|Select magazine number|
Valery Tsybukh, Ukraine’s new Ambassador to Greece, talks about tourism
During the seven years that Valery Tsybukh headed the State Tourist Administration of Ukraine, he was often referred to — not officially, of course — as “the chief tourist of Ukraine.” Recently he was appointed Ukraine’s ambassador to Greece, the country, in his opinion, very important for Ukraine in many respects.
Mr Tsybukh is packing things he wants to take with him to Greece, among them a state flag and a big tourist map of Ukraine created by the Ukrainian artist, Yury Halytsyn. At the interview which he gave to Yevhen BUDKO, senior editor of Mizhnarodny Turyzm Magazine, he seemed to be in a very good mood — and why shouldn’t he? It was to a beautiful, warm and friendly country he was going to go, not to a distant or hostile land.
Mr Tsybukh, how did you take your discharge from the post you occupied and subsequent appointment to ambassador?
If I interpreted your question correctly, you must have wanted to find out whether I have enough qualifications for the ambassadorial job. I think I do. I’ve always thought it was a special privilege to represent my native country abroad. Back in my young years, I read an encyclopaedia of diplomacy and found a lot of interesting and exciting things there… One of the things I learned from that reading was that Nikita Khrushchev (soviet premier and communist party leader of the 1950s and early 1960s — tr.), when he was banging with his shoe on the lectern during his speech at the UN Headquarters in New York, did it not because he totally lacked manners — it was done in a gesture of well-calculated defiance. Such acts of defiance were practised in ancient times too…
When, in the 1980s, I was a member of soviet parliament, I expressed a wish to study at the Diplomatic Academy of the Ministry for Foreign Affairs of the Soviet Union, the then soviet foreign minister Eduard Shevarnadze (later, president of Georgia, ousted in 2004 by the Revolution of Roses — tr.) found such a desire laudable and gave me his support. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, I found myself, thanks to my diplomatic education, on the staff of the first embassy of independent Ukraine in Moscow. So, as you see, I have both the experience and childhood dream to qualify me for the post of ambassador…
As far as my discharge is concerned, I can tell you that I did my best working as head of a government body for seven years. I don’t think there was anyone else in Ukraine who has held such a job for a longer term. In October 2004, I made a report to the government about the job that had been done by me and by the committee, and then expressed a wish to be appointed ambassador of Ukraine to a foreign country. Knowing well that in some countries tourism is one of the main sources of revenue, I specified which country I would like to go to — Turkey, Greece and Croatia. And I am very thankful to my destiny and to President Yushchenko for getting such a wonderful possibility to represent my country in Greece. I would like to quote from the credentials that I will hand in to the President of Greece: “I (President of Ukraine — tr.) ask you to receive him (our ambassador — tr.) kindly and benevolently and believe everything he will say on behalf of me or of the government of Ukraine.” It is a great honour and great responsibility for me. It’s a step that has been carefully planned and it is something that I’ve been dreaming of for a long time.
Have many of your former colleagues been given jobs in the newly formed ministry (Ministry of Culture and Tourism — tr.)?
The staff of the ministry is still in the process of being formed. Several days ago a state service for tourism and resorts was established within the framework of the ministry. Incidentally, it was our suggestion to do so.
What were the most important achievements of your committee in the seven years that you had headed it?
The most important thing is that we have been able to make it understood that tourism is an important industry and that it forms the image of this country abroad, practically at all the levels. Now the public in Ukraine is aware of it.
What about the local administrations? Are they aware of it?
That’s the thing — tourist departments have been created at the local bodies of power, and it is an obvious sign of progress in understanding at the local level of the importance of tourism… Another achievement — creation of the organizational structure of tourism, from top to bottom. The Derzhturadministratsiya (State Tourism Administration) was given a wider range of authority. Its predecessor, Derzhkomturyzm (State Committee for Tourism) had had authority only over the tourist companies, and the work of the Derzhturadministratsiya included all of the tourist infrastructure, museums, investments in tourism, easing of visas and customs duty formalities… The fact that Ukraine has abolished entrance visas for citizens of the EU countries is an evidence of our having been working in this direction for years. Some years ago, when I suggested Ukraine do it, I received a letter warning me to mind my own business, but now, with the new government such a move has become possible.
In seven years, the revenues from tourism have increased considerably. Last year, the number of foreign tourists coming to Ukraine from western countries was greater than the number of tourists coming from the countries of the former Soviet Union. It happened for the first time in the history of independent Ukraine.
Also, we have adapted the Ukrainian legislation dealing with tourism to that of the European and world standards. In 1997, Ukraine became a member of the World Tourism Organization.
