DRI Hosts Conservative views on democracy in Europe: Red lines of democracy under threat

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DRI held a roundtable in Berlin on 4 November 2019 with conservative/right-wing parties, as well as opinion makers from nine European countries to explore the state of democracy in Europe and the red lines of democracy. The discussion covered polarisation and freedom of speech, the rule of law in Europe, and the role of the EU in defending democracy and European identity in the region. As a non-partisan organisation, DRI convened this group as many of them criticise current democratic practice and at the same time they often stand accused of undermining democracy. We wanted to hear them out and discuss democratic principles in the European context.

The roundtable was held under Chatham House rule. Discussions were frank, often controversial and always respectful in tone.

International and European human rights treaties and UN General Assembly Resolution 59/201 were used as reference points to define the “red lines of democracy”. This resolution defines seven elements that are essential for democracy: respect of human rights, right to participate in public affairs directly and indirectly (through free elections), pluralism, rule of law, separation of powers, transparent and accountable in public administration, and free media.

Freedom of speech and polarisation

Many participants said that freedom of speech in Europe remains under pressure. Some felt that it is often not possible to voice opinions that are not in line with what they call the “liberal mainstream” without being labelled “populists”, “racists” or otherwise. In their view, the corridor of opinion is too narrow. Other participants said that some parties are “excluded” because they do not draw a credible line between themselves and extremists. Many participants deplored that the debate too often stays within peer groups (‘bubbles’) and that too few people dare to have debates across camps. There was agreement that the discourse between different political convictions needs to be strengthened. Some participants said that every single citizen has a responsibility for the quality of the public debate and that responsibility grows with political influence.

Some participants deplored high levels of polarisation and the fact that it is harder to hold the middle ground. Social media is an important factor that fuels polarisation – because its design incentivises attention-grabbing and provocative statements. There were different views on regulating hate speech. While some participants said that regulation often entails de facto censorship and should be limited to banning insults and instigating violence, others said that hate speech is a threat to democracy that needs to be regulated.

To counter polarisation, some participants stated that it is important to tone down the language, avoiding generalisation, stereotypes of minorities and abrasive, history-laden terms, such as traitor of the people, system party, lying press or fake news media. Other participants disagreed, advocating debates with very few constraints. One participant felt that the European tradition of free speech should be abolished in favour of the US approach, where almost any type of speech is allowed. Local policies are another tool to mitigate polarisation because local policies focus on practical problems, which facilities compromises.

One participant alleged that “so-called civil society” is unelected, and that some pursue partisan objectives against specific parties and often has obscure sources of funding. Other participants disagreed, sometimes strongly, saying that civil society is essential for citizens to participate in public affairs and that laws provide the rules and transparency in this field.

Rule of law in Europe

All participants agreed that the rule of law is a cornerstone of the EU and democracy in Europe, but the concrete definition and implementation of the concept is a matter of controversy. While some participants believed that the many changes to Poland’s judicial system are a problem, others alleged that Poland is unfairly singled out. There was disagreement to what extent the Catalan question is a rule of law and a European problem. Participants were critical of the developments in Hungary.

Some participants believed that the EU applies double standards when it defends the rule of law in the Member States. Some thought that the EU’s infringement procedures are good tools to safeguard the rule of law but others argued that recent judgements by the European Court of Justice are an example of the court overstepping its mandate. Participants were in favour of the Commission’s plan to report on rule of law monitoring in all Member States.

The role of the EU and other players in defending democracy and European identity

Some participants believed that the EU is essential to defend European identity and Europe’s place in the world. For them, deeper integration is necessary, but they felt that the EU needs to do more to define its identity. Some participants said that a European identity should acknowledge the role of in Christianity in Europe’s history. In their view, important values like democracy and human rights alone do not suffice to create a sense of shared identity. To build a European identity, one participant suggested a European Broadcasting System; stating that the European Song Contest is not enough.

One participant said that the EU is undemocratic because elections to the European Parliament are not based on the principle of one person, one vote. Bigger member states have proportionally fewer members. A number of participants disagreed, pointing to the fact that the EU is far more democratic than any international organisation, but not comparable to a state. They argued that the European nation-states maintained for themselves an essential role: They are not only represented in the Council, but they also avoid that smaller nations would be entirely marginalised in the European Parliament. There was a concern that the EU neglects policies that will shape the EU’s future, highlighting the example of climate policies.

Ukraine: new players, old game? (DRI event)

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Join us for a panel discussion on the new Ukrainian reality

Tuesday, 19 November 2019 from 9:30 – 13:30 (registration at 9:00)

EED, Rue de la Loi 34, 1040 Brussels

RSVP: [email protected] by Thursday, 14 November

 

Ukraine has entered a new political era since the election of President Volodymyr Zelensky. The recent parliamentary elections have meant that new faces have joined politics, including a number of civil activists. While reform is very much on the agenda, democratic accountability remains challenging. Civil society and the media are now reviewing their role within this new status-quo.

Panel 1 | From activists to politicians and back? Re-thinking the role of civic activists

Speakers:

  • Valerii Pekar, Co-founder of the New Country Civic Platform, lecturer of Kyiv Mohyla Business School
  • Yuliy Morozov, Co-founder of the Union of Responsible Citizens and local deputy from Syla Liudey party
  • Halyna Yanchenko, Member of Parliament of Ukraine and Deputy Head of the Verkhovna Rada Committee on Anti-corruption Committee

Panel 2 | Find the politics behind the PR: The role of media in the changing political landscape

Speakers:

  • Andriy Kulykov, Co-founder, Hromadske Radio
  • Diana Dutsyk, Media expert and Executive Director of CSO Ukrainian Media and Communications Institute
  • Roman Kulchynskyy, Founder of Texty.Org

The panels will be moderated by EED and DRI representatives.

This event is co-organised by DRI and EED.

The Democracy Reporting International (DRI) is a Berlin-based NGO that promotes the political participation of citizens and accountable democratic institutions around the world. DRI’s Ukraine country office focuses on helping grassroots initiatives monitor and advocate for reforms and engage with local policy and decision makers.

The European Endowment for Democracy (EED) is an independent, grant-making organisation, established in 2013 by the European Union (EU) and its member states as an autonomous fund to foster democracy in the European Neighbourhoods and beyond.

Summer School in Ukraine „First Steps in Politics“

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Making the First Steps

Participants of Summer School ‘First Steps in Politics’ got the opportunity to have a closer look at the political system of Ukraine, strategies of political communication, protection of human rights, advocacy methods for public initiatives, and more. Forty students from all over Ukraine took part in the Summer School, which was carried out from 6 to the 12 July in the Carpathian Mountains. The training was organized by DRI and the Council of Europe.

After completing the School, participants not only got a comprehensive toolkit for understanding political processes and legislative initiatives, but also learnt to pay attention to those aspects of the political discourse, which often go unnoticed when politics is discussed. For example, participants learned why humour is important in politics, what kind of rhetorical methods are used by politicians, how they promote their ideas and influence the society through the media.

Want to start your way in politics? Here are five tips from DRI and the School participants:

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DRI зустріч випускників 2019: Зростаємо разом

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27-28 вересня 2019

Київ

А Ви після того, як закінчили один із тренінгів DRI (школа, дебати, тренінг, воркшоп) не бідкались, а з новими навичками та знаннями намагались вплинути на розвиток громади, лобіювали рішення певних проблем, ініціювали громадські обговорення, шукали шляхи взаємодії з органами влади, створили свою організацію чи проект? Ви не боялись брати відповідальність на себе? І хочете поділитися історією успіху чи провалу Вашого проекту чи ініціативи? Якщо Ваша відповідь ствердна на більшість з цих питань, тоді ми запрошуємо Вас на зустріч випускників програм DRI, яка проходитиме у Києві 27-28 вересня 2019 р.

Під час дводенного інтенсивного курсу Ви дізнаєтесь про шляхи фінансування громадських ініціатив, познайомитесь з досвідом громадських активістів з різних регіонів, навчитесь, як ефективно організувати роботу організації чи проектної команди та як вести бухгалтерію організації та бюджет проекту, а також отримаєте навички з комунікації. Реєструючись на зустріч та вказуючи, які теми та навички Вам цікаві, Ви маєте можливість вплинути на програму зустрічі випускників DRI.

Що необхідно для реєстрації?

  • Бути учасником одного із заходів DRI.
  • Зареєструватися за посиланням: https://bit.ly/2SmF4Eg. Дедлайн: 10 вересня 2019 р.
  • Чекати підтвердження Вашої участі від організаторів.

Constitutional Talk «ГРУШЕВСЬКИЙ ТА КОНСТИТУЦІОНАЛІЗМ»

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29 вересня 2019 | Київ, Паньківська, 9

Музей-садиба Михайла Грушевського

DRI запрошує українських конституціоналістів та всіх, хто цікавиться історією української державності та конституціоналізму на зустріч, присвячену працям Голови Української Центральної Ради (1917-1918 рр.) Михайла Грушевського, з нагоди святкування його дня народження.

29 вересня у приміщенні музею-садиби імені М. Грушевського разом з сучасними українськими конституціоналістами ми обговорюватимемо доробки М.С. Грушевського та їх значення та застосування сьогодні. На учасників теж очікує жвава екскурсія музеєм  та презентація збірки праць «Михайло Грушевський та український конституціоналізм».

Просимо Вас до 20 вересня заповнити реєстраційну форму та направити на адресу організаторів статтю на актуальну конституційно-правову проблематику, з посиланням на праці М. Грушевського. Стаття має подаватися до друку уперше. У разі, якщо Ви бажаєте взяти участь у Constitutional  Talk! у якості слухача, Вам достатньо буде заповнити реєстраційну форму.

ПРОГРАМА

 

14:30 – 15:00 | реєстрація та кава

15:00 – 16:00 | екскурсія музеєм-садибою

Годинна прогулянка колишніми кімнатами М. Грушевського для кращого заглиблення в його світобачення

16:00 – 16:45 | вітання та розмова про історичний час та постать М. Грушевського

Секція ознайомлення з історичним контекстом роботи та формування конституційного світогляду Михайла Грушевського

16:45 – 17:00 | презентація видання «Михайло Грушевський та український конституціоналізм»

17:00 – 18:30 | обговорення

Виступи учасників Constitutional Talk! по заздалегідь заявлених темах та дискусія

18:30 – 19:00 | чаркування

Невелика перерва в очікування вечора, присвяченого значенню музики в житті М. Грушевського та сучасних конституціоналістів

19:00 – 21:00 | вечір «Грушевський та музика»

Вечір, підготовлений музеєм-садибою для учасників заходу та не тільки

За додатковою інформацією звертайтесь до координаторів:

Альберта  Єзерова ([email protected]) та Коваля Дмитра ([email protected])

 

How Ukraine’s Leading Presidential Candidates run respectable and dodgy Facebook pages in parallel

Jekyll and Hyde Campaigning – How Ukraine’s Leading Presidential Candidates run respectable and dodgy Facebook pages in parallel

Summary

Analysing official and unofficial political advertising for former President Poroshenko and for the new President Zelenskyy during the presidential election campaign we found the following:

  • Official campaign pages did not use manipulative strategies to discredit electoral competitors and maintained a moderate tone when criticising their opponent;
  • Zelenskyy’s campaign used more micro-targeting techniques and generated more engagement, while Poroshenko’s content was less engaging despite the use of bigger budgets to promote each post;
  • However, unofficial campaign pages by both sides used defamation against their competitor. The Anti-Zelenskyy pages spent 20 times more budget than Anti-Poroshenko pages;
  • Direct and indirect connections were found between unofficial pages and the official headquarters of the two candidates;
  • In some cases, Facebook delayed the removal of advertisements marked as ‘Doesn’t meet Facebook advertising rules’. By then, more than $1000 had been spent and many users had seen the ads, which is a significant amount considering that most posts are removed before $100 has been spent.

