Ability to adequately react to difficult Ukrainian domestic “tests” is the main thing for a Ukrainian politician. This shapes and brings into evidence a qualitative alternative, but adherence to it must be constantly proved and defended.
“Meeting with personalities is one of the recipes of our pedagogy,” Larysa Ivshyna says, introducing Arsenii Yatseniuk to participants of Den’s Summer School of Journalism. The novice journalists spoke with the Front of Changes leader about the expansion of the Russian World, high-profile court trials, continuity of the Ukrainian government, and celebration of the 20th anniversary of Ukrainian independence.
Larysa IVSHYNA: “We have been marketing for nine years our own idea that one should give a chance to young people who not necessarily study journalism (in spite of different professions, have something to do with journalism or just writing) but have a civic and public temperament. Time proved that it is the right way: even if one has a specialized education, they should know about practical journalism, first of all, about the quality press which we lack badly in Ukraine. Meeting with personalities is one of the recipes of our pedagogy. The Summer School [Den’s Summer School of Journalism. – Ed.] has seen progressive and active teachers…”
Arsenii YATSENIUK: “People usually go on vacation in summer, so the fact that we are working is already the sign that distinguishes us from the others.
“Let me give you a brief account of my rather interesting political career. I was born in Chernivtsi, I recently turned 37, and I graduated from Chernivtsi National University’s Law Department. I always knew that I would be pursuing political activity sooner or later. In 2000, I abandoned business – I had worked at the Ukraine’s largest Aval bank and had a legal practice. I have been a public servant since 2001. I carved out the dynamic career of a governmental official until I resigned as Verkhovna Rada Speaker in 2008. Then I began my political career.
“I would like to have this conversation as a dialogue. I would like to share so much with you and to get your reaction in response. I would like you to tell me about your inner world, about what worries you, and about your vision of this country’s development. I am sure to make use of this later.”
Liudmyla MOROZ, Dnipropetrovsk Oles Honchar National University: “I am concerned over the condition of modern-day Ukrainian education and think that this problem needs to be addressed first of all. And now about a topical event. Kirill, Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia, arrived in Ukraine the other day. The first thing he did was to visit President Viktor Yanukovych in the Crimea. Do you think it proves that his visit has a political, rather than pastoral (Christian), nature? I would also like to add that while earlier the patriarch’s visits were covered by the Inter TV channel, now it is being done by the First National Channel.”
A.Ya.: “Let us begin with education. What should, in my view, be reformed in the education system? Firstly, Ukraine does not have a university which is among the world’s top 1,000 higher educational institutions. Secondly, there is no link between majors and the labor market. In other words, we produce specialists who have no place to work at and, on the other hand, we do not train those whom modern economy needs. Thirdly, Ukrainian higher education is quite conservative. These are vestiges of the Soviet era. In a new dynamic world, where new research fields, disciplines, and jobs are emerging, we still make do with the same structure of majors which existed 20-30 years ago.
“Now about student and university self-government. The current role and mission of the Ministry of Education and Science are also vestiges of the Soviet system. What is the Ministry of Education? It is an instrument to hold every university president by the short hairs in order to influence state orders and write research plans and curricula for him. Only a university that can think by itself is able to achieve something. This also applies to individuals.
“About the frequent visits of Moscow Patriarch Kirill to Ukraine. It is difficult to deny Ukrainian believers the right to meet their pastor. Unfortunately, especially during his first visits to Ukraine, Patriarch Kirill spoke about geopolitics more than about Jesus Christ. There is undoubtedly a noticeable distance between the political doctrines formed by the Moscow Patriarchy and the canons of Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Moscow Patriarchate) parishioners and clergy, who are citizens of Ukraine. And these people must be feeling ill at ease in the Russian World which is admittedly preached to Ukrainians more effectively by the Ukrainian Patriarch rather than the Kremlin. Yet what worries me more than these sermons is the position of President Yanukovych who is revising the principle of the equality of Churches before the law. It is just dangerous in a country, where each of them may be a minority in some region. What is really inspiring hope is the religious tradition of Kyiv as Second Jerusalem, which has proved its ability to prevent religion-based conflicts from spreading.”
