In Ukraine

Published on Ukraine Comment, March 16, 2016

(Also, Ukrainian extremist advisor on Minsk-2 ceasefire barred from entry to Russia. Story below.)

Iryna Gerashenko, advisor to Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko (photo by Volodymyr Petrov)

Iryna Gerashenko, advisor to Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko (photo by Volodymyr Petrov)

Today, Iryna Geraschenko, the Chairman of the Verkhovna Rada Committee on European integration and President Poroshenko’s special envoy for peaceful regulation in the Donbass, made a deeply revealing comment on Facebook.

She responded with pleasure to a recent press release by the Venice Commission[1]. That body approved changes to the French Constitution that allow for stripping terrorists of their citizenship. The ruling notes that this should be an “additional punishment,” that is, before it can be carried out, the person in question must first be convicted by a court of law.

Geraschenko wrote:

Inflammatory Facebook posting by key advisor to Ukrainian president saying Donbass people are 'terrorists' who should be stripped of pensions, citizenship

Inflammatory Facebook posting by key advisor to Ukrainian president saying Donbass people are ‘terrorists’ who should be stripped of pensions, citizenship

This is good news, in the context of studying progressive European experience and adapting our laws to European standards. I think that our colleagues in the Normandy format won’t object if we say that this experience [precedent] is important for Ukraine. Maybe this is the end of dancing around the terrorists and paying pensions to those ‘poor people’ while trying to get them to listen to Kyiv, don’t you think?[1]

I apologize if the translation is not perfect, particularly in the end when Geraschenko switches to a joking, informal tone. But several things are clear. She believes Ukraine should follow France’s lead (taken after the horrific Paris attacks) and strip terrorists of their citizenship. But the first people that come to her mind are not those who actually murdered innocent civilians (and they certainly are present) but rather the much-loathed “pension tourists”. That is, people who reside in the separatist-controlled “peoples republics” of Donbass but periodically cross over to government-controlled territories to collect their pensions.

So, Ukraine’s chief parliamentarian on Eurointegration and peaceful resolution of the war in the Donbass appears to look with pleasure on the chance to eject from Ukrainian society those who, in her view, are loyal to the separatists [sic] and who take money from a Ukraine they despise. Take that!  And she seems to believe this reflects a “progressive European precedent”.

There is just so much wrong with this, so much to cause alarm for anyone really interested in reconciliation and re-integration of the Donbass. I’ll try to identify the main problems.

Read also: Ukrainian presidential advisor Iryna Gerashenko refused entry to Russia, TASS, March 21, 2016

One of Ukraine’s envoys to its stalling on the Minsk-2 ceasefire for eastern Ukraine was on her way to join the Ukrainian ultranationalist spectacle staged at the sentencing of Ukrainian paramilitary Nadiya Savchenko. An order bans her form Russia until 2021.

The morality of targeting “pension tourism” is very debatable. One can justify the Ukrainian government’s efforts to prevent residents of separatist territories from temporarily crossing over to register as internally displaced persons (IDPs) and receive special welfare benefits. These payments are meant for those who have actually fled their homes. But trying to root out those who cross over to collect pensions they have been paying for all their lives is quite another thing. Especially when you are making the constant argument that these people are all Ukrainian citizens (which they are!) who are simply living under illegal occupation.

Many Ukrainian commentators have noted the alienating effect of calling such people “tourists” and treating them as criminals. Geraschenko takes it to a new level by coyly looking forward to the time they could be stripped of their citizenship. Not all of these people “dance around the terrorists.” Geraschenko specifically says they “dance a khorovod” (a type of dance associated with Russia). Translation: they love the pro-Russian terrorists over there but want us to keep paying their pensions.

In truth, the residents of the “peoples republics” are arrayed across a political spectrum, from open hatred of Ukraine to concealed longing for it. Many who have lived through this brutal war are deeply alienated from Kyiv but have lingering ties borne of familiarity and life experience. Everything must be done to assure them that they are still part of Ukrainian society, most of all by those tasked with the “peaceful resolution” of the conflict. Geraschenko seems to be doing just the opposite.

This is well demonstrated by commentary to Geraschenko’s Facebook post by Donetsk journalist Veronika Medvedeva. She is an agonized pro-unity Donetsk Ukrainian who both rejects the separatists and is horrified by Kyiv policy towards her city and region. In other words, exactly the kind of person who could be lost to Ukraine by the kind of attitude that Geraschenko exhibits. Medvedeva writes:

… What connections is there between the pensions of Ukrainian citizens living on “occupied” territories and the stripping of French citizenship for terrorism, what’s more in the context of “progressive precedent?”

The inferences of the president’s special envoy for peaceful resolution of the conflict in the East really cause one to wonder, does today’s Ukraine really want that peaceful resolution?

It’s one thing to pump up your ratings at the expense of the weak… but when that is done by a woman with such a position, you really get the feeling that she isn’t in the right job and really can only enable the deepening of this conflict.

It is hard to disagree. And it is long overdue for friends of Ukraine, particularly those in the Wst to whom parliamentarians are purportedly looking for advice, to speak out against the crude, hard-hearted, tone-deaf dehumanization of Donbass civilians. No matter what the ideological preferences of those civilians may be.

[1] Since June 2014, Ukraine has not paid pensions to the citizens of the country living in the rebel people’s republics of Donetsk and Lugansk.

[2] The Venice Commission is an advisory body of the Council of Europe, composed of independent experts in the field of constitutional law. It was created in 1990 after the fall of the Berlin wall, at a time of urgent need for constitutional assistance in Central and Eastern Europe. The Commission’s official name is the European Commission for Democracy through Law, but due to its meeting place in Venice, Italy, where sessions take part four times a year, it is usually referred to as the Venice Commission.

Ukraine Comment is an anonymous blog which began publishing on Sept 21, 2015.


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