Ukrainians Can Save Democratic Orange Revolution On Feb. 7

KIEV, Ukraine -- Yulia Tymoshenko writes: Yanukovych would let oligarchs stay in control of economy, preventing European integration.

Yulia Tymoshenko

Five years after the Orange Revolution, Ukrainian voters returned to the ballot box in January to elect their president. They did so after a year of extreme hardship brought about by the global financial and economic crisis.

Despite these privations, some 60 percent of voters reaffirmed their support for pro-democracy candidates in the Jan. 17 first round of balloting. They showed the world that the principles voiced on Maidan Nezalezhnosti (or Independence Square) in 2004 still prevail among the majority of Ukrainians.

Sadly, not everyone wants it this way. Those who opposed the Orange Revolution still want to turn back the clock. They want to roll back reforms and the norms of democracy that have taken root in Ukraine. In their place they promise prosperity, provided they are left to run the country their way.

The choice given is a false one: surrender your values in return for economic stability. Turn a blind eye to illegality so that you will feel more secure. This is what my opponent offers the people.

Sentiment is democratic

Yet the support which we witnessed in the first round for democratic candidates reveals that, while many ordinary Ukrainians may be weary, they have not lost their wisdom. Their understanding is that true liberty and prosperity can only be built by adhering to the rule of law. They appreciate that the way forward is to build a stronger, more democratic, more European Ukraine.

Today, disillusioned citizens see the spectacle of politicians investing their mandate in squabbles rather than addressing economic and social issues.

They rightly despair at the shadowy hold of oligarchs on big business and the levers of political power. They see that the rule of law is neither applied consistently, nor is it paramount and that corruption is never far away.

Out of grey zone

So what can be done?

Well, Ukrainians should not be apathetic, for only they will determine the path their country will tread in the 21st century. The choice is simple: a country that embraces European-style democracy and living standards, versus a Ukraine trapped in an ill-defined grey zone between East and West. This would be a fast track to political and economic stagnation.

Victory for the failed candidate of 2004 will not bring about the fundamental root-and-branch reforms that Ukraine needs. Instead, the country will be pushed back into the arms of an oligarchic elite and succumb to policies that diminish the country’s national identity. What Ukraine requires is a genuine reform-minded presidency with its sights on Europe.

Relations with Russia

European integration is a foreign policy imperative, but one that does not preclude an amicable, pragmatic working relationship with Russia, based upon mutual sovereignty and respect. Our inter-dependence in the energy sector is self-evident. Going forward, we seek stability bolstered by energy efficiency and independence. Transparent direct relations between national suppliers and the payment of market prices for natural gas, must go hand in hand with Western investment in domestic infrastructure, exploration and extraction.

Friendly to business

Above all, the rule of law must reign supreme. Ironically, some have mistaken this as a predisposition to authoritarianism or, worse still, “dictatorship.” Nothing could be farther from the truth, for without the clear-cut and predictable application of the law, Ukraine’s business environment will stagnate.

Our goal is to make Ukraine an easier place to do business. Investor-friendly measures and incentives, combined with a reduction in bureaucracy, will reinvigorate the business environment, help combat corruption and encourage small and medium-sized enterprises to flourish. Tax regimes need to be reformed and subsidies, where applied, should be targeted and not applied universally. Those who steal public assets or abuse the system criminally should face the full force of the law.

Building Europe

Such reforms will bring Ukraine to the level of Western European states. This is important, for there can be no European Union membership prospect if we do not “build Europe in Ukraine” first.

Becoming a member of the World Trade Organization was a crucial first step. Overhauling and aligning state institutions with those of Europe is another – a task which my government has begun in earnest.

Finalization this year of a deep and comprehensive free-trade agreement and conclusion of visa free travel talks are other steps on the road to integration. It is to be hoped that now the European constitutional issue is resolved and enlargement fatigue is less of a concern, EU policymakers will rise to the challenge of creating a “United Europe.”

Support from Europe

My party is committed to the principles of European democracy and, since 2006, has been an enthusiastic observer member of the European People’s Party – the largest political bloc in the European parliament. We are encouraged by the level of support and commitment to seeing Ukraine enter the European family. However, at the same time, we appreciate that this will not be achieved overnight. First, we must prove ourselves worthy. The responsibility is ours.

Rebuilding faith

Our immediate priority is to complete the process of a free and fair second round of voting in the presidential elections on Feb. 7. The next task will be to adopt constitutional amendments that will put an end to the political instability of the last five years. Crucially, we must protect the rights of individuals and rebuild public faith in our institutions and politicians.

If we achieve this, then we will have earned the trust of the protesters who thronged to Kyiv’s Independence Square five years ago. Then and only then can we say that the Orange Revolution was a success.

Source: Kyiv Post