MOSCOW – Anger swept through the Ukrainian opposition Friday after a package of laws that would prohibit almost any type of street protest was rushed through parliament.
The laws appear to borrow heavily from existing Russian legislation and seem to belie Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych’s declarations that he wants his country to build stronger ties with the European Union.
Under the new laws, any organization receiving money from abroad — which, in Ukraine’s case, includes a huge number of groups including the Greek Catholic Church — must register as “foreign agents,” just as they must in Russia.
The wearing of helmets or use of bullhorns at demonstrations is prohibited, as is the blocking of residential properties or any convoy of five cars or more. Slander would become a criminal offense, according to the bill, and critics said it is so broadly worded that virtually any act of journalism that criticizes the government or a government official could be defined as slander.
An editor at the English-language Kyiv Post, Katya Gorchinskaya, ended her column Friday this way: “Welcome to the new police state. We call it Little Russia.”
Yuri Lutsenko, an opposition leader who was scheduled to be released from the hospital Friday after suffering a concussion in a police beating this month, told the newspaper Kommersant-Ukraine that he believes security services have taken control of the government from Yanukovych, and that they are receiving orders from another country. He didn’t specify which country, but it was clear he meant Russia.
The hurried passage of the laws Thursday night — by a quick voice vote in a tumultuous Verkhovna Rada, or parliament — brought rapid condemnation from European and American leaders.
“There can be no business as usual with Kiev,” tweeted Carl Bildt, the Swedish foreign minister.
The legislation contradicts Ukraine’s stated European aspirations, said Stefan Fule, the E.U. commissioner on expansion.
“I am deeply concerned by the events in Kyiv,” Catherine Ashton, the E.U.’s chief diplomat, said in a statement released Friday. “I am particularly concerned by the changes to the judicial code which impose worrying restrictions on the rights of assembly and on the freedom of speech and media, and are contrary to Ukraine’s international obligations.”
Large protests erupted in Kiev on Nov. 21, after Ukraine suddenly backed away from a trade agreement with the E.U., and have continued since then. In December, Yanukovych has reiterated that he wanted to strike a deal with Europe, even while his government arranged a $15 billion bailout from Russia. Protesters are seeking his resignation. But over the Christmas and New Year’s holidays, the number of demonstrators in the streets decreased, and it looked more likely that Yanukovych would weather the crisis.
One of the main leaders of the opposition, Vitali Klitschko, said the new legislation amounts to a coup d’etat. He and others called for a large turnout of protesters Sunday.
On an Internet television channel called Hromadske TV, the news announcer on Friday wore a construction helmet, even though he was in the studio. Some protesters in the Maidan, or Independence Square, tied kitchen colanders to their heads in protest.
Many wondered how a law against allowing five or more cars to be gathered in one place could possibly be enforced, given Kiev’s traffic jams.
Credit to The Washington Post