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Chairman of the Board of the Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union: Our organization’s priorities for the next year will be the agenda formulated by the Maidan

Here is the interview with Mykola Kozyrev, Chairman of the Board of the Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union, highlighting the Union’s future plans, the Maidan’s role for Ukraine, his opinion on Anti-Maidan and his vision regarding the way-out from the political crisis.

What are your organization's priorities for 2014?

Together with other UHHRU members we have just completed drafting strategic plan for our organization and identified the following scope of activities:

• Protecting human rights and fundamental freedoms in courts, government agencies and local self-governments;

• Providing legal assistance to people who defend their rights;

• Monitoring human rights situation in Ukraine and raising public awareness on human rights violations;

• Conducting research in the area of human rights, including on-going monitoring of draft laws and regulations, developing and promoting our own legislative initiatives;

• Preventing adoption of regulations that could negatively affect human rights guarantees;

• Initiating public hearings on draft regulatory documents and developing our own proposals;

• Conducting campaigns and educational activities to raise awareness on human rights, including workshops, training and conferences.

All these activities are important and demanded by the society. But in my opinion our organization’s priorities for the next year are defined by agenda formulated by the Maidan today. I shall elaborate a bit more on this position, as we all need to appreciate the historical importance of what is going on these days.

On Maidan

In a sense, the Maidan is some sort of pan-Ukrainian human rights forum, because, in fact, people came out in defense of their freedom and national dignity, their constitutional right to participation in government affairs. They came out to protest against clannish and oligarchic system of government.

The Maidan attests to the fact that the current political and economic regime has exhausted its capacity to upgrade and now represents an impediment on the country’s way to development. Today this regime exists in the form of a neo-feudal hierarchical system, which has transformed the entire law enforcement and judicial system into its own service department that protects privileges of the powers that be rather than the rights of citizens. In reality, the legal institutions of the state are only imitating a democratic system and are in the process of degradation, while the state authorities and the people are locked in a social and political conflict.

On the right of the state to use force

In the context of this conflict, the Ukrainian society has faced a fundamental question – does the state have a right to use force, and what are the conditions and extent of such use of force. The society demands an social order based on law, which involves the imperative of justice and humanity. The authorities, when viewed collectively as a governing body, are mentally stuck in the first half of the 20th century with its understanding of the law as an embodiment of the will of the ruling class and use this law as an instrument of violence.

Blood shed on November 30, 2013 at the Maidan marked a historic red line, a borderline between the past and future of the Ukrainian society. The Maidan denies legitimacy to the ruling regime, which while claiming to care for the social welfare of the citizens, in reality despises, deceives, exploits and beats them with police batons.

The Maidan says ‘no’ to such a state, where one in order to defend his/her rights has to buy not only a lawyer’s services, but also the judge’s ones. It says ‘no’ to the state, where the majority of young people don’t see any opportunity for their personal fulfillment and dream to leave the country forever. It says ‘no’ to the state, where relations between employer and employee represent a modern slavery, because the employees don’t have any access to productive property at industrial and agricultural enterprises and are excluded from the system of the distribution of wealth.

But the Maidan also says ‘no’ to such a model of social behavior of a common person, whereby its political infantilism and the readiness to delegate one’s personal responsibility to party leaders bring about a moral devastation and cultural degradation of the society.

Therefore, our priorities in advocacy activities should be primarily defined on the basis of the understanding of our duties to the Ukrainian society. I would define this moral imperative as follows: it is necessary to ensure that the Ukrainian society performs its historical transition from the natural state with limited access to capital assets and institutions, which favors the ruling coalition, to the modern state with an open access to capital assets in favor of the broad public. It should be transition to the state, where the rule of law, the protected property rights and free market for all will replace privileges and rent for the ruling elite.

It is highly important that any of the above-listed UHHRU priorities can be implemented in the framework of such a conceptual vision of the country’s historical situation.

How do you see the best way out of the current situation with the Maidan?

I do not support the repetition of the scenario of the storming of the Winter Palace. And the Maidan is not the Tahrir Square either. We have a different political situation and a different cultural environment. To my mind, it is important that the Maidan is evolving toward institutionalization. People get tired of the long-lasting physical confrontation that is why the announcement on establishment of a popular civic organization  Maidan made on December 22, 2013 at the Independence Square in Kyiv, offers an opportunity to convert physical confrontation at the square into a positive confrontation between the organized civil society institutions and the personified state system of power comprised of and impersonated by the President Victor Yanukovych.

What is your opinion regarding the position of the civil society during the Maidan events? Is it possible to strengthen it?

It is the civil society itself that played the crucial role in organizing the Maidan’s daily life. One can only admire such a selfless civic mobilization. I believe that ‘strengthening’ is required mainly in the field of creative development of civil society institutions and civil society consolidation in order to enforce demands brought forward by the Maidan.

But we also should not forget about other Maidans organized in support of the President Yanukovych. These are those of our compatriots, who although are not happy with this corrupt regime keep their eyes shut, because they feel comfortable in a situation of collective irresponsibility.

This is mentality of a Soviet person, who got used to a way of life when the ‘boss knows better’. Unfortunately, there are many such people.

What is the main task of human rights organizations now? What should they focus on?

I think I’ve already highlighted key points while answering your previous questions. But let me emphasize once again – there is a need to achieve a new level for an entire spectrum of civil society organizations, and UHHRU can and should be at the forefront of this.

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