What's Happening in Ukraine
The Empire Club of Canada Addresses (Toronto, Canada), 13 May 2003, p. 485-493
Yushchenko, Viktor, Speaker
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Taking Ukraine to a stable democratic path of development in economic and social matters. The political portrait of Ukraine in western society. Some detailed comments on that portrait. Issues covered include government, economy, mass media, the GDP, taxation, elections, the political system, and more. Some very difficult choices facing Ukraine today. Some concluding remarks.
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13 May 2003
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Full Text
Viktor Yushchenko Former Prime Minister of Ukraine
Chairman: John C. Koopman
1st Vice-President and President-Elect, The Empire Club of Canada
Head Table Guests

Gareth S. Seltzer, President, TWS Private Management and Past President, The Empire Club of Canada; Olga Radchenko, Grade 12 Student, North Toronto Collegiate Institute; Peter M. Aitken, Partner-Director, Brawley-Cathers; Frank Hutton, Vice-President and General Manager, Orenda Aerospace Corporation; The Her. John Yaremko, QC, Former Minister for the Province of Ontario and First Canadian of Ukrainian Decent to be elected in 1951 to a Parliament in Eastern Canada; His Eminence Archbishop Yurij, Bishop of Toronto and the Eastern Diocese of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Canada; The Reverend Dr. John S. Niles, Rector, Victoria Park United Church and Director, The Empire Club of Canada; Michael F. Kacaba, Partner, Kacaba and Associates and Proprietor, Kacaba Vineyards; James C. Temerty, Chairman and CEO, Northland Power Inc; Ruslana Wrzesnewsky, President, "Help Us to Help the Children"; and Ken Villazor, National Manager, Government Relations and External Affairs, Biovail Pharmaceuticals Canada.

Introduction by John Koopman

Your Eminence, Your Excellency, Reverend Sir, past presidents, members and guests of The Empire Club of Canada, Ukraine's national anthem declares "Ukraine is not yet dead." You might find it odd that an independent sovereign nation states in its national song that it is not yet dead.

To understand that anthem you need to understand Ukrainian history.

Ukraine has known the rumble of hooves since almost the dawn of recorded time. The Old Testament refers to nomadic Scythians who dominated the steppes north of the Black Sea 700 years before Christ. Just as random chance has led geography to bless Canada (except perhaps by placing us too close to the North Pole) it has cursed Ukraine. Ukraine has the misfortune of being a rich fertile plain without natural borders stuck at the cross-roads of empires. Tamerlane and the Golden Horde, the Polish-Lithuanian Empire, the Austro-Hungarian Empire and the Russian Empire all left their scars on the Ukrainian soul.

And yet it was the last century that saw Ukraine suffer the most indescribable terrors. In a bid to force the collectivization of Ukrainian farms in 1932-33, Stalin engineered an artificial famine in Ukraine, then known as the breadbasket of Europe, that killed, mostly by starvation, some seven million Ukrainians. In a bid to destroy Ukrainian aspirations for independence, the Soviet purges of that decade alternately murdered or sent to Soviet gulags hundreds of thousands of Ukrainian intellectuals, writers and leaders from all walks of life. Attempting to crush the Ukrainian national identity the Soviets demolished over 250 churches, including four 12th-century cathedrals. Yet the flame of Ukrainian nationalism did not die.

Unbelievably greater horrors were yet to come. WW2 brought further devastation and depending upon whose commentary I read, between eight million to 10 million Ukramans perished in the fighting between the Red Army and Nazi German forces. In only two days in late September 1941, at a ravine known locally as Bahl Yar. 33,771 Ukranian Jews were murdered in cold blood by Nazi Einsatzgruppen.

It is estimated that in the first 50 years of the last century over half the male population and one-quarter of the female population of Ukraine died of war, famine or purges. And yet the flame of Ukrainian nationalism did not die.

The past decade has been the first period of sustained Ukrainian independence in three centuries. Although happily not of the scale of the past century, as we react the popular press we see that

Ukraine continues to face its share of challenges today. We should not however forget where we were 10 years after Magna Carta. Rome was not built in a day and neither will Ukraine.

Mr. Yushchenko is a member of the Ukrainian Parliament and a former Prime Minister of Ukraine. His party, Our Ukraine, has the largest block of seats in the Ukrainian Parliament and he is considered a front-runner in next year's presidential race. He is an economist by training and a former Governor of the Central Bank of Ukraine. Western analysts widely credit Mr. Yushchenko, during his term as Prime Minister with curbing inflation and bringing some discipline to the Ukrainian economy.