Given the upcoming Ukrainian Parliamentary elections on 21 July, these recommendations follow from the analysis:

  • Facebook should remove flagged inappropriate advertisements faster – before many users see problematic ads;
  • In its Ukraine Ad Library Facebook should provide further details regarding advertising funding sources, as seen in the US Ad Library, to maintain transparency and maintain standards across country operations;
  • From the side of candidates and parties, there should be a list of pages that they are officially operating under their campaign – whether they are doing the official campaigning or spreading problematic content aimed at attacking or spread false information about the opponent.
  • They should not engage in such underhand campaigning and authorities should enforce electoral rules better on social media, such as electoral silence.

Introduction

The online political campaigning landscape has changed since the last Ukrainian elections. Now tech companies have more rules to ensure a degree of transparency and avoid manipulation attempts from extreme groups and external actors in national elections. The most relevant change has been the establishment of archives of online political advertising (called ‘Ad Library’ by Facebook). For such type of ads (that are different from ads selling commercial goods), Facebook requires more information from those intending to run them. The library allows for tracking of who paid for the ads, how much, and what the targeted audience is.

In Ukraine, Facebook launched the Ad Library on 18 March 2019, two weeks before the first round of presidential elections. The Central Election Commission registered 39 candidates for the elections, which is the largest number of presidential candidates in the history of Ukraine. The incumbent Petro Poroshenko and the newcomer Volodymyr Zelenskyy came in on top in the first round of the elections. In the run-off on 21 April Zelenskyy won, gathering 73% of the votes to become the 6th President of Ukraine. The elections led to a significant increase of polarisation amongst the Ukrainian public, which was reflected in social media content before and after the presidential elections.

The elections were held  based on the Ukrainian Constitution and the Law on Elections of the President of Ukraine, adopted in 1999 and last amended on February 2019. Even though the Law regulates media activities and media involvement in electoral campaigns and elections, there are no specific regulations that take into account the specifics of social media activities.

The study analyses the use of political ads by official and unofficial campaign pages during the presidential elections, shedding light on how political advertising online was used in this electoral cycle. This analysis recommends how to analyse social media campaigning for the upcoming early parliamentary elections – scheduled only two months after the presidential elections on 21 July – and provides a more comprehensive look into this phenomenon.

Methodology

This report looks into the data from the Facebook Ad Library in Ukraine during the active campaign period of 18 March to 21 April 2019. The report includes digital campaigns of presidential candidates Petro Poroshenko and Volodymyr Zelenskyy. The monitored sample includes 14 Facebook pages, divided into two categories: official pages (run by the candidate’s campaigns) and unofficial/false pages (pages created or specially used with the objective of discrediting the opponent). The second group is not an exhaustive list, but altogether the analysis provides an overview about the tools and tactics used by official and unofficial pages in the context of the 2019 presidential elections.

All the posts assessed were manually collected from the Ad Libraries for further qualitative analysis. To identify the main narratives we conducted visual, semantic and linguistic analysis of posts. We also examined advertising promotion budgets and post’s targets in order to be able to assess the techniques used by each candidate’s team and distinguish differences between them.

Official Pages. Poroshenko vs Zelenskyy

The team of Petro Poroshenko used two pages as platforms for election campaign.

The first one is the official page of Poroshenko, which was registered in July 2014. A second page ‘Poroshenko2019’ was created in February 2019, specifically for the purpose of mobilising Poroshenko’s electorate for presidential elections. This page aimed to deliver tailored campaign messages to different audiences, which will be described below.

Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s team used only one Facebook page called ‘Zelenskyy’s team’ which was launched for election campaigning and addressed audiences with diverse content.

The official campaign pages did not use manipulative strategies or emotionally coloured posts to discredit electoral competitors. While Poroshenko’s use of political ads on the official page was more formal, Zelenskyy used more entertaining campaign strategy (building on his reputation as a comedy actor). The second Poroshenko page, “Poroshenko2019”, aimed at a younger audience (according to a poll in January 2019, only 7% of voters in an age under 29 supported Poroshenko) and the content was adopted accordingly.

Main messages

Poroshenko focused on positive campaigning and reminding voters about his Presidential achievements: the development of the army, granting of Tomos to establish an independent Ukrainian Orthodox Church and success in the promotion of the Ukrainian language. Poroshenko’s pages promoted his strategy to overcome poverty in the country, which was part of his electoral programme.

His messages also focused on geopolitics and the promotion of Ukraine’s pro-European position. One of the ads (dated 9 April) used an antithesis: ‘21 April’s choice: Europe or Russia’. In the context of the election, ‘Europe’ represented Poroshenko, while ‘Russia’ represented Zelenksyy. Being positioned behind Zelenskyy in all opinion polls, Poroshenko’s team tried to appeal to voters through the fear of Ukraine drifting into Russia’s control.

Zelenskyy’s team promoted the message that ‚the current Government will do everything it can to win in an unfair way‘ (without mentioning Poroshenko directly). Subscribers were instructed to take several actions: to take their pens to avoid falsifications with disappearing ink, to become observers or members of election commissions, and to document cases of violations at the polling station and send them to the head office.

A large part of Zelenskyy’s supporters in the age from 18 to 24 never voted before, hence among other content, his page provided information on how to vote: listing required documents for the polling stations, or the voting procedure for those not voting at their place of registration.

For the younger audience group ‘Poroshenko2019’ posted videos where opinion leaders expressed support to Poroshenko. The following leaders were involved in the campaign: Yuriy Shukhevych, a Ukrainian politician, member of the Ukrainian Helsinki Group and political prisoner: ‘now it is the time to leave all emotions behind and unite’ – within the framework of the campaign ‘Think’; the publisher Ivan Malkovych; theatre actress Ada Rohovtseva; showman Dmytro Chekalkin and others. Thus, the influence of famous Ukrainians was linked to Poroshenko’s name.

Overall, official campaign pages had a moderate tone when it comes to advertising their platforms and criticising their opponent, focusing mainly on positive campaigning. Being under the scrutiny of electoral laws and voters, such official pages tended to not share false information or any sort of inflammatory speech.

Targeting

The main differences among the candidates’ advertising messages were found in the targeting strategies.

Zelenskyy’s team used more micro-targeting in their campaign. 16 of 135 unique posts (a comment, picture or other media that is posted on the Facebook page) each targeted a set of different regions and age categories. For example, a post dated 8 April had eleven different advertising audiences. The content of the post did not change depending on the targeted region, age and gender.

The largest number of promoted ads posted only for a short time (not longer than one hour) occurred on 20 and 21 April. We counted more than a thousand of such posts. The posts targeted a very narrow age and regional audience. They were unique and contained different text, video and images for each of the groups.

The overwhelming majority of posts were countdown-videos for elections encouraging residents of different regions and cities to go out and vote with the message that they can change their future.

For example, a specific target set for the residents of Odesa addressed them in the text. For the age categories ’25-34′ and ’35-44′, who might be parents already, a focus was made on the ‚future of children‘, which depends on their choice. If the post targeted an elder audience, the text also mentioned grandchildren.

Zelenskyy’s page targeted mainly woman. They saw ads, on the average, two to three times more often than men. The exceptions were the posts on stereotypically male topics (related to football, cars). In total, the page spent $84,278 on ads. For more than half of the posts (134 out of 225 ads, but some of them were promoted several times with different targeting) the budget was less than $100 per post.  Only in 20 cases did the budget ranged from $500 to $999. Spending did not exceed $1000 for promotion per post. It is noteworthy that for the 1,500 short-term promotional posts, the amount did not exceed $100 per post.

Comparably, Poroshenko’s team posted less content and it was less engaging (meaning that it generated a lower number of likes, shares, comments).  They spent more money promoting each post to reach a wider audience.

The two pages promoted significantly less posts: 56 from the two groups with a total expenditure of $64817 ($24529 first official page, and $40288 ‘Poroshenko2019’ page). Unlike Zelenskyy, Poroshenko’s team promoted posts with the budget of $1,000 – $5,000 for fifteen times and $5,000 to $10,000 for three times. Such budget was spent for the electorate mobilisation post (the video of the campaign ‘The most important is not to lose the country’ with a caption reading ‘We choose our future on 31 March’).

The three main regions where promotional posts were shown were Lviv, Kyiv and Dnipro regions. Lviv region was ranked first in terms of promotional posts coverage, and this region was the only one that gave preference to Poroshenko in the second-round of 2019 presidential elections – he was supported by 63% of voters against 34% who voted for Volodymyr Zelenskyy. However, Poroshenko did have support in this region prior to the elections which would have helped maintain his percentage of votes in the second round.

On both Poroshenko pages micro-targeted ads were rarely used. As an exception, in the video of the advertising campaign ‘Think’ (the ad dated 26 March) with a commentary done by Yuriy Shukhevych, only Central and Western parts of Ukraine were targeted, namely six regions – Lviv, Ternopil, Rivne, Kyiv, Volyn and Chernivtsi regions.

In a similar fashion to Zelenskyy’s pages, the main targets were women. Men were targeted in rare cases, for example in posts related to military equipment (the ad dated 23 March about Turkish combat drones).

Official pages: Conclusion

Candidates did not focus on discrediting their opponents. The main difference was in how the messages were targeted. Poroshenko’s team used bigger budgets to promote each post, but their content was less engaging.

Comparing to Poroshenko’s more official messages, Zelenskyy’s page made use of a more modern and targeted campaign strategy. Efforts were focused on creating video content and using short, catchy messages. The content was engaging and had the potential to go viral, supported by hashtags (e.g. #let’sshowhimtogether) or calls for comments and shares.

Zelenskyy’s campaign used voters in micro-targeting. Two days before each round of the elections, it targeted specific cities or even universities. Zelenskyy’s strategy seemed to focus on mobilising his electorate to vote again in the second round, as the same turnout would be enough for him to ensure his victory. Therefore, the largest portion of his social media budget was spent in the period of 19-21 April.

Meanwhile, Poroshenko’s pages spent quite a significant budget of more than $40000 in February, focusing on two age groups of 18-24 and 25-34 to mobilize younger voters. Ultimately, the focus of both candidates’ pages in the election campaign was on the female audience.

Zelenskyy’s team seems to have violated the electoral law by publishing ads on the Day of Silence and on the day of the elections – 30-31 March and 20-21 April. In accordance with Article 212-10 „Violation of restrictions on conducting election agitation, agitation on the day of referendum“ of the Code of Ukraine on Administrative Offences – conducting election campaigns outside the terms established by Law for the Election of the President of Ukraine – may result in a fine. However, it seems that no steps were made to enforce the law. Pages of Poroshenko did not run electoral ads on the Day of Silence.

Unofficial campaign pages

Aside from campaigning on official pages, a significant part of campaigning on social media during last elections were implemented through other pages. Such pages are not officially run by candidate’s headquarters, but their narratives and communication resonated with the main messages of the candidates. These pages spread misleading and compromising information about other candidates. The goal of such pages was to discredit the opponent’s reputation and electoral chances. The pages we chose to analyse had either clear Anti-Zelenskyy or Anti-Poroshenko agenda.

