How the EU Can and Should Help Ukrainian Civil Society

John Stuart Mill once remarked that inaction can cause as much harm as action, and in either instance the perpetrator is justifiably accountable. Reflecting on the deteriorating situation in Ukraine, his words aptly describe the impact of a complete lack of action on the part of the EU with regards to the Euromaidan protests. The demonstrations, which started in November of last year, began as a very peaceful public display of will for closer European integration.

Although Ukrainian civil society has been actively protesting for almost three months, Ukrainian political elites have chosen to ignore the protestors and instead opted last week for making the very act of protesting virtually illegal. Unauthorized tents, wearing a helmet at a protest, independent media activities, group violation of public order, collecting information about a judge or police officer and possibly just using the internet, depending on who you are of course, are now offenses punishable by fine or imprisonment. (An ERCAS partner organisation, CHESNO has published an infographic explaining the new regulations.)

In response, the once peaceful demonstrations have turned ugly, with protestors and riot police clashing violently, resulting in the first Euromaidan deaths. The US response was decisive, with the Embassy issuing visa bans for selected authorities and those involved in violence against protesters. Canada has also publicly stated it will not rule out sanctions. The World Economic Forum has also recently rescinded an invitation it had extended to Ukraine’s Prime Minister Azarov to speak.

What should the EU do to help Ukrainian civil society?

Since reports of violence toward protestors first emerged in December, however, the EU has responded with statements condemning the violence, but failed to take more decisive legislative action. German Chancellor Angela Merkel recently stated that sanctions “are not the order of the day” but did recall the Ukrainian ambassador after the recent wave of violence. As the protests become more and more violent, calls by civil society groups for Europe to take a more active and influential role by enacting targeted sanctions (visa bans and freezing assets) against Ukrainian leaders is now reaching fever-pitch.

Ukrainian president Victor Yanukovich and his son Alexander are both accused by civil society of squirrelling away ill-begotten funds in overseas bank accounts. President Yanucovich’s assets have ballooned since taking office, thanks to several mysterious and lucrative real-estate deals, and Alexander’s assets have swelled from around $7 million to a staggering $510 million since his father was elected.

The Anti-Corruption Action Centre, a prominent Ukrainian civil society group, started a separate website to amplify the cause and petition European, EU and US leaders. At, the group states:

“We believe that the authoritarian regime of President Viktor Yanukovich has been fueled by proceeds of corruption laundered via the international financial system through the network of shell-companies and professional intermediaries.”

This is only the tip of the iceberg. Indeed all members of the parliament who voted for repressive laws and all those involved in violence could become the subject of such targeted measures. A special initiative, For Accountability, includes updated lists of people involved in the repression of peaceful protests, the violation of human rights, or the criminalisation of power in Ukraine.

In both the US and the EU, legal framework for seizing assets is already in place; all that is required now is the political will to use it. Financial institutions are in fact required to review the source of assets for Politically Exposed People, and freeze accounts if the source is illegal.

There is also a precedent for such action: the EU blacklisted 600 of Slobodan Milosevic’s supporters, including his wife and Swiss banks froze 57 million pounds in assets.  More recently, the EU issued travel bans for individuals responsible for violence against Belarusian civil society.

The EU could also provide for an immediate institutional response.  According to Jim Greene, Ukraine expert and Senior Fellow at the Institute for Statecraft (UK), the EU could ‘appoint somebody to investigate/coordinate responses to the nexus between the criminalisation of power in Ukraine and EU jurisdictions’.

Although many argue that the use of sanctions might be counter-productive, this is not true in every case, and may not be true for the Ukraine. Domestic pressure from Ukrainian society appears to be quite strong in support of targeted sanctions, and clientelistic networks that sustain the regime might fall apart once affected by such targeted measures. Above all, it is a good opportunity for the EU to show that it is capable of protecting its values inside its territory before the cost of inaction becomes even higher.

Who Lost Ukraine?

By Ivan Krastev


VIENNA – Karl Marx famously remarked that major historical events occur twice – the “first time as tragedy, then as farce.” In Ukraine, sadly, tragedy and farce are inseparable.

That is why it would be a mistake to read the current wave of mass political protest, triggered by the government’s refusal to sign an association agreement with the European Union, as a second Orange Revolution. In 2004, inspired by the hope of joining the EU as soon as possible, Ukrainians poured into the streets to take back a stolen presidential election. Back then, the Union looked like a fantastic machine capable of making authoritarian states democratic and poor societies rich.

