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People First: The latest in the watch on Ukrainian democracy

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Nov. 10, 2011, 10:58 a.m. | Op-ed — by Victor Tkachuk
The Ukrainian authorities fail to address the issues blocking European integration, attempting instead to grasp mutually exclusive free trade agreements on all borders. The opposition falters for perhaps the last time while the youth of Ukraine opt for more direct action. Opposition remains paralyzed

Since the court reached a guilty verdict on Oct. 11 in the Yulia Tymoshenko case, the ineptitude and clashing egos of the opposition have become even more evident. They talk a great deal about appealing to the European Court of Human Rights and plead their case to the international community for the cancellation of certain Ukrainian officials’ visas and “freezing” of their accounts. Yet they still fail to offer any specific vision as to the development of Ukraine. It results in popular distrust of the opposition and a low turnout at all opposition protests.

Moreover, opposition deputies are also seen as paralyzed and have stopped performing their duties as mandated by the people. For example, draft laws prepared by the Bloc of Yulia Tymoshenko faction (with 103 out of 450 members, the second largest in parliament) have amounted to under one third of all the draft laws submitted to Verkhovna Rada this year. Only 12 percent of all approved laws have been initiated by BYUT. The Our Ukraine–People's Self-Defense Bloc contributed to the development of only 8 percent of the laws approved by parliament in the first half of this year.

The Ukrainian opposition is demonstrating further disunity despite the high social demand for strong leaders alternative to those in power. Opposition parties have so far refused to develop a single list of candidates for the parliamentary elections in 2012. The Ukrainian opposition are also failing to make a decision on whether or not to boycott the upcoming parliamentary elections in response to the authorities continuing antidemocratic decisions. Arseniy Yatsenyuk, leader of the ‘Front Zmin’ political party, openly calls for protest against Tymoshenko’s verdict while members of political party ‘Our Ukraine’ and Grytsenko, leader of political force ‘Gromadyanska planforma’ dismissed this idea. At the same time leading members of opposition profess hopes to avoid discrediting each other and plans to agree on candidates in majority constituencies for the parliamentary elections. But unless opposition starts to offer alternative development ideas for the nation with feasible implementation strategies it will not win the confidence of the people and is extremely unlikely to be successful in the elections of 2012.

People First Comment: The Tymoshenko case not only underlines the current problems with the Ukrainian legal system it also underlines exactly why the whole political system in Ukraine is rotten to the core and needs to be replaced with representatives of the people. Currently allegiance to any political party is bought and is predicated on the fact that investments made in the party will be rewarded through immunity and access to State contracts. The parties are not bonded by political philosophy or manifesto and the members have no duty to their electorate, they are simply held together by business and financial interests. When Tymoshenko lost the race for the Presidency members of her party simply crossed the floor of the Rada and joined Party of Regions. None fought bi-elections and the electorate had no say in the matter. Today Tymoshenko has been jailed on spurious charges and by a court that even the devil would have difficulty in justifying. You would imagine that her loyal comrades in arms would bind together to demand her freedom. You would expect a party- financed international ‘Free Yulia’ campaign on the same scale as Aung Sun Suu Kyi or even Nelson Mandela. You would imagine party members and the family touring the world making a real case for international sanctions against the President, prosecutors and the government, trade sanctions and the cancelling of Euro 2012. You would expect an immediate filing of an appeal to the International Court of Human Rights… but there is nothing… not even properly organized protest marches of those that actually believed in her.



Despite all that Tymoshenko has done for her party members, to all intents she has been abandoned by her colleagues as they have ‘better’ things to do. Today even she probably realises the price of her approach to the formation of election party lists based on names which represent money over national interest and political aptitude. It just goes to prove that there is no honour where there is no loyalty and thus the whole system needs to change.

