Ukraine has always been a friendly country in my memory. But the recent burst of activity to prevent foreigners from entering the country, which are considered to be “inconvenient,” is less hospitable and in fact a negative trend. The power that has appeared in Ukraine as a result of the “Revolution of Dignity” in 2014 led to the fact some Ukrainians recall a more tolerant and less corrupt government that was overthrown as a result of this “revolution.”
Last week, the state security service expelled Antonio Pampliega and Angel Sastre from the country, two Spanish journalists covering the conflict in the East. This step deserved condemnation of Human Rights Watch and other organizations. Previously, the Ukrainian government created a list of foreign journalists whose reports are suspected of mismatching “national interests”. The Committee to Protect Journalists regularly expresses warnings about how Ukraine treats both foreign and its journalists.
What is more strange is the case of the former governor of Odesa oblast, who was deprived of his Ukrainian citizenship a month ago and who returned to Ukraine from Poland last Monday against the will of the Ukrainian government.
Mikheil Saakashvili, former president of Georgia, voluntarily and enthusiastically helped the power that came in 2014 and tried to apply its glorious experience of fighting corruption in Odesa oblast. Last year, in disappointment, he resigned as a governor of this region.
Jacques Mallet Du Peng, a French journalist of the 18th century who in one of his essays noted that, “following the example of Saturn, the revolution devours its children,” I would sadly shake my head seeing Ukraine today.
Corruption, which became a spark, from which the Maidan flared up, did not abate, despite a lot of optimistic reports. This week, one MP from the President Petro Poroshenko’s own faction accused the authorities of manipulating the prices of liquefied gas and making profits while Ukrainians are suffering from harsh living conditions and rising prices. Perhaps, therefore, the approval of the current government has fallen to 4%, and more than 90% of Ukrainians consider the government’s anti-corruption initiatives a failure. According to Bloomberg, Ukraine, being the most democratic of all countries of the former Soviet Union quickly becomes as authoritarian as its neighbors. Journalists, such as the editor of the news site Strana.UA, Igor Guzhva, face false accusations. Opposition MPs and many politicians, such as Oleksandr Efremov and Oleksandr Lavrynovych, regularly become victims of selective harassment. Oleksandr Lavrynovych, former Minister of Justice, is accused among other things of hiring an American law firm six years ago to provide legal assistance to his ministry. The current government of Ukraine seeks to receive dividends on the fever of the “Russia-gate” embracing America and extracts all possible political advantages from it.
Undoubtedly, in the past three and a half years no charges were brought against those who pressed the trigger and were guilty of the deaths of “Holy Hundred” protestors killed during the Maidan whom the government once martyred but now seems to have forgotten.
The only thing that does not end in Ukraine is hope. We hope for the end of the conflict in the East, for a real unification of the country and for the fact that the economy will become as strong as the entrepreneurial spirit of our people. If there is a “Ukrainian Dream”, then it consists of a free life, like our ancestors the Cossacks did, in peace with our neighbors, integration with the West and the East, playing the role of a bridge between two civilizations. Our experience tells us that no one will give us this dream for us. We must achieve it ourselves.
And that requires three things right now:
First, we need to remove the confusion between the survival of our country and this or that political clan. The fight against journalists and the media in the name of national security is always a wrong strategy. Today, our first priority should be to end the conflict and return more than 1.5 million refugees to normal life, our citizens and millions of those who suffered from the fratricidal conflict. This conflict can be stopped if there is political will.
Second, we need to “restart” our state system, taking into account today’s realities. A top-heavy government with great powers presumes corruption and disappoints those voters whose basic needs are ignored by this authority. It is necessary to give more power and resources to the regions. Both law enforcement agencies and the judiciary should be something more than just weapons in politically motivated persecutions. It’s time to make constitutional changes and make our power more accountable.
And third, it’s time to restore trust between citizens and power. The only real change that Ukrainians have seen since the times of the Maidan is wildly growing prices and bills for housing and communal services, while the budgets of most families are completely depleted. Parliamentary elections are scheduled for 2019, and Poroshenko has another 1.5 years of his mandate. The crisis with North Korea confirms the high price of indulging someone’s bad behavior in the hope of loyalty. If the West does not press on its friends and does not require them to take real action for peace and democracy, there is very little chance that the global peace will be better.
Ukraine can conduct a policy of peace and real reform and must adhere to higher standards.