What has brought Ukrainians into the streets this time is something different – the fear that their country’s European prospects could be foreclosed forever. They know that their country will not join the EU in the next decade, and they know that the EU itself is in crisis. But they are determined to insist on their right to a European future. Fear of losing that hope, it seems, is at the heart of the EU’s soft power when the prospect of enlargement is fading away.

The real legacy of the Orange Revolution, reflected in the current wave of protest, is that people learned then that political leaders cannot be trusted, but that tens of thousands, gathered on Kyiv’s Independence Square, can exercise effective veto power. The major difference between 2004 and today is that, virtually overnight, Ukraine has lost its privileged status of geopolitical ambiguity.

In the two post-Cold War decades, the country has been like an oversize suitcase without handles – you can neither take it with you nor leave it at the station. It was assumed that Ukraine was divided between a pro-Russian East and a mostly anti-Russian West, and that any radical move could lead to the country’s break-up.

Ukraine’s economy is dependent on both Russia and the EU; its labor migrants go both east and west, and its no-nonsense oligarchs keep their eggs in at least two baskets. Politically, Ukraine is also a world of its own – corrupt, messy, and inefficient, but also much more pluralistic and open than Russia or Belarus. So, while it was always difficult to know what Ukrainian leaders wanted, it was easy to predict how far they could go. Unsurprisingly, Ukrainian elites have spent the last two decades making promises and avoiding commitments.

But all of this has changed, almost overnight. Ukraine is not a “kingdom in the middle” anymore. Neither Russia, determined to reintegrate the post-Soviet countries in the Eurasian Economic Community (EurAsEC), nor the EU, humiliated by President Viktor Yanukovych’s refusal to sign the association agreement, can live with the status quo. The current crisis demonstrates that the EU underestimated the transformative power of its European Neighborhood Policy – a reminder of both the strength of the EU’s political appeal and the weakness of its diplomacy.

Ultimately, everybody got Ukraine wrong. European politicians made the Kremlin believe that Ukraine was not important enough for the EU; as a result, Russia wanted not only to block Ukraine’s turn to the EU, but to bring the country into its own integration project. European leaders also overlooked the cultural contempt that the Russian leadership has started to feel for “the same-sex marriage empire” that the EU has become in their eyes.

Russia got Ukraine wrong, too. The scale of the protests in Kyiv has taken the Kremlin by surprise, because Russia’s elite has never considered civil society an independent player in national politics and failed to notice the emergence of a European consensus in Ukrainian society. But Putin correctly calculated that now, unlike nine years ago, Yanukovych is ready to use force if this is the price he must pay to maintain his hold on power.

Outsiders need to understand how high the stakes have recently become in the post-Soviet space, where two opposing integration projects are doomed to clash. There are only three options left for Ukraine: sign the agreement with the EU, as the majority of Ukrainians want; join Putin’s EurAsEC, as the endangered political elite prefers; or go bankrupt.

This article first appeared in Project Syndicate and is reproduced here by permission of the author. Article on Project Syndicate:

Ivan Krastev is Chairman of the Center for Liberal Strategies, Sofia, and Permanent Fellow at the Institute for Human Sciences (IWM) in Vienna. His latest book is In Mistrust We Trust: Can Democracy Survive When We Don’t Trust Our Leaders? He is also an ERCAS Senior Fellow

Cover photo credit: Nastya Stanko

Ukrainian Coalition CHESNO Takes Stock of Campaign Achievements

Since its founding in November 2011 until the parliamentary elections last October, the Ukrainian civil society coalition CHESNO (from Ukrainian: ‘honestly’) mobilised a large group of citizens all over to country to improve accountability of political parties and candidates prior to the elections. Its campaign “Filter the Rada!” evaluated over 2,700 candidates to Parliament on six integrity criteria, and sought to better inform voters about whether those candidates were apt or not to take office and represent the people. Now, a few weeks after the elections, the movement has met to review the initiative’s impact on the election results, and discuss plans for the years ahead, with an eye on the next presidential election in 2015.