Ukrainian youth call out for European values

Young Ukrainians have decided to stand up for European values by organizing a public rally entitled ‘We are Europeans’ which was hosted in front of the Parliament building on Oct. 20. The few hundred participants, including students, journalists, civil activists and other social groups, agreed to be more vocal and organized in expressing their pro-European aspirations to the government and to work on attracting more people to the movement. One element of the rally involved around 30 representatives from various civil organizations and analytic centers submitting a protest to the president of Ukraine demanding an initial association agreement between Ukraine and EU be confirmed by the end of the year.

More and more Ukrainians support the policy of European integration. According to the research conducted by the All-Ukrainian Consortium of Public Organizations Europe without Borders, 65 percent of Ukrainians in the 18 to 35 year bracket believe that Ukraine's future lies with the European community.

The latest sociological survey by the group ‘Rating’ shows 56 percent of Ukrainians support a Free Trade Agreement with the EU. Young people are the biggest fans of the European Union and they are starting to purposefully and openly stand up for their choice. Ukrainian citizens are likely to take more decisive actions should the government not consider their aspirations.

People First Comment: If you take a boat and paddle up the Dnipro River, eventually you will reach the source and just like the source of all the great rivers of the world it will be a tiny stream with barely a trickle of water. Turn the boat round however and you will see what actually flows into the ocean and you would be right to ask yourself the question; how can so little become so much?

The protesters of the “We are Europeans” may only be a trickle today but they are brave young Ukrainians who echo the sentiment of a vast majority of this country. They are saying publicly what the majority are saying privately in kitchens, bars and between friends. It may only be a trickle but so was the civil rights movement in America until Martin Luther King spoke from the platform. All civil rights campaigns start with a dedicated few who truly believe in their cause. They all start small and just like rivers they grow quietly and silently until they are too big to stop. As each person joins so critical mass is achieved and then we all join in.



The Orange Revolution was just such a campaign that started with a few thousand and grew to over half a million people on the streets. While this revolution was betrayed by Yushchenko and Tymoshenko it clearly indicated that the people of Ukraine are prepared to stand up and be counted when the time and the need comes. Rada, take note, you ignore this trickle at your peril and if you try to stop it, it will only grow stronger.

Ukraine caught between two inviting free trade areas

The Ukrainian government is moving forward with negotiations regarding the establishment of free trade areas with its closest trade partners. On Oct. 18, the leaders of the Commonwealth of Independent States met in St. Petersburg and signed an agreement on the establishment of a free trade zone for the CIS region including Ukraine. On Oct. 20, Ukraine and the EU defined the basic parameters of the trade arrangements within the Association Agreement.

The question is whether or not Ukraine will be able to meet the obligations of both Free Trade Areas - CIS and EU - simultaneously. In practice it creates serious risks due to the conflicting political interests of Moscow and Brussels. For instance, the Russian government has already announced that it would be forced to impose some punitive measures against Ukraine should the country sign an agreement on the Free Trade Area with the EU. Customs Union Commission Executive Secretary Sergey Glaziev mentioned that after Ukraine signs a Free Trade Area Agreement with the EU Russia will introduce boycott measures against Ukrainian products. Russia still wants Ukraine to become a member of the Customs Union, which as Putin believes would increase Ukrainian-Russian sales volume by 9 billion USD per year.

The Free Trade Area with CIS does have a downside in the form of an exception list including energy products, metals, sugar and other products – making this union far less attractive to Ukraine, as an exporter of such items. The President of Ukraine is confident that the two agreements on free trade areas will not interfere with each other. It is yet to be seen whether the President will manage to reach an agreement with the EU in light of the Free Trade Area with CIS.

People First Comment: What is most interesting in the debate over whether Ukraine should sign up to the pro Moscow ‘CIS Free Trade Zone’ or the EU’s ‘Free Trade Association’ is the way that the two options are being compared. In reality the two are incomparable. The EU, despite its current problems is the world’s 3rd most powerful economic zone after North America and China. It has an economic structure that works which is supported by a legal infrastructure that ensures a reasonably level playing field and it is being refined on a continuous basis. The power of the EU has been tested by many in pseudo trade wars where the EU has steadfastly defended the interests of member countries and companies therefore being a member has real value and real benefits.

