The less time there is before the Vilnius Summit, the more frequent are visits of European politicians to Ukraine. The Association Agreement and the Free Trade Agreement between Ukraine and the EU are at stake. Both parties are interested in the positive outcome, but the Tymoshenko problem still remains a stumbling block. Is it possible to finally solve it and sign the Agreement? Experts shared their opinions on the matter at a recently held roundtable at The Day’s editorial office. However, this was not the main theme of the discussion. The point we brought into the headline became the quintessence of the meeting. Political scientist Mykhailo Basarab, historian Volodymyr Viatrovych, lawyer Hennadii Druzenko, and political scientist Viktoria Podhorna talked about the transformations that take place on the way to European integration. And as we already informed, the primary reason for holding the roundtable was Viatrovych’s post on Facebook: “Is Europe worth Yanukovych? Ukrainians will have to answer this question themselves.” Then The Day’s editor-in-chief Larysa Ivshyna said: “Such questions are voiced more and more often. We need an honest conversation. Should we plan a roundtable at The Day?” And so it was done.
BASARAB: “ORDINARY UKRAINIANS ARE THE GROUP WHICH IS EMOTIONALLY BEST PREPARED FOR SIGNING THE ASSOCIATION AGREEMENT”
Larysa IVSHYNA: “At The Day we often appeal to the topic brought up by Volodymyr Viatrovych. But I would paraphrase his words in the following way: ‘Association with Europe is a challenge for ourselves.’ We can recollect the whole story here, talk about the government, mutual offsets of the 1990s, which were never completed, opposition, which Yanukovych deprived of European support, after which they turned out to be absolutely helpless, the state of public consciousness and sentiments...”
Mykhailo BASARAB: “It is not the society that faces the choice now, since the majority have made up their minds, but the country’s leadership. Yanukovych needs to multiply and preserve, so it is important for him to win some time. He makes a choice in the EU’s favor for purely rational reasons, because any negative reaction there happens according to the democratic procedures, and therefore, takes longer. Moscow is an authoritarian center. There it takes only one moment from discontent to action.
“Whatever Yanukovych is guided by, it is important for all of us to get what we need. It is absolutely obvious for me that the president’s ultimate decision on determining the country’s foreign policy is not happening due to a turning point in his civilizational or ideological views. It is dictated by pragmatic reasons, just like the majority of his decisions.
“It is important for our president to stall for time while hanging out with a decent company. The regime is increasing its wealth rapidly at the country’s cost, we see a distinct desire to legalize the accumulated assets. Yanukovych understands that if he turns away from Europe and towards the Kremlin, he will be left alone with the people who know how to punish quickly. I think this is the main motivation of making the choice in favor of the European Union. Besides, Western gentlemen are used to being grateful, sometimes even when it is not for their benefit. Ukraine’s president counts on that as well.
“As for the opposition politicians, they were not ready for such a turn. They thought Yanukovych would not even consider moving towards Europe. But when a different scenario started working, the opposition’s clumsiness became even more obvious. They turned into passive passengers in the European integration movement. All their activity in this context relates only to the topic of Tymoshenko’s release. And when it comes to integration of Ukraine and the EU, there are only two participants in the conversation: the Ukrainian government and the European Union.
“Concerning the pool of our richest ‘raw material’ oligarchs, they too support Europe-oriented policy only for pragmatic reasons, hoping to increase the capitalization of their assets and finally legitimize all their illegally privatized property in the civilized world. Instead, domestic consumer goods industry is going to face hard times. Its participants will have to keep up the quality because European market has the most hard-to-please customers. Marketing expenses will grow significantly as well, because it is a highly competitive market. But at the same time, Ukrainian consumers will benefit from it.
“Intimidation that Ukraine will experience collapse without the Customs Union is becoming more and more groundless. The dynamics of trade turnover with the Customs Union demonstrates just the opposite. In many cases, there is no alternative to Ukrainian goods. Whether our colleagues from the Customs Union want it or not, they will have to bear with the presence of Ukrainian goods and services in some sectors.
“I also want to point out that ordinary Ukrainians, or at least the majority of them, are the group which is emotionally best prepared for signing the Association Agreement in Vilnius. We have been waiting for this for so long, and I hope we are not going to lose this chance. But this means only new opportunities for each of us, which are yet to be implemented.”
DRUZENKO: “UKRAINE’S EXISTENCE IN TWO FREE TRADE AREAS SIMULTANEOUSLY MAY PROMOTE REGIONAL LEADERSHIP”
L.I.: “It is good that Ukrainians have preserved good memory which nurtures them. And despite the not very successful 22 years of independence, we continue developing. But the thesis about pragmatic calculations reminded me of the old saying that ‘Americans smile insincerely.’ We analyze the steps of our politicians in this context. At last someone appeared today who took such a radical step, even for his own voters, and everyone began analyzing whether this step was sincere or not. These are also the traps of our perception. It is good to some extent that we are guided by irrational considerations, but we will have to learn to think rationally and choose who we are interested in now: those who act, sincerely or not, or those, who sincerely wanted to do something, but do not know how to.”
