Serhiy Kurykin, a deputy of the Verkhovna Rada.

Andriy Hlazovy, a Welcome to Ukraine correspondent has interviewed Serhiy Kurykin, a deputy (MP) of the Verkhovna Rada (parliament of Ukraine) and a member of the permanent Verkhovna Rada committee at the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe.

WU: Mr Kurykin, could you please explain in easy-to-understand terms what actually the Council of Europe is?
Kurykin: The Council of Europe was created a half-century ago, in 1949, four years after the Second World War.

It is a prestigious international organization with more than forty countries in its membership. From the very start the Council of Europe was called upon to promote cooperation among the European nations, and improve and strengthen in every possible way relations among them, strengthen peace and mutual understanding, all of it on the basis of common values.
WU: It sounds good but let me be frank, a bit too general and pompous. Are there any instruments for achieving these goals? Kurykin: Ahead of anything else, the Council of Europe aims at protecting human rights, at insuring implementation of the unified high European human rights standards. It is what the activity of the Council of Europe has always been based on. Human rights are not a national category, it’s a general notion, and that is why human rights must be protected all over the world since everybody is entitled to human rights. The Council of Europe is engaged in protecting human rights in Europe.
WU: But though it is a very wide field of activity, the work of the Council of Europe is not limited only to that?
Kurykin: Of course not. Practically all the aspects of European life are in the focus of the Council of Europe’s interest. Officially the only exceptions are the issues of national defense and security. But to draw definite lines in these matters is a very difficult thing to do.
WU: As far as I know, decisions of the Parliamentary Assembly are of an advisory character, in other words, no matter what its decision is one can follow it or ignore it.
Kurykin: Theoretically yes, one can ignore it. But let’s consider the specific structure of the Council of Europe. It is a two-chamber body. One chamber is the Parliamentary Assembly and the other one is the Committee of Ministers. The former is made up of representatives of legislative bodies of member-countries and the latter is made up of representatives of executive bodies, ministers for foreign affairs. If need be, special sessions are held which, on invitation, can be attended by ministers of internal affairs and other ministers. As far as Ukraine is concerned, the Council of Europe is a sort of stimulating mechanism for it, which is helpful in promoting legal reforms in Ukraine. In fact, we, in Ukraine, should ourselves be interested in fulfilling our own pledges if we want to reorganize our life in accordance with the all-European precepts. When the Assembly adopts recommendations they are passed on to the Committee of Ministers which, in its turn, can take then some absolutely official measures.
WU: In other words, protection of human rights and establishment of an all-European standard in this respect, provisions for democratic principles of court trials are the main aims of the Council of Europe. But is there a sufficient legal basis for it, something that has been agreed upon by all the member-countries?

