Bud­ding au­to­crat

Kyiv Post - - Opinion -

Ukraine’s Verkhovna Rada on March 23 ap­proved amend­ments re­quir­ing civic ac­tivists and NGOs to file pub­licly avail­able as­set dec­la­ra­tions and in­tro­duc­ing crim­i­nal penal­ties for them if they fail to com­ply.

The amend­ments, which also in­cluded the same re­quire­ment for me­dia ed­i­tors in the ini­tial ver­sion, are a brazen at­tempt by the na­tion’s rul­ing elite to in­tim­i­date anti-cor­rup­tion ac­tivists and sti­fle crit­i­cism from the me­dia. Ac­tivists are not pub­lic civil ser­vants and don’t have to ac­count for their prop­erty, un­less they com­mit a crime. The leg­is­la­tion is clearly aimed at dis­cred­it­ing ac­tivists and jour­nal­ists, most of whom work for pri­vate com­pa­nies, most prob­a­bly with the aim of fab­ri­cat­ing po­lit­i­cal cases against them.

The mea­sure was backed by Pres­i­dent Petro Poroshenko’s Bloc, the People’s Front, the Rad­i­cal Party and three off­shoots of ex-Pres­i­dent Vik­tor Yanukovych’s Party of Re­gions – the Op­po­si­tion Bloc, Vidrodzhen­nya and the People’s Will.

The amend­ments are ab­surd, not as heinous, but in the same league as the “dic­ta­to­rial laws” of Jan. 16, 2014, which se­verely re­stricted civil lib­er­ties and trig­gered Yanukovych’s down­fall. The cur­rent amend­ments, which se­verely re­strict free speech and civic ac­tivism, may have a sim­i­lar ef­fect.

The leg­is­la­tion is also very sim­i­lar to laws in­tro­duced in Rus­sia un­der dic­ta­tor Vladimir Putin, which brand non-govern­men­tal or­ga­ni­za­tions “for­eign agents.” Those laws have led to the de facto de­struc­tion of NGOs and civil so­ci­ety, and turned Rus­sia into a semi-to­tal­i­tar­ian state.

The amend­ments in­di­cate that the in­cum­bent au­thor­i­ties, long en­sconced in their palaces of govern­ment on the hills of Pech­ersk, have lost touch with the people who brought them to power. Ukraine’s po­lit­i­cal elite should fi­nally re­al­ize that it is not the govern­ment that should con­trol civil so­ci­ety and the me­dia, but the other way around. If Ukraine’s two rev­o­lu­tions failed to drive this home, an­other one might.

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