Ukranian MP Sergii Leshchenko in an exclusive interview with The Oslo Times
Sergii Leshchenko is Ukrainian member of Parliament and an investigative and political journalist. He is deputy-editor-in-chief of Ukrainska pravda, a widely respected investigative online newspaper, and a 2012 Fellow of the John Smith Memorial Trust.
Mr. Leshchenko, a Civil Society activist, specialises in anti-corruption investigations and political issues, and is renowned for hisarticles published on Ukrainska Pravda. He has carried out journalistic investigations into the incumbent Ukrainian President’s lifestyle and financial interests of the ‘new Ukrainian elite’.
Leshchenko is a founder of several influential civic initiatives in Ukraine, such as Stop Censorship and Chesno (Fair), a public campaign that monitors candidates and Members of Parliament. In 2010 he was one of the initiators of a lobbying campaign for the Law on Access to Public Information. In 2013 Sergii appealed to the European Court of Human Rights against Ukrainian authorities that refused to disclose important public information.
Mr. Leshchenko in an exclusive interview in an exclusive interview with The Oslo Times International News Network’s Editor -in Chief, Hatef Mokhtar,spoke about the situation of journalists in Ukraine and challenges they have been facing during their reporting duty.
Excerpts below give us an insight into the interesting talk that followed:
We already know that you are a Member of Parliament and a civil right activist as well as an investigative journalist, but we would like to hear from you, so could you tell us a little bit about yourself?
I used to work as an investigative journalism in online newspaper called Ukrainska pravda. I have been working with it from its establishment in 2000 till 2014. Last year me and some of my colleagues decided to run Forpowermen because we felt its huge chance to influence on the situation from inside. Not only criticizing political leaders but to propose some idea and to improve the situation on our own side. We had some negotiations with different political parties and decided to run with the party of President Poroshenko. It is important to not only act as a tool of criticism as in being in opposition but also act as within the circle of influence and implementation. Presently we are in our third month of political marathon and so far in my impression it has been very controversial. However, on one side it is very interesting as it is really good chance to change from one side from another side. A lot of old politician are active in Ukraine of which oligarch are still in influence. Our mission to reduce influence of the oligarch and to implement the ideas and learn from the experience of the Ukrainians.
Journalists have always been in the fore front of threats and danger, because of their dedication in bringing the truth out, according to UNESCO, violence against journalists on the rise, climate of impunity still prevails. As an investigative journalist, how can you see the freedom of expression in Ukraine?
I think the situation is much better than it was even last year. In matters of privacy, we have tried encouraging establish new laws within the Ukrainian legislation in which we have focused on removing the censorship of the internet and censorship over the media and on the restriction over mass gathering. In the past 14 months we have made huge step forward. The law endorsed in January 2014 should be replaced with new laws that focus on transparency and on providing more rights to journalists to offer information. One of the very important project that is in the process of implementation is the public broadcast media. Since the end of Soviet Union 25 years ago, we still have state television that needs reforms. With the new provisions coming in, we are planning to launch public broadcast, which will be complete, independent, unbiased, and will also help us in influencing oligarch’s media, media of oligarchs because after the independence, after the starting of independence television oligarchs. This will help in teaching the oligarchs for broadcasting unbiased and independent news.
The government of Ukraine and the rebel forces repeatedly used cluster munitions in eastern Ukraine in January and February 2015, killing at least 13 civilians, including at least two children, such use of munition in a populous area violates the rights and safety of civilians. Many Rights groups are concerned about the human rights situation in Ukraine. What is your assessment of the human rights situation in your country?
In terms of human rights, the situation in Ukrainepresently is very difficult as there are permanent violation of human rights in the east. This is primarily because part of our territory is defined by the Russians. International missions and observers cannot check or influence the situation that caused this terrible situation. There is presence of Russian journalists, who are in fact Russian secret service agents, posing as journalist in Ukraine. We are trying to remove them from Ukraine because they are not doing their work as journalists but they are doing their work as secret agents. Sometimes international community criticizesUkraine it in defense, but there is no violation of human rights inside the Ukraine apart from the situation in the East.
This is one question that has been speculated over time and again by journalists,World leaders and political analysts alike, the World is intently watching the situation in Crimea, in the long term where do you see the relationship betweenRussia and Ukraine?
Nobody can imagine, what it is going to happen next. And now we are speaking about future, it is very difficult to predict what it is going to happen in one month or in one year. Unfortunately this war was not started by Ukraine; unfortunately Putin did not understand what he has done. He created internal trauma for the Ukrainian society and Ukrainians now consider Russia as an enemy. In this aspect it is going to be a very long process of looking for some consensus because now Ukrainian and Russian do not understand each other. If there are to be good relations Putin has to withdraw Russian troops and weapons from Ukraine and give Crimea back to Ukraine, which was occupied by Russia by breaking all international laws.
President Vladimir Putin is in a never ending war against Western powers, his attempt to slice off Crimea from Ukraine and redraw Europe‘s map by force has cost thousands of people their lives. And, he thinks Ukraine’s government is merely a puppet of the West. As a journalist how do you see President Putin?