Recently, President Yushchenko, when on an official visit to Austria, met the head of the European Travel Commission, Mr Arthur Oberascher — with whom, incidentally, we are on friendly terms — who said that Ukraine was going to be accepted into the organization he headed. It means that it will be the first EU organization of which Ukraine is going to be a member. It is nice to know that it was the Derzhturadministratsiya and the National Tourism Administration that were primarily responsible for this acceptance.
Which problems in the sphere of tourism remain to be solved?
The main problem is the creation of a high-quality and large-scale tourist infrastructure. In its turn, this problem is connected with the problem of investment policies in this country. I hope the new government will take care of it, all the more so that we have already worked out the general strategy of development of tourism and special state programmes have been already launched. Unfortunately, these programmes are not properly financed.
The tourism department is now a part of the Ministry of Culture. How well does culture and tourism go together?
Half of the 147 members of the World Tourism Organization have their governing bodies attached to economic bodies of government. There are also some exotic combinations, like a ministry of mines and tourism. Recently, ministries of culture and tourism were established in Turkey, Bulgaria and Moldova, but in most of the developed European countries the departments of tourism are part of economic ministries. Early this year there was a suggestion to make the tourist administration part of the Ministry for Youth and Sports, but in the past this symbiosis had not worked out well and the idea was abandoned. Then, there was an idea to incorporate the tourist administration into the Ministry of Economics but then the tourist department would be lost in the monstrously big body of this ministry — the tourist administration employs only 65 people against 1,500 employees of other departments! Later, I talked to Ms Oksana Bilozir, minister for culture, suggesting a union, and my suggestion was accepted. Tourism remains part of the government structure, it is an independent legal entity and its name is part of the name of the ministry, which is also important. I hope to live to see the day when tourism will have its own ministry. Such ministry, by the way, exists in Greece, and its head is a former mayor of Athens. In Israel, a former minister for tourism is now president of the country.
As ambassador, you are going to live in Greece for several years. Does Greece have any special meaning for you?
Greece is a country of ancient civilization, mother of democracy. It is a country of Orthodox Christianity and this faith is only one of many links that connect Greece and Ukraine. Ancient Greeks established their city-states on the shores of the Black Sea, which are now the shores of Ukraine… I’m doing a lot of reading trying to learn as much as possible about Greece. I have purchased a Ukrainian-Greek phrase book too… There are Greek communities in Kyiv, Nizhin, Mariupol, Odesa, in many towns and villages of the Crimea… The national liberation movement of Greece, Filiki etairia, had its start, in a sense, in Kyiv, and it was in one of the streets of Kyiv, Sichnevoho Povstannya, that Alexander Ipsilanti, the national hero of Greece, used to live. On the ground floor of the house where he used to live, the restaurant Hetman is situated, and it was in this restaurant that recently I gave a reception in honour of the governor of the Island of Crete.
What about present-day links and relations between Ukraine and Greece?
Some time ago, international experts who gathered for a conference held in Crete defined nine transport corridors in Europe — four of them pass through Ukraine. The ninth such corridor which, in ancient times, used to be called The Path from the Varengians (Vikings) to the Greeks, is now defined as running from Helsinki in Finland to the Greek port of Alexandropolis. It is these corridors that Ukraine should pay a special attention to, developing infrastructure of services, providing motels, camping sites and shops.
What will be your priorities in your mission to Greece as ambassador?
I’ll do my best to have Greece lobby Ukraine’s interest in the European Union, the way Poland, our strategic partner, does. Secondly, after Ukraine has taken steps to simplify entrance visa formalities, it would be logical if Greece did the same for the citizens of Ukraine who go to Greece for vacations or on business. Why shouldn’t we have it? Everything should be transparent and mutually beneficial, the way it is, for example, with Portugal. The number of Ukrainians vacationing in Turkey is much greater than that of those who go to Greece. It should not be that way. Is the Greek Mediterranean coast so much worse than in Turkey? Thirdly, I’d like to have a ferry service set up between the Ukrainian port of Illichevsk and the Greek port of Volos. Fourthly, I’ll work to promote Greek tourism to Ukraine, so that Greek tourists would be able to discover Ukraine as a place worth visiting. At present, it’s mostly Ukrainians who go to Greece, not the other way round. Fifthly, before I begin my ambassadorial mission, I want to pay visits to Greek communities in Ukraine in order to find out, in direct socializing, what are the interests, disposition and aspirations of their members. I plan to attend a Greek culture festival Olvia which is held in Mykolayiv Oblast. Sixthly… and then seventhly, and so on.
Let me wish you success in your new job. See you in Greece!