The CHESNO movement was initiated by civic activists and members of 12 organisations in the “New Citizen” partnership, and was later joined by more than 150 organisations from over 35 cities in Ukraine, thus becoming a broad horizontal network with regional representation. The initiative was sponsored by several donors, including Pact’s USAID-supported UNITER project, the Swedish International Development Agency (SIDA), the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), and the International Renaissance Foundation. The movement was inspired by similar campaigns implemented in other countries, including Romania, South Korea, Bulgaria, Albania, Kosovo, Moldova and Slovakia.

The methodology developed to evaluate MPs running for re-election and other candidates to Parliament included six integrity criteria: 1. no violations of human rights and freedoms; 2. steadiness of political position in accordance with the will of the voters; 3. no involvement with corruption; 4. transparency of declared income and property, and their consistency with candidate’s lifestyle; 5. personal voting in the parliament; and 6. participation in sessions in Parliament and of Parliamentary committees. These were the product of large civil society consultations and were later confirmed through a sociological survey conducted by the Democratic Initiatives Foundation in December 2011, where the vast majority of Ukrainians endorsed the adopted integrity criteria.

The assessment was conducted by around 70 trained analysts, who collected information from publicly accessible sources, which were disclosed in all candidate profiles. Moreover, the campaign allowed for outside contributions: around 200 files with information on politicians were received from journalists and citizens, and they were later cross-checked by analysts. Each profile was sent to the respective politician and political party before publication, and they had the opportunity of presenting counter-evidence to the information presented in the case of inaccuracies, based on which the movement’s council could decide to make alterations to the original profile.

All the profiles were then published online on the so-called “Chesnometer”. Out of the 2,700 candidates assessed, more than 900 violated at least one criterion. This output of the project received particularly extensive media coverage, which further contributed to improve the visibility of the initiative and its evaluation results. Another important achievement related to this part of the project was that a permanent database with information on Ukrainian politicians was generated, and remains a valuable resource for citizens and media even after the elections.

In their final forum on December 5th, CHESNO participants, together with journalists, representatives of international organisations and also newly elected Members of Parliament (MPs), discussed relevant issues for the next elections, including strategies to improve compliance to the integrity criteria by the new MPs and by political parties, and how to involve the private sector in monitoring the government. The coalition plans to closely monitor current MPs during this legislature to ensure systematic public control over the government and the parliament. CHESNO representatives also said that they have been approached by representatives of civil society from Poland and Czech Republic with requests to share their experience in the “Filter the Rada!” campaign, thus showing potential for dissemination of the strategies adopted in Ukraine to other countries in the region.

The picture featured above is from


Coalition for Clean Parliament CHESNO in Ukraine Looks beyond Football Championship

Most news from Ukraine these days are about football, shadowing everything else. But football will soon be gone, with the pleasant memory of Ukrainian’s national team victory, and problems will remain. Corruption has been Ukraine’s paramount problem ever since the fall of Communism – probably before as well. A new coalition of civil society organizations is working to build a political integrity campaign prior to the next parliamentary elections in Ukraine, to take place in October, 2012. The civic movement, called CHESNO (from Ukrainian: ‘honestly’), was founded by a group of organizations together with the already existing network “New citizen” Partnership with the aim of strengthening and empowering Ukrainian civil society with information tools to improve citizens’ knowledge about candidates and enable voters to choose their candidates better.

The movement was launched on October 29, 2011 with the event «Let’s filter the Parliament in 24 hours». CHESNO activists have established a list of six integrity criteria, based on which candidates are classified as more or less apt to take public office and represent their constituency:


  • No public record on violation of people’s rights and freedoms;
  • Permanent political allegiance according to the will of voters;
  • No public record on corruption;
  • No discrepancies between the lifestyle and declared income;
  • No transgression of personal vote rule in the parliament;
  • Presence at parliamentary sessions and work in committees.


The objective of this assessment is to inform voters about which candidates are unsuitable from an integrity perspective. The idea of “cleaning up” Parliament is embodied in CHESNO’s campaign symbol: garlic, which represents the cure and an effective weapon to ward off evil.

Representatives of the movement have also sought to exchange experiences with activists from other countries where similar campaigns have been successfully implemented. In January, 2012 Prof. Alina Mungiu-Pippidi was invited to Kiev to share the Romanian experience with the campaign “Coalition for a Clean Parliament”, a successful project that has already been replicated in a number of countries in South Eastern Europe.

