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Ukrainian politicians comment the 12th anniversary of Ukraine’s independence
On August 24 2003, Ukraine will celebrate the 12th anniversary of her independence. What has been achieved in the twelve years of independence? What are the gains, losses, hopes and aspirations? What are the prospects for the future?
We have decided to let the experienced politicians speak for themselves. These are the people who are making — in the very literal sense of the word — the history of this country. And consequently they bear responsibility for what is happening here. These politicians belong to different parties — the extreme left, right, anti-government and pro-government. There is hardly any need to comment what they say — they have said it explicitly enough.
P.S. Translator's note: the translator has tried very hard indeed to render not only the content of the politicians' remarks but the very style and form in which they are expressed.
Verkhovna Rada deputy, leader of the Nasha Ukrayina faction in parliament
Today, most of the Ukrainians in Ukraine are not satisfied with their life. The minimum pension in Ukraine is 9 dollars a month, whereas in Russia it is 22 dollars and in Kazakhstan — 29 dollars. The average monthly wage in Ukraine is 79 dollars, in Kazakhstan — 150 dollars, in Russia 169 dollars, and in Lithuania — 240 dollars. There are 0.36 books per capita annually published in Ukraine compared to 3.5 books in Russia, 12 books in Poland and 19 in Germany. Besides, the ratio of books published in Ukraine in Ukrainian and in Russian is one to 56! The president-supported majority in parliament were unanimous in rejecting the increase of the minimum monthly wage to 237 hryvnyas (45 US dollars) and the president himself vetoed the bill.
Even these facts are the best evidence of the fact that Ukraine has been having an undemocratic, unprofessional and unUkrainian system of government. It prevents the Ukrainian people from availing themselves of the opportunities that Ukraine’s independence offered to every citizen of Ukraine. The people are artificially divided over the issues of religious affiliation; tensions are created over the language issues. There are also other very sensitive issues to be dealt with in foreign policy.
The central power must create conditions for mutual understanding and not treat the Ukrainian people like a herd of cattle. Unless we change the current system of government, no one in Ukraine — teachers, doctors, workers or farmers — will find adequate realization of their potential.
All through these twelve years of independence, Ukraine has been living under an authoritarian regime which hinders our movement forward. Under such conditions, the bureaucrats feel themselves the rulers of people’s destinies. They even do not find it necessary to hide their ill-gained millions.
We cannot put up with the humiliating situation, which the Ukrainian statehood finds itself in. We have to do our outmost to free our country from poverty and misery, from the oppression by the magnates who are linked with the organized crime, we want the Ukrainian people to feel that the system of government takes care of them, respects and appreciates their work. The Day of Independence will become a true holiday for every Ukrainian citizen only when we will not be ashamed of our country.
Our common goal is to provide a full-scale sovereignty and democracy, to revive spirituality and culture, to make Ukraine a flourishing European state. We must attain it. And we must do it as soon as possible. The critical time will come in the fall of 2004, at the presidential election.
Verkhovna Rada deputy, authorized representative of the Social-Democratic Party (united) faction in parliament
The Day of Independence is a big and significant event in the life of our country. In the twelve years of Ukraine’s independence, Ukraine has gained in strength, it has acquired more political weight in the world, it has become a member of many international organizations. Ukraine is developing its relations with the neighbouring countries and other countries of the world on the basis of partnership and equality.
We have achieved a lot. In the years of independence we avoided national conflicts and we have preserved civil peace.
Ukraine has scrapped its nuclear weapons but at the same time it has gained a prestige of a country that has powerful armed forces. Ukrainian peacekeepers have proved to be reliable and effective in protecting the local population and in defending democratic institutions in many hot spots on the globe.
In the economic sphere, Ukraine has achieved steady rates in the growth of GDP and a measure of stability in its economy; its currency — hryvnya — has been stabilized, and it has become convertible.
Ukraine at last has clearly established its intentions and has chosen a course towards European integration.
At present, Ukraine is about to undertake a constitutional reform which is called upon to provide a mutual responsibility of all the branches of government, stability in the development of this country, consolidation of the gains of democracy, and in the final result, the rise in the well-being of the Ukrainian citizens.
The top priorities of the Social-Democratic Party (united) remain to be the following:
l working out and promoting the bill of new labour legislation;
l improvement of legal protection against unemployment, of women and young people in particular;
l adequate health care provided free of charge for most of the population;
l narrowing the gap in incomes of the richest and poorest sections of the Ukrainian population;
l social help delivered to those who really needs it.