Nobody can predict what Putin is going to do next. But his general mood is understandable because he talked openly in some international forums that the biggest tragedy of 21st century was the collapse of the Soviet Union. In this sense he would like to restore Soviet Union as an empire based on Russian principles. He started this process of consolidating the Russian nation but this made Russians the enemy of peace.
President Putin has a strong hold in his country and like you mentioned he has already stated that the collapse of the Soviet Union was a grave tragedy, however looking at the global scenario today do you think it is possible for Putin to consolidate Russia?
He is trying to do, in different forms. He might be looking to consolidate a kind of union underRussia with its center in Moscow. A union that will be under Russian state, under Russian influence and that will make Russia one of the biggest global players in all areas of political interest. But Putin made a huge mistake because Ukrainians do not accept this. I think for Putin the best solution is to stop this campaign and to restore all to what it was one year ago. But he will not do this because he considers himself as a leader of the World. He made a huge mistake because he overestimated his role in the World. He is just one of the dictator in the World who is in power. He has lot many opportunities and people in future will not recall him as a great leader.
Ukraine is known as the most corrupt country in Europe, infact Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index – rates Ukraine 142nd in the World, alongside Uganda. In the latest ranking, it fell behind Nigeria. What is your assessment on this?
Corruption is the main problem in Ukraine. I think it is more dangerous than Russian tension in the East border. This is the internal problem, which was established after the collapse of Soviet Union. This problem is permanent and it is destroying Ukrainian economy and Ukrainian society. I hope that after political leaders will change the situation because the main demands from Maidan were to remove corruption from politics, to allow business person to do their business without corruption, to change the corrupt taxation system, to establish anti corruption bureau. Of these, we are in the process of creating the anti corruption bureau in Ukraine and hope that it will start its operation at the end of this year. I think Presidents who can combat corruption will be successful in Ukraine.
As a member of Parliament how would you assess PresidentViktor Yanukovych, would you say he is Successful or unsuccessful and why?
He is very controversial. I am not his advocate, it may be strange for you because I am member of his political group, but I will not tolerate for example bad political behavior by current government and the President. But we would like to encourage him to change the situation through removal of his corrupt friends from politics, to remove oligarchic influence in politics. These demands of Ukrainian society are much deeper than what the World thinks. Ukrainian society is demanding to have a fair and transparent government, not a corrupt government. And if this government and this President do not demonstrate these results people will push them out. Ukrainians do not fear government anymore and it was evident last year. They know how to influence government directly if the government does not accept or implement their demands. And I think the President and Prime Minister do understand that unless they meet these demands their presidency and their works as ministers will not succeed.
Many journalists are presently imprisoned by totalitarian and dictatorial regimes in Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan, among others. What’s your message for those dictatorial regime and those journalists, who are behind bars for doing their work?
These leaders do not understand the role of media in society. They consider journalists as servant, who should be their slaves for serving their propaganda to the society. They try to control the country using media but examples demonstrate that they do not succeed always. It is dangerous for dictators to destroy democracy because the result of the presence of power could be very opposite. They could be pushed by people to leave their vibrant position or to run from their country to neighboring countries. In this sense event though it is very dangerous for dictators to attack journalists, they do it. They continue doing their usual business. Through out the World dictators know techniques to destroy democracy, to destroy rule of law and to attack journalists. But as I mentioned, they over confident in believing that they will stay in power for decades, that they will find success among members of their families. The ouster of earlier President from Ukraine is a clear example for all dictators. They are playing with the fire and the results that are expecting from their dictatorial regimes will be opposite to their expectations.
Despite the conflict in Eastern Ukraine how would you describe the Russian influence in Ukraine’s present-day politics.
Before Putin attacked Ukraine in the East in Crimea he was one of the most popular politician in Ukraine. Now people hate him and I think he has lost popularity. During the decades after the collapse of Soviet Union, Putin was very sympathetic for shaping a perfect Ukrainian society. But now a lot of people understand what is his real goal has been. He wants to take Ukraineunder control, and as a result of that thousands of Ukrainian have died in the war that he started. He is supplying weapons and funds to these terrorists. Putin lost the influence on Ukrainians and I think it is opposite of what he was expecting in the beginning. I think generations of Uakrainians will consider Russians as enemies. This is very dangerous because neighbors have to have friendship instead of fighting but Putin started it. I cannot imagine how difficult it is for the Russians and the Ukrainians who lost their family members, friends and their homes. I don’t know what Russians want from their leader but I think in general the result for Putin are going to be very dangerous, as eventually even Russians will hate him. I think there are no examples of good dictators.
Do you have any special message for The Oslo Times’ worldwide readers?
I just have message for Norwegian politicians, experts, media and journalists that we have the same problem: having Russia as a neighbor. Of course Russia is not going to attack Norwaybecause you are strong, and a consolidated nation that has nothing to share with Russia. Russian attack on Ukraine is not just an attack on Ukraine but also an attack on European value. Russia attacked the order, which was established after the collapse of Soviet Union. I think Norwegian can understand Ukrainians better than any another nation because we share the same neighbor. I think voice of Norway could be very strong in Europe in supporting Ukrainians. We don’t have much experience in human rights and democracy, because we just removed dictator from power and I think our example could be very strong example for Norwegian institutions to support the fighting for establishing dialogue, democracy and rule of law in Ukraine.
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