FREEDOM – SO FAR

ImageThis night I dreamed I visited a “gastronom” – a Soviet-style food shop. There was a huge crowd inside. People were queuing up to buy bread and bottled milk (the only products which were there). The victuals were sold from behind the counter by the military personnel: civilian shop-assistants had been dismissed.

Of course, the real Soviet life had been less gloomy: the assortment still contained basic necessities and soldiers were never employed as salesmen.  Neither do I think there’ll be a return to “gastronoms” in this country: at the moment boutiques and supermarkets are mushrooming all over the Ukrainian capital. However, my dream had a very realistic basis: the political and social atmosphere in Ukraine is getting more and more like it was in the then-USSR. Yesterday saw another landmark on the road to suppressing freedom here: a bill entitled ”On Slander” was submitted to Parliament. According to the bill, conscious spreading of deliberately untrustworthy information that defames honour and dignity of another person may be punishable by a prison term of up to five years. That might sound reasonable if you forgot that courts in Ukraine are rubber-stamping sentences decided upon by the powers-that-be.  If any ruling party official (even on a local level) doesn’t like a critical remark in the media about himself, he can sue the “culprit”, and there can be no doubt what the decision of the court will be.

I liked a sarcastic observation concerning the richest person in Ukraine Renat Akhmetov which I came across on the Internet today. Mr. Akhmetov, a member of the Ukrainian parliament, is known NEVER to attend ANY of its meetings. However, he is always registered as the one who votes – by proxy, of course: he “has entrusted” his electronic card to party comrades who do the job instead of him, which is illegal in itself. So, officially, Renat Akhmetov “participated” in voting on the aforementioned bill, though he didn’t attend physically. The Internet journalist writes: “If I say that Renat Akhmetov didn’t vote this time, will it be a truth or a slander?”

Journalists say that, if implemented, the law will turn all newspapers into Pravda-like information sheets, and it will kill the very profession of a journalist (“Pravda” was the central organ of the Communist Party in the Soviet Union).

The law, which is to become operative on December 1 this year, may affect not only journalists, but 80 per cent of rank-and-file Ukrainians. What if I give my estimate of a leading politician in an email? Or if I post an unflattering political blog? The comforting thought is that I have at least two months when I can fear no repercussions. Two months of freedom.

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