As the country integrates more closely with Europe, Russia, in time, will follow.
MAIDAN VOYAGE: One year on, what have we learned? REUTERS
A year after Ukraine’s Maidan demonstrations, it is worth taking stock of where my country finds itself today. If we can move beyond certain truculent characteristics of our politics, I believe there is a way forward. But it won’t be easy.
Like many Ukrainians, I have been torn by these events and their aftermath. Because I believed that Viktor Yanukovych, the country’s president at the time, became hostage to influences on the wrong side of history and did too little to respond to protestors on Kiev’s central square last winter, in January I resigned from my position as his chief of staff. Last month I was elected to Parliament to fight for the rights of Ukrainians who were marginalized in a tumultuous year of revolution, deprivation and war.
Meanwhile, the fighting in our East is getting worse. Separatists and Ukrainian national forces struggle over important installations such as the Donetsk airport. Civilians are caught in the cross fire and being displaced from their homes and places of employment. The war makes normal democratic processes unavailable to much of the country’s East, while the country’s West has splintered into an array of groups, from nationalist extremists to pragmatists.
My country has appeared weak in the eyes of the world as we vacillated between a European Union accession agreement and a counteroffer from the Moscow-initiated Eurasian Customs Union. Lurching in opposite directions then in part led to our instability now, which is why today we must be more cautious and deliberate in charting our path.
Modern Ukraine’s future lies in Europe. Our Western aspiration has, however, in recent times reaped more sorrow than benefit. Integration with Western institutions should not be a zero-sum game with respect to our interests in the Northeast. As we integrate more closely with the West, Russia will—in time—follow our example.
Right now all responsible political leaders in the parliament, regardless of party, need to unite and avoid irreversible mistakes such as passing polarizing laws and compounding our national debt without regard for those on whose shoulders the burden will ultimately rest. Considering the lack of balance in our newly formed government, which excludes the Opposition Bloc, and our new parliament, for which many could not vote, it is especially important to restrain partisanship and extremism.
In October, the Ukrainian government passed a law banning those who served in the Yanukovych government from serving under the executive branch for a decade. The government is the largest employer in our country, and the vast majority of state employees come under the executive. This “lustration law” violates the constitution of Ukraine and discriminates against a large number of honest and experienced people. Victims of this law may soon exceed a million people, possibly more.
There is also a growing distrust between Ukrainians who live in the embattled East and the central government. Last week, President Petro Poroshenko put an end to local self-governance in Eastern Ukraine, and Kiev is now withholding their much-needed social payments. After the recent shelling of a schoolyard in Donetsk, hard-pressed families there are wondering whether the central government is doing enough to protect them.
Such divisive policies will only weaken Ukraine. And so long as the country is weak, it remains vulnerable to interference from Russia. Ukraine’s best chance at survival therefore is to show unity where we have been divided, and accommodation in place of discord. The new government must telegraph a resilient pragmatism if Ukraine is to survive.
This winter will be a tough one for Ukraine’s new government. Kiev has reached a tentative gas deal with Moscow, but on Moscow’s terms, which are not beneficial to Ukraine. Meanwhile the country’s most vulnerable are being saddled with the real burden of our worsening economy. Political infighting within an uneasy coalition threatens to make a bad situation worse. Ukraine’s new leaders must show they can rise above ingrained tendencies in our political culture.
First, we must curb the urge for political revenge. There should be accountability for the 100 deaths on the Maidan, and major corruption should be pursued via reformed courts. But by pandering to extremists, the current government only further divides the nation.
Second, we need reforms that salvage our economy, not radical measures that appeal to far-away bankers. The president should convene those who have experience with actual reforms, and include those with industrial interests in the hardest-hit regions of Ukraine.
Third, and most importantly, we must build bridges, not walls. The 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall did not go unnoticed in my country. The value of a physical wall separating us from Russia is illusory. Our top priority must be getting civilians out of the cross fire of today’s ruthless conflict.
The role of the opposition is to hold government accountable and offer an alternative. After Maidan, a new Ukrainian opposition learned the meaning of this the hard way. We have experienced intimidation, physical attacks and political trolling by pro-government forces. Regardless, we resolve to build a stable, united and European Ukraine.
Mr. Lyovochkin is a leader of Ukraine’s Opposition Bloc party and a member of its newly elected parliament.