Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 126

At its June 24 session, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) stopped short of approving the Monitoring Committee proposal to suspend Ukraine’s membership in the Council of Europe (CE). Ukraine would have become the first country ever to have its membership suspended by the CE. Further, no other country currently faces such a measure. The PACE voted to review the issue at a follow-up session and acknowledged that Ukraine had made some progress, giving the country until 2000 to demonstrate “substantial progress” on reforming its legislation. The resolution of reprieve warned Ukraine that its suspension from the CE–if ultimately approved–would be followed by CE recommendations to the European Union, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund to “take Ukraine’s suspension from the CE into account when planning their policies toward Ukraine.”

Ukraine had in June 1998 and January 1999 managed to avoid the suspension recommended by the rapporteurs to the monitoring committee and PACE. The rapporteurs and the committee are mandated to assess new member countries’ performance–in this case, Ukraine–in harmonizing internal legislation to European standards. The CE wants Ukraine to abolish capital punishment, amend the criminal and civil codes, complete the reform of the judiciary system, adopt legislation on the operation of political parties and ratify the European Charter on regional and minority languages–and to make these priorities. These are among the requirements which Ukraine undertook to fulfill both when admitted to the CE in 1995 and during subsequent PACE sessions. The critics also pointed to interference with freedom of the press by the executive branch.

Ukraine was the second among ex-Soviet countries–after Moldova and before Russia–to be admitted to the CE in recognition of its advances. In all, since 1995 Ukraine has fulfilled thirty-two of the forty-two commitments. That fact was cited during the floor debate by many PACE members, who found the report and the suspension motion “harsh,” “biased” and marked by “double standards.” Danish co-rapporteur Hanne Severinsen helped soften some of the language and a PACE majority voted in favor of the reprieve.

Yet that palliative falls short of remedying the blind spots in the CE’s approach to Ukraine. Even if the country has not ratified the minorities and languages charter, Ukraine’s actual performance on that score compares favorably with that of many CE member countries, west or east, including Ukraine’s neighbors. The situation, for example, of Ukraine’s ethnic Russians and Romanians/Moldovans is clearly superior to that of Ukrainians in Russia or Romania with regard to native-language use in schools, media and public life. Similarly, Poland and Israel are satisfied with the situation of their respective compatriot communities in Ukraine. The country’s elections have been monitored and certified as free and fair, with full latitude of operation for political parties–though the executive branch has indeed restricted the access of communists and other leftist parties to the electronic mass media, and seems prepared to do so again in this year’s presidential contest with the Red forces.

President Leonid Kuchma has declared and observed for the last two years a moratorium on executions. The measure is politically unpopular in Ukraine against a backdrop of rising crime. As the presidential election approaches, Kuchma is caught in the crossfire between the CE’s demand to abolish capital punishment and political pressure at home to break the moratorium at least in the case of serial killer Anatoly Onoprienko, convicted of fifty-two murders.

The rapporteurs’ proposal to suspend Ukraine did not clearly differentiate between the executive branch and the Red-dominated parliament, which is the place where most of the overdue legislation has bogged down.

The floor objections to “double standards” (see above) may well have alluded to the fact that the PACE never proposed to suspend the membership of–and to restrict international credits to–the country whose government attacked the parliament with tanks, subjected the civilian population in one of its constituent republics to carpet bombing and keeps its troops in several foreign countries–including CE member Moldova–against their will. Russia has failed to fulfill many of the requirements it accepted when admitted in 1996 to the CE.

The Ukrainian delegation to the PACE, reflecting the composition of the Verkhovna Rada, is headed by a communist and includes a large leftist contingent. The relatively few democrats in the delegation–such as Rukh deputy Roman Zvarych and the prominent independent deputy Anatoly Matvienko, who recently turned from an ally into a critic of Kuchma–pointed out that punitive measures against Ukraine would serve to retard the country’s democratic progress, strengthen antidemocratic forces and push Ukraine away from Europe, toward “the East” and a “Slavic Union.” The Russian delegation to the PACE–dominated, like the Duma, by communists and nationalists–was in fact quick to capitalize on the situation, demonstratively “helping” Ukraine to avert European ostracism (UNIAN, June 24-25). –VS