Anti-Zelenskyy/ pro-Poroshenko

In this analysis we looked at five pages. ‚Zhovta Strichka’ , Boycott the Party of Regions , Ministerstvo Baryh [Ministry of Hustlers], ‘Batya, ya starayus’ [Dad, I try] , Zrada_Peremoha [Betrayal_Victory], Tsynichnyi Bandera [Cynic Bandera].

Defamation

One of the Anti-Zelenskyy themes was defamation and denigration through false information, without confirmed facts or with loose interpretation of facts. One popular theme of the ads identified Zelenskyy as a drug user: “Many thanks for screen inhabitants for the candidate-drug user” (6 April); “Polling Ukrainians whether the President can use cocaine” (7 April); “It is sure that Ukraine does not need the President – drug user” (8 April). A video posted on 8 April stated that “Zelenskyy’s secret has been disclosed”, implying that Zelenskyy did not take tests and the conclusion was that he is a drug user with something to hide.

Another defamation message was that Zelenskyy has criminal relations with the Ukrainian oligarch Ihor Kolomoyskyi. The page of ‚Zhovta Strichka’  posted about this many times: ‘The choice is really simple: Putin’s personal enemy Poroshenko or Yulia’s puppet Kolomoyskyi who can’t wait to ‘dupe’ Ukrainians out of money’ (18 March) and ‘Does anybody still believe him?’ (8 April).  A video was also posted in which it is declared that Kolomoyskyi’s money from nationalisation of PrivatBank was transferred to offshore accounts of ‘Kvartal 95’ (8 April).

On the page Ministerstvo Baryh [Ministry of Hustlers] an ad dated 29 March was shared with a video, which uses a compilation of Zelenskyy’s and Kolomoisky’s statements and the Poroshenko campaign slogan ‚There are many candidates but only one President‘ and the end. Another example: a promotional video dated 1 April, in which they associate Zelenskyy with the money of the oligarch Kolomoisky, which was allegedly took out to offshore accounts of ‚Kvartal 95‘.

The second theme was the “incompetence” of the candidate Zelenskyy.

A post on the page ‚Zhovta Strichka’ from 8 April said: ‘We imagine the meeting of the National Security and Defence Council and it makes us already scared’: the message of the post is that Zelenskyy will not cope with the role of the Commander-in-Chief at a crucial moment when the whole country will be waiting for him to make an autocratic decision.

Similar messages were tracked on the page “Boycott the Party of Regions”. Several videos with a message about candidate Zelenskyy’s incompetence was spread within the framework of a conventional advertising campaign ‘Not ready to be the President’. For example, in a video involving actors, which simulates the situation when a full-scale war with Russia has allegedly begun, all the soldiers are waiting for a decision from the Commander-in-Chief of the army Volodymyr Zelenskyy and at the crucial moment he is nervous and does not know what to do. Another example is a video, which compares the candidate Volodymyr Zelenskyy with the ‘chef who is afraid of food’: ‘The Commander-in-Chief who is Afraid of War’.

A particularly egregious example included an ad video in which Zelenskyy is hit by a truck. It included the message ‘Everybody must walk his/her own path‘ and had an image of a path with cocaine (a hint to the message ‚Zelenskyy is a drug user‘). Later this video was removed by the page administrator but remained in the library of advertising. Facebook did not consider this video as violating Facebook’s rules. This video was posted on the page Zrada Peremoha [Betrayal_Victory].

Anti-Poroshenko/pro-Zelenskyy

For the analysis we have identified five pages: ‚Petro Incognito‘, ‚AntiPor‚, ‚Vybory 2019’ [Elections 2019], ‚Stop Poroshenko‘, ‚Karusel2019‘

Defamation

On the page ‚Petro Incognito‘ a post, dated 8 April accused Petro Poroshenko of copying elements of the election campaign of ex-President Leonid Kuchma.

‚Poroshenko is fawning over the youth, monkeying twenty-five-year-old techniques!  Petro’s ratings go down catastrophically and he is catching at a straw hoping to attract the youth. Before the first round he didn’t think about it at all, and Poroshenko’s bots ’soaked‘ those young people who wanted to vote for Petro Poroshenko’s opponents.’

9 ads of the group involve micro-targeting to specific regions. For example, a post from 18 March, which criticised the head of the Transcarpathian regional state administration Hennadiy Moskal (who is considered to be the person of the President Petro Poroshenko), targeted exclusively the Carpathian region.

Criticism of Poroshenko’s environment. On the same page there were posts arguing about Poroshenko’s connections to Russia. A post dated 27 March said: ’15 facts about how Petro Poroshenko and his allies are closely related to Russia! Fact No. 1. Poroshenko’s daughter-in-law Yulia Poroshenko (Alikhanova) is Russian, her parents live in St.-Petersburg, the husband of the sister is a top official in the government of Leningrad oblast and relatives in Crimea declare in public that they voted at the pseudo-referendum for separation of the peninsula from Ukraine…‘.

Videos with supposed investigations on Petro Poroshenko were published on ‚AntiPor‘ group. As an example – post, dated 11 March with an Investigation by ‚Ukrainian Sensations‘ of 1+1 TV channel (owned by oligarch Ihor Kolomoisky associated with Volodymyr Zelenskyy) named ‚Poroshenko’s Black Cash‘.

There was another video claiming that economy of Ukraine declined during Poroshenko time according to world recognised ratings without backing this information with the respective ratings data. The video features also a part of Deutsche Welle report about state of economy in Ukraine. The video text caption encourages Poroshenko’s supporters to watch it.

In this case the communication is based on references to various media that criticise Petro Poroshenko. A reference to popular media in Ukraine is one of the communication strategies, when the presidential candidate is criticized not only by the page itself, but also by reputable media.

Another theme in the Anti-Poroshenko-campaign is the allegation that he pays for votes. For the first time this topic started to be ’spread‘ in media on the site strana.ua in January 2019. On Facebook it was communicated through the page ‚Karusel2019‘ (the accusation of ‘carousel voting’[1]).  The creation of this page coincides with active release of publications on the website.

Unlike the topics listed above, the communication of the ‚Karusel2019‘ page appealed to the most specific features of Petro Poroshenko’s election campaign.

Praising Zelenskyy and refuting accusations against him. On the page ‚Vybory 2019’ [Elections 2019] The first promotional post was published on 27 March. In a promoted video called ‚Is Zelenskyy the President?’ television presenters do their best to defend Zelenskyy. For example, they say that the accusations of ties with Russia will help mobilise the pro-Russian electorate. They believe that the label ‘Kolomoisky’s puppet‘ is not negative, explaining that this oligarch is the most positive among all other Ukrainian oligarchs. They stated that not participating in a direct debate would not have a negative impact on Zelenskyy’s rating.

The second promotional post was published on 29 March. In the promoted video, television presenters discuss visual advertising of some presidential candidates. Yulia Tymoshenko was accused of plagiarism of 2004 Viktor Yushchenko’s message and Poroshenko of plagiarising a Russian party’s ‚United Russia‘ message. At the same time, they call Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s advertising ‚cool‘ and show scenes from the TV show ‚Servant of People‘ where Zelenskyy plays a president, namely the scene with execution of deputies of the Verkhovna Rada by president’s shooting.

Unofficial pages conclusions and findings

Promotional posts in the unofficial pages category mostly used videos and sometimes text and graphics pages supporting Poroshenko existed long before the election campaign and were used to spread messages against political opponents. Pages against Poroshenko/for Zelenskyy were mostly created during the electoral period (except of group ‚Stop Poroshenko‘, created in 2014).

We noticed similar content on different Anti-Zelenskyy pages – the same actor appears in various advertising game videos (videos in which actors portray politicians) on different pages and the same videos are shared by different pages.

Same content has been promoted on 5 of 6 researched pages (except ‘Batya, ya starayus’ [Dad, I try]), which indicated an existing coordinated communication strategy behind such pages. We found out that they are connected between each other. These pages have the same phone number and address in the block ‘Funding source’. Moreover, this phone number and address was listed in the official pages of Petro Poroshenko.

This could mean that same communication team was responsible for creating content not only for official pages, but for unofficial pages. This indicates an often common strategy when it comes to the use of social media during elections: official candidate’s pages tend to keep a lower profile, moderate language and official positions when it comes to the candidate’s agenda, while more questionable techniques are spread using pages that are not directly associated with any of the campaigns.

On the anti-Poroshenko page, ‚Petro Incognito‘, most of the posts were accompanied with short edited videos.

The ads targeted the West of Ukraine, where Petro Poroshenko had the highest level of support (Vinnytsia, Lviv, Rivne, Ivano-Frankivsk). Thus, the purpose of the group was to influence Poroshenko’s electorate and to cause negative emotions in relation to the incumbent President.

Unlike Anti-Zelenskyy/pro-Poroshenko pages, we did not see same information in the block ‘Funding source’ on official Zelenskyy Group and unofficial pages.

Pages working against Zelenskyy spent way more money, than their electoral rivals (hyperlinks below lead to Ad libraries with the sums).

Anti-Zelenskyy page Budget Anti-Poroshenko page Budget
Zhovta Strichka $41418 ‚Petro Incognito‘ $241
‘Batya, ya starayus’ [Dad, I try] $1000 to $5000

apx. $2500

‚AntiPor‘ $7708
Boycott the Party of Regions $17134 ‚Vybory 2019’ [Elections 2019] less than $100

apx. $50

Ministerstvo Baryh [Ministry of Hustlers] $58573 ‚Stop Poroshenko‘ less than $100

apx. $50

Zrada_Peremoha [Betrayal_Victory] $25150 ‚Karusel2019‘ $534
Tsynichnyi Bandera [Cynic Bandera] $45559
Total spent Apx. $190334 Total spent Apx. $8583

The promotion budget for Anti-Zelenskyy pages is more than 20 times more than for Anti-Poroshenko pages. Moreover, it is larger than on promotion of official pages.

Effectiveness of Facebook political ads policy

As we saw above, neither team used questionable communication on their official pages but did on unofficial pages. Direct connection was found between official pages of Petro Poroshenko and unofficial pages working against Zelenskyy.

In this case the newly launched Facebook policy provides instruments to expose the source of political advertising. Additionally, a high number of ads were removed by Facebook with the mark ‘Doesn’t meet Facebook advertising rules’ (31,7% from Anti-Zelenskyy pages and 14,2% from Anti-Poroshenko pages). As an example, on the page Zrada_Peremoha [Betrayal_Victory] half of the promoted ads were removed.

But before such inappropriate ads were deleted, they had been already shown to many people and promotion budgets spent on some of them were above $1000.

Some of the questionable ads have not been deleted entirely. As an example, shown in this report is the advertised video with a fragment edited where Volodymyr Zelenskyy is hit by a truck. This video was removed by administrators of the page, but not by Facebook.

Looking ahead at the Parliamentary elections

Currently it appears easy to sneak around campaign finance rules by paying for ads with false company information. Facebook gives details about the sources in the US ad library, but not in Ukraine, which shows different standards when it comes to transparency in different countries.

