Picket for democracy and freedom assembles today at the Ukrainian embassy, 60 Holland Park, London W11 3SJ. Meet 12.30 for 1pm.
Today communists and socialists will be picketing the Ukrainian embassy in London in protest at the banning of the Communist Party of Ukraine (CPU) on December 16. The ban is a result of the decree on “decommunisation” signed by President Petro Poroshenko (pictured) on May 15 2015.
The case was heard in secret. The defendants — the leadership of the CPU — were barred. So were their legal representatives. It followed a previous hearing in July when the presiding judges themselves resigned in protest at its politically motivated character.
The decommunisation decree had already made it a criminal offence to promote communism or Marxism or to display an associated symbol. Selling anything written by Marx now attracts a prison sentence of up to five years.
The same decree requires all citizens of Ukraine to show “respect” to those who fought alongside the nazis in WWII in the Organisation of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN).
Now it has become a criminal offence to be the member of a party which won 2.6 million votes in 2012, third-highest in terms of electoral support, and which at that point had over 100,000 members.
On December 18 the Venice Commission of the Council of Europe and the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) issued a statement condemning the decommunisation decree as “disproportionate” and the banning of political organisations as “problematic with regard to every individual’s freedom of association” and especially for “the proper functioning of democracy.”
The Council of Europe and the associated OSCE represents all countries in Europe — both inside and outside the EU — and provides the constitutional basis for the European Court of Human Rights. The EU itself has so far been silent on the issue.
But silence cannot be an option for anyone who values free speech and democracy.
This attack on the CPU is a particularly extreme example of the growing wave of right-wing authoritarianism spreading across the EU’s eastern European member states. Similar bans on communism and its symbols now exist in Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Hungary and Poland. The past month has seen the new far-right nationalist government in Poland moving to take direct political control of news media and education.
However, it is in Ukraine that these developments are potentially most dangerous.
Ukraine is a country divided by a civil war that has already killed thousands. The Minsk agreements of 2014 and 2015 offered a way forward towards a peaceful resolution on the basis of a degree of political and economic autonomy for the Russian-speaking eastern provinces together with respect for civil and language rights across the whole of Ukraine — a solution long advocated by the CPU.
The deommunisation decree now gravely prejudices the implementation of this agreement. It bans a party supported by up to a third of the Russian-speaking population. It sets a timetable for the demolition of all Soviet-era monuments and the renaming of 64 villages and towns. Those living in the Donbass will additionally be required to show “respect” to those who slaughtered local partisans fighting against the nazis and who helped organise the mass murder of the Jewish population.
This undermining of the Minsk agreements is by no means a coincidence. It reflects the deeply compromised and divided character of the post-coup regime in Kiev.
The decommunisation decree was brought forward by Prime Minister, Arseniy Yatsenyuk, a former leader of the Fatherland Party which honours, the memory of the leader of the OUN, Stepan Bandera. Yatsenyuk and his new party, the People’s Front, have been less than enthusiastic about the implementation of the Minsk agreements.
In the preparations for the coup it was Yatsenyuk who had the backing of the US State Department’s Victoria Nuland, a rightwinger and former adviser to Dick Cheney. “Yat’s the man,” Nuland famously remarked in the leaked telephone call that attacked Germany for dragging its feet. Germany’s preferred candidate was the current President Poroshenko, who later helped negotiate the Minsk agreements.
Today the Kiev government reflects all the dangerous tensions released by the coup — not least the fascist militias that have been incorporated into the armed forces and the leaders of the fascist organisations who have secured key positions in the new security apparatus.
The country is also in economic chaos. Inflation is running at over 40 per cent. Average wages for those lucky enough to be employed are around £25 a week. Over half the population is living below the UN-determined poverty level. In these circumstances subsidies for fuel, housing and communal heating are being removed in line with the requirements of the EU association agreement signed last year.
Banning the CPU removes the one mass organisation that has historically defended working people from attack. It also consolidates the grip of far-right authoritarianism in eastern Europe and directly endangers the Minsk peace process.
This is why maximum support is required for today’s protest and why we should demand that the British government raises its voice in the EU Council to defend democracy in a country that is now in the process of becoming an associate member of the bloc.