Ukrainian and EU representatives made excursions in history, in an attempt to define the future of the relations between the Union and the biggest country in its neighbourhood, on the eve of the 20th anniversary of its independence from the former Soviet Union.
Speaking at a public event in Brussels yesterday (9 June), Konstantin Bondarenko, Director of the Kyiv Centre for Ukrainian Politics, strongly supported the political trends in his country since the election of President Viktor Yanukovich.
As controversial as the developments may be, Bondarenko stressed that that Ukraine was achieving in the 20 years since its independence (see background) what Western Europe had been able to consolidate during three centuries.
“I am optimistic, Ukraine develops normally,” Bondarenko said, speaking in Russian, addressing a round table organised by the European Policy Centre, a Brussels think-tank.
Yanukovich – another De Gaulle?
The Ukrainian lobbyist compared the Orange Revolution of November 2004-January 2005, which brought to power the pro-Western President Viktor Yushchenko, to the civil uprisings in the 1830s in France and Belgium.
Regarding the current leader Yanukovich, he admitted that some circles were accusing him of being authoritarian, but added that the same reproach had been made in previous decades vis-à-vis French President Charles De Gaulle and British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.
Bondarenko also argued that politicians could not be seen simply as ‘good’ or bad’. All of them were products of the society, just as the other players, including citizens, and therefore nobody was exempt of weaknesses.
Bondarenko sought to dispel the view that the current government was harassing the former leaders of the country. He said that 75 court cases had been opened against former high officials, but in contrast, 350 other cases had been opened against representatives of the current administration, accused of corruption.
Regarding the most important strategic decision his country was expected to take, he said Ukraine would agree to join the Russia-Belarus-Kazakhstan customs union “only in 3+1 format”, explaining that Kyiv would commit only to issues which would not become an obstacle to its EU relations.
“Ukraine is moving towards the EU, but not in a cavalry gallop, as it was the case under the previous leadership,” he said.
Perception ‘more important’ than reality
A Commission official spoke in diplomatic terms, conveying the message that justified or not, critical perceptions in EU circles regarding Ukraine were equally important as reality, if not more. On the positive side, he said that Ukraine was a country “incredibly important” for the EU. He also appealed for a “more open attitude” of its leaders toward EU counterparts.
It should not be Brussels asking questions what is Ukraine do to address corruption, it should be Kyiv starting the discussion by saying: this is what we are doing, the Commission representative advised.
Tom Casier from the Brussels School of International Studies, University of Kent, spoke in critical terms about recent EU experiences with third countries, in which the accent had been put on “formal democracy”, like the possibility of people to vote.
Instead, efforts should be concentrated on fostering “deep democracy”, he argued, explaining that the civil society should learn how to effectively control the political processes.
In this respect, Casier expressed the hope that the Commission’s recent neighbourhood strategy was a step in the right direction.
However, he expressed concern that visa liberalisation with Ukraine could become “a missed opportunity”, due to the current context after the Arab revolutions, which he described as unfavourable for an opening to Ukraine.
“Deep democracy and visa liberalisation should top the EU’s agenda with Ukraine,” Casier insisted.