Passports are not Party cards

A child’s initiation into the rule of law is a bit on the primitive side: I want my half of the cake, and so does he. With age, we learn that even if we think that X or Y is a swine, this does not take away his right to a fair share. After all, we can always run into somebody who thinks the same of us.

All primitive, and it could be put more elegantly, but events of the last week or two make me inclined to stay with simple truths, including the methods acceptable in a democratic society..

The Internet has been buzzing over reports concerning the investigation into Yushchenko’s poisoning, and then over another National Deputy’s right to citizenship.  I am not a criminal investigator, nor acquainted with any of the people involved, and will not try to discuss who did what and why. 

During the last month, National Deputy David Zhvania publicly stated that President Yushchenko had not been deliberately poisoned in 2004.  Serious doubts have been expressed in media and human rights circles as to why a journalist who interviewed Zhvania was himself subjected to more than 10 hours interrogation being brought effectively by force to the investigator the first time. One also wonders how other journalists will now feel about taking interviews in such cases, and whether this thought came to the minds of those involved in this questioning. In the last week, the investigator suggested that Zhvania’s unwillingness to cooperate with the investigation suggests that he has something to hide or is himself involved. Then President Yushchenko used the same word, saying that he believed Zhvania to be involved.  He said that he was using a "mild form", however at least one foreign media outlet has already reported him as saying that he believes Zhvania was "behind" his poisoning  

No criminal charges have been laid, so the President’s words cannot, I presume, be deemed as directly influencing the court. They cannot however be considered entirely without significance, and the investigator’s willingness to "draw conclusions" in public is positively disturbing.

Of even greater concern was the ruling by the Kyiv Court of Appeal on 2 July 2008 to revoke the ruling of the Radyansky District Court in Kyiv from 1999 (!) which formed the grounds for Georgian-born Zhvania receiving Ukrainian citizenship. The original case has now been sent for new examination to another Kyiv district court.  Zhvania’s lawyers have lodged an application with the European Court of Human Rights.

In the last few days another National Deputy Yury But was threatened with problems regarding nationality. The Minister of Internal Affairs suggested "the existence of questions" regarding how But, a former Russian national, received Ukrainian citizenship. The subject was first raised in the media after Yury But left the democratic coalition on 6 June.

There are a huge number of undercurrents, behind the scene deals or battles going on.  Some of these are known, some can only be guessed.  There are also doubtless grounds in law for the arguments over citizenship now raging.

The question is one of methods, and this must be viewed outside of any political considerations. This is the way it is viewed by a large majority of the population and by people abroad.  A famous philosopher once demonstrated brilliantly that our understanding of cause and effect is all about habit.  And that is precisely the problem.  There may be all sorts of cogent reasons for the events of the last weeks however for most of us it is difficult not to make certain assumptions. 

One of these assumptions is that irregularities with citizenship are noticed extremely selectively.  In a neighbouring country with a large number of rich people, few of them wishing to pay large tax bills, tax irregularities have proved most visible to the authorities in the cases of those least popular with the Kremlin.  Appearances are preserved, however with courts and the enforcement agencies proving disturbingly malleable, the gloss should deceive none.

This is not a road that Ukraine should be taking.

Halya Coynash, Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group

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