We know what should be done and how to do it, and we prove it by our work in parliament.
Verkhovna Rada deputy, head of the National Security and Defence Parliamentary Committee, member of the Communist Party faction in parliament
It is my opinion that though twelve years have passed since Ukraine’s independence, the prevailing majority of the Ukrainian people are in such a situation that they have the right to say that they have not received from independence what they expected they would.
Firstly, a great number of people just did not take independence seriously, they never thought that we could be separate from the Russian Federation, Belarus and other former Soviet republics. It was good that we proclaimed independence, that we got our sovereignty, that the people of Ukraine will be masters of their own house, but people believed that friendly, brotherly relations with other former Soviet peoples would be maintained. It turned that, as we saw, it was a breakup of a union state and in this breakup it was Ukraine that lost most because among all other former Soviet republics — with the exception of Tajikistan and Moldova where internal military conflicts took place, we in Ukraine have the greatest fall in the economy, the greatest pauperization of the population, and so many other problems.
Unfortunately, at the dawn of independence so much depended on those who were at the helm. After the breakup of the Soviet Union, Ukraine was headed by the former Communist Party ideologue Leonid Kravchuk, a person whose knowledge of the economy was very weak but who had great ambitions, and that is why this person, justifying his betrayal of the [communist] ideology, of the Communist Party which had once put him so high, he did everything in order to break up [the Soviet Union] without taking into consideration anything, [without trying to retain] those links that had been established in the Soviet Union [among its constituent parts]. All these things were detrimental to Ukraine. In my opinion, if it was decided to go this way [of breaking up the Soviet Union], it was necessary to dismantle the Soviet Union very carefully, expecting all kinds of possible consequences. For example, we had a huge military force stationed in Ukraine, almost a million soldiers. Ukraine did not need such an army, but it was necessary to think what would become of it, of all these people [the implication being it was not done]! And what to do with the Navy? And what about a huge segment of the defence-industrial complex? And what to do with the nuclear weapons? Did we dispose of all these things in a proper manner, the way a state should? In the Declaration about Its State Sovereignty, Ukraine proclaimed its status of a non-nuclear, neutral state. But the States [USA] put pressure on us, and Russia put pressure on us and we gave up everything in a hurry — we made a fine mess of things and now we face the music.
And then a new president came, Kuchma, who said himself that for the first five years [of his presidency] he was just learning, and now he says that he has become new [a new person who has learnt a lot]. What kind of new? Apart from the unending confrontations with Verkhovna Rada, nothing is being done. He has speeches written for him, and he criticizes that we have such and such improprieties and unseemlinesses. Being the guarantor of adherence to the Constitution, of the rights of citizens, a political figure who is responsible for the state of things in Ukraine, he looks as though he had fallen from the moon, has seen shortcomings and began to criticize. But who is to blame [meaning: it is he to blame for all this]?
[The Ukrainian] people have been brought to the edge of disaster. The president himself said in one of his speeches last year that 7.9 million people are destitute, 40 million are poor, their incomes are lower than the subsistence minimum. It is the countryside that suffers most, because the [Ukrainian] agriculture has been ruined and the young people in the rural areas do not have any prospects. And the president keeps strengthening his power all the time — once he concluded a constitutional agreement, then the constitution was adopted, and now it turns out it’s a wrong kind of constitution and he initiates changes to be introduced into it. It is well known that the situation with the human rights and with the freedom of the press is precarious. That is why the date of the declaration of independence is not felt to be a holiday. Let’s take the Ukrainian language, culture. Their situation in the independent country [of Ukraine] is in no way better than it used to be in the Soviet times. There are deplorably few books published in Ukrainian, everything is substituted by mass culture of a very poor kind.
Yes, we have been recognized by everybody, but the stage was set anyway — we exist, we proclaimed ourselves [independent] — so you have to recognize us. But, actually, the domestic, foreign and defence policy [of Ukraine] is determined in the USA and in NATO. Are we sending now our boys to Iraq of our own free will? Kofi Annan speaks at the UN meeting and says that foreign troops should be pulled out of there [Iraq] as soon as possible, and Germany, France and other countries say that they can send troops only when there will be a UN resolution sanctioning it, and we send only because America puts pressure on us — so we do not have anything to be proud of. When according to the Ministry for Foreign Affairs, GDP per capita [in Ukraine] is 16 percent compared to the similar index in the EU countries, and according to the EU data it is only 4.1 percent [instead of 16], then there are few reasons for optimism. And [Ukraine] used to be the richest country among the [Soviet] Union republics. We had the best starting conditions, but did we use so inaptly? It depended both on the leaders and on the population, but it [the blame for the failure] was laid at the talentless leaders’ door.
