Central Europe Review: politics,
society and culture in Central and Eastern Europe
Vol 2, No 11
20 March 2000

Ukraine NewsC E N T R A L   E U R O P E A N   N E W S:
News Review for Ukraine
All the important news from Ukraine
since 18 March 2000

Natalya Krasnoboka

The issue of the Ukrainian Constitutional referendum (see previous issues) was once again the major topic in Ukrainian political news this week, as the nation awaited the final decision of the country's Constitutional Court and the Ventian Commission to rule on the legitimacy of the referendum.

According to the original timetable, the Constitutional Court was to present its decision on 18 March 2000. However, Constitutional Court press spokesman Volodymyr Shlyaposhnikov, said the decision will be delayed because open sessions of the Court, at which both sides in the debate were invited to present, ended only on 16 March 2000. The court, Shlyaposhnikov explained, needs more time to process all the information and hold closed, members-only sessions prior to making a decision

By contrast, the Venetian Commission's conclusions are nearly finalized. According to Serhyj Golovatyj, a lawyer and member of the Ukrainian Parliament who is also that body's representative at the Council of Europe's Parliamentary Assembly, the eighteen-member Constitutional Court will receive the Commission's preliminary report in the near future.

As expected, the Venetian Commission suggests that the proposed 16 April 2000 referendum should be considered unconstitutional and incompatible with international democratic standards. Still, Ukrainian authorities interested in seeing the referendum proceed have not yet lost hope that it will continue as planned.

In an interview with the Ukrainian newspaper Den', Vice-Speaker of Parliament Stepan Havrysh said that "This [the preliminary report of the Venetian Commission] is only a project. The Commission has not yet officially accepted it."

"It is known," Havrysh said, "that it has been prepared in accordance with the written evaluations ... of constitutional experts from Italy, Germany, Switzerland, and the Czech Republic. First of all, it is a big surprise that Western lawyers have been able to understand Ukraine's legal and constitutional fields so quickly. The reason for the adoption of this decision should also be made known."

"Secondly," he continued, "there are also political and procedural aspects of the question that must be considered. From my perspective, haste in the conclusions suggests that the [Commission's conclusion] is based on emotions and not solid, expert opinion."

Havrysh also sees the publication of the Commission's preliminary report as an attempt to influence the National Court, which is supposed to be the only Ukrainian institution competent to comment on constitutional questions.

As of today, five members of the Venetian Commission have already presented their conclusions on each question in the Ukrainian referendum, and the complete decision of the commission should be presented to the Council of Europe by the end of the month. On 4 April 2000, the "Ukrainian Question" will be the first major issue on the agenda at the next Parliamentary session of the Council of Europe's Parliamentary.

In the 50 years of its existence, the Council of Europe has only once suspended a country's membership. Ukraine may thus become the second nation, after Greece, to have its membership in one of Europe's major institutions suspended. While many Ukrainian politicians do not believe that this could come to pass, Serhyj Golovatyj, a member of the Venetian Commission, thinks suspension is a very real possibility.

"This organization [the Council of Europe] is often criticized for inactivity, for the lack of legal powers required to enforce its decisions. In the case of Ukraine, the Council of Europe has a perfect chance to prove its active position. Unfortunately for Ukraine, the result will be the loss of opportunities for democratic development."

As a member of the Venetian Commission, Golovatyj is well-known as a supporter of European integration, and is now doing his best to prevent Ukraine from taking an irrevocable step away from European structures. Because of this, his active involvement was heavily criticised this week by officials close to the President.

Presidential press secretary Alexander Martynenko accused Golovatyj of incorrectly quoting the Commission's decision. Martynenko has also stressed that the Ukrainian delegation to the Council of Europe's Parliamentary Assembly should, in the first instance, think of Ukrainian national interests before damaging the state's prestige on the international stage.

Also this week, the Ukrainian Security Service (SBU) released the names of members of the National Parliament accused of corruption. Of the seven names on the "Black List," the majority were members of the Green Party (PZU). According to the SBU, those listed are guilty of holding business interests at the same time as being members of Parliament, as most of those listed are founders of major commercial enterprises. According to the Ukrainian election law, Parliamentarians cannot hold both their seats and outside business interests. By contrast, though, the latest edition of the Law on Entrepreneur Activity states that the founder of a commercial enterprise who is not actively involved in the regular operations of the firm cannot be considered an entrepreneur, meaning that those named by the SBU cannot be considered corrupt.

The Green Party is preparing a harsh response, as it sees the SBU list as an attempt to interfere with state politics. Given that the Green Party is a member of the ruling coalition, an SBU investigation may, at first sight, seem contrary to the SUB's interests. Motivations may be seen to exist, however, when one considers the Green Party's penchant for independent action in Parliament contradictory to the interests of other factions in the governing coalition.

As some national newspapers have noted, four of the deputies named on the SBU list had been asked to change their political orientation just prior to the release of the list.

On 22 March 2000, President Leonid Kuchma signed a law to abolish the death penalty. The death penalty has not been carried out in Ukraine since March 1995 and, although the abolition of capital punishment did not win the full support and understanding of society, Ukraine had an obligation to eliminate the death penalty in order to fulfill its obligations as a member of the Council of Europe. Ukrainian hesitation on the abolition of capital punishment raised questions about the country's Council of Europe membership prior to the current problems concerning the national referendum.

The Committee to Protect Journalists' (CPJ) annual report on press freedoms included Ukraine in the list of countries it claims suppress press freedoms through administrative pressure.

Ann Cooper, CPJ's Managing Director, told Den' "Some leaders understand that according to international norms they cannot really put journalists in jail. Instead of this, they expel independent media by applying norms such as tax legislation, ordering the payment of incredible fees and denying the use of state-controlled printing presses."

CPJ named Ukraine, along with Yugoslavia, Belarus and other countries in Central and Eastern Europe, as nations in which these tactics have been raised to a very dangerous level.

On the heels of the CPJ announcement, Leonid Derkach, head of the Ukrainian Security Service, announced that the SBU intends to regulate Ukrainian internet service providers. The decision was taken after the Financial Times published information on Ukraine's misuse of foreign credits, claiming that the information was leaked to the internet by an information agency with access to Parliament.

Natalya Krasnoboka, 11 March 2000


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