Khrystyna HIRSKA, Ivan Franko National University of Lviv: “Europe is in a rather unstable situation, the US is busy with its own problems [we are of no concern for them], everything is clear with Russia. So where should Ukraine look for the ‘islands of stability’?”
A.Ya.: “We are a country that shares European values, so it is absolutely clear that Ukraine should integrate into the EU. No matter how hard it may be for us, this road is irreversible, in spite of all problems in Europe itself. It is about a big set of EU values, such as education and medicine standards, low corruption, low crime rate, and respect for human rights.”
Kh. H.: “But Europe was going to award the Quadriga Prize to Vladimir Putin. Maybe Russia will have already been in Europe when we get there?
A.Ya.: “But still they refrained from awarding. Besides, it is not Europe that was going to award. Quadriga is a semi-private facility. Russia will never be a European Union member, nor will the EU be ever a CIS member. Do you know why? These are two different worlds – like day and night, black and white, good and evil. Naturally, countries should coexist in some way, but nobody has answered the question how this should be done. Indeed, the more the world develops, the worse it becomes: more wars, problems, and diseases. Ukraine must choose the side. It is wrong to travel to Brussels and say there that we will always be in a close alliance with Russia. We must say frankly to the Russians: ‘You are our neighbors, but we are striving to become a part of an entirely different geopolitical entity.’”
Kateryna LYKHOHLIAD, Kyiv National Taras Shevchenko University: “Bohdan Havrylyshyn notes that Ukraine still has such thing as “ataman culture,” i.e., inability of the powers-that-be to unite due to aspiration of many of them to be the leader. I think you are well aware of this situation. Will the opposition have enough willpower and strength to rally together?
A.Ya.: “Every political camp expresses its own interests, and society is also divided along these lines. But there is one spectrum that can help unite – it is Ukrainian statehood. So far there have not been instances in the history of Ukraine, when the government and the opposition rallied around a key value. The populace will only become citizens when they have a state of their own. And politicians will only become statesmen when nobody questions the existence of a state.
“Is it possible today that the opposition will unite with the government in Ukraine? I will say that this seems to be unrealistic so far because there is a huge difference in the vision of Ukraine’s strategies of development. Yet we should display a new quality of politics. Take, for example, confrontations with political opponents. In my case, I would call them political enemies. The current government is the enemy of not only the opposition but also of the entire state. And to put forward a serious force against them, the opposition ought to make a concerted effort. There must be cooperation, but Ukraine hardly needs a single opposition party. Our political party spoken out repeatedly against political repressions in Ukraine, including the Tymoshenko case – the most illustrative example of this. I am defending not the ex-premier but, first of all, the very institution of the opposition.
“Unity does not mean just a deal between the leaders. What is decisive is the opinion of people. If individuals make it clear that they trust a certain politician more than others, this will trigger a political magnet that begins to make other politicians rally around the leader. It was so under Yushchenko, Tymoshenko, and Yanukovych, and it will be so under the next president. One should understand that it is a natural process, when one politician is leaving the political stage and another is taking over.
“The opposition should declare the future cooperation in the next parliament well before the beginning of the election campaign. This would be a real unity! Who will remain friends after the 2012 parliamentary race? Who will be forming the majority? My goal is that the Ukrainian opposition should win the Verkhovna Rada majority in 2012 and that this majority will not be accountable to Yanukovych – the way the Republicans ‘seized’ the US Congress after the latest elections. Only then will the system of coordinates change qualitatively. For the sake of this prospect, I am ready to negotiate with all who consider themselves part of the opposition camp, all who are prepared not to unite with the Party of Regions.”
Ivan KAPSAMUN: “Let us continue the Yulia Tymoshenko subject. Does it seem to you that Ms. Yulia has become a problem of sorts? For, on the one hand, the government can neither imprison nor release her today and, on the other, the opposition cannot but support her, but she is a rival for them…
A.Ya.: “Whoever thinks they can make short work of political opponents or rivals by throwing them behind bars should understand: he or she will sooner or later find themselves in their place. They consider this to be the most effective way of political struggle, but in reality it is the least effective and very dangerous for those who opened this Pandora’s box. I did and still do insist that it is a political trial rather than a law-abiding one. My standpoint in this matter is as follows: I fight my political opponents on an open ring exclusively – in parliament or at talk shows – by way of ideas, arguments, and work with people. Only weaklings fight their political opponents via prosecutors, policemen, and judges, as well as by means of intimidations, threats of imprisonment, and blackmail. This is why I do not consider the ex-premier’s party to be my rival. My political rival is the Party of Regions. I do and will support the institution of opposition which is now being harassed by the government and is represented at the moment by a former premier.