The CIS FTZ, on the other hand, is only a concept created by nations that have yet to prove their worth in international trade and economics. It has no form, no structure, no strategy and no enforceable legislation. It is, in reality just an idea hatched by Russian leaders to save face in an ever changing geopolitical landscape. Moscow may want to rebuild the glory of former Soviet Union but this is nothing more than a pipe dream. The world has moved on since the hay days of the USSR and today it is economics and global companies that are in real control despite what the politicians might think.

You only have to look at the world’s top 100 companies to see that Russia and the Asian states of the former Soviet Union are just not in the same league as the rest of the industrialised world. Of the world’s top 100 companies 36 are European, 34 are North American, 11 are Japanese, 4 are Chinese whilst only 2 are Russian and both of those are energy companies controlled by the Kremlin and often used for political leverage. Russia only has one more company in the top 200 and it’s… an energy company controlled by the Kremlin, whilst companies from the middle Asian countries do not feature at all. The choice is a no brainer. The Presidential team may want to play political brinkmanship with their neighbors but in terms of economics it’s the EU all the way.

Ukraine – EU: one step forward, two steps backwards

Ukraine could almost touch the association agreement and free trade area with EU before inexplicably making a giant step backwards. It reflected badly on the Ukrainian justice system and on the government’s professed respect for democratic principles. As a result the President’s scheduled meeting in Brussels was cancelled. The President returned fire by announcing that Kyiv was willing to postpone negotiations over association agreement and free trade area if the EU was unprepared to negotiate due to Tymoshenko's sentence. Seemingly the Ukrainian authorities are deliberately scuppering their own deal, after being so close to EU.

Oct. 20 brought negotiations to a conclusion, showing that the EU takes relations with Ukraine seriously and have decided not to resort to isolating Ukraine along with its leaders. A Ukraine-EU summit will be hosted in December. First Vice Prime Minister of Ukraine Andriy Klyuev and Karel De Gucht who is the current European Commissioner for Trade announced that the parties had agreed on many of the technical details pertaining to the Free Trade Area(7). The European Union has demonstrated that it is prepared to sign a Free Trade Area agreement with Ukraine. The pressure on the Ukrainian authorities has been reduced by the separation of Free Trade Area and Association agreements.

The latter has been postponed due to the undemocratic actions of the Ukrainian authorities. It remains to be seen whether Yanukovych will make any further steps toward European integration, which the Ukrainian people are hoping for.

People First Comment: Looking at the issues from the inside some might assume that the government of Ukraine are tough negotiators looking for the best long term deal for the nation. To the outside world however Ukraine looks like an adolescent heiress who can’t make up her mind between two suitors. One suitor is favored by family tradition and might well be grandmothers choice but he really is totally unreliable whilst the other is western, sophisticated, elegantly wealthy and asks for little more than that she accept some of his family values. The latter also has access to the whole world whilst the former can offer little more than the expansive beauty of the Siberian plateau.



The Russian deal is surprisingly clear and transparent. Marry me and your family will get cheaper gas for three years (but it will still be more expensive than anybody else pays) and we’ll buy some of your brother’s products… but this is what they promised when the family handed over the naval base at Sevastopol and the Antonov aircraft building facilities. All the family got was an even longer list of products that the suitor would not buy. In fact so many Ukrainian products are now on the Russian ‘do not touch with a barge pole’ list that it is a wonder that there is any trade at all. Furthermore Ukrainian wealth is built on the export of raw materials in fact this is the total mainstay of national survival at present. The mainstay of the Russian economy may well be energy but the only way for the Russian economy to expand is to increase their production of the same raw materials most likely at the expense of Ukraine. In reality Europe is offering the hand of marriage whilst Russia is looking at a medieval style family take over where they take all the spoils.


Viktor Tkachuk is chief executive officer of the People First Foundation, which seeks to strengthen Ukrainian democracy. The organization’s website is: www.peoplefirst.org.ua and the e-mail address is: democracywatch@peoplefirst.org.ua



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