Pilar BONET, a well-known Spanish journalist, Moscow correspondent of the largest Spanish daily El Pais, has been living in Kyiv for two weeks now. She was sent to Ukraine to cover the events of Euromaidan. By the way, it is not her first time in our country. She has been to Kyiv, the Crimea, Luhansk, Lviv, Kharkiv, and other cities. “I have always taken up the topic of Ukraine,” the journalist says. “Your country is interesting for me. I have interviewed Leonid Kravchuk, Leonid Kuchma, Viktor Yushchenko, Yulia Tymoshenko, Yevhen Marchuk, and other politicians. I wrote a number of materials on the Orange Revolution in 2004. And now I am here again.”
These days Bonet visited The Day’s editorial office to have an open discussion with us on the events in Ukraine. We used the opportunity to record an interview with her. This conversation is a kind of a view on our situation from the outside, through the eyes of a foreign journalist. Read the exclusive interview with Pilar BONET to find out what Euromaidan has revealed, how it is portrayed by the foreign media, and where will the energy of millions of people go.
You have been on Maidan in 2004. Today, we have another Maidan, a European one. Do you have a feeling that Ukrainian society is completely different from what it was nine years ago?
“If we take a look at the processes that are happening right now, we can see various actors. For example, if your society, figuratively speaking, is a garden, it needs to be watered. Parsley, dill, and even roses can grow in a garden. All these plants were young and fresh back in 2004. And now, some of them have grown, and some have not. Generally, a kind of degradation has taken place within the elite circles. The people of 2004 lived with hope. Now disappointment is spread in the society. It is also important that leaders Yushchenko and Tymoshenko were fresh in a sense. And as for me, the leaders of 2004 revolution were much brighter than those of 2013. In other words, there were leaders who took the people in the streets back then. And now the people came out and are looking for their leader.
“There are a few factors. The Kuchma factor. He as a president of 2004, was a type of Soviet director of a large enterprise. Despite all his flaws, he had a sense of responsibility back then. He did not want to make history as a person who shed Maidan’s blood. The factor of international actors, who played an important role back then. Russia of 2004 was not so much oriented on harsh USSR reviving policy as it is now. And Europe itself did not have such a crisis as it has now.
“Of course, the Ukrainian society has raised the bar during this time. It is just that various regions express their demands in various ways. I think that the main mistake of your government was that they did not explain the essence of the European question to people in good time. It did not tell its own people what concessions should be made, what the economic price of the issue is. The president’s justification, which he announced a few days before the signing of the Association Agreement with the EU, is ridiculous. Your government realized perfectly fine where it was taking the country. They should have learned to speak sincerely to the people. Unlike 2004, now I have seen a big game, in which everyone: the government, the opposition, the EU, Russia, they all play using at least two stacks of cards. To an unbiased observer it looks like the people are being cheated.”
“IT IS NECESSARY TO BE BRAVE IN JOURNALISM TODAY TO SPEAK THE TRUTH”
Do you feel the objectivity and understanding of the problem’s depth in the coverage of Euromaidan events by international mass media?
“There is a whole team of journalists in Kyiv now. To be honest, I do not follow international media. I simply do not have the time for that. I can only say that in my opinion, my colleagues sometimes ask naive questions during press conferences. A lot of questions are aimed not at understanding of the problem’s essence or the ways of its solving, but for a bold headline or a quote. The number of such questions is increasing now. I think it is the influence of the Internet, a desire to raise the rating for an article. This roots stereotypes and takes the journalists away from the main task, the connection with reality. Today, it is necessary to be brave in my profession to speak the truth. To say that yes, I have seen it. You know, when the Kyiv City Council was captured, I have personally seen a group of nationalists do it. I saw a column of 60 people do it. They wore masks and helmets. Yes, it is just a part of a larger picture, and a journalist might interpret it as they please. I know that it is unfair to keep quiet about who captured the City Council and in what way it was done. But nobody writes about it today. It is as if it just happened by itself.
“Everyone says it is a peaceful protest. Everyone, and journalists in particular, do not see the difficulties of the problem here.”
“YOUR COUNTRY REQUIRES THAT JOURNALISTS SHOULD KNOW HISTORY”
Going to the topic of understanding of the sentiments in the Ukrainian society by foreign journalists. Why do the main international mass media not have their representatives stationed at Kyiv, but talk about Ukraine from Warsaw or Moscow?
