization (NGO) with special consultative status.
A recent poll gives Mr Klitschko the highest level of voter trust at 42 per cent, compared with 32 per cent for Mr Yanukovich. Political analysts are already talking about a 2015 Klitschko-Yanukovich showdown for the presidency, although the boxer says it's too early to discuss.
But if he leads the opposition into victory this autumn, Mr Klitschko would at the very least shake up Ukrainian politics, much like Georgian billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili did this month in Georgia, another former Soviet republic.
"I don't know how many rounds it will take, but I will fight to the finish," Mr Klitschko said. "And in the end, when we win, it will be a knockout."