What are the perspectives for democracy building in Ukraine?

On the 8th of April 2014, the European Parliament hosted a seminar on the current political situation in Ukraine, organized by the Group of Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats. Speaker panels consisted mostly of Ukrainian and Russian experts, some of whom witnessed the Maidan events personally. Key issues raised during the seminar included the Russian annexation of Crimea, the role of the civil society in the future shaping of Ukraine, and freedom of media. The debate focused also on the prospects and challenges Ukraine has to face on its path to democracy and prosperity. However, even knowing what has to be done in order to improve the future position of Ukraine, one must consider what the main cause of its current situation is – corruption. 

The role of corruption within the Ukrainian society dominated the debate on the recent crisis.  Oleksii Khmara, director of TI-Ukraine, was one of the speakers during the seminar, and he also participated in a meeting with political advisors in the European Parliament. The discussion embodied a mutual exchange of views and discussed perceptions of the current situation in Ukraine.

During the session in the Parliament, Oleksii stressed that the prevalence of corruption within the Ukrainian public life does not permit people to operate outside of the corruption circle. Khmara stated that “the rules don’t allow a normal person to step out of the corruption”, adding that it is particularly important to create more transparency of registers as well as open access to data on the assets of the richest Ukrainians. As an example of inefficiency in providing reliable public data, Oleksii cited “the lack of punishment for lying in personal declarations or public statements” concerning, for example, candidates in presidential elections.  The TI-Ukraine director also expressed his concerns on the new government in Kiev which, he says, remains composed of familiar faces. “These are the old members of parliament that formed new parties” he said.

At the same time, Oleksii emphasized the importance of EU support for Ukrainian reforms, stating that the European initiatives are giving hope to Ukrainian citizens. He also expressed belief that the financial support that Ukraine is about to receive can only help to stabilize and re-build the system, arguing that “without money, there cannot be any reforms”.

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TI Ukraine with five other organizations prepared their own strategy on anti-corruption reforms in Ukraine which promotes, among other things:  integrity and accountability in public sector, transparency of political party financing, and open access to information.

The seminar’s opening speech of S&D’s Hannes Swoboda was primarily focused on the position of Russia within the conflict. According to him, any kind of disagreement on the line EU-Russia only worsens the situation in Ukraine. Swoboda stated that “Ukraine should not be forced to choose between EU and Russia” highlighting the fact that “the good relations with Russia depends on Russia”.  Gunnar Wiegand from the EEAS mentioned the lack of Russian willingness to participate in European initiatives such as the Eastern Partnership. He added that it is not in the interest of the EU to create border lines between Russia and Europe.

Professor Andriy Meleshevich focused on the lack of common identity among the Ukrainians, which he outlined as one of the main problems of modern Ukranian society. He opined that, “there should be something to cement the nation, and it could be, the European identity”. Meleshevich suggested that Ukraine may not ready for the EU membership yet, but that “the lack of the EU-joining perspective would be a betrayal for the Ukrainians”. He also mentioned resolving  the corruption problem as a top priority in forthcoming reforms, as it sits deeply rooted in the Ukrainian system as a remnant of Yanukovich’s government.

Svetlana Zalischuk from the Chesno Movement – an organization monitoring the election processes in Ukraine – stated that “financial reports of presidential candidates do not include all the necessary information and that there is no imperative to publish these documents. There is also no limits on candidates’ funding”. In her opinion, financial transparency in the political arena would be the best medicine for a sick Ukrainian democracy. 

Ana Gomes, an MEP from S&D, mentioned the recently adopted resolution on “Asset Recovery to Arab Spring Countries” (to which TI-EU heavily contributed) as a possible solution for the Ukrainian problem. She compared the situation in Ukraine to the Jasmine Revolution’s processes, underlining to Ukrainians participating in the seminar that “[…]it is important for Europe to support you”.

The majority of the speakers raised the issue of the continuous conflict taking place in Ukraine. Many of them confessed that they had to change their presentations a few days or hours before the seminar. Indeed, the conflict in Ukraine is still burning and it is hard to predict when and how it may stabilize. The ongoing turmoil in Ukraine poses an additional barrier to the discussion about the future of the country.

However, it is worth remembering what the people in Ukraine are actually fighting for. Regardless of their ethnic, religious and linguistic differences, they all struggle for a better economy for their country, and above all, fair treatment from authorities. Levels of corruption and fraud have exacerbated public rebellion. We are now the witnesses of political changes that will determine the fate of Ukraine for many years.  The only hope we have is that there will be no room for corruption and opacity in the future of Ukrainian politics.

Paulina Pieprzyca

EU Policy Officer

Transparency International EU Office

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