In a verdict that, for all it was not entirely unexpected, appears to have surprised the world, the Pechersky District Court in Kiev found Yulia Tymoshenko guilty of abusing her office as Prime Minister of Ukraine. The charge related to a circumstance in 2009, in which she allegedly ordered the head of the state-run gas company NAFTOGAZ to sign a deal with Russia although the Verkhovna Rada had withheld its support for the deal. She has never denied ordering fomer NAFTOGAZ Ukraine head Oleg Dubyna to sign the agreement, saying that she did what had to be done. The record, however, reflects that she petitioned the cabinet of Verkhovna Rada – Ukraine’s parliament and supreme body of state power – when Dubyna refused to sign the contracts without state approval. The record further reflects that the cabinet not only denied its support, it took the issue off the table. Tymoshenko is then alleged to have ordered Dubyna to sign the contracts, which he did, and the verdict reflects the court’s confidence that it was done at Tymoshenko’s direction. She was sentenced to 7 years imprisonment and a fine for damages of her action totaling $180 million.
Western response was swift and condemnatory. “Ukraine is sliding toward Russian-style…autocratic rule” opines The Guardian. “Politically motivated prosecution” accuses the White House, exercising its new recycling policy by scratching out “Khodorkovsky” on its press releases and scribbling in “Tymoshenko”; ” [the] charges against Mrs. Tymoshenko…have raised concerns about…Ukraine’s commitment to democracy and the rule of law.” The European Union is “deeply disappointed“, sputters Foreign Affairs representative Catherine Ashton; “..the approach of Ukrainian authorities…risks having profound implications for the EU-Ukraine bilateral relationship.” Cementing its pitiable and permanent downgrade to Global Assclown, Amnesty International calls for Tymoshenko’s immediate release, quavering that the charges on which she has been convicted “are not internationally recognized offenses”. So, as long as you can find a country where it’s not a crime, it’s not a crime anywhere? Good to know. Darya, get the hell off the phone and order me some child prostitutes from Thailand. Oh, hey, and a sack of weed from Amsterdam. I know it’s bad for self-esteem to play favourites, but I have to say Amnesty International’s response bent the needle on my personal laugh-o-meter.
What really makes me shake my head in wonder at all these knee-jerk Free-The-Political-Prisoner-Of-The-Month reactions is the implied suggestion that Tymoshenko is some kind of fierce guardian of democracy: a savior, a crusader for the rights of everyman – a true Ukrainian patriot who had to be silenced so that evil might endure yet awhile. What’s really behind it? Tymoshenko is the west’s kind of leader – rich, arrogant to a fault and willing to change sides in the blink of an eye if money or power might accrue as a result.
Mind you, you can’t really blame Mrs. Tymoshenko for having a swelled head. The west loved Tymoshenko from the moment she appeared on the western media radar, dubbing her the “Joan of Arc of the Orange Revolution”: in 2005 Forbes rated her the third most-powerful woman in the world, in a display of lapdog adulation that must have nearly burst her braids. The following year, she didn’t even make the top 100. When she was arrested because she refused to recognize the court’s authority, Senator John McCain was quoted on Tymoshenko’s website as saying her arrest was directly relevant to the future of freedom and democracy in Ukraine. This arrest, he expanded, was “a violation of the basic rights that should be protected for every citizen in a democracy”.
Small wonder, then, that Mrs. Tymoshenko began to think she was bulletproof. After all, a former contender for the U.S. presidency had just explicitly endorsed her behaviour in court, which included refusing to recognize the judge’s authority, instead refusing to stand as protocol dictates when he entered the courtroom, calling him a “farce” and a “puppet”, refusing to answer questions when addressed directly by the judge and continuously talking when not addressed. This, according to Senator McCain, is every Ukrainian citizen’s basic right. What a splendid example for Ukrainians!! Have you been arrested for robbery? No problem!! Simply refuse to recognize the court’s authority, openly mock the judge and decline to answer any questions. You’ll be arrested for contempt, of course, but before the air is even cold where you were just standing, western political figures and professional activists will be denouncing your country’s legal system for trampling on your rights, insisting that your being held to account for your behaviour is “politically motivated”!! What a refreshing view of the rule of law. I can’t wait for this freedom to come to my country – which fancies itself a democracy – because here they don’t ask you twice to stand when you address a judge, and if you go to jail for contempt of court it is extremely difficult to get American senators to drop everything and rush to your defense. In fact, John McCain has been known to get pretty lippy on the subject of the U.S. Supreme court, so perhaps he just doesn’t like courts, period. Amid all the western media going gaga over her braided hairdo and encouraging her to further displays of resistance to authority with terms like “defiant” and “fierce” and “a tigress”, it should be borne in mind that when that same media took notice of Tymoshenko, she had been in politics for 8 years. That’s the same media, mostly, that was happy to spread the message that Barack Obama was too inexperienced to run his country when he had been a senator for 12 years, 4 of them national. It would be difficult to exaggerate the importance of the western press as enthusiastic members, with rare exceptions, of Team Tymoshenko.
For her own part, Mrs. Tymoshenko is extremely adept at self-promotion, regularly linking Ukraine’s fortunes with her own and implying that resistance to letting her have her own way is somehow symbolic of standing in the way of Ukraine’s progress.