I do not see any positive changes [coming] in the future but, of course, one wants to hope for the better.
Governor of the National Bank of Ukraine
In the years of market transformations, the Ukrainian economy has considerably changed. Its isolation from the outside world has been broken, the mechanisms of the Soviet-type command economy have been dismantled, instruments of macroeconomic regulation have supplanted the system of management through authoritarian directives, chronic lack of goods, foodstuffs and services has become a thing of the past, and the range of services and goods available has been increased many times over. The population of Ukraine is getting rid fast of the complexes the people acquired in the Soviet times when the consumers had to spend great amounts of time and efforts in search of the goods they needed, and a new type of psychology, based on the understanding of the market economy principles is coming in, a new way of thinking and acting is getting established, and, as a result, entrepreneurship and the middle class are developing at a high rate. We have made a considerable progress in the work discipline and ethics of labour.
The years of independence have seen the creation of the basic institutions of market economy — commercial banks, stock, commodity and currency exchange; qualitatively new mechanisms of taxation; anti-monopoly regulations, etc. Curbing of galloping inflation and overcoming budget deficit have been important achievements as well.
A list of other similar important achievements is a long one indeed — all these years we have not been idle, we have been working hard.
At present, positive tendencies in Ukraine’s economy are gaining momentum, and particularly pronounced they have become this year. Ukraine is among the leaders in Central and Eastern Europe in the real growth of the main macroeconomic indices.
The positive development of the bank system has determined to a large extent the unqualified success at the macroeconomic level — hryvnya, the Ukrainian currency, is absolutely stable; the gold reserves of Ukraine are growing; the budget surplus continues to be high. In other words, the banking system of Ukraine has provided the economy with a powerful reserve of macroeconomic stability, and as a result — its progress.
I am convinced that this year Ukraine is capable of achieving the economic results no worse than in 2001, the year when these results were the best in all the years of independence.
At the same time we realize that the rise of the Ukrainian economy, the full realization of Ukraine’s potential, its further growth does not depend upon the banks alone. It is absolutely necessary to deepen and step up the carrying out of other reforms — structural, fiscal, social and judiciary. Only a complex approach will bring positive results.
In conclusion, I would like to greet the readers of the Welcome to Ukraine magazine, all the citizens and guests of Ukraine on the occasion of the Day of Independence of Ukraine.
I wish you all the best, well-being, success and consolidation of efforts directed at bringing prosperity to independent Ukraine.
Academician, member of the Presidium of the National Academy of Ukraine, head of the Pivnichno-Skhidny Research Centre
Ukraine has come to the celebration of the 12th anniversary of its independence with considerable gains which open good prospects for Ukraine in the future.
For the first time in the history of Ukraine, its president initiated a large scale public discussion of cons and pros of a political modernization of Ukraine and put forward a constitutional-political reform.
Today, the basic principles of pragmatic foreign policy of Ukraine have been fully established, and the main directions of this policy are: cooperation with the USA and the European Union in dealing with issues concerning global security; European integration in the political, economic and humanitarian spheres; strengthening the economic cooperation with the CIS countries and the Russian Federation in particular.
Ukraine is one of the leaders in Eastern Europe as to the rates of economic growth; the positive macroeconomic, social and economic tendencies are becoming more pronounced; the living standards of the citizens of Ukraine are on the rise. A certain progress has been achieved in the reforms of pensions, taxation and health care.
Ukraine initiates major projects to meet the requirements of our time such as a free economic zone within the framework of the post-Soviet countries, an organization of regional integration, an international gas-transportation consortium or an oil pipeline of a great length.
The previous stage in the development of Ukraine was a period of dealing with the consequences of the post-Soviet transformations, and the current Ukrainian reforms are being carried out on a new conceptual foundation which finds its reflection in the strategy of Ukraine’s European choice.
Today we are standing at the threshold of qualitative social changes — the institution of parliamentarians is going through a change, mechanisms of transparency and of political coalition alliances are being introduced, the role of political parties and of civic society is being given an ever greater importance. The process of the formation of the middle class and of the strengthening of the small-sized and middle-sized businesses, which are the basis of economic and social stability of a country, is becoming ever more pronounced.
