Tuesday, June 11, 2024
 
 

Ukraine’s persecuted mayor

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Lest it be forgotten, the major thematic issue in post-Maidan and pre-war Ukraine was, and continues to be, the transformation of Ukrainian society along the lines of democratic values and practices while attempting to establish a law and rules-based society.

There are two wars taking place within Ukraine. One military, the other for the soul of Ukrainian society. Ukraine is essentially fighting a “values” war on two fronts. One front being a direct military assault on its lands in transgression against its sovereignty and international law, the other being an internal one against the continued “Russification” of its societal, economic, political and legal order.

The Maidan was a seminal public event in Ukraine’s modern political history, for it was a popular and society-wide act of rebellion against corruption strongly influenced by Russian values. The major thrust was, and continues to be, the transformation of Ukraine towards a democratic societal order based on the equal application of the law. Ukraine has rejected all things Russian.  

This attitude marked the beginning of Ukraine’s war against the Russky Mir – Russian world.

Ukraine’s major societal preoccupation with establishing a new order, one that would starkly contrast it with the values and practices of an authoritarian Russian Federation, was likely a major cause for the war with Russia. Moscow could not and will not accept a democratic Ukraine, one that categorically rejects oligarchic rule, its values, and practices.

The people of Ukraine have crossed the bridge and want a society that would be dominated by respect for human dignity and the predominance of individual rights enshrined and defended by a constitution based on those rights.

In November 2020, Oleksander Tretyak was elected to office on a political ticket to transform local municipal practices. People wanted “change” and so they elected a young, Protestant administrator of a Christian Bible school, with no previous political experience as a holder of elected office. His election was not only symbolic as he is a rare case of a Protestant being elected to higher office, but would bring change while revealing the deeply entrenched internal corrupt forces that opposed any “values” change and a new way of governing.

Among his accomplishments, his administration, most recently has been recognized by Chesno, a prominent Ukrainian watchdog organization, as one of the top three city councils within the country for transparency and for a maximum level of openness.

In addition, under his leadership, Rivne – a medium-sized city of 250,000 in western Ukraine, not far from the Ukrainian-Polish-Belarusian triple border – was awarded a “Plaque of Honor” by the Council of Europe based on the promotion of European values.

With his election and practices in his elected office, Tretyak is considered a political threat to the status quo, be it a steadfast, but humble challenge to the corrupt practices of those who held political power before him and for those feeling entitled to abuse political power for selfish financial gain. Since his election, his political foes sought an opportunity to pounce and discredit him.

To this end, his political foes weaponized those administrative powers that sought to fight and eradicate corruption in politics.

Tretyak was accused, found guilty, and fined 6,800 hryvnias and removed from office for a year, for supposedly not disclosing a conflict of interest. His so-called “crime”? He paid a bonus, approximately $180, a fully legal act, to a city employee. The administrative judge, Nadia Kovalchuk, ultimately determined that this was an act of corruption because the same employee had made a contribution to his campaign three years earlier.

The main question that must be asked is this: was the judge or judges of the administrative court in Rivne, pressured in any way to rule against the duly elected mayor by those political forces aligned against him? More specifically, did the political forces opposing Tretyak in Rivne use a quid pro quo to obtain their desired outcome in a legal case?

Denysyuk, the judge of Rivne’s administrative court responsible for initially removing Tretyak from office, was recently elected to be the head of this same court. Though it may be uncomfortable to ask, was this a “reward” for taking this action against the Mayor? Better yet, was the “fix” in?

Tretyak had the right to appeal his case and has done so. His appeal is based on the principle that this decision is in violation of his constitutional rights, his argument being that the application of the sanction for his removal from the Mayor’s office was also unconstitutional. At the same time, he is also challenging the constitutional validity of a corresponding clause of the Code of Administrative Violations.

The constitutional court is being asked to decide as to what extent administrative judges have the right to decide on the validity of participating and even affecting the decision of citizens expressed during an election. Put another way, do the courts have a right to overturn the will of the people, and does this particular case transgress against the mayor’s constitutional rights?

Rivne’s former elected mayor, Oleksander Tretyak.

There is reason for a positive outcome in Tretyak’s case. The first reason is that the Constitutional Court has decided to hear the case. The second is that Tretyak’s cause is being supported by leading constitutional experts in Ukraine and by the influential “Association of Cities of Ukraine.”

Why is this decision important?

It is critical in that it will illustrate whether Ukraine’s highest court will tolerate the continuing politicization of legal decisions, based on favor or financial gain. In addition, the Court has the opportunity to break a societal tradition and practice which has been the abuse of the courts to achieve partisan political gain or advantage.

Perhaps most importantly, the Court has the opportunity to assert a “moral” case by affirming that constitutional principles will solely be judged and decisions made on the merits of an individual case.

For Ukraine, this would be a major achievement as it proves that consideration of individual rights has finally come to be considered highly relevant by the highest court in the land.

Tretyak’s case must be watched and closely followed by Ukraine’s Western partners for it will reveal whether Ukraine has progressed towards any form of judicial transformation and whether there will actually be movement towards “depoliticization” of the legal process in Ukraine.

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