We received the following invitation to a full day conference – the enticing title:
“THE UKRAINE – ITS ORIENTATION TO THE EU OR RUSSIA OR TO BOTH?”
organized by the Danube Region Institute of the Austrian Social Democratic Party (Long-standing member party of Austrian Governments) Karl Renner Think-Tank and held at the Vienna home of the EU offices.
Das Karl-Renner-Institut und das Institut für den Donauraum und Mitteleuropa – IDM laden ein zur
Konferenz – DIE UKRAINE – ORIENTIERUNG RICHTUNG EU UND/ODER RUSSLAND?
Termin – Freitag, 22. März 2013, 9.00 – 16.00 Uhr
Ort – Haus der Europäischen Union – Wipplingerstraße 35, 1010 Wien
WINFRIED SCHNEIDER-DETERS – 1995 bis 2000 Leiter des Büros der Friedrich Ebert Stiftung in Kiew,
Autor des Buches „Die Ukraine: Machtvakuum zwischen Russland und der Europäischen Union“
GABRIELE BAUMANN, Konrad Adenauer Stiftung, Kiew
VOLODYMYR OGRYSKO, 2007-2009 Außenminister der Ukraine
MYKOLA RJABTSCHUK, Schriftsteller und Journalist
HANNES SWOBODA, MEP, Präsident der S&D-Fraktion
YURIY YAKYMENKO, Stv. Generaldirektor des Razumkov-Zentrums für politische und ökonomische Studien, Kiew
Konferenzsprachen: Deutsch und Englisch
The Karl Renner Institute
The Karl Renner Institute is the political academy of the Austrian Social Democratic movement. In this capacity, it foremostly aims at
- involving experts from various fields in the development and realization of new political positions by establishing a discourse between experts from various fields and the Austrian Social Democratic Party;
- generating a forum for political discussion and thus helping to introduce social democratic positions into public discussion;
- training representatives of the Austrian Social Democratic Party so that they are optimally prepared for their present and future tasks;
- fostering the organizational development of the Austrian Social Democratic Party in order to open up and modernize party structures.
These days, together with its foreign sister organizations, the Karl Renner Institute especially tries to support the young Central and Eastern European democracies and to help their integration into the mainstream of European political life. So it was not surprising that it brought its representative to the European Parliament, Mr. Hannes Swoboda, to be part of the discussion.
The Keynote speaker was – the 1995-2000 Head of the parallel German Social Democrat Think Tank – the Friedrich Ebert Foundation’s Kiew offices – and author of the volume: “The Ukraine Power Vacuum between Russia and the European Union”and from that point on the rest of the meeting just went on to justify that title.
The three panels were:
I Ukraine Inner politics,
II The Ukraine and Russia
III The Ukraine and the EU
Each of these panels was moderated by an editor of one of the most important print media in Austria – “Der Standard”, “Profil”, and “Die Presse,”
and the panels well balanced in right/left context – so there was a representative of the Right-of Center Konrad Adenauer Foundation office in Kiew, The Ukraine Foreign Ministry, the Russian Institute for Foreign Relations MGIMO, The Helsinki University, The Vienna University, and the Head of the Information Center of the EU representation in Kiew. It was clear that a lot of work went into preparing for this meeting – and we expect to get eventually printed concluding remarks.
So why am I disappointed? And disappointed I was. The answer is simple – I found more valuable information in a copy of “The Ukrainian Week” –
a December 2012 issue “Customs Union – Why Ukraine should avoid the trap by all means” featuring content from “The Economist” that I picked up at the information desk, then I got from the presenters.
The problems were two-fold. No presenter went into depth in describing the economics situation – it mainly was a debate about culture and where does Ukraine stand versus the cultural invasion from Russia. The fact that Russia never recognized that the Ukrainians have their own language and culture that are different from Russian. The fact that the Ukrainian elite knows only one foreign language – Russian. This while the Russian elites know western languages. The Ukrainians feel suffocated under the Russian onslaught but do not know any better. When they reached out to the West – they were not received – just because of this – they did not comply with Western ideals.
So, what we got was not real interests but perceived interests – with the Ukrainians actively shooting themselves in the foot.
When I went to the conference, as we posted many times on SustainabiliTank, I felt that The Ukraine will eventually have to split amicably like the old Czechoslovakia did – The Western Ruthenians that still remember their links to Poland – even though they never liked to be under Polish rule – belong to the EU, while the East and South – heavily Russian speaking – join Russia. But when others actually made this argument in the Q&A they were told that 80% of the citizens are Ukrainians – even those that speak Russian – and they want to stay in the Ukraine.
Further, when the previous government did serious and painful steps to adjust to the EU they were rebuffed anyway – so now there is a turn back to Russia.
a. Ukraine is too big to slip into the EU without being noticed
b. The Ukrainians want to stick together even if they look to the East – they want the West.
c. Not having been offered an alternative economically they want to look to the East because their economy is all run by the Russians – this even though the coal industry of East Ukraine has collapsed.
That reminded me of the Turkish experience – too big and too different.
The Turks tried to westernize under Ataturk – but still were Turks. The Ukrainians – or at least part of them could be accepted by the EU but they are not ready to make the Czechoslovak sacrifice. Actually they are much worse off then the Turks. There the decisions were in their own hands – no outside pull to the East. Here, the Russians want a buffer State between them and the West – so they will be kept in limbo if not ready to make their own decisions. So here comes the Custom Union with Russia that will leave them totally in continuing dependence on Russia. Could they aim at a Custom Union with the EU as well – and stay on as a buffer – in global limbo? The danger is – like Turkey – they eventually turn into a spinning top – just spinning around themselves. Not a great future in this.