A new election campaign already started in Ukraine. On 21 July the country will go to the polls again to choose the new Parliament, and campaign strategies will likely follow the same patterns identified by this study. Thus, Facebook needs to implement necessary changes and upgrade their standards to avoid political advertising to be used as a tool to spread lies and false information to voters. Inappropriate content should not be part of paid political advertising.

Despite of the fact that political campaigns have historically rely on lies and defamation, they have a choice to allow this to be featured on their platforms or not. Facebook has been struggling with the decision to take down problematic content, such as the recent case of a manipulated video of the US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi[2] shows. However, in the case of political ads, differently from content from users that go viral, they have the choice to not run them in the first place.

We have now much more transparency than in 2016, when political advertising was a channel used by foreign manipulative actors to influence the 2016 elections. Such tool allowed for a greater transparency and reduced the problems associated with political advertising, if we take the recent European parliamentary elections as an example. The Code of Conduct enforced by the European Commission in cooperation with tech companies increased transparency and reduced the scope for manipulation via political advertising.

It does not mean that there is no work to be done. With the Parliamentary elections approaching, having the same transparency standards applied to other elections would be a good starting point. During the 2018 US Midterm elections, the ad library contained a list of how much money was being spend online in the campaign and who were the actors spending that money. This list does not exist for Ukraine as of now, which makes analysis on the use of political ads more difficult to be done.

Methodology Application Table

Platform studied Facebook
Number of ads collected Ads from 14 pages
Criteria for inclusion in the search (query applied at the Twitter public API) The 14 pages were divided into two categories: official pages (run by the candidate’s campaigns) and unofficial/false pages (pages created or specially used with the objective of discrediting the opponent). The second group is not an exhaustive list.
Type of analysis All the posts assessed were manually collected from the Ad Libraries for further qualitative analysis. To identify the main narratives we conducted visual, semantic and linguistic analysis of posts. We also examined advertising promotion budgets and post’s targets in order to be able to assess the techniques used by each candidate’s team and distinguish differences between them.

 

Source of data Facebook Ad Library
Timeframe of study Ads captured between March, 18th and April, 21st
More questions on methodology? Contact: [email protected]

 

Cover image: Animated Heaven/Flickr


[1] Carousel voting is a method of vote rigging in elections. Usually it involves „busloads of voters [being] driven around to cast ballots multiple times“

[2] More information on: https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2019/may/24/facebook-leaves-fake-nancy-pelosi-video-on-site

DRI Annual Report 2018

Our Annual Report 2018 is out. It  gives an overview of our activities and our organisational development.

In 2018 we continued our work on local governance, constitutions, human rights, rule of law and human rights. Social media monitoring during elections has become an important part of our activity across the countries we work in. Last year we worked with different actors, including government, civil society, election administration and universities.  We regularly consulted and engaged them in discussions to identify their needs and support them in their work to strengthen democracy.

 

Download DRI Annual Report 2018 

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Read the 2018 annual audit report here.

Call for submissions: research covering social media and elections in Ukraine

Leider ist der Eintrag nur auf Amerikanisches Englisch verfügbar. Der Inhalt wird unten in einer verfügbaren Sprache angezeigt. Klicken Sie auf den Link, um die aktuelle Sprache zu ändern.

Democracy Reporting International (DRI) is a non-partisan, independent, not-for-profit organisation registered in Berlin. Democracy Reporting International promotes political participation of citizens, accountability of state bodies and the development of democratic institutions world-wide.

With funding from the German Federal Foreign Office, Democracy Reporting International (DRI) is implementing the Project “Going beyond Kyiv: Empowering Regional Actors of Change to Contribute to Key Political Reforms in Ukraine – Phase II” in Ukraine since September 2018, funded by the Federal Foreign Office of Germany (hereinafter referred to as “the Donor”). DRI is involved in discussions about how new technologies are affecting democracies and producing studies in different political contexts and as part of its work DRI is analysing the role of social media in elections.

Within the project we are looking for experts in civic tech to write short contributions or analysis covering the role of social media in the Ukrainian Parliamentary elections.

Contributions will be assessed on the following criteria:

  • Relevance of the topic
  • Expertise of the authors on the topic and awareness of the issue
  • Previous work and research in the area

The work should address one of the aspects related to the use of social media in the Parliamentary elections in Ukraine.  Possible topics may include:

  • Use of political ads during the electoral campaign
  • Use of fake campaign pages
  • Use of Facebook by political parties, media and fake campaign pages
  • Applicants can propose other questions to be researched

Individuals or teams may apply. The applications should be submitted in English.

Please send us ([email protected]) by 10 July your CV and Application form, which should answer the following questions:

  1. Name
  2. Please describe your/your team’s relevant expertise (100 words)
  3. Which question would you like to research?
  4. Please propose a short summary of the paper (200 words)
  5. Please provide an outline for your publication (200 words)
  6. Please describe your methodology (including timeline and work-plan) (200 words)
  7. Why do you believe this paper is important? What will be its impact?
  8. Please include your fees and time needed to deliver the work.

Incomplete applications will be disqualified.

A new constitution for Ukraine? (Briefing Paper)

Download the briefing paper in English 

Завантажити аналітичний звіт українською

Executive summary

Following the Revolution of Dignity of 2014, Ukraine’s Constitution was amended twice. Some planned changes were not adopted. In the course of the 2019 presidential elections and with the upcoming early parliamentary elections in July 2019, more radical proposals have been made by several political players: the most radical of which entails developing an entirely new Constitution. Most importantly, a representative of Ukraine’s new president to the Ukrainian parliament declared the plans of President Zelenskyy and his political party, which according to the polls currently enjoys 50% of popular support, to renew the work of the Constitutional Commission. They plan to task it with preparing either a totally new Constitution or make changes to the current one.[1]  Such proposals need to be taken seriously and invite discussion both on their substantive and procedural elements.

Substantive arguments in favour of a “clean slate” solution for the constitutional reform in Ukraine would include fixing the legitimacy of Ukraine’s constitutional order following the unfortunate story of the 2004 constitutional amendments, their cancellation by the Constitutional Court in 2010 (now officially investigated as a coup-d’état), and the return to the essence of the  2004 text by the Parliament’s resolution following the Maidan events in 2014. Other arguments include adjusting the Constitution to address the reality of the armed conflict and simply improving the Constitution by including a more efficient government structure that takes into account new development in human rights and so forth. The arguments against an entirely new Constitution carry more weight. They centre around the values of constitutional stability, the dangers of weakening the already fragile national consensus, the potential to develop the Constitution through the jurisprudence of the Constitutional Court as well as, more generally, the fact that many changes could be introduced without meddling with the Constitution’s text.

Furthermore, the currently discussed constitutional changes – such as decentralisation, human rights and even new governmental system – could be adopted as constitutional amendments at one stage or another and falls in line with the procedure foreseen in the Constitution upon public and expert consultations. There is no real added value in adopting them as a new constitution. Partial amendments will not be any worse in fulfilling the purposes and solving the problems than a totally new constitution.

The need for a new constitution would appear to be a political rather than a legal question. Political energies could be better spent in effecting the urgent reform challenges Ukraine faces than in a new constitutional process. There can be no magic solution that would ensure a sustainable development of democratic institutions simply by re-writing the Fundamental Law.

Introduction

On 21 February 2019, Ukraine’s Constitution was amended once again with the entry into force of Law 2680-VIII after its adoption by the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine (the “Parliament”) on 7 February.[2] The amendment had been sponsored by President[3] and constitutionally enshrined Ukraine’s strategic orientation towards the European Union and NATO.[4] At time of writing, this is the latest amendment since the 2016 reform of the judiciary.[5]

In addition, there is another fairly advanced process of changing the text of the Constitution to abolish immunity from prosecution for Members of the Parliament. In June 2018, the two competing drafts (one by President[6] and one by 158 MPs)[7] were met with no objections from the CCU[8]. Further, the docket of the Ukrainian Parliament includes several other post-Maidan motions to amend the Constitution that are concerned with such diverse topics as decentralisation of state functions,[9] changing the Soviet-style names of certain regions[10] and strengthening the status of farmers.[11]

However, several important political players in the ongoing parliamentary elections campaign, including, most notably, a team of the new President Volodymyr Zelenskyy[12] Yulia Tymoshenko[13] and Arsen Avakov[14], appear to support a total rewriting Ukraine’s Fundamental Law. Such proposals invite a serious discussion, among other matters, on the possibility of a “clean slate” Constitution, i.e. of adopting an absolutely new text rather than tinkering with the current one.

This briefing paper starts with an overview of the procedure required by the existing Constitution to amend it, and then proceeds to analyse pros and cons for adopting a completely new Fundamental Law for Ukraine.

1.      The Procedure for Renewing UKRAINE’s Constitution

The procedure for amending Ukraine’s Constitution is governed by a separate Chapter of the Constitution—Chapter XIII (“Amendments to the Constitution of Ukraine”), comprising Articles 154–159. The main feature here is that there are two procedural tracks for amending various parts of the Constitution. The “simple track” must be followed in amending any constitutional provisions except those contained in “protected” parts of the Constitution—Chapters I (“General Principles”), III (“Elections. Referendum”) and the same Chapter XIII, for which there is the “strict track”.

The “simple track” provides for three steps:

  • The submission of a draft amendment bill by the President or by no less than 150 MPs;
  • The preliminary assent by a simple majority of the parliament (at least 226 MPs); and
  • The subsequent confirmation by no less than 300 MPs during the subsequent regular session of the parliament.

The “strict track,” which has never been used or even seriously attempted, includes:

  • The submission of a draft amendment to the Parliament by the President or by no less than 300 MPs;
  • The adoption of the draft by the same majority; and
  • The confirmation by a national referendum declared by the President.

A motion for any provision within the “protected” Chapters may only be attempted once during a parliamentary term.

Further, there are common requirements for either track:

  • Amendments to abolish or restrict human rights and freedoms, to terminate Ukraine’s independence or violate its territorial integrity are forbidden;
  • The Constitution cannot be amended in situations of martial law or national emergency;
  • A failed amendment cannot be resubmitted earlier than a year after the respective negative decision by the Parliament;
  • The Parliament cannot amend the same provisions of the Constitution more than once during a convocation;
  • The Parliament cannot adopt an amendment unless there is a positive opinion by the Constitutional Court of Ukraine confirming its correspondence to the above requirements.

The exact relations between the two tracks is not totally clear. The assumption seems to be that the “strict track” overtakes the “simple” one: i.e. should the Constitution be amended by a single motion covering both the “protected” and “unprotected” Chapters, the “strict track” should be followed for the entire motion. However, this assumption has never been tested in practice. The most problematic question seems to arise as to whether the referendum required by the “strict track” should comprise the entire motion or only the changes to the “protected” parts of the Constitution.

This rigidity of the amendment procedure (especially its “strict track”) has been the main reason why various politicians have been toying with the “clean slate solution”— that is adopted (most likely) by referendum — in order to bypass the procedural difficulties and the permanent inability to reach the necessary level of support within the parliament.

The constitutionality of the “clean slate solution” is dubious. The regime of former President Viktor Yanukovych came closest to it by enacting the Law on the Nation-Wide Referendum in 2012.[15] The Law explicitly provided for the possibility of amending the Constitution through popularly-initiated referendums, including complete overhauls of the fundamental document. The CCU found this Law unconstitutional in early 2018, mentioning inter alia that there was no constitutional way to exclude the parliament from the equation.[16]

It should also be mentioned, that the CCU was less clear in the past. A judgment in 2005 interpreted Article 5(2–3) of the Constitution[17] in a way that “the people has the right to adopt the new Constitution of Ukraine”.[18] The Court did not dwell on the this.

