OP-ED, Kyiv Post, Kyiv, Ukraine, Thursday, April 22, 2004
H.L. Mencken wrote that in the United States, all things happen that defy
the probabilities and the decencies. Mencken was lucky he never had a chance
to visit contemporary Ukraine, which might have proven too much for even his
cynicism and sent him running for the lunatic asylum.
The latest nastiness in the run-up to this autumn's crucial election comes
from the western Ukrainian city of Mukachevo, where the authorities are
allegedly stealing a mayoral election from the opposition the old-fashioned
way: with burglary of polling sites, brownshirt-style violence, brazen
lying, and leering defiance of parliament observers. They're not even trying
to be subtle about it.
The full-on effort to make sure Our Ukraine's candidate, who credible
accounts say won more votes, falls before the candidate of Presidential
Administration head Viktor Medvedchuk's Social Democratic Party of Ukraine
(united) should be considered a dress rehearsal for the presidential vote.
This week, thugs moved about the city in organized packs, smashing polling
place doors to steal ballots and beating up at least six deputies from a
large parliament contingent who had come to observe the balloting. Imagine
the international sensation that would develop if a group from the U.S.
Congress or the House of Commons were beaten and denied their mandate by a
Nazi-style rabble, in their own country.
Nor was this even the first time the authorities have destructively romped
through Mukachevo. In a mayoral election there last year, the victory of
another Our Ukraine candidate prompted President Kuchma to disband the local
courts and election commission and stock them with his own allies.
Unfortunately, the West can't or won't do enough to improve this situation.
U.S. diplomacy toward Kyiv seems now predicated on ignoring Ukrainian
misbehavior in return for Bankova's participation in the war effort. A
cynical Europe, it seems, would rather have a stable Ukraine than a
democratic one, and doesn't want to impose more sanctions that might drive
Ukraine further into the Russians' arms.
Faced with what could be another political disaster in its backyard, Europe
keeps issuing condemnations and statements, as if the men organizing
political violence in Ukraine care about the moral sensibilities of what
they must consider effete bureaucrats in Brussels. Maybe a Europe that
couldn't summon the will to deal with problems like Belarus and the Balkans
shouldn't be expected to do anything about Ukraine, either.
One small thing it can do, however, if it wants to chip away at its
reputation for fecklessless is send lots of election observers here: for the
October presidential election and for every contest until then. There should
be teams at every polling place located in a significant population center,
in sufficient numbers that they can neither be hoodwinked nor intimidated.
The usual arrangement whereby observers shuttle between polling places by
car is obviously no longer tenable.
Europe should live up to its responsibilities in its own backyard; it has to
try harder to make its work in Ukraine effective, rather than use it as an
opportunity to issue pompous announcements that Ukraine's power class holds
in contempt. Taking a hands-on approach to elections in this crucial year
would be one good way to do it.
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