Hennadii DRUZENKO: “I think that a situation similar to the one in 2004 is happening right now. A beautiful soap bubble of expectations is created, but it will explode, and then the majority of the population will hate Europe and European integration. Today they promise that paradise will come right after the Agreement is signed, but it is not true. I want to quote one American philosopher, Nobel Prize laureate Douglass North. He said during a lecture in 1993: ‘While the formal rules can be changed overnight, the informal norms usually change gradually. And since the latter provide the legitimacy of the whole set of regulations, revolutionary changes are never as revolutionary as their followers would want them to be.’ In fact, the matrix of Ukrainian life has to correspond to the European one.
“I will give a few examples that demonstrate whether European integration changes countries. The first one is Turkey. This is the anniversary year, the Association Agreement with Turkey was signed 50 years ago. In 1995, the FTA with the EU was signed. Did Turkey become a European state after this? No. According to the number of cases sent to the European Court of Human Rights that are related to freedom of speech or treatment of national minorities, this country is very far from the European paradigm of solving such matters. And as a matter of fact, two military upheavals took place in Turkey during the period of association.
“However, we have an even brighter example: Greece. This country has been a full member of the European community since 1981, and it has been at the core of the euro since 2001. It should be mentioned that before joining the euro, Greeks did not have credit cards because they understood what kind of society they lived in, and they had no trust in credits. Then they learned how to monetize future payments from the EU budget, that is, selling with a discount something that was once paid by the European Union. If we look at the independent reviews of Greece, we can see that it is a mirror image of Ukraine. For example, people bring to hospitals everything: from diapers to bandages. Even though politicians have low salaries, they manage to buy islands and build huge villas on them after they retire.
“Therefore, I do not believe that signing the Association Agreement will lead to radical internal changes in Ukraine tomorrow or in the medium-term perspective. Import duty will be canceled, but will it change the prices of goods in stores? As a practicing lawyer I know that duty is equal to tenths of a percent. In reality, networks just milk consumers. Everyone says that corruption will decrease and the situation in legal procedures will improve. It is only possible if every Ukrainian traffic cop is accompanied by a German police officer, who has it in his blood that taking bribes is wrong. Can it be expected that ministers will step aside from millions of easy money?
“Pay attention to how Ukraine can shift the focus and makes the European Union play along its rules. Tymoshenko’s case is very demonstrative here. One of the requirements mentioned in Fuele’s List is solving the problem of selective justice. But aren’t the cases of stripping five MPs of their mandates an example of selective justice? One does not have to be a lawyer to answer that question. I have not heard a single remark from European representatives on this subject. Yanukovych and his team have concentrated attention on the specific Tymoshenko case very successfully. I support her release for the reasons of humanism. But selective mercy does not cure selective justice.”
L.I.: “Ukraine has been falling into abyss for a long time, but it caught on a ‘twig’ called the Party of Regions. Everyone remembers what was going on when the previous presidents were in office. We can be demanding towards the incumbent government, but is society ready to understand Yanukovych?”
H.D.: “Even though I have never voted for Yanukovych and do not consider him to be ‘my’ candidate, I must admit he is able to achieve result for the country’s benefit in the real conditions. The destination point is a completely different matter, but it is important that we have started moving. We should admit that society is inert and we have to proceed from the actual conditions. European integration is not a magic wand, but a chance to catch on a kind of spider web that would help us build a more decent society. We have to push emotional preferences aside and admit that Yanukovych (I hope this becomes a fact soon) has done something that not a single Ukrainian president managed to do before him. The examples I gave show that this opportunity can be neglected, but it can be used as well. Poland, which has changed over these 20 years, is a great example of that.”
L.I.: “The European Union is changing as well. The Europe that the Polish people were striving to join exists no more. Or look at the example of the Baltic representatives, who were ready and waiting for the right moment to leave even when the Soviet Union was still there. The more exams you are failing, the bigger is the list of additional exams. Those who enter later face more difficulties.”
H.D.: “While we realize that our integration has a different paradigm than that of Poland or the Baltic states, we should also remember Turkey’s example. In the past decade it has shown an economic growth rate, which is one of the world’s best: on average 5 percent GDP. Ukraine has a unique chance to preserve the free trade area in the east and at the same time get one more in the west. Then we will find ourselves in a situation when we will be able to sell duty-free both to the East and West. Under such circumstances any normal big company owner will have to build an enterprise in Ukraine, since it will enable him to trade free with both Europe and Russia. If we succeed in doing this, economically it will be a win-win situation for Ukraine, despite the existing corruption and drawbacks in the business climate. Then we will be able not only to catch up with the EU, but also create conditions for overtaking it. Functioning in two free trade areas at the same time can become the impulse which will enable our country to become a regional leader in a short run.”