In another judgment in 2008, touching upon the same constitutional provisions, the CCU acknowledged the possibility of adopting a completely new Constitution through a popularly-initiated referendum.[19] Although both of them were somewhat evasive, the decisions of 2005 and 2008 were quite positive as to a “clean slate” revision. Therefore, the decision of 2018 marked a U-turn in the position of the CCU, which was not unprecedented.[20]

However, the CCU’s decision of 2018 does not necessarily exclude a total rewriting of the Constitution; a brand-new text is still possible, provided that its adoption is in line with the current relevant provisions.

2.      PROS AND CONS OF A COMPLETELY NEW CONSTITUTION

Historically and politically the “clean slate” solution went hand in hand with the idea of adopting a new constitution by popular referendum without the involvement of the parliament, which was often seen by the executive power as a hindrance. Likewise, the “strict track” was often seen by interested political actors as too complicated. In view of this, such designs tended to be treated with suspicion and accusations of attempts to usurp state power, and for a good reason:[21] in fact, in such post-Soviet countries as Belarus[22] and Kazakhstan,[23] referendums served as tools to consolidate and perpetuate the powers of ruling presidents.

What could be achieved by adopting a new Constitution for Ukraine?

Here are a few goals that might potentially be achieved if a new Ukrainian Constitution were to be adopted.

Mending the legitimacy of Ukraine’s constitutional order. The text that is currently lying at the foundation of the Ukrainian State has had a bumpy history. Initially, it was adopted in 1996 by the Parliament following a long and volatile constitutional process. In 2005, the Constitution was changed by the Law adopted on 8 December 2004 (“Law 2222-IV”) that enshrined political compromise. Made during the heat of the Orange Revolution, this Law is likely responsible for securing the peaceful resolution of the situation created by the flawed presidential elections of 2004.[24] The main direction of the 2004 constitutional reform was the reduction of presidential powers and institutionalisation of political parties as formal elements of power. Ultimately, the newly elected President Viktor Yushchenko had less power than his predecessors.

Neither Yushchenko’ nor his successor Viktor Yanukovych were satisfied with the post-2004 constitutional arrangement. In 2010, soon after his ascent to the office, the latter and his Party of the Regions managed to overthrow the 2004 reform and regain the pre-2004 presidential powers through a CCU ruling that found the law of 2004 to be unconstitutional due to procedural deficiencies.[25] Subsequently, the 2010 judgment was widely condemned as a “silent coup d’état”:[26] a view that prevailed after the 2014 revolution and resulted in the prosecution of Yanukovych, the former Minister of Justice Oleksandr Lavrynovych and some other persons accused of the usurpation of state power in 2010.[27] However, the formal aspect of restoring the text as reformed in 2004 has been a legal challenge. According to the Constitution, judgments by the CCU are final and subject to no review. The Constitution is silent on the proper course when such a judgment is deemed blatantly wrong. Immediately after the flight of President Yanukovych, the Parliament set about restoring the “uncorrupted edition” of the Constitution: that as amended by the Law 2222-IV and a couple of other amending laws of 2011 and 2013. It did so through two instruments. On 21 February 2014 the Parliament adopted the Law of Ukraine “On the Restoration of Certain Provisions of the Constitution of Ukraine”.[28] On the next day, the Parliament adopted a Resolution[29] to the same effect—to serve as the legal basis for the restored Constitution until the Law of 21 February entered into force, which happened on 2 March. Of course, the “restorative law” was adopted through the ordinary legislative procedure rather than the complicated one for constitutional amendments. All in all, currently the Ukrainian State is living under the Constitution initially adopted by the Parliament without any popular participation in 1996, questionably reformed in 2004, even more questionably reverted to its original form in 2010, lawfully amended in 2011 and 2013, then restored to its reformed pre-2010 edition while simultaneously incorporating the mentioned post-2010 amendments, and (finally) partially amended again in 2016 and (most recently) 2019.

Some feel that this tortuous constitutional history warrants adopting a completely new constitution. The opposite argument could also be made: the constitutional history reflects Ukraine’s political complexities that cannot be wished away by writing a new text. Indeed, one could argue that the current constitution has proven a degree of resilience that underpins its legitimacy.

Then, the alleged legitimacy deficit of the current Constitution might be argued in a different way: it may be alleged that the “constitutional process” in Ukraine has always been a play of the elites, with the general public and civil society being at best spectators and at worst gullible puppets. After all, the initial adoption of the Constitution of independent Ukraine (just like of the preceding Soviet Constitution) was effected by the parliament without any general approval or even much public engagement, while the decisions of the only referendum ever held on constitutional matters have never been implemented.[30] But the story is — as always — somewhat more complicated than that. In fact, the parliamentary adoption of the current Constitution’s initial version took place under President’s pressure who declared a nation-wide referendum regarding the text developed within a President-controlled commission:[31] something the parliament regarded (not without a reason) as a standard post-Soviet way to the usurpation of power by the president.[32] Therefore, in historical terms, by evading the President-initiated popular referendum in 1996, Ukraine might well have avoided the authoritarian concentration of power with the president.

Andrii Bohdan was actually right in stating that Ukraine’s is a time-honoured tradition of specialised commissions charged with elaborating constitutional texts. The first one — that actually laid the foundations of Ukraine’s current constitutional order — was created by the parliament in November 1994.[33] All the successors of President Kuchma in the office charged their own working parties with drafting constitutional changes, however none has succeeded in gaining much public support nor in seeing its work through.[34] Against this background, the most recent one established by President Poroshenko in 2015[35] fared comparatively well in what concerns transparency and openness to the civil society. However, none of the two successful constitutional amendments since the Revolution of Dignity could be directly credited to the Commission. After an energetic beginning, when the commissioners agreed to start the constitutional overhaul with the human rights part, the work of the Commission ground to a halt during Poroshenko’s presidency. Its fate under the new administration is murky. In any case, winning and retaining democratic legitimacy is a real challenge of a historical scale. There are no technical fixes here. Any best-intended headlong attempts conceal serious risks, wherefore cautious conservatism could be regarded as a plausible attitude: it is easier to lose democracy than to improve it.

Adjustments for a time of war: The authors of the 1996 Constitution had hardly ever thought of a situation the country is living through at the moment: an armed aggression by a foreign power occupying whole regions of a country, while brazenly denying its military engagement at the same time. Although the Constitution contains provisions related to national security and defence, the military, martial law and similar things, it is essentially a peace-time constitution, and as such it may be seen as hampering many needed policies justified by the emergency. However, it is not clear what necessary policies the current constitution hinders and any adjustment to the situation could be seen as accommodation rather than striving to establish Ukraine as a mature democracy.

In particular, any attempts to restrict human rights should be avoided as Ukraine’s human rights record rather needs improvement, as evidenced by the case law of the European Court of Human Rights[36].

Simply enhancing the Constitution. There exists a widespread belief among many Ukrainians that the 1996 Constitution was based on the most progressive standards existing in the world. Even if true, the situation has changed since then. The Constitution might have been progressive if compared with its socialist predecessor of 1978,[37] but two decades have passed since. The 1996 text was the product of a difficult (and inherently imperfect) compromise reached between the President and the Parliament. Some tend to read all the subsequent history to signify that the balance of powers enshrined in the Constitution was not optimal. Secondly, the Constitution might require serious changes in its foundational provisions and (especially) those concerned with human rights, in particular to account for the evolution of the European human rights law. Actually, the next big step might consist in making the Constitution more human-oriented rather than power-oriented.

This may be countered with the remark that, unlike the realm of technology, the concept of “progressive” in the social and political spheres is less obvious and often comes out as a result of difficult societal processes. The true task would consist in keeping the playground open rather than in finding and fixing all “progressive” solutions. Therefore, a complete rewriting would only be useful if the current Constitution is proven to be too rigid.

Arguments AGAINST A COMPLETE OVERHAUL OF THE CONSTITUTION

Arguments against any radical constitutional reforms are also well known and may be summarised as follows.

Age brings strength and experience. A decent old rule might be preferred to an exquisite new one because, firstly, the old rule would be better known and therefore more predictable in its application. Secondly, the old rule would be more respected due to its age: it does not need to win legitimacy. So, for Ukraine, the experience of living under an imperfect but stable Constitution might be more valuable than constantly striving for perfection.

Protection against destructive ideas. With all its possible drawbacks, Ukraine’s current Constitution was drafted to protect the nation from ideas that are widely seen as dangerous, such as federalism, special status of the Russian language, or special status of certain regions and so forth. These ideas are promoted by Russia – in the context of war and occupation, these are widely understood as code words for dismembering the country. The existing text enshrines a certain national consensus and it would be better to build any further developments on this.

Constitution as a “living instrument.” This argument against any drastic constitutional reform rests in the ability of legal regimes to develop in time through changes in the interpretation and understanding rather than constant revisions of the text. The idea of a “living instrument” is much favoured by the European Court of Human Rights[38] and has become very fashionable in other fields of jurisprudence. Just as the European Convention adopted in 1950 has been developed in the jurisprudence of the ECHR to correspond to the understandings and aspirations of the twenty-first century, so may Ukraine’s Constitution be developed in the jurisprudence of the CCU and by other relevant institutions.[39]

However, this can be countered with the questionable track record of the Ukrainian constitutional jurisprudence: after all, the CCU is widely regarded as having been the instrumentality for the usurpation of power by Yanukovich’s regime. It is also criticised for incoherent case-law and low credibility. It would take time for the Court to be prepared to implement the “living instrument” doctrine in a due way, which cannot be expected or advisable in the nearest future.

International support. Ukraine relies on significant international support by countries and organisations that have been eager in particular to reduce state corruption in Ukraine, including through changing legislation and establishing new bodies. Many of these actors would be nervous that a new constitution would water down legal mechanisms aimed at curbing corruption. It may not be a good time to introduce such a potential irritant in these relations.

No case for reform? The strongest argument against a new constitution may be that no good case for it has been made. What in the current constitution requires such wide-spread change that could best be achieved by drafting a new text? What concrete problems need to be solved at this point, that could not be solved through amendments? And finally, the idea raises a political rather than a legal question: in view of the current challenges, would political energies be well-spent in effecting an entirely new constitutional process?

CONCLUSION

While in principle there exist procedural possibilities and plausible though weak substantive arguments for adopting an entirely new Constitution for Ukraine, it could be asserted that neither doing it nor refraining from introducing any major amendments could in itself guarantee a robust development of strong democratic institutions in the country. A wide public discussion of competing visions of the constitutional order in the country could certainly be useful for raising public awareness about the strengths and weaknesses of the existing Constitution and its importance for Ukraine’s sustainable democratic development. At the same time, it would be far preferable if such discussions maintain a positive agenda and do not simply become purely rhetorical arguments in election campaigns.

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[1] “The represenative of Zelenskyy in the Rada: The Constitution will be amended”, (in Ukraineian) <https://www.pravda.com.ua/news/2019/06/12/7217908/> (accessed 12.06.2019).

[2] As required by the Constitution (see below), this was the second vote. The bill passed the minimal threashold of 300 positive votes out of 450 MPs: it was supported by 334 MPs, with 35 votes against and 16 MPs not participating (see <http://w1.c1.rada.gov.ua/pls/radan_gs09/ns_golos?g_id=21858>, accessed 30.05.2019).

