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Where there is no law, but every man does what is right in his own eyes, there is the least of real liberty
Henry M. Robert

GERT WEISSKIRCHEN: “THE WEST MUST CORRECT ITS ERRORS CONCERNING UKRAINE”

15 May, 2001 - 00:00

ber of the OSCE Commission on Human Rights, who recently visited Ukraine, is convinced that Europe in general and Germany as a catalyst of processes should draw up a genuine “European prospect” for Ukraine to enable the latter to move gradually, step by step, toward Europe. Herr Weisskirchen, who was for many years a Bundestag deputy from the Social Democrat Party of Germany, member of the foreign relations committee, and head of the Germany- Ukraine group, thinks that Germany should become a defender of Ukraine’s interests. As to Ukraine, the German politician believes it will be able to go “down a good road,” especially if the West, while helping Ukraine, corrects its own mistakes.

“Mr. Weisskirchen, what impression did you gain from everything you saw here?”

“Ukraine is now in a difficult domestic political situation, and I can only hope that a compromise will be found shortly, whereby the president, prime minister, and the main political forces will try to find a common position to prevent the country from sliding into a profound political crisis.”

“President Kuchma and Prime Minister Yushchenko also maintain that Ukraine has made a European choice and that European values are important for Ukraine. But what can and must Europe do for Ukraine? What is your assessment of the prospects of relations between Ukraine and Europe?”

“Every crisis also includes a major chance, and I sincerely hope the EU will not miss this chance. It is of paramount importance to prepare a European prospect for Ukraine. But this requires not only a strategy in words but also concrete proposals for Ukraine to have a step-by-step long- term prospect of rapprochement with Europe.”

“What role could Germany play in these relations?”

“Germany could be the catalyst of all these processes, it could also promote the export of some Ukrainian industrial products to the West. The recent textile agreement is a good omen, but other Ukrainian goods should also get a chance on the European market. The FRG must, in my opinion, become the defender of Ukraine’s interests.”

“How would you assess the situation with the mass media in Ukraine? Can we say there is no freedom of the press and expression in Ukraine?”

“No doubt, there are some encouraging initiatives and examples of good, democratic, and professional journalism. Small as these attempts are, they still should be backed and given a chance. What is lacking, however, are sensible structures which also need legislative protection. I hope Ukrainian lawmakers will pass a relevant law to enable these initiatives to find their place.”

“But members of the government and parliament say, ‘We’ve got the laws, but we don’t have the money to build all this’.”

“Yes, this is, of course, a strong argument. But, first of all, you must create good, liberal, and progressive legislation. If this is done, I can foresee an inflow of aid, for there are foundations to support democracy in the Council of Europe or perhaps the OSCE High Commissioner for the Mass Media will help find the sources of funding, so that the Ukrainian media also receive financial opportunities for self-realization with the help of Western Europe.”

“There were far more Western journalists in Kyiv ten years ago than there are now. Western journalists almost do not know Ukraine, they are unaware of what is going on in the regions — not in Kyiv, the center of government, but all over the country. Why do you think this is the case?”

“Yes, you are right. The journalists of major European newspapers do not pay enough attention to Ukraine. You cannot possibly get a true picture of Ukraine from Moscow, Warsaw, Prague, or Vienna. You must be here in this country and not only in Kyiv, for Ukraine is a diverse country with different regions. But I also consider this as an important advantage for Ukraine. Domestic tension shows that this is a living country with a great future, and I hope very much that big newspapers will at last discover this country as a truly European state, which is now in a quandary but can be expected to be able to go the right way.”

“What do you think is the difference between Ukraine and Russia? You are often in Russia.”

“I think the problems, also noticeable in Russia, present themselves in a far more concentrated form in Ukraine. If we look at the problems of the relationship between political and economic power, internal democratization, and regionalization, we see that almost everything that is occurring in Russia can also be found in Ukraine with only one difference: Ukraine, unlike Russia, is short of big energy resources and, naturally, depends on foreign supplies. Other European countries have similar problems, but they managed to solve them, so I expect Ukraine will cope with this also.”

“Do you think there really is a reason to say that Ukraine will tilt either toward Russia or the West? Or can we get around this juxtaposition?”

“There is no other alternative in the long term. The European way means that a good neighbor is the good neighbor of a good neighbor. This is the secret of European success. From this angle, Russia and Ukraine have a common prospect. Russia cannot live without the rest of the world, without the West, while Ukraine cannot live without Russia and Europe. All of us on this continent are responsible for each other. So we cannot possibly fence ourselves off each other and, moreover, cannot and must not opt for confrontation.”

“What kind of role could OSCE play in Ukraine in the short and long term?”

“OSCE is the largest international organization of those able to stabilize Ukraine, show it the way to a stacal conflicts be settled peacefully and that political forces engaged in the struggle for power move the country forward instead of resorting to confrontation for the sake of attaining their goals. The presence of different and even opposing views is in itself an indispensable component of democracy as long as these contradictions do not turn into a battle against the political enemy. One must seek a way to the future together with one’s political adversaries. If this succeeds, we will be able to say that OSCE has fulfilled its most important task.”

“What can be expected from the Council of Europe?”

“I can only hope that my colleagues will display sufficient sagacity and understanding to assess correctly the situation in Ukraine and keep the door open instead of blocking paths.”

“What mistakes and miscalculations do you think the West has made about Ukraine in the postcommunist decade, what has it underestimated and overestimated?”

“We have overestimated Ukraine’s ability to solve its problems independently — all of us have overestimated this very much. What we have underestimated is that we should have done and should still do much more to promote positive internal development in Ukraine. In this case, the West has committed serious mistakes, and we can only hope that these will be corrected soon.”

By Olena KOLOMIYCHENKO, Radio Liberty
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