Opinion: Britain should offer more support to pro-democracy protesters in Ukraine

Liberals have common cause with pro-democracy protestors in Ukraine

While UKIP and the Tory Right want to take Britain out of Europe other nations are clamouring to join the EU, not least in the Ukraine where pro-EU protests have been taking place for several months now. They want to be ‘in’ for the same reason as the Liberal Democrats, to boost jobs and investment. Europe is not a threat to national sovereignty but a guarantor of democratic and economic stability across the continent.

 As Ukraine protesters are seeking to free their country from Kremlin interference so too the collective influence of European nations can protect the human rights of British citizens.

 Britain needs to trade with America and Russia as much as the other BRIC countries of China, Brazil and India, not to mention the rapidly developing African economies. But it makes simply good business sense to negotiate trade deals as a bloc because a free-for-all leaves the door ajar to low-wage exploitation and corruption.

 Europe’s rules governing open and transparent trade would benefit Ukraine’s taxpayers as it benefits ours’. UKIP supporters who hate the EU should look at regions of the world where lack of transparency has built up tin-pot dictators.

 The EU, that was established after the Second World War to prevent further conflict, can and should play a more positive role in stopping the Ukraine sliding into civil war.

 Britain, as part of the European Council of Ministers, needs to take a lead in supporting the pro-democracy movement in Ukraine, and I call on William Hague, the foreign secretary, to move from warm words to real action.

 Nick Clegg’s recent election broadcast, with the theme “Why I Am In”, perfectly articulated why a positive approach to Europe can deliver jobs for the UK and extend our influence on the continent to promote human rights and democracy.

 Ukraine has a population of 46 million and their addition to the European trading zone would be an enormous asset to both.

 For me, being ‘in’ is about getting more investment in regions like the East Midlands where I am a Euro candidate but also standing up for concepts like the European Convention on Human Rights which don’t just benefit other countries but also uphold essential rights, like the right to family life, in the UK.

 The Immigration Bill, currently making its’ way through Westminster, proposes a severe reduction in the scope of this European Convention when it comes to appeals by asylum seekers against Home Office deportation notices on the question of the ‘right to family life.’

 The European Convention on Human Rights may be a continent-wide treaty but it enshrines British Liberal values of fairness.

 The EU is essentially a union of values. This is what Ukraine wants, and what I and the Liberal Democrats want.

 When Ukraine detains thousands of protesters they want a European Court of Human Rights to appeal to. And when British citizens feel they have been denied their rights they want the same option.

 We have common cause with the pro-democracy protesters in Kiev. We have to fight to be in.

* Issan Ghazni is Chair of the Ethnic Minority Liberal Democrats and former National Diversity Adviser for the Liberal Democrats. Issan blogs here

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  • R Uduwerage-Perera 17th Feb '14 - 4:33pm

    I could not agree more with the sentiments of Issan’s article.

    Only last Saturday I attended a Ukip meeting in Newbury where Farage for over an hour wooed the audience with soundbites and inappropriate jokes about Gay people, Ukip’s negative opinion of Postal Voting, Migrants, explicitly the French and being married to a German which led to further xenophobic comments, all of which were not racist of course as they were merely light hearted banter. Clearly Farage operates to a different definition of racism that others.

    The audience which was predominately made up of Tory leaning individuals was I suspect mainly won over to his tabloid rhetoric and the fact that any matter of substance was dealt with by the comment “well I will not go into that in detail, because it is very confusing and I do not wish to bore you”.

    Ukip, the Tory’s and Bob Crow all appear to be clutching at straws over the evidence that they present to dismiss the benefits of Europe and Farage explicitly wishes to paint the LidDems are Euro-apologist who do not accept that the EU like any organisation constantly needs to be seeking to become even more economic and effective whilst improving its services.

    Without wishing to appear to be mimicking a Monty Python sketched about “what has the EU ever done for us….” The EU, more than NATO or even our ‘close relationship’ with the USA has in my opinion significantly influenced the actual levels of conflict that have existed in Europe since WWII compared with previous times when all to frequently conflict was the norm.

