The annual speech of the President outlines accomplishments and failures. Over the course of modern Ukrainian history, the addresses have painted the image of the country’s every leader and his era in politics
This year’s address of the President to the Verkhovna Rada is the third for the current leader of the state. The text was prepared in summer.
The Constitution of 1996 defines the annual addresses of the President to the Parliament as a duty. They are always a noticeable event in the media. The Constitution does not define the format and content of the speeches, other than one requirement: it should notify the Parliament on the domestic and international state of Ukraine. This leaves some space for creativity for every president.
The address of 2000 stands out among all others. Freshly reelected for his second term, President Leonid Kuchma decides to cover the entire decade in his speech. His address analyzed his first term in the office and defined the goals for the second one. The title reflected the grand scale: Ukraine. March into the 21st Century. A Strategy of Economic and Social Policy for 2000-2004.
Compared to the speeches of his successors, that address was probably the most optimistic in Ukraine’s history. Time played into Kuchma’s hands. The peak of impoverishment and the crisis of the 1990s were already behind, the political turmoil caused by the murder of journalist Georgiy Gongadze and Kuchmagate were to come.
In his address, Kuchma spoke of the “fateful accomplishments” Ukraine obtained in the 1990s with its independence. GDP was already growing, privatization had been implemented, the financial system reformed. Things were positive on the international arena: Kuchma mentioned the nuclear disarmament and the ways Ukraine gained from it. “Ukraine established itself as a full-fledged entity of the European and global community, gained international guarantee of security, signed friendship and cooperation treaties with all of its neighbors, and became an important factor of stability on the European continent.”
“All this serves as a ground for the much needed social optimism, the confidence in tomorrow, the belief that the path Ukraine chose in 1991 and with which it enters the 21st century is the only right one,” President Kuchma summed up.
Kuchma’s speech of 2000 stands out of the annual addresses by his successors in one other aspect: the economic accent featured in the title was not mere words. The frequency of the words used in the speeches of different presidents shows that the word “Ukraine” and derivatives are the most used ones. In Kuchma’s speech, by contrast, “economy” and derivatives were the most often used words. “Economy” first, “Ukraine” second: this formula sums up both terms of Kuchma’s presidency well. The other most frequently used words make a good election motto of the 1990s: social, development, state, market, growth, production, system, formation.
In its content and structure, the speech of Ukraine’s second president describes the time when Ukraine’s politics had not yet fully broken ties with the communist epoch, but was already trying to adapt to the new time. On one hand, it spoke about the “post-industrial vector of civilization development”. On the other hand, it appeared as a report with many economic indicators from various industries, and a praise of the potential of Ukrainian aircraft, spacecraft and car industries. President Kuchma spoke at length about the need to continue reforms. One aspect was to introduce the land market. Ukraine is still trying to do that, to no avail so far.
Kuchma ended his 2000 speech with the key task for his next four years: “to speed up the development of the economy along the trajectory of sustainable growth through deep structural changes and the deepening of the course for market reforms, active and consistent social policy… As it enters the new 21st century, Ukraine has everything to implement these aspirations of ours into reality.”
In February 2006, Viktor Yushchenko during his first annual address to the Rada spoke about the previous government and its accomplishments: “We received a country with the signs of economic decline. Ukraine lived with an oligarchized, extremely energy insufficient, energy-dependent, unbalanced and uncompetitive economy which, in essence, has exhausted its resources. Budget deficit started unfolding from UAH 12bn already, the macroeconomic situation was deteriorating.”
Yushchenko can be considered an innovator, at least in the cause of addresses to the Verkhovna Rada. His (or his speechwriters’) twist was an affection for the quotes of famous people. The third president of Ukraine in his speeches went from quoting the emperor and great reformer Napoleon, through the controversial Hetman Bohdan Khmelnytskyi, to “one Spanish philosopher” whose name the address drafters never specified.
2007 stands out in his presidency: it was the year when Yushchenko ignored his duty to deliver the address at the Verkhovna Rada, and the Parliament passed a resolution to “point the President’s attention to the fact that he has not fulfilled his duties.”
