Kremlinization - the slip towards strong authoritarianism - is underway in Ukrainian politics. The EU’s Ukraine dilemma is either to ignore problematic democracy issues and develop straightforward pragmatic attitude towards official Kyiv or set a democracy bar. Based on the outcome of the last EU-Ukraine Summit on November 22, 2010, it seems that the EU is leaning towards the first option.
EU-Ukraine summits have traditionally been marked with serious challenges and dilemmas for Ukraine. The December 2009 EU-Ukraine Summit was a mere shadow of what could have been called a productive high-level political meeting. Years of political turmoil under the Orange government, devastated economic situation and upcoming presidential elections in Ukraine created distrust in the EU.
The European Parliament has repeatedly failed to either criticize the current government or set a clear measure of democracy in Ukraine.
The November 22, 2010 EU-Ukraine Summit brought such results as the Action Plan for visa liberalization, protocol on Ukraine’s accession to EU and a prospect for Deep Free Trade Agreement. Viktor Yanukovych managed to normalize relations with the EU, attempted to conduct economic reforms and facilitated Ukraine’s entry into the European Energy Community. All these results came amidst increasing crackdown on media and mounting pressure on democracy in Ukraine. The European Parliament has repeatedly failed to either criticize the current government or set a clear measure of democracy in Ukraine. Instead, Europe witnessed a relatively productive EU-Ukraine Summit that did not adequately address current government’s democracy shortfalls.
The EU’s pragmatism towards Ukraine poses a serious risk of demolishing last signs of democratic activism and strengthening the upper hand of the government in domestic politics. As a result there is an increasingly murky picture for not only true democracy admirers or journalists in Ukraine but also for ordinary citizens who have been enjoying the benefits of a relatively competitive information market.
Relations with the EU are vital for Ukraine which has traditionally been a democracy leader in the Former Soviet Union (FSU) area and is by all means a European country. In order to influence EU’s interactions with the official Kyiv, Ukraine needs tools for formulating strong citizen positions and lobbying them in the EU.
Unfortunately, difficult conditions for civil society activism make it virtually impossible to promote Ukraine’s interests in the EU at any level.
Unfortunately, difficult conditions for civil society activism make it virtually impossible to promote Ukraine’s interests in the EU at any level. In short, the government of Ukraine retains almost a complete monopoly on positioning Ukraine in Europe. Without strong alternative lobbying, the EU has neither incentive nor the ability to conduct a policy other than pragmatic; whereas, a pragmatic agenda doesn’t necessarily include democracy problems of the Kyiv government. EU leaders’ task has probably become an easy one because what they seem to need is determining how to deal with the official Kyiv.
There are multiple examples of how the current government is copying and pasting its eastern neighbor’s policies of building up its power. Among the most salient examples is the destruction of already weak civil society mechanisms in Ukraine using law enforcement agencies to control media activism. Ukraine has virtually become a very big democratic disappointment in the post-communist world. This has been a subject of strong public disapproval and growing frustration with the situation among the general public.
I have previously written in Kyiv Post about the necessity of grass-roots activism in Ukraine. With the current political situation this may not be enough.
Political events under the current government have been developing at such a fast clip that Ukraine needs more than grass-roots activism. It is necessary for Ukraine to develop the ability to formulate its citizenship values and emphasize that it is a European country. To make it real, Ukraine needs close ties with European civil society institutes and the European Union institutions to break the Yanukovych government’s monopoly when it comes to EU-Ukraine interactions.
Ukrainian young professionals and students based in the EU can potentially be the first echelon of political activism for Ukraine.
A new, strong civil society to civil society relationship needs to be developed with Europe. Ukrainian young professionals and students based in the EU can potentially be the first echelon of political activism for Ukraine. As for the EU, along with the democracy issues, it should add EU membership perspective to its current equation of pragmatic cooperation with the official Kyiv. It will be a bumpy and challenging road for both sides, which will require serious trade-offs.
Tamerlan Vahabov, a Kyiv-based political consultant, holds an MA from Georgetown University School of Foreign Service and MS from the U.S. Naval Postgraduate School. Has previously served as a project coordinator at the Interpol General Secretariat and a U.S. desk officer at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Azerbaijan