    I for one would certainly support the EU’s involvement (non-military) in maintaining and further developing the fragile democracy that exists in the Ukraine

  • Are you serious? Political and Economic stability? Have you forgotten what has happened to Greece and Spain over the past 3 years. Huge demonstrations on the streets, with terrible violence from both Police and demonstrators. Greece in particular, has lost all Sovereignty, and is now being run by a Troika of the IMF, ECB & European Commission, all unelected Bureaucrats.
    Also, Yanukovych was elected fairly in 2012, so your call for Democracy is incorrect. Even though Ukraine is dominated by a clique of Oligarchs, and the people have rightly had enough of the corruption, the previous President was no better, even though he was closer to the West.
    There is also a huge amount of outside interference from the West and Russia, causing instability in the Country. The U.S.A in particular has been caught choosing who will be in the next Ukrainian Govt. This telephone conversation between the U.S Ambassador and a U.S State Dept Official, says it all! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jbOwfeoDX2o

  • Certain comments above illustrate the perils of trying to view a foreign country’s politics through the filters of one’s own — or through some reductionist global political theory that renders the politics of every country down to a single dimension. Events in the Ukraine should be viewed, insofar as possible, through Ukrainian eyes — not as pawns in some Great Game between West and East. I truly detest any recasting of internal politics in such a way as to deny the people of the country their agency, that is, their power to make political decisions in terms of local issues and affairs, without being thought of as Russian tools or American agents or imperialist stooges or any other oversimplification of the situation. And this is something we’ve seen a great deal of, not just in Ukraine, but in Iran and Venezuela and Egypt and Syria (recently) and in the more distant past Sri Lanka and South Africa and Vietnam and Chile and Kenya and, well, pretty much anywhere you could point to on the map. A global political theory is no substitute for knowing the local politics and the facts on the ground; and the political sympathies one develops in one’s home country, however well-suited to that situation, cannot be easily and straightforwardly transferred to the differently divided and motivated factions of a foreign land — hardly even in the ‘near abroad,’ much less places with a quite alien history and political culture.
    By this I do not mean to imply that foreign countries are inscrutable enigmas, black boxes whose workings cannot be understood by anyone outside them — just that it’s desirable to study their history and current events, their parties and factions, and the complex cross currents of the sympathetic and the strange one always finds, before making a judgement.

  • Dear Issan, totally agree with everything you said. We face tough Euro elections … wish I could vote for you ! Given where I live, my vote (and campaigning) will help to secure Catherine Bearder (and hopefully Anthony Hook).

  • From what little I’ve read, it would seem that the EU is part of the problem with it’s insistence on either the Ukraine is in or out and hence severe (or not) it’s relationship with Russia, rather than just encouraging the Ukraine to join EFTA and allow the country to develop at it’s own pace.

    I’ve said it before, the EU, and this is something the UK could be actively promoting, needs to get better at dealing with it’s immediate neighbours, particularly those who have to look two ways – Ukraine is one and Turkey is another.

  • David-1
    I basically agree, so I’ll restrict myself to saying that I wouldn’t consider the protests to be entirely pro-democracy. There are some nasty nationalists hovering about, and a large part of the country does face east rather than west.

    Oh, and Yushchenko was around for the previous lot of protests. He is off the political radar now.

  • “For me, being ‘in’ is about getting more investment in regions like the East Midlands where I am a Euro candidate but also standing up for concepts like the European Convention on Human Rights which don’t just benefit other countries but also uphold essential rights, like the right to family life, in the UK”

    I’m having a bit of a problem with the idea of allowing convicted prisoners the right to vote. Don’t you think that is going a bridge too far?

  • jedibeeftrix 18th Feb '14 - 10:50pm

    “I’m having a bit of a problem with the idea of allowing convicted prisoners the right to vote. Don’t you think that is going a bridge too far?”

    Oh Theresa, I do indeed.