In terms of the frequency of words, Yushchenko’s speeches did not stand out as very original. Still, they had some interesting nuances. In 2006, “politics” was used more often than “economy”: this could be because of the permanent political crisis that marked his entire presidency. Surprisingly, the word “reform” only appeared among top 10 most used words in 2008. The words “European”, “Euroatlantic” and derivatives made it into the top 10 in 2009, in Yushchenko’s last address. At that point, he was preparing to get the NATO Membership Action Plan and to launch the dialogue on the cancelation of Schengen visas for Ukrainians.
In terms of the content, the third president of Ukraine knew how to put the right accents. "Our international position is secure, yet vulnerable to numerous new risks. The key threats come from the corrosion of international legal standards, from the overall worsening of atmosphere in international affairs, from Ukraine’s energy dependence, and the dangerous, ruinous and shortsighted attempts to use force to solve disputes or conflicts,” Yushchenko said in his 2009 address.
“In my view, the failures of the past years were caused by the lack of understanding of own resources and possibilities, the undertaking of wrong goals, the superficial self-posturing in the world. We have a situation where the South and East of Ukraine could no longer do without Russia while the West was dozing and dreaming about Europe. Kyiv has turned into a center of struggle for power. That lasted until the nation united and decided the fate of its country,” he said in his first address of 2006. Also, Yushchenko was the first one to raise the issue of Holodomor, the need to establish the unified Orthodox Church in Ukraine and to shape national consciousness.
Other than that, the accurate accents in Yushchenko’s speech were offset by almost complete inaction. In 2008, he stated that the then debt on wages had to end “for good” that same year. “Unpaid wages have almost doubled from October 2008 till January 2009 to UAH 1.6bn,” he said in the address of 2009. This, however, was taking place with the global financial crisis in the background. It was the major environment of the last year of Yushchenko’s presidency.
In his very first address, President Yushchenko spoke about seven key reforms: from courts to countryside. He also said that a new Constitution had to be passed after the 2004 change brought in chaos between the Constitution and the overall legislation. Virtually all of these things were repeated year over year. In his last address, Yushchenko suggested to amend the Constitution, including on the creation of the two-chamber parliament. Also, he kept calling on everyone to stop “the craze of the political infighting” every year. The infighting intensified.
Yushchenko’s successor, Viktor Yanukovych, was far less accurate in his forecasts and attended the Verkhovna Rada rarely. In 2010, he decided to address “the people” rather than the Parliament, and filled Ukrayina Concert Palace for that. In reality, it was filled mostly with his partners in government. The Verkhovna Rada was sent a written version of the address. Yanukovych would later use that practice two more times in 2012 and 2013. His only speech in Parliament took place on April 7, 2011.
His most used words were nothing new. The accents were on “development” and “reforms”. President Yanukovych’s view of foreign policy at that time was the most interesting aspect: “The latest developments in North Africa, Middle East have once again proven that the period of political and economic transformations in those parts of the world will be difficult and dramatic. But I am confident that there will be no return to the time of global conflict. This is hampered by the generally considerate and responsible policies of the world’s leading states and the entire democratic community.” That was how Yanukovych explained the need for Ukraine’s non-aligned status. He signed the respective law in January 2011.
Petro Poroshenko decided to personally choose the key word in his first address to Parliament in 2015. “Reform is the key word in my address today”. The most used word, however, was “Russia”. He used the word itself and derivatives 41 times, while his predecessors mentioned it from one to six times per speech. The reason for this change is obvious. It is equally obvious why President Poroshenko often mentioned “weapons”, “Armed Forces”, followed by “reforms” and “corruption”.
The text of the speech was delivered to MPs in 2015 on flash cards, not paper. This was to signify “not only concern over environmental problems, but a transfer to e-government”. Also, President Poroshenko mentioned a threat of political split in 2015: “Decommunization… is not about removing monuments alone. Communism should first and foremost be removed from the minds. Unfortunately, I see many people in this session room who are willing to take over the leftist slogans of the Communist Party of Ukraine”. The 2016 speech showed that the political struggle has grown more acute: “I am confident that we are on the right path historically and strategically. But I see a risk whereby the press of political destabilization can crush the first sprouts of social-economic revival brought forth through the suffering of the entire people, for which such a high price was paid. It is internal turmoil that the external enemy places its key bet on.”
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