With every passing year Ukraine is changing, it is becoming more powerful, her economy is becoming more competitive and her prestige is growing. And we are only at the beginning of a road leading to further development of Ukraine, the development carried on by the efforts of the industrious Ukrainian people.
I hope that the Day of Independence will bring joy and inspiration to all those who work at factories in Ukraine, who work in the social and cultural spheres, who protect and enforce law and order, who run their own businesses creating new jobs, who invest their capital into the future of the Ukrainian economy and society.
I am confident that their fruitful work will be appreciated by society and will contribute to the strengthening of the Ukrainian statehood.
Verkhovna Rada deputy, leader of the Socialist Party of Ukraine faction in parliament
The fact that Ukraine regained independence is in itself a positive and promising thing. However, what followed the regaining of independence, was very much different from the way the statehood developed in dozens of other countries since at the moment of regaining of independence Ukraine’s economy was an integral part of the economy of the superpower — the Soviet Union. International agreements signed by Ukraine with foreign states which recognized Ukraine’s sovereignty and which began to build relations with her on different principles, and the political confirmation of independence through the adoption of the Constitution in 1996, were among the steps taken to strengthen Ukraine’s sovereignty and should be mentioned among important events in the recent history of Ukraine.
Unfortunately we cannot speak about successful changes in the economic, social and spiritual spheres because there are more problems in them than successes. According to Mykola Azarov, the first vice premier, who in no way can be accused of being in opposition to the current system of government, the actual volume of Ukraine’s GDP today is about a half of what it was in 1991, the year when Ukraine became independent. But I think that even this estimate is higher than what it actually is. In order to survive about 7 million Ukrainians are now working abroad. We can analyze the reasons why, we can talk about structural deformations in the economy, about the decreasing volumes of investments, about the ruination of the agrarian sector, about the crisis in the food industry and about the food prices, and about the price hike which resulted from the executive power’s indifference to the problems of our society. But all of these shortcomings and inadequacies, including those in Ukraine’s foreign policy, have one basic cause — the whole system of power which has been created by Ukraine’s president in defiance of the Constitution. In fact, what we have is the usurpation of power. That is why the key to solving the problems Ukraine faces today is in a total change in the system of power.
The Constitution of Ukraine does not have any provisions for “Administration of the President,” this word combination is not even mentioned in the Constitution. And we have it, and we spell it with capital letters, and it is a body that employs more people than the Cabinet of Ministers, and wields much greater authority than the Cabinet of Ministers. At the same time no one there takes any responsibility for any of their actions or for the results of their activity. There’s more — the appointments to governorships, to top positions in Oblasts and Raions, to ministerial posts or their dismissal are regularly made without any consultations with the Cabinet of Ministers or without the procedure of countersigning. And President Kuchma seeks to get this practice legally established which is absolutely unacceptable since it will ruin the balance of power. In other words, today we have two independent branches of executive power: on the one hand, the so called “state administrations” which have the full authority but do not bear any responsibility for anything they do, and on the other hand, the Cabinet of Ministers which is supposed to exercise, the executive power but lacks authority and cannot influence the situation in this country. Thus, the main thing now is to change this system of power.
Democratization of power will provide a balance among the branches of power — legislative, executive and judiciary, it will guarantee the development of an effective economy, of private business, of competitiveness, it will do away with corruption. The present-day regime is an exact opposite to it, and it seeks to strengthen its position through changes in the Constitution which President Kuchma wants to introduce. That is why the opposition in general and the Socialist Party in particular, are determined to struggle against any such attempts and will do their best to achieve democracy in Ukraine through all the constitutional means available.
Expressing the views not only of the opposition but, in fact, of the three quarters of the Ukrainian population as the results of the parliamentary election of 2002 clearly indicate, I can responsibly state that I regard Ukraine’s prospects with optimism, because having at our disposal the instrument of the realization of the people’s intentions — and this instrument is Ukraine’s independence — we shall spare no efforts in making Ukraine a country the Ukrainians living in Ukraine and in other countries want to see. The success will come for sure.
Verkhovna Rada deputy, head of the Verkhovna Rada European Integration Committee, head of the Narodny Rukh of Ukraine
Assessing the achievements of the twelve years of independence I can say that the greatest achievement is the regaining of independence. This is our most valuable attainment. Many generations of patriots and champions of Ukrainian independence dreamed and struggled to achieve it, and at last their dream and cherished hope came true. In this connection I cannot help mentioning the strugglers and strivers of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries and the political force that at the end of the 1980s stirred up the Ukrainian people and united the Ukrainian political elite in one organization. This force was the Narodny Rukh (People’s Movement) of Ukraine.
