COMMENT - ‘A WEEK IS A LONG TIME IN POLITICS’

09.03.10



AUGB President, Zenko Lastovetskyj

A week is a long time in politics, quoted by the UK Prime Minister Harold Wilson in 1964 can aptly be applied to recent political events in Ukraine.

Since his inauguration on February 25th, Ukraine’s elected President Viktor Yanukovych has already managed to alienate a large majority of Ukrainians who are watching events unfold in disbelief.

Even prior to his inauguration, he invited the Orthodox Moscow Patriarch Kyril to bless him, ignoring the Heads of the established Ukrainian Churches. The Moscow Patriarch used the occasion to pronounce that this was a historic occasion and urged the unification of all the Orthodox churches (undoubtedly to be headed by the Moscow Patriarchate). This was a shrewd move on the part of Moscow who used soft politics to create additional tensions within Ukraine.

Although the President’s first visit was to Brussels to show his unity with Europe, he didn’t at all defend Ukraine’s national interests in the European Parliament which on February 25, 2010, passed a resolution on the situation in Ukraine stating that the Parliament:  “Deeply deplores the decision by the outgoing President of Ukraine, Viktor Yushchenko, posthumously to award Stepan Bandera, a leader of the Organisation of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN) which collaborated with Nazi Germany, the title of' National Hero of Ukraine'; hopes, in this regard, that the new Ukrainian leadership will reconsider such decisions and will maintain its commitment to European values.”

This is a woeful state of affairs by a new Ukrainian President on a number of levels and even more so by the European Parliament who believe they have the right to dictate who can be honoured in an independent country.

The World Congress of Ukrainians has already written to the Parliament requesting that this statement be removed, and a petition has already been set up to rescind this slanderous allegation.

The petition can be accessed at the following site:  www.petition.org.ua/?action=view&id=251148 and I would urge you all to sign up.

After a few brief days in Kyiv where he changed the personnel in his administration and at the same time ordered the removal of the Holodomor page from the Presidential website, the President flew into Moscow where meetings were held with both the Russian President Medvyedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.

Again the Ukrainian President backed off from defending his country’s interests on a number of issues mainly that of the extension of the lease for the Russian fleet based in Sevastopol, citing that ‘there will be a proposal in the near future that will satisfy both Ukraine’s and Russia’s interests’. We can only surmise as to what that will be, but I would suspect it would be more in Russia’s interest than that of Ukraine.

In addition he also didn’t rule out joining an Economic Trading Block with Russia, Belorus and Kazakhstan although Ukraine is already signed up to joining the Free Trade Organisation.

Not only is this potentially bad for Ukraine, as we all know who the dominant partner in this will be, but it should also start ringing alarm bells in Brussels, as this shows in which direction the President is taking the country.

To top it all he also promised a resolution to the Bandera issue in the ‘very near future’, which we all know is unlikely to be positive and will create further division in an already divided country.

Back at home, he is now in the throes of contriving new parliamentary coalitions to ensure that a new Cabinet is formed, after Yulia Tymoshenko’s cabinet lost a vote of no confidence, and with his candidate Mykola Azarov proposed as the new Prime Minister. This will need to be concluded within 30 days in order to stave off new Parliamentary elections, but that was after Parliament decided to cancel local elections, a move which isn’t only un-democratic but also unconstitutional.

He is also in the throes of preparing a new law to be laid before Parliament to make Russian the second official language of Ukraine, but in order to avoid any large scale unrest the plan is to allow regional governments to decide if they want to ‘take up the offer’. A government spokesman claimed this was democratic as it allowed ‘ethnic minorities the opportunity of speaking their own language’. Personally, I wasn’t aware that there was a ‘Small Russia’ within the borders of Ukraine where ethnic minorities felt their language was suppressed. As for the idea of avoiding unrest, this is highly optimistic as demonstrations have already taken place in Kyiv to defend the use of the Ukrainian language. More division!

In the meantime, the country as a whole is still badly feeling the effects of the economic crisis.

I was in Kyiv a few days ago with my colleagues Fedir Kurlak and Ludmyla Pekarska at the official opening of the Kruk Exhibition which was displayed at Ukrainian House. AUGB working in conjunction with the Gallery provided 25 Kruk sculptures which were displayed in Ukraine for the first time.

This was a great coup for the AUGB, and extremely welcomed by the both the organisers and audience. The opening attracted somewhere in the region of 300 VIP’s from politics, the arts and scholars as well as raising the profile of AUGB in Ukraine.

More details will be provided in the next edition of Dumka, which will be worth reading.

What struck me in Kyiv this time were two things.  Firstly the woeful state of the roads and the lack of traffic. The local news stated that the Kyiv authorities needed 105m hryvni (£8.750m) to fix the roads, but wouldn’t do so until the temperature reached 10C, (it was -6 when we were there), so the drivers of Kyiv will continue to suffer.

However, when you speak to the locals the view of life is different as they claim roads are being constantly repaired, but because of the corruption, contractors pocket the money rather than do a proper job, so the roads never get fixed properly.

As for the traffic, apart from the roads, driving is now a very expensive business.

The average wage in Ukraine is now in the region of 2000 hryvni a month, approximately £170, whilst the cost of a litre of fuel is 9 hryvni, about 75p. That may be relatively cheap for us, but when you compare the relative average salary in the UK to the cost of fuel, on a similar basis we would be paying in the region of £8.60 a litre.  And we thought we had it bad!

On top of all the other living costs which are steadily rising due to the weakness of the hryvnia, times are tough for the average Ukrainian, and it doesn’t look like it will be getting any easier soon. You cannot even drink away your sorrows as the tax on alcohol, especially beer, has gone up recently by 60 kopiyky, which has led Carlsberg who operate three breweries in Ukraine to announce that they may close one of the plants if taxes continue to rise.  There are plans in the next budget to raise the duty of alcohol further.

There are certainly many major problems facing the new President and government of Ukraine when formed, which have to be tackled if the country and its people are to prosper.

It is for these very reasons that the Government should protect the interest of its people and tackle the real issues it is facing. To date there has been no action on any of the major issues but more divisive and potentially destructive moves on the part of the new President.

A week can be a very long time in politics, let’s just hope the last week won’t be the start of the demise of Ukraine rather than its resurgence.

Zenko Lastovetskyj
AUGB President   



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