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Ukraine's new enemy

Bernd Johann / ecsJanuary 17, 2014

As Ukraine's parliament tightens laws to prevent protests, the target is not just opposition activists, journalists and European-minded organizations. DW's Bernd Johann thinks the laws level a shot directly at the EU.


There are still committed and brave people in Ukraine who are striving toward democracy, the rule of law and a European perspective for their country. But that could change soon. In nothing short of a hold-up that ignored all the country's current democratic standards, the government majority has rushed an extensive legislative package through parliament: it will transform Ukraine into an authoritarian nation in the image of its Russian or Belarusian counterpart, and will rob people of their hope for political change.

Bernd Johann (Photo: DW/Per Henriksen)
Bernd Johann heads Deutsche Welle's Ukrainian departmentImage: DW/P. Henriksen

An attack on civil liberties

The Ukrainian parliament wants to significantly curtail the rights of the people, of social organizations and of the media. Drastic punishments await those who go against the bans on demonstrating. It's clear who those new laws are targeting: it's the people who have been protesting for two months on Kyiv's central square, the Maidan, for democratic change and better living conditions in their country. They have continued despite court bans and police brutality.

Alleged defamation in the media, online and in social networks will also be punishable under the new laws. Here, too, it's clear who the target is: journalists and online activists who are critical of the government. The political leadership wants them to know that they can expect prosecution if they criticize politicians or state officials in the future.

But it's not only opposition activists and journalists who are threatened by the laws. The laws are directed at the whole of Ukrainian civil society. And they are also directed at the European Union. They concern anyone who is committed to Europe and to the EU. Just as the equivalent laws dictated in Russia, Ukrainian non-governmental organizations could also soon be labeled "foreign agents," if they receive any funding for social projects from abroad. Such legislation would particularly harm organizations which are cooperating with the EU and its member states - including Germany - within the framework of the EU Eastern Partnership.

Ukraine being "Putinized"

Ukrainian Prime Minister Mykola Azarov is now openly claiming that the international community has been fanning the flames of rebellion in Ukraine. His statements have declared the EU Ukraine's enemy. That's because Europe supports a lot of important social projects in Ukraine within the Eastern Partnership it formed with Kyiv. Only last year, the Ukrainian government still wanted to strengthen cooperation with the EU. Clearly under pressure from Moscow, it then halted this rapprochement and put all engines in reverse gear, moving away from Europe at full speed. And now any social organization which maintains links to Europe or other Western countries has become a problem for the country's leadership.

The Ukrainian government is subordinating itself unconditionally to the Russian government: with a further EU-rapprochement now on ice since Russia increased its influence, Ukraine has also given up its independence on foreign affairs issues. Putin's extensive financial support has brought the country under Moscow's thumb. Now it is also following Russian guidelines on domestic policy. Ukraine is allowing itself to be "putinized." Kiyv clearly didn't just get money from Putin, it was also given the task of undermining any form of opposition and any activity for the good of civil society that is connected to Europe.

Door facing West locked

Fittingly, the Ukrainian secret service has also been compiling lists of foreigners who can apparently be considered a national threat. When asked by Deutsche Welle, the agency openly confirmed such activity. The list apparently also contains several Germans. The agency didn't reveal any names. Even representatives of the European Parliament, who have been in touch with the Ukrainian pro-European movement over the past few weeks, now suspect that the secret service compiled files on them.

The European Union is still only warning the Ukraine, and emphasizing that the door to Europe needs to remain open. The EU is not wrong there - after all, the people of Ukraine are what is important here. And according to surveys, the majority of the Ukrainian population longs for democracy, for a government that adheres to the rule of law and for European standards of living.

But the Ukrainian government is in the process of closing the door to Europe. And they're nailing that door shut.