When Ukraine emerged as an independent country, highly optimistic prospects of development were forecast abroad for this newly sovereign state. Potentially, it was one of the most economically powerful European states. However, at the time when it broke free, Ukraine was mostly known in the world as the place where the Chornobyl nuclear disaster had taken place.
Ukraine had inherited a cumbersome military-industrial complex with nuclear weapons and almost a million soldiers of the former Soviet Army stationed in its territory. Ukraine found itself with the third biggest nuclear arsenal in the world, after Russia and the USA. Ukraine also faced territorial claims from two neighbouring countries. Such were some of the urgent problems Ukraine had to deal with right after regaining independence.
Analyzing the period that followed one finds a lot of negative things, but there were some positive things too. The economy plummeted and hit the bottom in 1993 when inflation reached 10,000 percent. The years that followed did not seem to justify the hopes of a quick economic recovery and consequent realization of Ukraine’s economic potential. The economy continued to be in a shambles until the year 2000 when Viktor Yushchenko headed the government. An economic revival began and the people of Ukraine immediately felt it. It is not the statistical data that people care about — it is a palpable improvement that makes the difference, and it was in 2003 that the economy situation began to change for the better. People saw that their modest needs began to be met. And the people of Ukraine remember it with gratitude.
We should ask ourselves — what kind of a country we would like Ukraine to be? What kind of image it should have internationally? Is the Ukraine of today fits the image of a country that so many Ukrainians struggled and died for? These are very difficult questions, and the answer is obvious.
The Ukraine of today is in all those shortcomings and deficiencies that the people of Ukraine encounter daily. The answer can also be found in the absence of political culture when, for example, one political force denies the right for a dialogue to another political force. In other words, those who are in power today refuse to conduct a dialogue with the opposition and do everything possible to stay in power using unconstitutional and undemocratic means and methods. Corruption is rampant; some businessmen who are linked to those in power are supported and the rest who want to act independently are destroyed by devious means.
Despite of all this, though it may sound paradoxical, the foundation of democracy is getting stronger, the institutions of civic society are strengthening, non-governmental organizations are finding their feet, the media began to assert themselves as a force to be reckoned with. The political and social awareness of Ukrainian society is growing, and this growth found its reflection in the parliamentary election of 2002 when the prevailing majority of the Ukrainian citizens expressed their distrust of those in power and voted for the opposition political forces instead.
In spite of all the problems, Ukraine remains to be one of the ten world’s biggest producers of rocket and space technologies, of airplanes and ships. Its agricultural potential remains very high as well as that of production of electrical equipment. Ukraine is a country of great possibilities which are yet to be realized. What are the impediments? The answer is also obvious — the current system of government. Those who are in power are unpatriotic and do not care for the interests of the Ukrainian state and the Ukrainian people.
Viewing Ukraine from the political point view, we see a country, one of the largest in Europe, with a fifth biggest population. It is a country that from the second half of the 1990s began to be looked upon as a factor of stability in Europe, a unique and strategic partner of The European Union, a special partner of NATO; a country that has renewed the relations of strategic partnership with Russia and Poland, and with the USA; a country which is one of then world’s biggest contributors to peace keeping operations. Thus we can say that in the sphere of foreign policy Ukrainian achievements were quite significant. It is not an exaggeration to say that in the first ten years of Ukraine’s independence the greatest gains in building up the sovereignty were in the sphere of foreign policy which stood in sharp contrast to the economic failures (as I have mentioned, the economic situation radically changed in 2000).
Speaking about the place Ukraine occupies in the world of today, I have to say with regret that those who are in power today have managed to loose the gains in the foreign policy made previously. Ukraine has just recently overcome a considerable cooling off in relations with the USA. Ukrainian partners in the European Union and NATO are still unsure, because of the Ukrainian contradictory and wavering foreign and domestic policy, about our intention to become a member of these organizations. At the same time I am convinced that Ukraine does have a tremendous potential — human, agricultural and industrial. When this potential begins to be realized, this country will arise and become a flourishing state. In order to do it we have to remove those who are in power today from this power and I am convinced the presidential election of 2004 will be the beginning of cardinal changes in the foreign and domestic policy of Ukraine, and the world will learn of a different Ukraine, Ukraine that will become one of the leading countries of Europe.[Prev][Contents][Next]