When I was a girl, the map in my schoolroom had no space for Ukraine — it was one of the forgotten parts of Europe, captured by the USSR and the cold war.
I first visited Kiev as member of The Danish Committee of Environment in September 1989. Afterwards we visited Latvia and Estonia, and were in all three areas amazed to see the deep-rooted longing there for national independence. This independence movement in the Soviet Union was new to many people in Western Europe as was general knowledge about what was going on behind the iron curtain.
But the picture of a big, amorphous area was about to be broken up; and in 1991, after the coup-attempt against Gorbachov, the Soviet Union fell apart.
On August 24 1991, I was invited as guest to Lithuania, having just taking part in several conferences – first in Tallinn 21, watching Estonia’s declaration of independence, then via Riga in a barricaded Parliament to Vilnius, where hundreds of thousands of people were out in the streets to celebrate their independence, and where I was invited to say “Welcome back to the free world” in front of Parliament.
Only one month later I was in Moscow participating in the CSCE-conference, where all participants dreamed euphoric dreams about a new, peaceful, prosperous Europe with democratic nation-states built on the rule of law and the protection of human rights. And one with free rights for citizens to move across these new borders.
And now 20 years have passed…It’s time to celebrate the jubilee of Ukraine’s independence, and time to think about what has been – and has not been – obtained.
The secession from Russia was peaceful – and independence has been maintained. (Although the Kharkiv-agreement shows another form of dependence). But predictions that Ukraine would fall apart did not come true. This East/West division is mainly a media-stereotype. It is only in Crimea that I have found some support for “returning” to Russia.
I am sure that if Russian leaders had not changed their minds regretting the shaping of independent Ukraine and declared their phantom pains, positive natural cooperation between the two neighboring states would have developed to a higher degree.
From the very start, Ukraine wanted to be regarded as a fully fledged European country and receive the Council of Europe-blueprint of being in accordance with the European values.
Today, there is still a majority of Ukrainians that want to join EU, but the enthusiasm has crumbled as enlargement-fatigue has grown in EU (especially after the problems with the newest members Romania and Bulgaria).
The Orange revolution in frosty winter months, seven years ago, captured the sympathy of the entire world, showing how peaceful a revolution can be. The wave of “colour” revolutions seemed to be a momentum for democratic reforms.
Now we have learnt: first, that a successful revolution requires an enormous effort; but also, second: that to transform such a revolution to “good governance” takes a lot more effort – and patience.
In fact it also took a long time for other countries around the world.
It’s not enough to declare democracy — the important first step is the nation-building and your own “trial and error” political history.
I learned in Political Science that the traditional definition of politics was “the authoritative distribution of ‘values’ into laws for society”. But it was stressed that ‘values’ was understood in a broad sense. Unfortunately, it seems that in many post-Soviet states politics was more about the distribution of the state's valuables to oneself and one’s clients!
Nation building starts with the rule of law, trustworthy institutions and freedom of speech.
The state has to deliver a predictable, accountable, transparent framework for innovative, industrial people to be able to produce and contribute to the gross-national product.
Getting rid of widespread corruption is also the only road to foreign investment in Ukraine.
I have sometimes seen my own words about “rule of law” in a Ukrainian newspaper, and have Googled it back into English and seen it translated “dictatorship of the law”.
This is a way in which language is spinning the concept.
Rule of law means that all are equal before the law, and all are governed by the legislation of the country. This means that you cannot be arbitrarily punished, and that those in power cannot twist the law to their own interests.
This also requires trust in institutions. Opinion polls show that this trust in Ukraine is among the lowest in the world, while in my country, Denmark, people trust that they are treated by unbiased institutions.
Ukrainehas had a brutal history, and has experienced arbitrarily rule time and again. The new “robber” capitalism of enrichment through non-transparent privatization has deep roots in the tradition of misusing power both in the system under the czars and even more severely and arbitrarily in Stalin’s days. There is an urgent need to change this evil circle. This should be the main goal for all future politicians.
But all this should be reported on. Not just in The Ukrainian Week, but in the main public media. There is no censorship in Ukraine, says the presidential administration. But the political repression and arbitrary treatment shows everyone that the risk is you will end up in prison if you support those in the opposition. You can be next. Especially when the definition of the criminal act is so vague, that you can take any person on any street corner and sentence him. And moreover, your career as a judge depends on the prosecution that again depends on the presidential power.
The Gongadze-case — which has never been fully investigated — was an early symbol of the lack of media freedom. The main achievement after the Orange revolution was that the media became free and much more pluralistic. Now, however, we can see that it was based on the fragile fact that Ukraine’s oligarchs were divided among the various political forces.
There were not many reforms, but you could read about the shortcomings in the newspapers.
Now, after Yanukovych has come to power, editors and advertisers know for certain whom they must please in order to survive.
But despite all the problems of the past twenty years, civil society in Ukraine has been a strong force. The hope is that Ukrainians can build up their country again by uniting forces on all levels of society as part of the necessary “nation-building”.
In next year’s election, the only way to overturn the present authoritarian government is to begin sincere cooperation among the opposition parties in order to change the present election system and prevent the attempt to return to the even more problematic fifty/fifty system, see: http://ukrainianweek.com/Politics/19643. Otherwise the electoral system will favor the Party of Regions. If no changes are made to the present corrupting electoral system, not even a whole army of election observers will be able to ensure a free and fair election next year. The opposition must therefore promise to change this system.
People continue to ask me how Europe can help.
At the moment there are negotiations on a visa free regime. Ukrainians ought to be able to visit other parts of Europe. The best way to build up valid institutions is by the exchange of best practices between peoples. Therefore it will be a pity, if because of the present authorities, free travel across the border is prevented. Perhaps these restrictions should only be imposed on people in top positions?
I congratulate Ukraine for her 20-year journey. It is a long road, but I am sure Ukrainian citizens can make it.