“It is a complicated question. I cannot answer for everyone. Your country really requires that journalists should know history. I think European media underestimate the role of the country in the worldwide stability. And they do not send correspondents over due to the lack of resources. Let us look at war in Georgia in 2008, for example. I have read an article by one of Saakashvili’s PR managers after the war. They said that thousands of journalists came to cover the war. Only hundreds of them knew where Ossetia was. And only a few dozens were familiar with the problem from the inside. I think the situation is similar here.”
In what way do readers of your newspaper react to events in Ukraine?
“This is the top theme. Undoubtedly, Mandela’s death and the situation in Ukraine were the main themes recently. I personally had two and then three more pages in the paper. This is a lot for one country. People have discussions at the paper’s website. Some say that poor Ukrainians must be supported. A lot of others do not understand why you want to join the EU so much. People write: don’t they see our own problems? Do they think it is paradise here?”
In one of your articles you wrote that a “new post-Soviet cold war is going on, which contains a paradox, because instead of being a prize, Ukraine might become a punishment for the winner.” Please explain.
“Yes, I did write this, it is my opinion. I hope you will not deny that your country has a lot of problems of its own. Ukraine has not shaped yet as a state with democratic institutes, which is capable of protecting the civil society. I have seen some hope during the Orange Revolution. I visited the Crimea after those events, and I felt that even those Ukrainians who were more inclined towards Russian values were ready to accept the Orange government. Your country missed this opportunity. Your leadership, and let us be honest, a part of the population got used to the state of affairs where their problems and challenges are solved and answered by others. And in this respect, they are being childish. Let me put it this way. I have heard the word ‘children’ plenty of times from Euromaidan’s stage: ‘our children,’ ‘our children’s blood,’ ‘the future of our children.’ So, I was standing and thinking that in a way, Ukraine is a world of children today. Your politicians, leaders of both the government and the opposition, do not bear responsibility for their decisions. Yes, it is true. They do not want to bear responsibility for the country. Their thinking is stuck on the level of clans. To hit hard and usurp the power. And if children are playing with a grenade, it is very dangerous. Much more dangerous, than if a grown up took a grenade.”
“I CAN SEE THE SIGNS OF GENUINE STATE THINKING NEITHER AMONG REPRESENTATIVES OF THE GOVERNMENT NOR AMONG THE OPPOSITION”
By a grenade you mean the power of the street, our peaceful protest?
“Yes, to some extent. I was walking the streets of Kyiv and thinking about that, and I realized that I was scared. Nobody knows where this colossal amount of energy will go. It is important for Ukraine as a state to strengthen itself. When I saw the youth occupy the City Council, and how the events near the Presidential Administration unfolded, I was really scared. The key word for you now is responsibility. Responsibility for your own fate. Responsibility for Europe, if you please, for peace, after all. Ukrainian politicians have to grow up.”
You also wrote: “In time, Ukraine, which could develop democratic institutions and provide the independence of courts, would be able to influence Russia and promote the modernization of this country.” Do you really think that Ukraine could be a chance for Russia?
“I am absolutely sure of that. When you become a stable democratic state, you can modernize Russia. Just with your own example. Russian democratic forces watched you in 2004 and said, look, they managed to do it. Now the Russian government says, look, they have mayhem going on. It is not a revolution. Do you really want this? It is your right to cooperate with whoever you choose. It is a choice that is made by an independent country. You just cannot go behind the people’s backs while doing it. Your president talked a lot about the EU integration. And then he fooled the people. Leaders with clan thinking will not take you anywhere. And I can see neither representatives of the government nor the opposition with truly state thinking.
“I do not feel there is enough cooperation between the opposition, Maidan leaders, and all other participants. Perhaps, Maidan demands more than the leaders are ready to give. How realistic are the opposition’s demands?”
You have talked to the protesters a lot. There are many among them who have questions not towards the government only, but the opposition as well. Do you think the appearance of some new platform is possible?
“I have paid little attention to this matter. As far as I can judge, something is in the air. But what is it? I know one thing: so much energy does not simply disappear. It is the laws of physics. Your question is very correct. It must be the main topic on Maidan. Is the third power being formed? What is it capable of? How structured is it? I must note the opposition leaders can lose control over it. The hopelessness of situation can be felt. The leaders play the same tune over and over. Other prospects must be shown. According to the laws of drama, there must be action. The president withdrew, he left the country in the crucial moment. How long can the second act of this play last? I know that we are close to the culmination. A short intermission is coming up, and then – the third, determining act.”