“Does the government have a plan? As far as I can see, there is a plan: they are eager to ‘put [Tymoshenko] inside.’ Yet they are afraid very much. We can say in no uncertain terms that what is now going around the Tymoshenko case can no longer be called trial. Nobody will ever believe the ruling, be it a sentence or an acquittal. This ‘trial’ has exhausted its credit of trust.
“What course of events can be forecast? Actually, they do not have too many options. In fact, there is only one option: to rename the charge as negligence and pass a suspended sentence. As a lawyer by profession, I would advise the following option: to save face and stop this mindlessness.”
Oleksandr KUPRIIENKO, Kyiv National Taras Shevchenko University: “You have been speaking at length about your political opponents, so I have a question in this connection: in the 20 years of Ukrainian independence, every new president has been convinced that he must not continue the cause of his predecessor. In my view, this created a tradition in the Ukrainian state not to continue traditions. Do you think it is a natural process of state-building or it is based on something else?
A.Ya.: “I will let myself recall the times, when I was appointed Ukraine’s minister of foreign affairs. I emphasize that I am not a career diplomat (in most cases in the world, foreign ministers are political figures), but what was the first thing I did after the appointment? I included immediately all my predecessors into the Foreign Ministry board, irrespective of the relations we had developed. But Kostiantyn Hryshchenko recently repealed my instruction and, accordingly, all the former ministers of foreign affairs were dismissed from the board. Why am I saying this? Because I believe that there should be a certain political continuity. And whoever comes with an opinion that what was done before him was bad and things will be better now will, as a rule, end up still worse than his predecessor.”
Tetiana BUBALO, Volyn National Lesia Ukrainka University: “Why do you think the new draft election law is no longer being actively discussed? Should the next parliamentary elections be held under a mixed system, in what way do you intend to run – on a party list basis or in a single-candidate constituency?
A.Ya.: “I will begin with why the election law is being amended. I publicly addressed a simple question to the minister of justice and the Party of Regions leader: please explain me why are you changing the law? When you were in the opposition, you won the majority in the Verkhovna Rada twice – in 2006 and 2007 – under the old law. It is clear why… The rating of the Party of Regions has dropped threefold. So, running by party lists, they will win three times as few votes than they could have won before. So they decided to get back to the Kuchma model of 2002. At the time, the party For a United Ukraine! won about 70-80 seats, but just a few weeks later this party formed a majority in parliament thanks to majoritarian MPs.
“But now the draft election law has been referred to the Venice Commission. I will tell you why. The go-vernment has come across a problem: if this law is passed, not only the individuals who need a parliamentary seat to protect their business but also many others will make their way to parliament. It is possible that Leonid Kuchma and Viktor Medvedchuk, ex-head of the Presidential Administration, will also be running. They are all close ‘friends’ of today’s regime. So this draft law has been suspended because the government itself does not know yet what to do with it.
“I personally advocate changing legislation by introducing open lists, when an MP is running in a single-candidate district only on behalf of a political party. Is it possible to introduce these changes before the 2012 elections? No, it is impossible. This is why I suggested that parliament discuss some technical amendments to the current law. They are aimed at improving the election system without changing it.”
M.T.: “In conclusion, let us speak about the Independence Day. This topic is now actively debated, particularly, as far as the cancellation of a military parade is concerned. What is your viewpoint on this?
A.Ya.: “I think that the Independence Day is a holiday of Ukraine, the main holiday of the nation. I think it is wrong to cancel the parade. Let them not tell us that this will help save money. They would better economize on themselves and helicopter pads. The parade is a symbol of the Independence Day, and people must feel festive. And if a holiday cannot be felt in wallets, let it be felt on a spiritual and symbolic level. Only those who are not Ukrainians in spirit can have a debate on whether the Independence Day is a holiday. Yes, this independence cost quite an effort, but now it is here, and this should be understood and recognized. It is still more important to work for filling it with ideology, which is a sphere of responsibility for the entire nation.”