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23 May, 2014

Take advantage of the younger generation. They give a completely different image of the country

The Ukrainian Week talked to Carmen Claudín about how such international meet-ups could be useful for Ukraine, how Ukraine can communicate its perspective in the West amidst Russia’s massive propaganda campaign, and what federalization could mean for Ukraine.

Carmen Claudín, Senior Researcher Associate at the Barcelona Centre for International Affairs (CIDOB), focuses on transformations, conflicts and reforms in the post-Soviet space. She initially came up with the idea to bring experts from European think tanks to Ukraine. Her purpose was to give them a chance to see the situation on the ground and get direct information from the main actors involved. Eventually, eighteen arrived for the New European Policy: From Words to Action  conference last week to discuss Ukraine’s European integration, visa liberalization, security, and economic challenges amidst Russia’s trade hostility and the need to adjust to the far more advanced European market with government officials and civil society. The group also conducted several meetings with a wide range of stakeholders. 

UW: You were among the people behind this meeting of think tank experts from all over Europe. Why did you think it was necessary to have it now?

I had the initial idea of bringing around twenty main European think tanks to Kyiv in order to get information on the ground. I offered it to the Institute of World Policy and they accepted it immediately. My idea developed as follows: I am one of the very few experts on the former Soviet Union, Russia and Ukraine in Spain. Spain has very little knowledge of what is going on in this area. Some can hardly identify Ukraine on the map. The perspective from the Kremlin’s Russia is the dominant one in Spain. Since the Maidan event started in Ukraine, I have been giving interviews to all media in Spain and writing a lot, but I had the feeling of frustration about not doing enough. I was wondering what else we could do. By us I mean the community of think tanks in Europe.

We all have access to better information, yet it is still not the same as being on the ground. So, why don’t we – experts from European think tanks – we meet in Kyiv with various actors and stakeholders, and have direct feedback of what is going on. My original idea was to do it for a day or two in Kyiv, then move somewhere to Eastern Ukraine like Donetsk or Kharkiv. At that point, the situation was much better than it is now. After it changed, we invited five civic leaders from the regions. We have met with officials, think tankers, the civic leaders of the Jewish community and Reforms Package project activists.

This was very useful. Take the Jewish community. One of Putin’s mantras in his disinformation campaign is that your government is fascist and anti-Semitic; everything is covered from the perspective of the existence of the Right Sector and Svoboda. Even though we knew that it wasn’t true, we need this meeting to be able to come back to our countries and say that we have talked to the Jewish community. And what they told us was that they are indeed extremely worried and under terrible pressure – and tired of explaining this to Western visitors and audience – because of the Russian aggression. When you are told that by someone who is used as a weapon, by someone from the regions, from officials, and when you can tell that to the audience and public opinion leaders in your country, it does help. Information makes a difference.

UW: How do you think Ukraine could counter the informational war against it in the West?

Ukraine’s government has to be doing more about it. The top EU institutions and diplomats are provided with accurate information on Ukraine. But that is not enough. More efforts are needed to affect the media and public opinion which is more dependent on the media than it is on diplomatic telegrams sent to ministers of foreign affairs.

The first and probably the simplest thing to do is to address the issue of anti-Semitism and explain the language issue, something that is extremely confusing abroad and difficult to explain to Europeans. Many don’t understand that a Russian-speaker is not necessarily pro-Russian and can consider himself a Ukrainian. This is a complex and enriching reality that Ukraine has and it becomes easier to understand when explained over and over again.

One way for the Ukrainian government to tackle this is by promoting trips to Ukraine. That would be the most helpful thing. It would also be important to take Ukrainian stakeholders to the EU countries that know Ukraine less and are more reluctant to the sanctions. Also, Ukraine should take advantage of the younger generation, from students to the generation of the Maidan, people in their 30-40s. This is a generation of unbelievably well-prepared people who can speak at any international platform. Use them because they give a completely different image of the country.

UW: What do you think of the current interaction between the government and civil society in Ukraine? How efficient it is?

The Maidan was a completely bottom-up phenomenon. Part of the government comes from among Maidan activists. Yet, I’m not sure that the government is actually listening properly to the part of the civil society which can better contribute to the building of a state based on the rule of law. I met with representatives of the Reanimation Reform Package initiative and my feeling is that they feel no quality change in the government. As they put it, the current government is obviously much better compared to what you had before, but it is still far from what you need.

I see that many people look forward to the presidential election. This is not because they expect the next president to be some kind of a savior. This is because the election will add legitimacy and solidity to the government that it hasn’t had so far. This will be helpful both for domestic purposes, and for its international stance. Then, parliamentary elections are extremely necessary, too. From what we have heard, there is strong resistance inside the Verkhovna Rada to that end.

My conviction, however, is that the most important thing is not to leave the necessary actions only to the government. The very good idea of this Reanimation Reform Package association – and that is a lesson they learned from the Orange Revolution – is that changing the government is not enough. Civil society has to be there, it has to keep pushing. You can’t trust one individual or party, you have to build a completely new system of democratic governance. That is the priority task for the most conscious part of Ukrainian society.

UW: After your discussions with the local and European experts, do you feel that the idea of federalization for Ukraine is a useful one for the country?

The concept of federalization coming from the current Russia cannot be useful for any country, including Ukraine. One of the very first things that Vladimir Putin did when he came to power was to put an end to the real federalism in Russia. This was one of the main vectors of his vertical of power.

Still, I do believe that Ukraine would benefit from decentralization – and I did long before Putin came up with his federalization idea. It would for many reasons, and they are not about the linguistic divide. It seems to me that Ukraine has many different levels of economic development. A decentralized structure is always helpful in taking care of specific features of every region and getting them to a more level ground. That is something we had in Spain. Our poorest regions have benefited directly from it. It was used to address poverty and underdevelopment at the dawn of our democracy. In fact, Spain couldn’t have had democratization without decentralization, and the other way around.

BIO
Carmen CLAUDÍN is Senior Research Fellow Associate at CIDOB, Barcelona Centre for International Affairs, where she has been the Director of Research since 1998 and previously Deputy Director from September 1999. Carmen holds Master's in Philosophy from the University of the Sorbonne, Paris, where she studied a postgraduate course in Philosophy and History, specialising in Russian and Soviet history. From 1990 to 1992, she was member of the High Task Force Group on Soviet Union of the European Union Institute for Security Studies (EUISS), Paris. Her main areas of interest are Russia and Ukraine's domestic and foreign policies, conflicts in the post-Soviet space, the transformation of post-Soviet society and reform processes in the former Soviet countries. She is a member of the Executive Board of the Migration Policy Group, Brussels, and Member of the Editorial Board of Foreign Policy, Spanish edition, Madrid.


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