    This is why I am quite keen on the notion of human rights being what British Society consents to via the traditional mechanisms of the trias politica principle, i.e.
    Parliament – legislature
    Prime Minister, Cabinet, Government Departments & Civil Service – executive
    Courts – judiciary

  • “I’m having a bit of a problem with the idea of allowing convicted prisoners the right to vote. Don’t you think that is going a bridge too far?”

    One of the reasons the US has such draconian drug laws is because of the electoral advantage to the Republicans of criminalising and therefore disenfranchising swathes of those in the lower socio-economic classes. If Labour had brought in ID cards I might well have ended up as a convicted criminal for refusing to carry one. Should I also have been deprived of my right to representation in the democracy which frames the laws to which I am subject? It is a bad idea to incentivise politicians to exclude ‘undesirables’ from the democratic process. One day that undesirable person could be you.

  • Britain needs to trade with SE Asia which is forming the Asean Economic Community. I am not sure how much democracy there is there.

  • Theresa-1, there is an important philosophical case for why prisoners should have the vote: it affirms that the convicted are participants in the system that passes judgement .over them. That those convicted have the vote affirms that their imprisonment is not political.

    Also for prisoners held for less than 5 years it is a randomly applied sanction: I cannot see the justification in this. Furthermore, again as a matter of principle, I think prisoners should be formally represented by an MP and MEP; they should have someone specific in the electoral system to whom they can address grievances and other issues. Requiring prisoners to apply for a postal vote would formalise this perogative.

  • Carol Weaver (Dr) 19th Feb '14 - 9:51am

    Whilst Ukraine burns you discuss the rights or not of prisoners to vote. Issan is saying that Britain should offer more support to the pro-democracy protestors who are being shot at and killed by their own corrupt president’s riot police (who are under orders). This president will do anything to stay in power whilst mouthing platitudes. Very few Ukrainians (western or eastern) support him any more. Ukraine is of course already part of the Council of Europe and the ECHR but the process is slow. So I agree with Issan. The UK and the EU need to do more to help Ukraine become a genuine democracy.

  • If you think the British people will support extension of the right to reside in this country to Ukrainians (or Serbs or Turks) in anything but a distant-and-hard-to-imagine future, I fear you have another think coming. Allowing every Tomasz, Dmitar and Ali to migrate across the whole EU will not work at the present time. It is more likely to result in the breakdown of the EU, and should not be supported by good Europeans unless and until economic prosperity is more equal.

  • Tsar Nicholas 19th Feb '14 - 6:13pm

    If Ukraine is burning, it is because of the actions of the spiritual heirs of the Waffen SS Galicia Division.

    If the level of violence inflicted on the police in Kiev (ten dead) together with occupation of government buildings, Molotov cocktails, bricks and stones, had occurred in London, there would have been just as severe a reaction. Look at how the British system harshly punished people with ludicrously long terms of imprisonment for handling stolen bottles of water after the 2011 riots.

    Ukraine has a democratic method of changing governments and so all this talk of “pro-democracy” protestors is nonsense. There is just as much disaffection from the Westminster government – the difference is that London does not have to put up with interference and plotting from Victoria Nuland and the US State Department in their endless quest to weaken Russia.

    If posters and readers on here ignore the geopolitical dimensions of this crisis then they will not understand what is going on.

  • “Ukraine has a democratic method of changing governments…”

    Yes …….. and the world is flat, the moon is made of cheese, some of Putin’s best friends are gay and Tony Blair is a fero of the Palestinian people.

  • David Allen 19th Feb '14 - 7:00pm

    “Britain should offer more support to the pro-democracy protestors who are being shot at and killed by their own corrupt president’s riot police”

    Hmm. The heart says yes. Then the head remembers similar emotional appeals to defend Iraqi victims of Saddam’s criminal government by, er, mounting a Western military crusade.

    Iraq was Western military adventurism. What about the EU’s “Eastern Partnership” programme and its courting of Ukraine? Does that smack just a little of Western economic adventurism?

