Dietmar Stüdemann knows first-hand what it is like to live in a totalitarian state; a large part of his diplomatic career was spent behind the Iron Curtain in the USSR and he witnessed tremendous changes as sovereign states emerged on the territory of the former Soviet Union. As Germany's Ambassador to Ukraine, Stüdemann watched both open fighting and behind-the-scenes battles between democratic and authoritarian camps and saw the Orange Revolution close up.
U.W.: On December 19, Kyiv will host the Ukraine-EU summit. In early December, the European Parliament advised the EU to initial the Association Agreement with Ukraine. How realistic is this scenario?
It is always very hard to make political forecasts. I believe that now, after the European Parliament has made its recommendation, the chances of the agreement being initialed are higher. But we need to understand that it is the final point of what is called a working agreement. We should not overestimate its importance.
Initialing the Association Agreement is not a gift to your president or even to your people. Today it is the outcome of the joint work of EU agencies and several Ukrainian governments over the past several years. This is the final point on a short stretch of Kyiv's advancement to the European Union. It will be much more difficult to have this agreement ratified by 27 EU countries, for many reasons as it pertains not only to the domestic policies of Ukraine but also to the EU and individual members of the eurozone. We in the EU are faced with a number of elections in which presidents, prime ministers and MPs will be elected. And here, of course, the internal problems of all EU countries will come to the fore, especially considering the ongoing financial and economic crisis.
As far as Ukraine is concerned, the domestic situation in the country contradicts the fundamental principles of European democracy. I mean the lack of what is known as the rule-of-law. Of course, court cases top the list – Yuriy Lutsenko and other opposition politicians can be mentioned in this regard. But speaking specifically about the Yulia Tymoshenko case, it is symptomatic of the condition of Ukraine’s judiciary in general. It is a serious step backwards. In conversations with EU representatives at a conference in Yalta, President Viktor Yanukovych admitted that the article under which Tymoshenko was convicted is a law that goes back to Soviet times. Without a doubt, this law is now affected by politics and makes it possible to put pressure on the opposition. The excuses Yanukovych made when he said that he could not interfere with the independent Ukrainian judiciary are simply ridiculous, because you don't have an independent judiciary in the first place. Second, considering that the parliamentary majority largely consists of his fellow party members, Ukrainian legislation could easily be brought into line with international standards.
U.W.: Will EU leaders set any preliminary requirements on Yanukovych, or will they reject this approach as being risky, according to your observations? Is it possible that the association agreement and the free trade agreement may be considered separately?
I believe that no sanctions would be of any use in this situation. If we say that initialing the agreements is possible today only provided that Tymoshenko is released, it will not solve Ukraine's fundamental problems. Incidentally, the former prime minister herself said that initialing the agreement should not hinge on the issue of her sentence. So, she showed that Ukraine is more important to her than her own personal future. To me, this attitude points to a fairly high level of politics and morals.
I think that the Association Agreement will be initialed and that it will be considered together with the free trade agreement. As far as further ratification and the possibility of the agreement being signed at the next summit is concerned, I think that certain commitments will be formulated which Ukraine will have to meet.
U.W.: In other words, you believe that Europe needs Kyiv even now when the EU needs to save itself from financial and economic crises?
I can't say Ukraine is a top priority for us, but Europe needs it geopolitically and strategically. Geographically, Ukraine is already in Europe. Moreover, we have a common history. The EU's desire is that your country become our strategic partner and, as it meets recommended requirements step-by-step, achieves a level of civilization that would enable it to become a full-fledged member of the EU. The aspect of civilized conduct means more than a signature on some document or agreement – it means their implementation in practice. It is very important to us that Ukraine lives by these principles. But we have to reach that point. Unfortunately, what we see in your country now are post-Soviet structures and similarly post-Soviet thinking, a return to the past. And that drives us apart instead of drawing us closer.
U.W.: Yanukovych presents the Tymoshenko case as evidence that all Ukrainian citizens are equal before the law. He even refers to the justice systems of EU members which have looked into violations allegedly committed by some European politicians.
Democracies have this concept that government officials are immune in connection to their political decisions. In the EU, ex-German Chancellor Helmut Kohl is not taken to court over the failure to set up a pan-European economic and financial space at the time when the euro was introduced. He is not being accused of it, even though it is clear now that it was a case of political shortsightedness and a mistake. And the actions of Greek politicians when Greece joined the eurozone? They manipulated statistical figures and submitted untrue information about their country’s financial condition. But taking them to court? No one can even imagine it. Tymoshenko was not tried for stealing money. She was tried for purely political reasons in order to prevent her from a presidential run in the future election.
U.W.: The Ukrainian government has been curbing democracy on an increasing scale. Why did the EU start “noticing” it only recently?
I would not be so categorical. Europe has been watching with concern as social mechanisms that would permit control of government structures in Ukraine are shutting down. Unfortunately, you have dominating concepts that are unknown in the West – “thieves in law” and “telephone justice.” These are not new mechanisms, not something invented by the current government. It is the legacy of Ukraine’s incapable political elites, starting from the time you gained independence.
As far as the growth of civil society is concerned, Ukraine has a lot of activity and projects. People already feel responsible for what is happening in the country. But you are still lacking a civil society, because a civil society is founded on mutual understanding and cooperation among all such structures and projects. Frankly, all of the political elites in Ukraine – not just the current government but also past governments, and in general everyone who is active in politics today – have had their day. This is not even an issue of generational change. I proceed from the fact that society develops on the foundations of what is called civic responsibility. I always tell European politicians that the most important thing is to support this civic responsibility in Ukraine rather than focus all the attention on specific individuals and political agreements. Of course, political problems have to be discussed with real people, and these negotiations and meetings are sometimes even useful. But unfortunately, what we receive most often are big disappointments, from both the current and past governments.
U.W.: How would you assess the inactivity of our opposition at a time when democratic foundations are being destroyed by the government?
They were not simply inactive. The problem is that they are part of the system. It is horrible to me, but representatives of the younger generation act just like your entire political elite. So I insist that changes in the country are possible only through the development of a civil society. It is difficult, but not hopeless. Meanwhile, elites – the ruling elite and the opposition – are one and the same circle, and I don't see how they can change.
U.W.: With Yanukovych’s policies, could Ukraine find itself in a situation like Belarus, that is, in complete isolation?
I would rather not compare Belarus and Ukraine. You have to be careful with comparisons. This is something Putin is always tempted by: he constantly and misleadingly tells European politicians that both you and Russia have democracy. But at the same time he does not specify the differences between our concepts of democracy and its structures.
As far as Belarus is concerned, the way I see it, at the earliest stage of the Soviet Union’s breakup, the West did not view it as an independent entity — Belarus simply did not exist to the West. This is partly our fault. But the country itself also made a mistake. Belarusians did not know who they were. Their first president, Stanislav Shushkevich, was an intellectual but not a politician at all. I vividly remember my meetings with him. He did not reflect the fact that his country had its own roots, culture, language and history in his politics. When Lukashenko came along, people became hostages to this ruler, and we simply shut the EU door to Belarus. That was wrong. You can never close the window of dialog.
You and the Belarusians have different mentalities. The Orange Revolution has colossal importance even now – it has significantly changed Ukrainian society. Your current rulers know that and fear it. The emerging civil society that exists in Ukraine now is what sets you apart from Belarus. Of course, there are very honest and very sincere people there, but they are few and are standing on the edge between life and death.