[3] Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine, draft Law on Amending the Constiotution of Ukraine (regarding the State’s strategic course towards Ukraine’s obtaining full membership in the European Union and the North-Atlantic Treaty Organisation), 3 September 2018, No. 9037 (in Ukrainian) <http://w1.c1.rada.gov.ua/pls/zweb2/webproc4_1?pf3511=64531> (accessed 30.05.2019).

[4] Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine, the Law of Ukraine “On amending the Constitution of Ukraine (regarding the State’s Strategic Course towards Obtaining Full Membership of Ukraine in the European Union and the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation)” of 7 February 2017, No. 2680-VIII (in Ukrainian) <https://zakon.rada.gov.ua/laws/show/2680-19> (accessed 30.05.2019).

[5] Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine, the Law of Ukraine “On amending the Constitution of Ukraine (regarding the judicial system)” of 2 June 2016, No. 1401-VIII (in Ukrainian) <http://zakon.rada.gov.ua/laws/show/1401-19> (accessed 30.05.2019).

[6] Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine, Draft Law on Amending Article 80 of the Constitution of Ukraine (as to the Immunity of the People’s Deputies of Ukraine) dated 17 October 2017, No. 7203 (in Ukrainian) <http://w1.c1.rada.gov.ua/pls/zweb2/webproc4_2?pf3516=7203&skl=9> (accessed 30.05.2019).

[7] Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine, Draft Law on Amending Article 80 of the Constitution of Ukraine (in the Part Concerned with the Abolition of the Immunity of the People’s Deputies of Ukraine) dated 19 July 2017, No. 6773 (in Ukrainian) <http://w1.c1.rada.gov.ua/pls/zweb2/webproc4_2?pf3516=6773&skl=9> (accessed 30.05.2019).

[8] Constitutional Court of Ukraine, Opinion No. 1-в/2018 of 6 June 2018 (in Ukrainian) <http://zakon.rada.gov.ua/laws/show/v001v710-18> (accessed 30.05.2019); Constitutional Court of Ukraine, Opinion No. 2-в/2018 of 19 June 2018 (in Ukrainian) <http://zakon.rada.gov.ua/laws/show/v002v710-18> (accessed 30.05.2019).

[9] Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine, Draft Law on Amending the Constitution of Ukraine (on Decentralising State Power) dated 1 July 2015, No. 2217 (in Ukrainian) <http://w1.c1.rada.gov.ua/pls/zweb2/webproc4_1?pf3511=55812>. See also Andriy Kozlov, “From Central Control to Local Responsibility: Decentralisation in Ukraine,” DRI Briefing Paper 59, November 2015 <https://democracy-reporting.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/03/briefing_paper_from_central_control_to_local_responsibility_decentralisation_in_ukraine_en.pdf> (all accessed 30.05.2019).

[10] Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine, Draft Law on Amending Article 133 of the Constitution of Ukraine (in order to Rename the Dnipropetrovsk Region) dated 27 April 2018, No. 8329 (in Ukrainian) <http://w1.c1.rada.gov.ua/pls/zweb2/webproc4_1?pf3511=63949>; Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine, Draft Law on Amending Article 133 of the Constitution of Ukraine (in order to Rename the Kirovograd Region) dated 18 May 2018, No. 8380 (in Ukrainian) <http://w1.c1.rada.gov.ua/pls/zweb2/webproc4_1?pf3511=64029>; Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine, Draft Law on Amending Article 133 of the Constitution of Ukraine (in order to Rename the Dnipropetrovsk Region) dated 21 November 2018, No. 9310 (in Ukrainian) <http://w1.c1.rada.gov.ua/pls/zweb2/webproc4_1?pf3511=64967> (all three accessed 30.05.2019).

[11] Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine, Draft Law on Amending Article 41 of the Constitution of Ukraine concerning the Implementation of Ukrainian Citizens to Land, Retaining Ownership in Agricultural Land with Citizens of Ukraine and the Sustainable Development of Agricultural Areas on the Foundation of Farms dated 24 March 2017, No. 6236 (in Ukrainian) <http://w1.c1.rada.gov.ua/pls/zweb2/webproc4_1?pf3511=61420> (accessed 30.05.2019). This one also passed the CCU: Constitutional Court of Ukraine, Opinion No. 4-в/2018 of 23 November 2018 (in Ukrainian) <http://www.ccu.gov.ua/sites/default/files/docs/4_v_2018.pdf> (accessed 30.05.2019).

[12] “The represenative of Zelenskyy in the Rada: The Constitution will be amended”, (in Ukraineian) <https://www.pravda.com.ua/news/2019/06/12/7217908/> (accessed 12.06.2019).

[13] For example, „A new Constitution will give power to the people“ <https://www.tymoshenko.ua/en/news-en/a-new-constitution-will-give-power-to-the-people/> (accessed 30.05.2019).

[14] „Avakov: People’s Front has drafted a new Constitution” (in Ukrainian) <https://tsn.ua/politika/narodniy-front-pidgotuvav-proekt-novoyi-konstituciyi-avakov-1042385.html> (accessed 30.05.2019).

[15] Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine, the Law of Ukraine “On the Nation-Wide Referendum” of 6 November 2012, No. 5475-VI (in Ukrainian) <http://zakon.rada.gov.ua/laws/show/5475-17>. See also: Ruslana Vovk, “Legal Framework for National Referendums in Ukraine,” DRI Briefing Paper 83, May 2017 <https://democracy-reporting.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/DRI-UA-BP-83_National-Referendum.pdf> (all accessed 30.05.2019).

[16] Constitutional Court of Ukraine, Judgment No. 4-рп/2018 of 26 April 2018 (in Ukrainian) <http://zakon.rada.gov.ua/laws/show/v004p710-18> (accessed 30.05.2019).

[17] “The people are the bearers of sovereignty and the only source of power in Ukraine. The people exercise power directly and through bodies of state power and bodies of local self-government.

The right to determine and change the constitutional order in Ukraine belongs exclusively to the people and shall not be usurped by the State, its bodies or officials.”

[18] Constitutional Court of Ukraine, Judgment No. 6-рп/2005 of 5 October 2005 in the case on the People’s exercise of power (in Ukrainian) <http://zakon.rada.gov.ua/laws/show/v006p710-05> (accessed 30.05.2019).

[19] Constitutional Court of Ukraine, Judgment No. 6-рп/2008 of 16 April 2008 in the case on adopting the Constitution and laws of Ukraine at a referendum (in Ukrainian) <http://zakon.rada.gov.ua/laws/show/v006p710-08> (accessed 30.05.2019).

[20] “Taking stock: first steps of the renewed Constitutional Court of Ukraine,” DRI Legal News, Issue 5, 14 August 2018 <https://democracy-reporting.org/taking-stock-first-steps-of-the-renewed-constitutional-court-of-ukraine/> (accessed 30.05.2019).

[21] Olena Yakhno, “Will the Constitution be Amended without Members of the Parliament?” 7 July 2010, 00:00 (in Ukrainian) <https://day.kyiv.ua/uk/article/podrobici/konstituciyu-zminyat-bez-deputativ> (accessed 30.05.2019).

[22] Belarusian Helsinki Committee, “Referendum 96 (Opinion of the Opposition): numbers, judgments, law,” 1996 (in Russian) <http://lukashenkorg.narod.ru/1996.htm>; Wikipedia.org, “2004 Belarussian Referendum” <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2004_Belarusian_referendum> (accessed 30.05.2019).

[23] Wikipedia.org, “1995 Kazakh presidential term referendum” <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2004_Belarusian_referendum> (accessed 30.05.2019).

[24] Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine, the Law of Ukraine “On Amending the Constitution of Ukraine” of 8 December 2004, No. 2222-IV (in Ukrainian) <http://zakon.rada.gov.ua/laws/show/2222-15> (accessed 30.05.2019)

[25] Constitutional Court of Ukraine, Judgment No. 20-рп/2010 of 30 September 2010 in the case concerning the compliance with the procedure in amending the Constitution of Ukraine (in Ukrainian) <http://zakon.rada.gov.ua/laws/show/v020p710-10> (accessed 30.05.2019). The Court found that the draft it had approved as part of the formal amending procedure slightly differed from the final text enacting constitutional amenments and referred to this as to the ground to nullify the whole piece of constitutional legislation. Interestingly, a similar attempt to nullify the reform for the same procedural shortcomings was frustrated by the CCU in 2008 for some minute technical reasons as well as for the curious observation that with entering into force the amending law had actually become an integral part of the Constitution itself, probably implying that the Court lacked the capacity to assess the constitutionality of the Constitution (See: Constitutional Court of Ukraine, Order No. 6-у/2008 of 5 February 2008 (in Ukrainian) <http://zakon.rada.gov.ua/laws/show/va06u710-08> (accessed 30.05.2019)).

[26] Oleksii Sydorchuk, “Mending Mistakes or a Constitutional Coup?” Ukrainska Pravda, 5 October 2010, 12:42 (in Ukrainian) <https://www.pravda.com.ua/articles/2010/10/5/5445124/> (accessed 30.05.2019). The narrative of the “silent coup of 2010” is not shared by all experts – see e.g. Vsevolod Rechytsky, “Can One Trust Constitutional Judges?” the Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union, 8 March 2017 (in Ukrainian) <https://helsinki.org.ua/chy-mozhna-doviryaty-konstytutsijnym-suddyam-v-rechytskyj/> (accessed 30.05.2019).

[27] Radio Freedom, “A Criminal Investigation is Being Conducted against Yanukovych in connection with the Amendment of the Constituion in 2010—the SBU,” 9 April 2015, 15:35 (in Ukrainian) <https://www.radiosvoboda.org/a/news/26947031.html>; Yana Polyanska, “Yanukovych’s ‘Constitutional Coup’: A New Case of the Prosecutor General’s Office of Ukraine,” Radio Freedon, 7 September 2017, 20:30 (in Ukrainian) <https://ua.krymr.com/a/28720581.html>; DT.ua, “Lavrynovych Has Reduced His Part in the Constitutional Coup of 2010 to a Technical Function,” 6 September 2017, 12:03 (in Ukrainian) <https://dt.ua/POLITICS/lavrinovich-zviv-svoyu-uchast-u-konstituciynomu-perevoroti-2010-roku-do-tehnichnoyi-funkciyi-253237_.html> (accessed 30.05.2019)

[28] Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine, the Law of Ukraine “On the Restoration of Certain Provisions of the Constitution of Ukraine” of 21 February 2014, No. 742-VII (in Ukrainian) <http://zakon.rada.gov.ua/laws/show/742-18> (accessed 30.05.2019).

[29] Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine, the Resolution “On the Text of the Constitution of Ukraine in the Edition as of 28 June 1996 with Amendments and Supplements Introduced by Laws of Ukraine No. 2222-IV of 8 December 2004, No. 2952-VI of 1 February 2011, No. 586-VII of 19 September 2013” of 22 February 2014, No. 750-VII (in Ukrainian) <http://zakon.rada.gov.ua/laws/show/750-18/ed20140302> (accessed 30.05.2019).

[30] Wikipedia, “2000 Ukrainian constitutional referendum” <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2000_Ukrainian_constitutional_referendum> (accessed 30.05.2019).