PODHORNA: “YANUKOVYCH MIGHT NOT RESEMBLE A DOLPHIN IN TERMS OF INTELLECT; HE IS RATHER A SHARK WITH VERY STRONG SURVIVAL INSTINCTS”
L.I.: All these pretty chances smash against the old fears in domestic policy. Besides, we have a difficult eastern neighbor, which causes additional risks. It should be also taken into account that we have a shaky identity, a weak opposition, and a complex society. We have to take all these balances into consideration. Is Ukrainian society ready to become a society that will fight for a new quality of life instead of waiting for it to appear all by itself?”
Viktoria PODHORNA: “Now the main question is, who makes the choice, and why this happens. I believe that it is a forced step for the regime, because due to this geo-political choice it hopes to avoid the internal upgrade. Today’s government needs simple things: loans from the IMF, EBRD, etc. That is to say, some external sources to support the regime. This is full monopoly and control over the country’s resources, first of all, its economic resources. The regime is anxious to preserve the corporate-oligarchic system. This is the key motive behind its choice in favor of the EU. The EU proved more loyal towards this reference system than Russia, which will merely engulf Ukraine, for which it has developed its own project, the Customs Union. Of course, there is also Putin’s Eurasian project. Yanukovych, who is no less greedy for power than Putin, is not happy that Russia treats Ukraine like a metropolis would treat a colony.
“By opting for European integration, the party in power gains several advantages. Besides keeping economy running, it steals the initiative from the opposition. This enables it to continue its reign at least till 2020. The regime consolidates first of all the economic elites, which could finance the opposition: it is important to create a foundation, which will not fall under various political forces. I mean the oligarchs who finance political parties. This will also enable them to get the resources against economy’s default.
“In fact, Yanukovych resembles a shark with a very strong survival instinct. Maybe his intellectual abilities are not comparable to those of the dolphin, but his instincts are much stronger. These instincts allow him to skillfully balance between different centers of influence (stronger than him, and stronger than Ukraine) and secure the desirable result. But this does not mean that this result will benefit the nation. It will benefit Yanukovych, his family, his clan on which his regime is based. I think that Yanukovych will ensure the signing of the Agreement, but after that the progressive elements, which might benefit the country but will endanger the regime, will be slowed down. On the other hand, signing the Agreement would give Yanukovych a strong trump to play against Putin. It will put him in the position of an equal, rather than a ‘younger brother.’
“I agree with Mr. Druzenko that if Yanukovych signs the Agreement, he can get quite a significant economic effect. Yanukovych is in fact a good negotiator, and his progress in the negotiations with the EU (which is continually lowering the threshold) testifies to his efficiency. I don’t think that it is good for the country, but for the ruling class in Ukraine it is a sign that Yanukovych is a single steadfast leader, who must make a good presidential candidate in 2015.
“Then arises the problem of the opposition. Personally I have seen no European choice on the part of the opposition. Unfortunately, they are leaders’ parties, hardly different from the Party of Regions in their organization model. They are simply weaker and less developed organizationally.
“The opposition fails to understand some elementary things: that its strength lies in its ability to work with society. The oppositionists keep complaining about the lack of resources. But why do they ever need the party apparatus, if they cannot even offer new forms of organization to mobilize people without paying them off. This is the last way to lure people to the street. However, there exist other methods, and plenty of them.
“They merely will not work with society because they are used to the post-Soviet algorithm, although they call themselves democrats. The opposition suffers from the traumas typical for entire society. That is why it is society that must get over these traumas first of all. The opposition parties, in their turn, must change their logic. They must go and work with society from bottom to top, rather than from top to bottom, as state parties like the Party of Regions do.
“In my opinion, the big mistake which stops the opposition from taking the initiative over and saying that at least it has done something for the European integration, is the absence of a single platform. Let alone a single candidate at the presidential election. They should do something for the people to see that they have a common goal and the best team, which in case of victory will form the government and implement the reforms, mentioned in the Association Agreement.
“The Party of Regions, just like United Russia, is an industrial party. They promote industrial development and big industry in the post-industrial world. Now we are trying to integrate economically in the post-industrial world. This is a chance, because democracy is based in post-industrial economy. From the viewpoint of the economic principles of politics, the opposition should look up to the post-industrial model of development. In any case the oligarchs, who will come out into European markets, will have to keep to post-industrialization standards because our metallurgy or chemical industry will soon interest no one in its present state. That is why the opposition must look for support, defending the interests of post-industrial economy. However, they do not even think in that direction. Why? The problem must be rooted in their Soviet mentality.
“What must happen to cause European integration to move forward and not stall like our independence in 1991, when we declared it, but failed to develop it in the society? European choice means first of all personal responsibility for oneself.
“Democracy emerged from what is extremely topical today for Ukraine in the conditions of European choice. I mean the conflict, which will most likely lie at the base of future political parties: the conflict between the public and the private, corporate interests. Now the corporate interest prevails. That is to say that it is corporate structures that are making the European choice in Ukraine. It is them, and not society, who propels the process. But everything must be just the opposite: a public interest must shape, which will propel politics. This is the question of forming civic culture, when you understand your responsibility for everything that goes on, and give up a part of your rights for the normal functioning of society, which will also protect your rights. This civic culture is the key problem which defines whether Ukraine will ever become a European nation.”