And Western pundits and officials wonder why Eastern Europeans and others laugh at their purple-faced self-righteous outrage. Why don’t they take us seriously, get their act together and do what we want? I’ll tell you why. Because the west picks its favourites among the political world based on how much they are like our own politicians, doesn’t question if their swooning over democracy and reform is genuine or merely shameless pandering, and doesn’t do the most basic research when they are in deep shit to find out if that’s where they deserve to be.
So, let’s do their homework for them. We’ve already covered the ways in which Tymoshenko embodies the ideal leader to westerners; rich, talks the progressive talk while walking the exclusive-power-elite walk, and is admitting of no fault whatsoever – when she loses an election, it’s because the winner cheated. When she’s hauled into court, it’s politically motivated because the party in power fears her righteous challenge and the stellar work she’s done in the interests of rooting out corruption.
Is Tymoshenko committed to democracy and the citizens’ right to self-determination? Insofar as it increases her personal power, maybe. Otherwise…well, let’s see. One of the points the west keeps hammering on for Russia is the rule of law. Before the rule of law can prevail, there must be respect for it, both on the part of the prosecutors and the defendants as well as the public at large. Tymoshenko, on trial for abuse of power – which, obviously, indicates disrespect for the law – spends her time tweeting jokes from the courtroom about the judge, suggesting he is a monkey on a branch, sawing the branch from under himself. The international press eats it up, referring to her as “The Field-Marshall of the Orange Revolution”, and speculating that the trial might be a PR windfall that will return her to prominence. When she’s not doing that, she’s threatening to have the judge and the prosecutors removed from office because of their “numerous violations”, and Humanitad, a human-rights organization, backs her up. She hasn’t had time to prepare a defense, they say – although she was subpoenaed to testify in May, at which time she already had legal representation because she chose to appear on Shuster Live and ignored the order – the trial did not commence until June 24th and she was not detained until August 5th. She has claimed she did nothing wrong and that she required no permission to conclude the agreement on Ukraine’s behalf. If that’s true, how much time do you need to prepare a defense? And if that’s true, why did she call a cabinet meeting and try to get its endorsement of the agreement? Parliamentary records show that’s what happened, as well as cabinet’s refusal to approve it.
Let’s move on. Refusal for medical assistance from a personal physician, says Humanitad, is “an egregious breach of procedural fairness”. I don’t know what kind of courts they have where Humanitad is from, but here’s what happened. During her detention – only overnight, mind you – Tymoshenko became tired. She said she was unwell, and was offered medical examination. She declined, saying, “I refuse to be treated by anyone sent by the government … I demand to be seen by a doctor I trust.” Apparently, this should be everyone’s right in a real democracy. It staggers the imagination how a trial could ever proceed, since Tymoshenko’s personal physician could quite possibly be unavailable when summoned. She evidenced no symptoms except fatigue. Similarly, continuing the trial in her absence was another egregious breach, but the only alternative would have been to muzzle or gag her, since she wouldn’t shut up or display any respect to the court. And this, apparently, is de rigueur process in democratic courts. Not in any I’ve ever seen; in fact, it was my impression that arrest and removal was pretty standard courtroom procedure in the event of contempt rulings inspired by disruptive behaviour. What is the court supposed to do then – wait until you calm down?
If we are to take Humanitad and Tymoshenko’s squawking western supporters seriously, they should permit Tymoshenko’s refusal to answer questions, permit her to continuously mock and insult the judge, to pick and choose the services she will allow to determine if she is fit to carry on with the trial and allow Tymoshenko supporters to disrupt proceedings as they see fit. This, we must perforce believe, will breed respect for the rule of law in Ukraine, since it is the standard elsewhere. Is it? Is it really?
The position the west has taken on this reminds me of nothing so much as the table-full of patrons at a club who find themselves seated next to another table which features a loud, obnoxious drunk. Her behaviour is vastly entertaining to the first table, but those seated quietly thank God she’s not at their table, while cheering her on to ever greater heights of embarrassing antics.
Even more embarrassing than Tymoshenko’s boorish behaviour are the capitulating noises the Ukrainian government is making, suggesting they might reclassify her actions with respect to the gas agreement as “administrative” rather than criminal, so they can save face and let her off the hook. Get a spine, boys – that’d be a terrible mistake. Just as the court’s bending over backward to accommodate Tymoshenko creates the impression they have no case and are vaguely ashamed of themselves, cooking up a reason to let her go would only encourage her to run her narcissistic mouth even more about being unjustly imprisoned and political conspiracies and so on. It might even win her the presidency, although thus far Ukrainians don’t seem to be buying it.
Tymoshenko as leader was a disaster for Ukraine when she wasn’t even the real leader. One can only imagine her power-binges if she were so elected. The criminal charges are well-supported, and threatening to stall EU membership if she is not allowed to do as she pleases is small-minded and petty. Besides, EU membership is looking more like a liability than a gift every day, and Ukraine’s economic situation is very likely to make it a non-starter in any case, regardless the hoops jumped through to placate EU leaders on the Tymoshenko matter. Stick to your guns, Ukraine.