THE RUSSIAN FEDERATION v. THE UKRAINIAN MINORITY IN RUSSIA

The Union of Ukrainians of Russia (UUR) is the central coordinating organization for the Ukrainian ethnic minority in the Russian Federation (RF). It was formed in 1992 and registered with the Ministry of Justice of the RF in 1994.

Its nightmare began on July 22, 2009, when the Russian Ministry of Justice noticed it for an audit. The audit lasted almost three weeks. The findings were minor and ministerial in nature, updating its list of members, adding certain provisions to its by-laws in order to comply with the Russian statute and the like. Upon receipt of the findings the UUR’s Executive convened a meeting on September 12, 2009, passed what it deemed to be the necessary motions, began the process of updating its membership lists, including deleting inactive members. In the meantime the Ministry notified the UUR that pending correction of the defects, its activities were suspended until May 2, 2010. Twice, once in December 2009 and then again in March 2010, the UUR wrote to the Ministry refuting some of the allegations and advising that it had cured the defects which needed correction. The Ministry did not respond.

On December 10, 2010 the Russian government brought an action in the Supreme Court of the RF to liquidate the UUR. The complaint referenced Russian law and repeated five allegations from the audit findings, specifically, that its list of members included an autonomous non-commercial organization which could not be its member since it was autonomous, that the list of members itself was not well documented, that its qualified members do not operate in more than half the regions of the RF as required since it’s an All-Russian public association, that its by-laws do not specifically provide for the election of its governing body by a qualifying majority and that while the law allows for members who are foreign citizens, they must be lawfully on the territory of the RF, yet the UUR’s by-laws do not include that restriction. Interestingly enough, there were no allegations that the UUR included actual members who were foreign citizens.

The complaint acknowledged receipt of the two responses from UUR but rejected them as insufficient. The government then alleged that the UUR’s meeting of September12, 2009 was not conducted in accordance with administrative regulations in that the members present at such meeting as well as information on the voting results were not disclosed. The government deemed it impossible to determine the validity of the action taken.

Additionally, the government stated that the UUR had violated its suspension because its co-chair appeared on “Radio Liberty” on January 4, 2010 and on a television program entitled “Freedom of Thought” on April 27, 2010. Finally, the government alleged that in connection with this matter, the Ministry had forwarded a notice to the UUR on November11, 2010, which notice was returned with the note “addressee vacated”. Thus, the government alleged, the UUR failed to notify the appropriate authorities of its change of address which was yet another violation.

The government requested a court order liquidating the UUR based on “repeated and gross violations” and “failure to cure the violations within the time period imposed.”

Assuming “arguendo” the accuracy of all factual allegations in the complaint, the violations/defects alleged were minor by any democratic measure and, essentially of a ministerial nature. Furthermore, no allegations were made that the violations were of a repeated nature or that these violations persisted despite previous admonishments. No allegations were made of prior audits, similar findings and failure to comply. Still, the government concluded that the violations alleged were both “repeated and gross”. For dissolution the Russian law requires “repeated or gross.”

Despite the absence of a “prima facie” case the government’s confidence borders on arrogance. The Supreme Court of the RF is expected to rubberstamp the government’s position. Exposure of the judicial system in Russia as an instrument of government politics does not seem to trouble the existing powers in Russia. This matter is scheduled to be heard by the court on January 31, 2011.

Over the last few years a pattern has emerged in the RF – an unrelenting war against perceived enemies of the state, including ethnic communities not kowtowing to govern- pressure and the executive branch exploiting the legislative and judicial to implement its policies. Ukrainians in Russia have felt this pressure. Murders of Ukrainian activists remain unsolved. A Ukrainian language class at a Moscow public lyceum has been discontinued and very recently a Moscow library of Ukrainian literature was ransacked, shut, reopened, then ransacked and its head librarian assaulted.

The reference in the complaint to the organization’s co-chair appearance on radio and television (“Radio Liberty” and “Freedom of thought”) violating the organization’s suspension, hints at the government’s political motivation. The appearances had nothing to do with the pending proceeding. Regardless of his position, the subject individual is also a human being possessed with the right of freedom of speech protected under international law, Russia’s treaties, covenants and its own Constitution, irrespective of any administrative suspension.

In November of 2010, following an almost identical pattern of proceedings, the Russian government “persuaded” the Russian Supreme Court to liquidate another All Russian Ukrainian organization, the Federal National Cultural Autonomy of Ukrainians in Russia. Subsequently, Russia’s Foreign Minister Lavrov acknowledged that the liquidation was the result of political activity.

During Russia’s last presidential election process in 2008, the OSCE was restricted in the allotment of election observers. The OSCE refused to participate. Then President Putin admonished the OSCE not to “teach” Russia. Lavrov, foreign minister then and now, said that no self-respecting country would bow to “ultimatums” set by the OSCE. President Putin concluded his admonishment to the OSCE with the words, “Let them teach their wives to make cabbage soup!”

January 19, 2011 Askold S. Lozynskyj

Askold S. Lozynskyj, a New York City attorney at law, is immediate past president of the Ukrainian World Congress.

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