The new Human Rights Building, Strasbourg.
Kurykin: Yes, there is. Ahead of anything else, it’s the European conventions which are worked out by none other than the European Council itself, and after they are approved they are forwarded to the member-countries for signing. The most important of these documents remains the European Convention on Human Rights which sets very strict legal provisions for maintaining human rights. If to compare this Convention with the Declaration of Human Rights one can say that many things in the Convention are presented in a clearer way and more forcefully. The Convention, adopted way back in 1950, very early after the establishment of the Council, is a document of great importance.
Ukraine joined this convention in 1995.
WU: Does it mean the convention has not changed in the past fifty years?
Kurykin: No, it does not. It is being developed, augmented and added to. There are ten of additional protocols, aimed at improving and widening the original Convention. The Sixth Protocol calls for the abolition of capital punishment in all the European countries.
WU: It seems that this particular problem is a painful and controversial issue in Ukraine. Ukraine has not yet abolished capital punishment and the Council of Europe has already reprimanded us for that.
Kurykin: Yes, the fact that Ukraine has not yet ratified the Sixth Protocol makes it a target of criticism. The Council of Europe wants Ukraine to abolish capital punishment. But it is not the only issue that invites criticism from the Council of Europe. Take, for example, our Civil Code.
WU: Hasn’t it come down to us from the Soviet times?
Kurykin: It has. There have been a number of changes introduced to it but its spirit has remained, to a great extent that of a Soviet document which was to serve quite different social and economic conditions. Now we have a radically different set-up of business activities, private ownership and many other issues. Incidentally, it concerns tourism, too, but I’d like to speak about it a bit later and in more detail.
: Has Ukrainian parliament, the Verkhovna Rada, been doing anything about it?
Kurykin: A draft of a totally new, “European” Civil Code was prepared but fifteen hundred corrections and amendments have been made in it and it will take time before the Verkhovna Rada finally analyzes all of them and takes its decision.
WU: Anything else that the Council of Europe may frown upon?
Kurykin: Yes, there is. Our Criminal Code is also quite of a Soviet kind. There is a draft of a new Criminal Code which does not have a provision for capital punishment. But some parliamentarians insist not only on retaining capital punishment but on increasing the lengths of imprisonment.
WU: Sounds strange, to say the least.
: The new version of the Criminal Code which is prepared for the second reading in the Verkhovna Rada falls below the high European standards in many respects, even in the treatment of such a notion as punishment for criminal acts.

Judges of the European Court of Human Rights, Strasbourg.

I’m quite convinced that if a criminal spends in prison more years he will not come out of prison any better than he was, or ready for normal life.
: A category of professional bandits emerged back in the times of great repressions under Stalin. These people cannot live outside prison and do not want to. In prison they have a special status, certain guarantees. After being released from prison, they continue committing crimes in order to be taken back home, to prison.
Kurykin: Yes, you’re right. The longer the term of imprisonment the more chances that a criminal will become a hardened recidivist who is unable to live the life of a law-abiding citizen. He is an outcast, “enemy of society.”
WU: Capital punishment is a very controversial issue. Even some intellectuals in Ukraine support it. The reasoning behind it is like this: Europe itself has had a long history of most brutal penalties and become truly “civilized” only in very recent years whereas Ukraine has lived under a totalitarian regime with the most severe penitentiary system and terrible punishments. Also, capital punishment has not been abolished in many countries of the world, it is still practiced in the United States and there are no signs of it being abolished there soon. So, many people in Ukraine say, why should Ukraine do it, considering the level of crime rates in this country?
Kurykin: I don’t think it is valid reasoning. The existence of death penalty in the United States has not curbed the crime rates in the United States in any significant manner. They are still much higher than in the countries which do not have capital punishment. The supporters of preservation of capital punishment in Ukraine often cite the case of a serial killer Onopriyenko claiming his crimes are a result of liberalization in the sphere of punishments. But Onopriyenko began killing people when the Soviet Union was still in existence and it did have capital punishment which was meted out fast. It did not stop him. Onopriyenko is a deviant monster and no country in the world is proof against such criminals, no matter how liberal or how strict their criminal codes are. Capital punishment will not change much, only make hearts crueler.
WU: You’ve said you wanted to speak about tourism and the Council of Europe in more detail. Would you care to do it now?
: The Council of Europe’s main aim is integration of nations and this includes the promotion of tourism. West European countries have been developing tourism for quite some time now, they have provisions for that in their legislation. Tourism brings handsome profits, it brings people closer together. Ukraine does have a great tourist potential but the legislation basis needs, as far as tourism in concerned, to be improved and developed. When it is done, it will promote tourism and tourism will bring good profits, will contribute to the development of economy, to the environmental protection and to many other things.
: Is it because you belong to the Greens Party that you advocate the environmental protection?
Kurykin: Party affiliation has nothing to do with the fact that tourism creates conditions under which the environmental requirements must be met in order to develop tourism further, and once developed, it starts bringing profits both to the state and to individual businessmen involved in tourism.
: Thank you for your time and for answering our questions.
Kurykin: Thank you for asking them.