  • Tsar Nicholas 19th Feb '14 - 7:15pm

    @ john Tilley

    You should explain what you mean by ridiculing my statement. Are you saying that Yanukovich cannot be removed in the next set of elections?

    I rather suspect that some question Ukraine’s democracy because they don’t like the results.

  • Carol Weaver (Dr) 19th Feb '14 - 8:08pm

    David – giving them help and support does not mean military intervention. See ALDE’s proposals.

    Nicholas – given the chance Yanu will stay there for the rest of his life by fair means or more likely by foul means. Like other regional leaders he is terrified to step down because of the crimes he has committed.

    Nicholas – Ukrainian HR and Jewish groups say only a minority of the protesters are racists. Such demonstrations are always infiltrated including by titushki – hired thugs – and reportedly Russian specialist forces using live ammunition.
    Do not believe all the RT propaganda.

  • I do not have to explain anything to anyone who hides behind the offensive and ridiculous screen name of “Tsar Nicholas” .

  • Tsar Nicholas 19th Feb '14 - 8:49pm

    @ Carol Weaver

    Don’t believe the RT propaganda!

    Did I imagine the leaked phone call between Victoria Nuland and Geoffrey Pyatt? The one where they explicitly discuss personnel for a new Ukrainian government.

    I have no doubt that there is corruption, but to base a western policy on the idea that Yanukovich might try to retain power is right there alongside those Obama-haters from the red states who are arguing that Obama is going to abolish the 2016 elections or change the constitution to keep him in office beyond two terms.

    And your point about the lack of racists – it’s clear that parties like Svoboda have toned things down, but then you could say the same of Ms Le Pen. Russian speakers in the east fear some sort of ethnic/lingusitic cleansing if the party that used to call itself the Social-Nationalists gets it way.

    But the big danger is the geopolitical one. This is potentially the Cuban Missile Crisis in reverse. NATO has – despite George HW Bush’s promise not to expand eastwards – moved right up to Russia’s borders and is installing a missile defence shield. Moscow has vital geopolitical interests in the country that gave birth to Russia. There are some people in the West who are nutty enough to press thsi to the point of war.

  • Tsar Nicholas 19th Feb '14 - 8:53pm

    @ John Tilley

    I don’t understand why you consider ‘Tsar Nicholas’ to be offensive, but then, people these days are so readily offended.

    You are right that you don’t have to justify your statement, but the fact that you won’t suggest to me that you can’t. I really hope that you don’t consider my comment offensive in any way because it’s not meant as such.

  • Carol Weaver (Dr) 19th Feb '14 - 9:20pm

    Here are the ALDE proposals. They involve trying to bring all sides together and resolving everything peacefully.


  • The ALDE proposals may want to bring all sides together, but only in order for the regime to make “real compromises”.

    I didn’t say that the EU meant military intervention. I said that sometimes economic adventurism can do as much harm as military adventurism.

    At what point is the EU going to stop trying to expand its economic sphere of influence? Would the EU want to persuade Chechenya to secede from Russia and join the EU – or Kurdistan to form a nation by joining the EU – or Tibet to escape from the Chinese threat by joining the EU?

    Am I now sounding ridiculous? Yes, no doubt – but, aren’t EU overtures to Ukraine also a dangerous case of pushing the boat out too far?

  • Carol Weaver (Dr) 20th Feb '14 - 12:33am

    Not ridiculous David but you have it all the wrong way round. The EU wants peace and democracy in its neighbourhood but preferably without too much enlargement. It is Ukraine and most other neighbours that have wanted to join the EU. Instead a few countries have been offered association agreements instead. These agreements should not harm their relationships with Russia.

  • Jonathan Brown 20th Feb '14 - 12:40am

    Excellent article Issan – spot on.

    @David Allen – if by ‘economic adventurism’ you mean forcing another country to reshape it’s economy to the benefit of us and the loss of them, then of course we would criticise.