[31] LIGA, Ordonance of President of Ukraine No. 467/96 “On holding the nation-wide referendum for the adoption of the new Constitution of Ukraine,” dated 26 June 1996 <https://ips.ligazakon.net/document/view/U467_96?an=19> (accessed 30.06.2019).

[32] Dmytro Kryvtsun, “How the Constitution of 1996 was adopted: Why neither the society nor the authorities have learnt to live by the Fundamental Law” (in Ukrainian) <https://day.kyiv.ua/uk/article/tema-dnya-podrobyci/yak-pryymaly-konstytuciyu-1996-roku>.

[33] Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine, Resolution No. 231/94-VR by the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine of 10 November 1994 “On the Composition of the Commission for Working on the Draft of the New Constitution of Ukraine (the Constitutional Commission)” (in Ukrainian) <https://zakon.rada.gov.ua/laws/show/231/94-вр> (accessed 30.05.2019).

[34] Vitalii Chervonenko, “Poroshenko’s Constitutional Commission: For a Third Go” (in Ukrainian) <https://www.bbc.com/ukrainian/politics/2015/03/150303_constitutional_commission_vc> (accessed 30.05.2019).

[35] President of Ukraine, Ordonance No. 119/2015 of 3 March 2015 “On the Constitutional Commission” (in Ukrainian) <https://zakon5.rada.gov.ua/laws/show/119/2015> accessed 30.05.2019).

[36] See, for example: Mykola Gnatovskyy, Yulia Ioffe, “Twenty Years of the ECHR in Ukraine” EJIL: Talk!, 18 September 2017 <https://www.ejiltalk.org/twenty-years-of-the-echr-in-ukraine/> (accessed 30.05.2019).

[37] Verkhovna Rada of the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic, the Constitution (Fundamental Law) of the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic of 20 April 1978, No. 888-IX (in Ukrainian) <http://zakon.rada.gov.ua/laws/show/888-09> (accessed 30.05.2019).

[38] George Letsas, “The ECHR as a Living Instrument: Its Meaning and its Legitimacy” 14 March 2012 <http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2021836> (30.05.2019).

[39] The doctrine of a “living instrument” as such is not free of problems, as the line between “creative interpretation according to present-day conditions” and sheer arbitrariness and disregard for written rules is not always very clear. Ukrainian courts have not yet mastered the subtle art of changing their attitudes graciously so that “changes of practice” were not regarded as opportunistic U-turns: something that has marred the credibility of the CCU. In any case, there is (or at least there must be a limit) to “creative (re-)interpretation”: there are reforms that will require the change of letters.

Call for submissions: papers addressing extreme political polarisation in Georgia – deadline extended  

Call for submissions: papers addressing extreme political polarisation in Georgia  

Democracy Reporting International (DRI) is a non-partisan, independent, not-for-profit organisation registered in Berlin. Democracy Reporting International promotes political participation of citizens, accountability of state bodies and the development of democratic institutions world-wide.

With funding from the German Federal Foreign Office, Democracy Reporting International (DRI), the Georgian Young Lawyers Association (GYLA) and ForSet are implementing a project “Strengthening political pluralism in Georgia – Phase III”. The aim of the project is foster an impartial facts-based debate on extreme political polarisation among Georgian civil society, media and the wider public.

With the project we are looking for scholars, PhD students, academia, media or civil society representatives to write short contributions addressing the issue of extreme political polarisation in Georgia.

The selected authors will receive 500 euro upon submission of the final paper.

  1. Contributions will be assessed on the following criteria:
  •       Relevance of the topic
  •       Expertise of the authors on the topic and awareness of the issue
  •       Previous work and research in the area of publication
  1. The publications should address one of the aspects related to extreme political polarisation in Georgia. Possible topics may include:
  •       What are the lessons learnt from presidential elections?
  •       How can polarisation be addressed prior to 2020 elections?
  •       What role can/should media/civil society play in decreasing extreme political polarisation?
  •       Applicants can propose other questions to be researched
  1. Individuals or teams may apply.
  2. To apply please send us your application and CV by 25 June.
  3. The applications can be submitted in English and Georgian
  4. Upon the application process three concepts will be selected. They will be asked to develop a 5 to 7 pages paper by 7 July.
  5. The selected papers will be reviewed by DRI experts and will receive feedback to finalise their publication. Final products will be published in English and Georgian on the DRI website.

Application form

 

განაცხადის მიღება: საქართველოში ექსტრემალურ პოლიტიკურ პოლარიზაციაზე პუბლიკაციის მომზადება

Democracy Reporting International (DRI) არის ბერლინში რეგისტრირებული მიუკერძოებელი, დამოუკიდებელი, არაკომერციული ორგანიზაცია. Democracy Reporting International მსოფლიოს მასშტაბით ხელს უწყობს პოლიტიკურ პროცესებში მოქალაქეთა ჩართულობას, სახელმწიფო ორგანოების ანგარიშვალდებულებას და დემოკრატიული ინსტიტუტების განვითარებას.

გერმანიის საგარეო საქმეთა სამინისტროს დაფინანსებით, Democracy Reporting International (DRI) საქართველოს ახალგაზრდა იურისტთა ასოციაციასა და ფორსეტთან ერთად ახორციელებს პროექტს – ,,პოლიტიკური პლურალიზმის გაძლიერება საქართველოში – მესამე ფაზა“. პროექტის მიზანია საქართველოში ექსტრემალური პოლიტიკურ პოლარიზებაზე მიუკერძოებელი, ფაქტზე დაფუძნებული დისკუსიის მხარდაჭერა მედიას, სამოქალაქო და ფართო საზოგადოებას შორის.   

პროექტის ფარგლებში ჩვენ ვეძებთ მკვლევარებს, დოქტორანტურის სტუდენტებს, აკადემიის, მედიის ან სამოქალაქო საზოგადოების წარმომადგენლებს, რომლებიც მოამზადებენ ნაშრომს საქართველოში ექსტრემალური პოლიტიკური პოლარიზაციის საკითხზე.

შერჩეული კანდიდატები მიიღებენ 500 ევროს საბოლოო ნაშრომის წარდგენის შემდეგ.

  1. ნაშრომი შეფასდება შემდეგი კრიტერიუმებით:
  • საკითხის რელევანტურობა
  • შესაბამის საკითხზე ავტორის გამოცდილება და თემის ცოდნა.
  • პუბლიკაციის მომზადების/კვლევის მიმართულებით სამუშაო გამოცდილება 

 

  1. ნაშრომი უნდა მიემართებოდეს ექსტრემალურ პოლიტიკურ პოლარიზაციას საქართველოში. სავარაუდო საკითხები შესაძლოა იყოს:
  • რა გამოცდილება მივიღეთ საპრეზიდენტო არჩევნებზე?
  • რა გავლენა შეიძლება მოახდინოს პოლარიზაციამ 2020 წლის არჩევნებზე?
  • რა როლი შეიძლება ითამაშოს მედიამ/სამოქალაქო საზოგადოებამ ექსტრემალური პოლიტიკური პოლარიზაციის შემცირებაში?
  • აპლიკანტებს შეუძლიათ შემოგვთავაზონ სხვა საკვლევი საკითხებიც.

 

  1.  განაცხადის შევსება შესაძლებელია როგორც ინდივიდუალურად, ასევეგუნდურად.
  2. დაინტერესებულმა პირებმა უნდა გადმოგზავნოთ თქვენი განაცხადი და  CV 25 ივნისამდე.
  3. განაცხადი უნდა შეივსოს ქართულად ან ინგლისურად.
  4. მიღებული აპლიკაციიდან შეირჩევა სამი კონცეფცია. მათ დაევალებათ 5-7 გვერდიანი ნაშრომის წარდგენა 7 ივლისამდე.
  5. ნაშრომებს გაეცნობიან DRI-ს ექსპერტები  და ავტორები მიიღებენ უკუკავშირს. საბოლოო პროდუქტი ინგლისურ და ქართულ ენაზე გამოქვეყნდება DRI-ს ვებ-გვერდზე.

აპლიკაციის ფორმა

Школа DRI та Ради Європи «Перші кроки у політиці»

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6-12 липня 2019 року

Дуже часто політика асоціюється лише з найбільш глобальним рівнем прийняття рішень, коли йдеться про урядування Кабінету Міністрів, Президента та законодавчу діяльність Верховної Ради України. Проте чи справедливі такі асоціації? Вочевидь ні. Політика та політичний процес має безліч вимірів, значна кількість яких знаходиться на відстані витягнутої руки від кожного з нас. Створення ОСМД, балотування до молодіжного парламенту, перемовини з університетом щодо виділення приміщення для студентського гуртка, організація локального етно-фестивалю – усе це безпосередньо пов’язано з політикою. Як і в будь якій іншій сфері, успішність в політичному процесі, якого б рівня він не був, залежить від підготовленості учасника та його озброєння необхідними навичками та знаннями.

Democracy Reporting International (Офіс зі сприяння демократії, DRI) та Рада Європи, розуміючи незгасаючу нагальність не лише активного, але й ефективного долучення молоді до політичних процесів запрошують студентів 1-4 курсів вишів взяти участь у школі «Перші кроки в політиці». Ми впевнені, що участь у школі дозволить учасникам суттєво розширити горизонти, отримати практичні знання необхідні для вияву політичної активності на усіх рівнях: від самоврядування в університеті і до локальних та національних громадсько-політичних кампаній.

Обрані учасники школи зможуть також розраховувати на підтримку DRI в реалізації власних ініціатив після заходу. Очікується, що такі ініціативи будуть стосуватися одного з тематичних блоків школи та матимуть на меті поширення інформації чи практичне втілення отриманих під час школи знань.

Для того, щоб взяти участь у школі просимо Вас заповнити РЕЄСТРАЦІЙНУ ФОРМУ до 20 червня 2019. З огляду на кількість заявок, які зазвичай отримує DRI та Рада Європи, лише успішні кандидати будуть повідомленні про результати відбору на школу. Відбір учасників буде проводитися за відповідями на запитання, сформульованими в реєстраційній формі, а також за CV, яке можливо буде долучити до форми  при реєстрації.

За додатковою інформацією звертайтесь: Коваль Дмитро, координатор Школи DRI в Україні, [email protected]

Media and Polarisation in Georgia

The article Media and Polarisation by Lasha Kavtaradze was first published on Media Checker on 6 March 2019.

On February 10, 2019, Georgian emigrants gathered in the city of Liège, Belgium, to meet Mikheil Saakashvili, Georgia’s third president since independence. During the meeting, supporters and opponents of the former president confronted each other verbally and physically. That day, this incident in Liège became the main topic of the three leading television stations in Georgia. If watching the news on Rustavi 2 channel, the viewer likely came to hold a different opinion compared to those who were watching TV Imedi or Public Broadcaster that evening. As Media Checker monitoring has revealed, the audiences of different television stations received fundamentally different messages regarding the same event; broadcasters approached the topic from different angles and intensities.

Seeing different versions of current events is not surprising for regular viewers of Georgian tele-media. After control of TV Imedi was returned to the Patarkatsishvili family, and Rustavi 2 was maintained by its owners affiliated with the United National Movement, together with the governmental change of power, polarised political opinions has become the new norm in Georgian media and television stations themselves have not tried to deny it. Since someone close to Bidzina Ivanishvili was elected as a General Director at Public Broadcaster, the channel has as aligned its views with those of TV Imedi.

