The Days of Ukraine, organized by Charity Fund Firtash Foundation with the financial support from Group DF, launched in Great Britain on October 17. For the first time in 22 years of Ukraine’s independence an event of this magnitude is organized in one of the financial centers of the world.
“We wanted to open Ukraine not only for university students, but also for a wide range of British and European community. Ukrainian-British relations in the sphere of culture are still not developing at the pace that the citizens of both countries would like to see. I am convinced that our new project will solve this task and will also help to establish more efficient cooperation in other areas of international relations,” Lada Firtash, author of the project idea, chair person of The Days of Ukraine Organizing Committee, head of the Firtash Foundation, told The Day.
According to the estimates of the organizers, in three days nearly 100,000 British citizens and tourists will learn about the history, culture, and traditions of Ukraine. On the first day – October 17 – The Days of Ukraine will be officially launched in the British Parliament. On October 18 residents of the British capital and tourists will get a chance to attend the literature night and get acquainted with modern Ukrainian literature, see the paintings of Ukrainian artists, as well as a fashion show of the leading Ukrainian designers (Lilia Pustovit, Lilia Litkovska, and others). The Days of Ukraine in the UK will close with a large-scale ethnic festival featuring Oleh Skrypka with VV band and Le Grand Orchestra, Taras Chubai, and others.
The Day’s reporter came to London two days prior to the event and before the festival got a chance to speak with Andy HUNDER, Director of the Ukrainian Institute in London, about how Ukraine is perceived in Britain, about Ukrainian politics, British press, and Pinchuk case.
“The London Evening Standard, a popular newspaper with many residents of London posted a four-page feature on this event. For sure London hasn’t seen a Ukrainian project of such magnitude ever before. That’s why for many British people and millions of tourists it is a good opportunity to learn more about Ukraine and its culture.”
You were born in Great Britain. Could you, please, tell us what an average English man knows about Ukraine?
“Brawls in parliament, oligarchs, beautiful girls, Femen, the football player Andrii Shevchenko, boxer Vitali Klitschko, politicians in prison, and the ill-famed ‘poisoning of the 21st century’ – these are the messages they get from Ukraine. Almost every day we monitor what the British press posts about Ukraine. Unfortunately, there are more negative reports than positive.
“Besides, in my opinion, The Days of Ukraine in the UK is a powerful impetus for economic cooperation, since investments begin with the understanding of culture and knowledge about traditions.”
Every year the Ukrainian Institute in London hosts Ukrainian Business Week. Does the attitude among British business community change, do they view our country as a good platform for making investments?
“The latest trend is not quite positive, especially, in what concerns investments. There are many reasons for this. After the crisis of 2008, there has developed a general idea that such investments are very risky. There was less interest from the investors in the past year, but now more and more people are paying attention to the future signing of the FTA Agreement with the EU to be held in Vilnius.
“British investors are interested in shale gas, which can provide real energy independence for Ukraine. A special area of interest is agriculture, IT-outsourcing, and market retail of 46 million consumers. Therefore, the British people still believe in positive changes in Ukraine.
“In general, investors, regardless of their country of origin, want the only thing: same conditions for business development, VAT return, clear regulatory policy, and the rule of law. The importance of the last factor is proved by what we see in London courts. Now the Royal Courts of Justice in London are considering an interesting Ukrainian case… Viktor Pinchuk against Ihor Kolomoisky and Hennadii Boholiubov. British press report that Ukrainian oligarchs take their wars to the British courts.”
Do the British media report about this trial from a positive or negative perspective?
“British press do not go into details in their reports about this case, facts are presented in a rather neutral way: people who have a lot of money are looking for solutions to their problems in English courts… British lawyers are sure glad about this because they are earning millions from it.”
Does it mean that the situation is viewed as a precedent of Ukrainian business defending their interests in a more civilized way? Or is it rather a slap in the face of the Ukrainian judicial system?
“There is no definite answer to that. On the one hand, business has become more civilized. But there still remains a question – why do they come to London and don’t try to solve their problems in their home country.”
In your opinion, does this situation add positive or negative element to Ukraine’s international image?
“I can’t give a definite answer: perhaps, a bit of both. In fact, not only Ukrainian oligarchs go to court in London, rich people from other countries do it here as well. It’s the defense of big money. Today all the major capitals became transparent and are willing to play by Western standards. One of such instruments is the desire to go to court in London.”
In a month, a Summit, that might be life-changing for Ukraine, will be held in Vilnius. It is expected that Ukraine will sign an Association Agreement and Agreement on FTA with Europe. In your opinion, what is the major limiting factor for Ukraine today on its way towards European community?
“There are different statements and opinions in this regard in the informational space. They are made by different forces. There is a lot of noise and very little information on the matter… First there was a question of whether Ukraine really wanted this to happen? And the answer wasn’t clear. Now, press reports that Ukraine seems to want to get closer to the EU, but not too badly. In my opinion, the main obstacle on the way of European integration is a lack of clear message from Ukraine that it really wants and is ready to do it. In the process you have to address other issues associated with the integration, in particular, the case of Yulia Tymoshenko.”
What results do you expect from the Summit in Vilnius?
“I am an optimist. I believe that the Agreement will be signed.”
What role does the large Ukrainian capital play in the process of Ukraine’s rapprochement with the EU?
“The task of business is to strengthen the country’s image by organizing such events as The Days of Ukraine in the UK, road shows. We must show investors through communication that we are open to them. Any walls could fall as a result of open dialogue. That’s why large and small Ukrainian business must become a non-official lobbyist of the brand Ukraine in leading financial countries and in the world in general. And definitely, it has to be done by private business, not the state, which has repeatedly tried to do so but never succeeded.”
How is Ukrainian political life perceived in London?
“From the point of view that there is still a lot that needs to be done in order to gradually mature to the democratic system… Those interested in Ukraine begin to realize that the main question now is whether it will manage to get out from under the influence of Russia. British press, in particular, wrote sarcastically that it was Vladimir Putin who did more for Ukraine’s European integration than Ukraine did itself.”