The movement is based on a complex decentralized structure and division of tasks among the participating organizations. With support from the “New Citizen” Partnership, one central and 25 regional coordination councils have been set up to control the movement’s operations, and the activities are being carried out by the “New Citizen” coalition representatives according to established responsibilities for particular areas of work. Among the movement’s ambitious goals are the creation of a regional network of coordination centers, the collection and analysis of information about candidates and the implementation of advocacy campaigns. CHESNO also intends to form and train a group of civic volunteers to help with the activities.

During the first stage of the campaign, participants have held regional presentations and crosschecked 450 current MPs on whether they conform to the criteria or not. Based on the results of this preliminary analysis, CHESNO’s representatives have also contacted political parties demanding that politicians already identified as unsuitable should not be included into the upcoming elections lists.

The movement’s activities will soon reach a second key stage with the start of the electoral campaign in July 2012. This stage will entail the assessment of selected candidates with assistance of experts and analysts. Forecasts estimate that about 4000 candidates will run in the next elections; based on these figures, CHESNO aims at assessing the first 100 candidates from the lists of parties most likely to overcome the 5% threshold, as well as the first 7 majoritarian candidates in the election districts, according to expert polls within each region. The results of this analysis will be summarized in the “CHESNOmeter”, a candidate integrity barometer, which will be created and disseminated by participating organizations later on.


Some of the participating organizations are listed below:

Internews Ukraine

NGO Centre UA

The Institute of Mass Information 

Committee of Voters of Ukraine

Center of Political Studies and Analysis

Media Law Institute

Democratic Initiatives Foundation


Antiraider Union of Entrepreneurs of Ukraine

People’s Solidarity Trade Union

Ukrainian Business

Kholodny Yar Initiative


Independence of Enforcement Institutions Still Lacking in Ukraine

After the contested prosecution and conviction of opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko last year, the handling of recent criminal cases by the police, such as the one involving the 19-year-old Oksana Makar, has given additional evidence of how enforcement institutions and the justice system in Ukraine are continuously subject to political influence.

The Makar case created outrage among family and friends of the victim, who was raped and set on fire, after it was reported that two of the three suspects on the case were sons of government officials and were released from police custody. Following the uproar, President Viktor Yanukovich intervened to have the two suspects re-arrested and dismissed four local officials involved in the investigation.

This case was taken as a clear example of political interference in law enforcement agencies and the courts. According to Eduard Bagirov, head of the International League for Protection of Ukrainian Citizens’ Rights, judicial decisions influenced by interests of the presidential administration are not uncommon. Another manifestation of such interference is through selective prosecution, as is argued about the Tymoshenko case.

Andriy Portnov, presidential adviser on judicial affairs, acknowledges that the system needs to be reformed. One weakness is that the system does not foresee jury trials and decisions are taken either by one or two judges. Moreover, Portnov claims that social and cultural factors also contribute to limited independence in the judiciary. Still influenced by a mentality of privileges prevalent since the Soviet period, it is common that law-enforcement officials, including judges, refrain from taking procedures against high-ranking officials and wealthy individuals.

Measures to make law enforcement more efficient and independent are already underway. Hundreds of criminal and administrative procedures against law enforcement officials accused of misconduct have taken place in the past years. A new code for criminal procedure is about to be passed in Parliament. Improvements in recruitment and career of judges have also been introduced.

For more details read the article “In Ukraine, scales of justice often imbalanced” on

A Diagnosis of Corruption in Ukraine

Ukraine is a country with wide scale and systemic corruption, which makes a crucial influence on the economic, political, social and other spheres of public life. The traditionally low scoring of Ukraine by the Corruption Perception Index of the “Transparency International” is the evidence of this. The plague of corruption has penetrated all levels of government and public institutions, starting from the highest-level public officials. All formal and informal institutions have become used to corruption and adapted to it, including law enforcement agencies.

A Diagnosis of Corruption in Ukraine

Ukraine is a country with wide scale and systemic corruption, which makes a crucial influence on the economic, political, social and other spheres of public life. The traditionally low scoring of Ukraine by the Corruption Perception Index of the “Transparency International” is the evidence of this. The plague of corruption has penetrated all levels of government and public institutions, starting from the highest-level public officials. All formal and informal institutions have become used to corruption and adapted to it, including law enforcement agencies.