Dr. Roman Wolczuk, a British researcher of Ukraine, is well known both in the West and in Ukraine. He is the author of three books, including Ukraine’s Foreign and Security Policy, 1991—2000, and a large number of publications in academic journals and in the British and US press periodicals, including such high-profile Western newspapers as The Independent, The Financial Times, and The Wall Street Journal, where the scholar has been analyzing Ukraine’s domestic, foreign and security policies.
Mr. Wolczuk, what is the vision of Ukraine in the UK?
“The way the British see the Ukrainian foreign policy? They are worried over domestic unrest in Ukraine. This worry is the consequence of the great hopes that the Western world pinned on Ukraine in 2004–2005, when Ukraine seemed to be standing every chance of making a breakthrough after the Orange Revolution. But, unfortunately, real geopolitical progress (moving towards NATO and European Union membership) froze due to acute domestic disputes and irreconcilable differences inside the Ukrainian ruling elites themselves. This objectively hinders Ukraine’s relations with Western countries.
“I think Britain would love Ukraine to join the European Union. But under what conditions could this occur? Ukraine should carry out certain political and economic reforms. Actually, the intentions of these reforms were declared at the very beginning of Viktor Yushchenko’s presidency. They were very much spoken of and both Ukraine and the West once pinned very serious hopes on them.
“However, these reforms have not been implemented in the past five years. On the contrary, Ukraine is showing today intense political friction and absolute misunderstanding between President Viktor Yushchenko and Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, which is a limitation they cannot get rid of and a barrier that does not allow them even to kick-start the reforms. For the actual existence of two openly-feuding centers of power in Ukraine is blocking the reformation of Ukraine.
I wish I were mistaken, but the impression is that, instead of progress in this direction, we can see not only some slowing-down but even a certain retreat. So I can conclude that Britain looks at what is going on in modern-day Ukraine with a good deal of disappointment.”
Will you agree that the Ukrainian diaspora, which comprises an estimated 16 to 20 million people all over the world, is disappointed with what is going on in Ukraine and has even somewhat distanced itself from Ukraine in the last while? This equally applies to the US, Canadian, and British diaspora. How do you, Mr. Wolczuk, think they can overcome this disillusionment with Ukraine and open a new stage of cooperation with Ukraine?
“Frankly, the Ukrainian diaspora in the West very often sees Ukraine in only one range of colors – black and white. And if this vision is to be scrupulously followed, this will mean that all citizens of independent Ukraine must be pro-Ukrainian, patriotically-minded, and working all together for the good and prosperity of the Ukrainian state. This would be ideal indeed, but I will say that this black-and-white vision is a very simplified interpretation of the current Ukrainian situation. In reality, thing are looking somewhat different.
“We should not forget that they or their children are, to a large extent, the product of World War Two. As a rule, such representatives of the Ukrainian diaspora have quite a simplified idea of Ukrainian realities. For they have long been away from Ukrainian life and it is quite difficult for them to understand that Ukraine is multicolored and has diverse realities which have been firmly rooted in it and may not be to everybody’s liking.
“And, what is more, these people from the Ukrainian diaspora are still unaware that they are unable to change Ukraine the way they would like to. And because they are unaware of this, they will in turn find it difficult to accept the Ukraine that has come about under the current uneasy and very often unfavorable conditions. This is why, in my opinion, this part of the Ukrainian diaspora has to some extent got disappointed with Ukraine.
“Is it possible to change this? I think it will be very difficult to do so because these people have a rather vague idea of the political processes now underway in Ukraine; they are not very well aware of the current ethnic and social situation in the Ukrainian state. Besides, although I do not want to hurt anybody, I must say that such representatives of the Ukrainian diaspora do not always properly understand Ukrainian history and, again, are trying to see it one-sidedly. They obviously find it very difficult to accept the current Ukrainian situation as it is in reality, not in their imagination. How, in what way, can this gap be bridged? A difficult question, for it is not easy to do this even if you desire it very much.”
In other words, you are saying that the diaspora should try to revamp in some way its relations with Ukraine?
“I agree that one should try to revamp the relations between Ukraine and the diaspora. But it is difficult o say in what way this can be done. For, as I have said before, the diaspora will not change Ukraine. Ukraine is a large, powerful, but in no way homogeneous, country. In reality, there is a considerable number of ethnic minorities residing in it, which speak different languages and, more often than not, they use Russian as a language of interethnic communication. The diaspora should understand after all that it must accept Ukraine the way it is, even though not all and not always can like this.
“Naturally, I am not saying that Russian should remain the dominating language in some regions of Ukraine and that, as a result, Ukrainian will not be heard spoken on the street. I do not think it is normal that this has occurred in Ukraine, but, first of all, we must begin working with the available material and thus accept the evolutionary path of Ukraine’s development.
“I think a certain part of the Ukrainian diaspora would like Ukraine to follow the revolutionary path of development. But if this happened and Ukraine began to pursue the policy that the diaspora wants, the Ukrainian state would be likely to split into two or three pieces.”
What you are saying means that there are people in the diaspora who begin to understand the current situation in Ukraine. And what should be done to make the diaspora not only understand this situation but also make some realistic actions as well as to make Ukraine begin working realistically with its diaspora?
“It is not easy for me to answer this question. Again, I do not want to hurt anybody, but many in the diaspora consider it a hobby of sorts to be a Ukrainian. The point is they live the normal life of the country in which they reside, but they can go to a Ukrainian club or visit some Ukrainian diaspora event on weekends. So their life seems to be divided into two parts, and one of them is the ‘hobby’ of being Ukrainian.
“I would still like to emphasize a problem that cannot be avoided, when speaking of how Ukraine could improve cooperation with its diaspora. The trouble is that Ukrainian embassies in the countries with the Ukrainian diaspora do not always create productive relations with the diaspora – just because of differences in the world outlook.
“Obviously, the Ukrainian diaspora would like (and rightly so) the staff of the Ukrainian embassies that represent the Ukrainian state’s interests abroad to speak Ukrainian, which would boost their prestige in the eyes of the Ukrainians abroad. But, unfortunately, I can very often hear those who work at these embassies switch from the official Ukrainian language to Russian when they talk to one another. Believe me, this greatly disappoints the Ukrainian diaspora. For it is hard to imagine a thing like this in the practice of other embassies.
“In my opinion, certain contacts via embassies could be the beginning of a better understanding and more positive relations between Ukraine and the diaspora. But, to this end, the staff of these embassies should always speak Ukrainian. This could be an impulse to a better mutual understanding because this could bring Ukrainian diplomats closer to the diaspora, and I think links and cooperation would stand a good chance to improve.
“I can see a lot of opportunities for this on both sides. If you asked me what should be done to start this, I would certainly say that the embassy staff should redouble their efforts to satisfy the romantic ideal of a Ukrainian and Ukraine itself which the diaspora is still keeping up, i.e., to be always Ukrainian-speaking people. And if the staff of Ukrainian embassies were fully aware that they represent not only themselves but, above all, the great state of Ukraine, I think this would result in a far better mutual understanding.”
So, Mr. Wolczuk, you are an optimist, aren’t you?
“Yes, I am an optimist in this case. Yet there are always chances to correct the situation in one way or another. There can be no problem that cannot be solved. All we need is mutual will and desire on both sides to change something.”