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Underpaid, Underqualified, and Under the Gun

KIEV, Ukraine – In the litany of reasons for talk of “Ukraine fatigue” in both Europe and the United States, the lack of progress in establishing rule of law just might top the list. Whereas in developed Western democracies the rule of law – particularly the judicial system – serves as a foundation for securing the advantages and privileges of freedom and fairness for citizens, in Ukraine, the trappings of the rule of law serve only the whims of a small ruling clique.

But political influence is only one of the troubles facing a judicial system in crisis. Corruption is endemic, standards are low and falling, and trust in the system is almost nonexistent.

Accusations about the sorry state of the Ukrainian judiciary go as high (and as low) as they can. Hundreds of hours of audio recordings by a former bodyguard of President Leonid Kuchma captured the president saying, “Take that judge, hang him up by his balls, let him hang that way for one night.” Kuchma and his team have denied the contents of the tapes. Authorities in the United States, where the bodyguard, Mykola Melnychenko, fled in 2001, have so far publicly acknowledged the veracity of only one tape, containing evidence of illegal arms deals involving the president.

But whatever the truth of those particular accusations, the tribulations and (literal) trials of Yulia Tymoshenko – a former deputy prime minister and businesswoman who now heads up the opposition in parliament – provide an illustration of Ukraine’s many problems. In particular, the experiences of Tymoshenko, a politician whose strength and maverick qualities have won her the moniker “the iron princess,” demonstrate how the Ukrainian judiciary can be held hostage to the political will of the country’s rulers.

(TOL 27.v.04)

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