The report of media monitoring conducted during the 2018 presidential elections, with the support of EU and UNDP, also indicated the political bias of TV stations and their clear political polarisation. According to the report: “In 2018 this polarisation   reached its peak, especially during the 2nd round. In 2016 and 2017, the partisan approach was expressed in the positive coverage of a candidate, while in 2018 the bias was revealed in the negative coverage of unwanted candidates that was accompanied with cases of violation of professional ethics and manipulation with facts. On one side, there was Rustavi 2 involved in the negative coverage of Salome Zurabishvili, the candidate supported by the ruling party; whereas on the other side there were Imedi, Public Broadcaster and Obiektivi, involved in negative coverage of Grigol Vashadze”.

The experts generally refer to the regrouping of media in public space as polarisation. However, for most people the concept, causes and role of media in the process are still unclear.

Daria Tsintsadze, winner of DRI poster competition in 2017

What does polarisation mean and how is it revealed in Georgian politics? 

Political polarisation is a complex matter tied to the context at hand. Firstly, it is depended on the peculiarities of historic, political and social-economic developments of different countries. Thus, it is difficult to discuss the causes and consequences of polarisation in the USA and Georgia in the same manner. We can, however, outline several signs that characterise the polarised political environment regardless of geographic or historical development.

Polarisation may be expressed in various forms, for example, in confrontations between different political groups, deepening ideological gaps among interest groups and impossibility of dialogue between public groups – all of which are necessary for a functioning democracy.

Polarisation can be discussed on the level of both elites and the masses. Deepening political cleavages between political parties or media outlets and their slide towards opposite poles can be considered as elite polarisation. Polarisation of elites is often causing polarisation among massed or a broader society.

Despite its complexity and the existence of various variables, it is clear that polarisation is not limited to controversy only among political groups. It is a broader process and its impact on society and political spectrum far-reaching.

“Polarisation in Georgia is mainly about the individual politicians, as opposed to ideological. Traditionally, Georgian political parties are identified not with their ideologies, but with party leaders “, states the joint report of Georgian Young Lawyers’ Association (GYLA) and Democracy Reporting International (DRI) that discusses the country’s extremely polarised environment and ways to improve it.

Korneli Kakachia, Director of the Georgian Institute of Politics, shares the abovementioned view and points out that if “polarisation in the West is mainly defined by social-economic and political characteristics, we have political polarisation that is mostly related to charismatic leaders and a lack of alternative opinions”.

According to Kakachia, one of the major reasons of this kind of polarisation is distancing the political parties from the interests of public groups.

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Explainer of extreme political polarisation

♦    The role of media polarisation in the Georgian context

Over the past few decades, professionals and academics often discussed the role of biased media outlets in regard to political polarisation. One country where polarisation is well studied is USA. According to Matthew Levendusky, a political scientist, biased media outlets that portray the facts one-sidedly and avoid objectivity and balance, can have an impact on the population generally, as well as influence the news agenda of other media-organisations and the political elite. Levendusky also points out that although this influence creates challenges to American political life, the outcomes may not be as broad as the experts initially feared.

According to Marcus Prior, a researcher at Princeton University, studies have not confirmed that biased media outlets necessarily make the American electorate more biased. However, the individuals which are already strongly polarised are more affected by the biased media.

Interrelations between American media and its electorate may not be applicable to describe the Georgian reality, however. “I have often heard that polarisation is not so bad, that it is even the same in America, and there exists Fox News as well. When we compare the USA to Georgia, we should consider that there is huge difference between opportunities, society, media and political environment. There is Fox news there, but also 200 other alternative channels. The problem in Georgia is that here we have no alternative choice,” – notes Korneli Kakachia.

Nino Danelia, a media researcher, speaks about one more difference between the Georgian and American realities. According to her, the US media is mostly supported by businesses and corporations from their own revenues, while in Georgia it often paid by businesses which are strongly affiliated with politicians. Therefore, in Georgia this is especially visible on the TV, where political and economical news are influenced by the political parties.

According to Nino Danelia, to understand how biased television broadcasters are, it is enough to observe the following indicators: 1) topics that the media outlets cover or fail to cover; 2) respondents, i.e. information sources for media; 3) words used by journalists, particularly adjectives that they use in relation to certain political subjects.

By observing these indicators, we can outline two main media actors: Rustavi 2 – deemed to promote the influence of the political party United National Movement, and TV Imedi as biased in favour of the government. Public Broadcaster, funded by the state budget, is the third that influence-wise cannot compete with the aforementioned two televisions, however, has a bigger budget than the other two.

According to journalist Zviad Koridze, when speaking of Georgian reality, polarisation   may not be the term that can comprehensively describe the reality.  “We do not really have the poles that we have outlined. It is often difficult to understand the reasons why they confront each other and what the main political-economic or values are”. Zviad Koridze points out when discussing the political polarisation- “since we have this kind of situation, political parties use media as a tool to mobilise society.  For example, there is a product “Misha” and a product “anti-Misha” (editor -articles in favour and against Mikheil Saakashvili). We can assume that these are poles, but we cannot say that the content within these media is different”.

Sociologist Iago Katchkatchisvhili believes that the problem of Georgian media, in particular television, is that through the years these channels have become tools of political fight among certain powers. According to him, we can name several media outlets that are not conductors of interests of certain political subjects, but that their influence on formation of public opinion is insignificant.

 ♦    Impact of a polarised media-environment on society

Considering that only a few years ago the three abovementioned media outlets were on the same political pole and occasionally even provided viewers information from identical texts, the current bipolarity may be considered as a positive step forward in terms of media space pluralism.

“We had three national broadcasters for whom the news, very often were written in Ministry of Internal Affairs or the Prosecutor’s Office and were submitted afterwards straight to the editorial staff. Actually, authoritarianism signs were observed here”. Nino Danelia points out and adds, “no matter how radicalised and polarised the media environment is, the situation today is unambiguously better in terms of environment than several years ago”.

Political bias and polarisation of media has certain influence on society and we can speak of particular consequences of these influences.

Research conducted by the Caucasus Research Resource Centers (CRRC), ordered by National Democratic Institute (NDI), shows that, for instance, in December, 2018, 72% of those citizens who stated that the Georgian Dream party shared views aligned with theirs, fully trusted TV Imedi. Furthermore, 59% of those citizens who stated that the National Movement party shared views close to theirs, fully trusted Rustavi 2. Thus, the correlation connection between political preferences and media-outlets confidence indicators is unequivocal.

According to Iago Katchkatchishvili, such media polarisation increases the unhealthy separation of society. According to him, all public events, whether significant or small, are portrayed in a biased manner and are not based on objective discussions.

“No one is interested in arguments, going deep, comparing experience of other countries. When something happens, one media states that the reason of it is the quality of authoritarianism and totalitarianism and the other states that this is within the interests of the National Movement party. So consequent discussions are followed with this kind of non-serious debates” – Katchkatchisvhili remarks.

As assessed by Zviad Koridze, politically biased media, first, increases the risk of society being ill-informed. “For instance, today, the Rustavi 2 audience believes that deacon Mamaladze is blameless. The TV Imedi audience, however, believes that it is not the case. If you gather these people and press them for any details about the situation though, none of them will be able to explain the story. We fail to have factual journalism, we have ‘attitude journalism’ and in this ‘attitude journalism’ trends are not set by journalists, they do not stablish and study facts, they follow some political giving”.

According to Nino Danelia, a polarised media-environment eventually supports radicalisation of political space in Georgia, as the citizens are divided into two camps.

“The result is that citizens are no longer willing keep the elected politicians accountable, no matter which party they belong to. Politics becomes a battlefield, especially during the pre-electoral period, and politicians do not focus on political debates, but rather personal accusations.”, – Danelia points out with Media Checker.

Based on international experience, polarisation may have positive aspects as well. For instance, it can facilitate emerging realistic expectations within the electorate with regard to political subjects. As a result of polarisation, citizens may get a better impression of the positions of political parties on various issues.

In the Georgian context however, it is difficult to even speak of these possible positive aspects of polarisation. As Iago Katkatchishvili pointed out with Media Checker, we should look for the reasons of polarisation within the peculiarities of our political space, in particular – within the fact that political subjects in Georgia are not divided by values and ideology, but rather personal charisma of leaders.

“Instead of a fight between value systems and ideology, the discussion here is moved to the sphere of political intrigues and fight for power. When a citizen sees a fight for power lacking a discussion of values and ideology, it becomes the basis of nihilism, rather than affiliation to any party the electorate“, – Katchkatchishvili states.

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One of the winning projects during Communicathon 2018

♦    Depolarisation perspectives and the chance of the Public Broadcaster

Another issue generally raised in the context of the polarised media environment is the role of the Public Broadcaster and its position in current processes. The polarised media-environment may create rather favourable conditions for the Broadcaster to hold an appropriate place within the list of channels. It is quite realistic for a great part of the population, who seek alternatives in the polarised media-environment, to choose the state-funded channel if it offers them what TV Imedi and Rustavi 2 fail to.

According to Nino Danelia, in 2013-2014, the Public Broadcaster started to work as an impartial media channel. However, as Danelia points out, after 2014, the government started the subordination of the media-environment. This was easily observed in the government-controlled media outlets in particular – Maestro and TV Imedi, from where the leading journalists either were fired or were forced to leave. Therefore, changes made to the Public Broadcaster, i.e. new management, can be considered as a part of this process.

“Actually now, the Public Broadcaster should mobilise these scattered resources, gather the audience and tell them, I will provide you with the facts, we can discuss the trends in political and social life together and see what is going on, including talking about TV Imedi and Rustavi 2, as they represent the major energetic bombs”, Zviad Koridze notes.

In reality however, the Public Broadcaster also failed to keep itself away from these poles and, as confirmed with assessments of abovementioned media monitoring reports and experts, they also moved to TV Imedi camp.

When speaking of polarised media-environment, experts point out several solutions for the situation.

According to Zviad Koridze, the root of problem should be sought not in the will of political parties to free the media from control, but rather in the incompetence of journalists: “you can observe, when the political situation changes the media outlets start to have seizures, they seek for the new patron, new attitudes and is it healthy? Media like this is not sustainable. So, the main goal is to achieve media sustainability”.

Koridze believes that the solution is to understand the task of journalists – to say what really needs to be said.

Nino Danelia outlines three factors for depolarisation of the media environment: 1) strengthening those media outlets that do not deviate towards the mentioned political spectrum poles; 2) working with students in media schools; and 3) activation of self-regulation mechanisms and so called “media watch dog” organisations. According to her, the independent media organisations should avoid working with the agenda set by broad media outlets and should work themselves to search for and cover more exclusive topics.

Lasha Kavtaradze

 

Lasha Kavtaradze is a freelance journalist and an analyst at watchdog organization Mediacheker, based in Tbilisi, Georgia. He holds a master’s degree from Uppsala University (Sweden) and a bachelor’s degree from Ivane Javakhishvili Tbilisi State University (Georgia). Previously he worked as a reporter, TV producer, and a communication manager in various Georgian media and non-governmental organizations.

This article was the winner in a contest for journalists organised by DRI, GYLA and ForSet as part of the project “Strengthening political pluralism in Georgia – Phase III” part of the German governmental programme “Expanding Cooperation with Civil Society in the Eastern Partnership Countries and Russia”, funded by the Federal Foreign Office of Germany.

The content of this article is the sole responsibility of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of DRI.