    But EU expansion and the Eastern Partnership are about expanding trade, the rule of law, access to EU markets and through all of the above, reinforcing democracy. These are all things most people want, anywhere in the world, and I don’t think Ukraine is any different. Issan is right; we ought to be offering more support to pro-democracy protestors in Ukraine – both because it is in our interests, AND because it is what Ukrainians want.

    Nothing about EU expansion needs to be a threat to Russia, any more than it is a threat to Poland, Slovenia or Latvia. A democratic Russia that upheld the rule of law would have everything to gain from further partnership with the EU. It is the corrupt, the criminal and the authoritarians who see the expansion of the stability and prosperity as a threat.

  • @Carol weaver (Dr)
    >These agreements should not harm their relationships with Russia.
    Nor our relationships with Russia.

    I feel that we need to treat Ukraine a little like N.Ireland and step back, provide ‘favourable’ and fair trading arrangements and encourage Russia to do similar and allow the country to establish itself. By taking sides we are potentially increasing the risk that the internal conflict becomes more polarised and escalates into a pseudo code war conflict…

  • David Allen 20th Feb ’14 – 12:05am

    Your references to the Kurds and Tibet make an important point. The EU should not have an insatiable desire to extend its boundary. However, you might want to consider the difference between membership and countries beyond the boundary who will fall within the EU’s influence..
    My personal view is that Turkey has benefited by being within the EU’s sphere of influence but may not benefit from actual membership. Morocco is clearly tied to the EU in many ways, economic and historic, but would either the EU or Morocco necessarily benefit by it becoming a member state?
    Both Francophone and Anglophone Africa might do better by retaining economic and cultural inks to the EU than being bought up lock, stock and gold mine by Chinese State corporations, but I would not argue that African countries would be better off as member states of the EU.
    Which brings us back to the Ukraine. It is in the interests of the EU and the Ukraine people that Putin’s post modern autocracy does not dominate and reabsorb that country.
    It seems the Ukraine people see EU values of freedom of thought and freedom from corruption as their values too. This is the point made in Issan’s original piece. The EU would be mad to ignore that and mad to refuse to offer help to a neighbour in need.

  • David Allen 20th Feb '14 - 1:53pm

    Carol Weaver, Jonathan Brown, John Tilley, there is a great deal in what you all say that I can’t take issue with. However, Jonathan (for example) then went on to say:

    “A democratic Russia that upheld the rule of law would have everything to gain from further partnership with the EU. It is the corrupt, the criminal and the authoritarians who see the expansion of the stability and prosperity as a threat.”

    Well, sorry, but that’s just Western arrogance. It’s saying that we could run Russia better than Putin. It’s implying that we are indeed a threat to Putin, and that one day we could try to run Russia better than he does, whether by means of economic coercion or even by military means. We’re democrats, they’re crooks. We’re the goodies, they’re the baddies.

    Personally, I’m not going to suggest that Gitmo and Abu Ghraib are as bad as Chechenya. However, things are certainly not black and white. We have no right to presume automatic superiority.

    Besides that – What will Putin do if we place his position under threat? He will fight back, won’t he? He will support violent repression in Ukraine, won’t he? Did we really want him to do that?

  • Jonathan Brown 21st Feb '14 - 12:26am

    @ David Allen – “It’s saying that we could run Russia better than Putin. It’s implying that we are indeed a threat to Putin, and that one day we could try to run Russia better than he does, whether by means of economic coercion or even by military means.”

    It means nothing of the sort. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with wanting the best for others, and I hope it’s not controversial to suggest among liberals and democrats that liberalism and democracy are generally better than authoritarianism and corruption. We want these things for Ukraine, because we believe that most people – Ukrainians included – want them for themselves. More to the point, we want these things for Ukraine because Ukrainians tell us they want them for themselves.

    I want them for Russia too, and we should support Russians who brave the threats to campaign for them, but given – as you point out – our chequered history and questionable foreign policy record, we have to be aware of playing into Putin’s hands and/or being fooled into backing people who are using liberalism and democracy as cover for personal ambitions. It is for Russians to press for changes within the country, not for us to try to impose anything on them.

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