Trial of former Ukrainian prime minister turns into political spectacle | Europe| News and current affairs from around the continent | DW | 04.07.2011
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Trial of former Ukrainian prime minister turns into political spectacle

The Ukrainian government has accused opposition figure Yulia Tymoshenko of abusing her power when she served as prime minister. She says that government is using the judiciary to silence the opposition.

Yulia Tymoshenko

Tymoshenko says the trial is politically motivated

Former Ukrainian prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko appeared in court in Kyiv on Monday as the media spectacle surrounding her trial on corruption charges continued.

The woman with the trademark braided hair is a shining light for many people in Ukraine. During her pre-trial hearing, about 200 fans gathered in Kyiv's main boulevard, Khreshchatyk Street, where they set up tents and waved flags with symbols of Tymoshenko's Fatherland party while playing music and chanting "Yulia! Yulia! Ukraine!"

The charges leveled against Tymoshenko say she abused her powers as prime minister in order to conclude backroom deals that hurt Ukraine's national interests.

The Ukrainian judiciary has flexed its muscles by freezing 1.45 million euros ($2 million) of Tymoshenko's considerable financial assets as bond for her trial. Tymoshenko faces several different charges all of which stem from the time she served as prime minister.

Tymoshenko supporters demonstrate in Kyiv

Followers of Tymoshenko gathered in Kyiv to show their support

In 2009, Tymoshenko allegedly abused her official powers in signing gas contracts with Russian energy giant Gazprom. The state is said to have suffered 150 million euros in damages as a consequence. In addition, Tymoshenko is accused of using money acquired from CO2-emission permits to plug holes in Ukraine's pension system.

Her trial got off to a turbulent start at the end of June. In a national television broadcast, Ukrainians were able to watch the sweat drip from Judge Kyreyev's forehead onto the documents in front of him.

The representative of the European Commission in Kyiv, Jose Manuel Pinto Teoxeira, an observer at the trial, said it was a relief once the judge finally adjourned the hearing. The conditions in the hopelessly overcrowded room without air conditioning were simply inhumane, Teoxeira said.

Search for the truth

Meanwhile, Tymoshenko has said that she will file a complaint with the European Court of Human Rights.

"We will defend ourselves," Tymoshenko said. "We will not search for the truth in Ukrainian courts."

She repeated her accusation that President Viktor Yanukovych was using the judicial process to shatter the opposition and implied that the judge was not adhering to the facts.

Tymoshenko campaign add being taken down

Tymoshenko lost the 2010 elections to Yanukovych

"He is not taking into consideration that the signing of the gas contracts fell within my responsibilities and not within those of the cabinet," Tymoshenko said. According to her argument, there is no way that she could have overstepped her competencies as prime minister.

As for the accusation that she embezzled funds from CO2-emission permits, Tymoshenko says that she used the money in the middle of the economic crisis to temporarily cover the payout of pensions. She alleges that she later returned the funds and that they were subsequently used for environmental projects as originally envisioned.

"I did not break any law," Tymoshenko said.

The former prime minister believes that the judge has been given the assignment of settling a political score and that he is a "marionette" of President Yanukovych.

Meanwhile, Yanukovych has reacted coolly to his former rival's accusations. He says Tymoshenko is trying to distract public attention by turning the trial into a political fight.

"I am interested in a transparent and open trial more than anyone else," Yanukovych said. "I want these people to have the right and opportunity to defend themselves."

Media game

Tymoshenko has to assume that the media interest and the public are her greatest weapons. Around 10 years ago, she was jailed for a short period on fraud charges. At that time there was also doubt about the legality of the process.

Tymoshenko knows how to use the media to play to the crowd. At one time she was celebrated as the hero of the 2004 "Orange Revolution" along with Viktor Yushchenko. The duo headed up the movement that blocked Yanukovych from serving a further term as president. Instead, Yushchenko went on to become president.

Tymoshenko served as prime minister during Yushchenko's tenure, but rapidly became unpopular. In 2010, she lost to her arch-rival Yanukovych in the presidential elections.

Observers have expressed suspicions that Yanukovych could use the trial to quash the opposition. If Tymoshenko is convicted, she will face seven years of jail time.

Sergey Taran, director of Kyiv's International Institute for Democracy, told Deutsche Welle that the court will likely come to a quick conviction in order to prevent Tymoshenko from participating in the parliamentary elections in 2012.

Reaction in Brussels

The trial in Ukraine has resonated in Brussels. Tymoshenko's Fatherland party is a member of the European People's Party (EPP), an alliance of conservative parties from 39 states in Europe.

Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych

Yanukovych says he supports a fair trial

Tymoshenko was not able to attend the EPP summit in Brussels on June 23 because the Ukrainian public prosecutor refused to let her leave the country despite requests from the European Parliament and the Council of Europe.

A statement by the EPP said that the Ukrainian government's authoritarian methods were not rooted in the rule of law and democracy.

"They violate fundamental European values and contradict the international obligations of Ukraine," the statement read.

According to the EPP, such developments would damage the image of Ukraine and run contrary to Kyiv's ambitions to join the European Union. The EPP called on the leadership in Ukraine to lift the travel ban placed on Tymoshenko and to end the detention of three other opposition politicians. Te three, former ministers from Tymoshenko's onetime cabinet, are being held in Ukrainian jails as they wait for their trials to begin.

Ukrainians apathetic

The Ukrainian people have largely reacted to the mud-slinging between Yanukovych and Tymoshenko by shrugging their shoulders.

With the exception of Tymoshenko's energetic supporters, most express disappointment with the political elite. Ukrainians see that politics and economics have become profitable partners, that the political parties fight partisan battles and corruption runs rampant despite the promises of those in power.

Author: Birgit Görtz / sk
Editor: Nancy Isenson

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