No, Ukraine is not dead and with leaders and reformers like Mr. Yushchenko, the Ukraine will one day blossom and like Canada, may one day change the words of its national anthem.

Please join me in welcoming Mr.Viktor Yushchenko to the podium of The Empire Club of Canada.

Viktor Yushchenko

Your Eminence, ladies and gentlemen, friends:

It is a great honour for me and a great pleasure for me today to be in front of this great Canadian audience. I'm happy to see in this audience a lot of people who link their life to Ukraine and who are interested in the events happening in Ukraine.

The key question that worries everybody present here today is the issue of what's happening in Ukraine. What are its ills and what cure needs to be found in order to take Ukraine to a stable democratic path of development in economic and social matters?

I sense that in western society there is a clear political portrait of Ukraine, where the leaders are corrupt, where a shadow economy is flourishing and where transparent and honest competition is absent. A country where freedom of speech is absent. A country where political censorship exists and the laws and constitutions are totally ignored. This picture that has been formed over the last years by the average European and I'm convinced by the average Canadian is true to reality.

Each of these characteristics is true and I would like to comment in detail on these things.

The Ukrainian authority today has a 6-per-cent level of trust from the population, the highest negative rating in the last 12 years. Two-thirds of society doesn't trust the authorities. The results of the surveys were pessimistic and said that 56 per cent of Ukrainians today believe that democratic elections in Ukraine are not possible. Fifty-two per cent of Ukrainians believe that Ukraine is not an independent country. That's the portrait of the Ukrainian authorities.

The main conflict, the political conflict, is not between the Opposition and the powers that be, but between those powers and the citizens. And that's an extremely important thing for subsequent conclusions.

The second thing concerns the economy. About 40 per cent of GDP is produced by the underground or shadow side of it. When I became the prime minister of the government we had to cancel about 256 resolutions of the previous governments that were giving preferences and perks, especially tax perks, or customs taxes and preferential status to some companies. Ukraine was dealing in barter and mutual accounting in kind. People who worked in Ukraine during those days recall those times with horror. Today a lot of things have been done in order to create modern economic relations but the organization of a healthy and stable national economy still remains problematic.

The mass media is an extremely important component in the life of the society. It is concentrated in the hands of three or four families. For an average viewer or ordinary reader, it is hard to get full, objective and timely information about what's happening in Ukraine and what's happening with regard to its partners and its neighbours. There is political censorship happening in Ukraine and every week the political administration in Ukraine issues a black list. It indicates to the mass media what people to

interview and what people not to interview and what topics to touch and what not to touch.

So that is what today's authorities have done. You can be persecuted for your political views, political convictions, because very often it's not the force of the law that is in power, but the law of force that is in power. We felt it through the political persecutions that were executed through the prosecutors' office and the tax inspectors etc.

The domestic GDP today is $600 per person. This indicator in Russia is four times as high. This indicator is $4,500 in Poland. In Bulgaria it is $1,600. According to the official statistics of Ukraine, there are 30 million poor Ukrainians. Unemployment taking into account the latent and seasonal unemployment reaches more than 20 per cent. Over the last 10 years, the living standards of people have decreased by almost two-thirds. And as a result of all this Ukraine is now in the second-hundredth of the countries of the world human development index.

I had an opportunity, and a great honour, in 1999 to head the Ukrainian government. We presented a program for Ukrainian society and for the Ukrainian Parliament that was titled "Reforms for the sake of prosperity" The program was aimed to provide economic stability and development, financial stabilization and to increase the living standards of people. This successful economic program was not only presented but also implemented. And I can give you a couple of numbers.

In 2000 for the first time we managed to grow the GDP by 6 per cent. The industrial output grew by 17 per cent. The agricultural output grew by 4 per cent. We brought the first deficit-free budget in Ukraine and provided for the stability of money and currency and prices. We covered 17 per cent of the external debt of Ukraine without borrowing a single cent either domestically. or externally. But the most important thing was that we showed to the people that market and transparent honest policies can be effective and efficient from the point of view of growth of living standards.

We repaid all pension arrears that had been accumulated over the previous four years. That's how we finished the first quarter of 2001.

The government started work on the taxation budget and customs reforms. On April 26 my government was forced into resignation according to the will of the president and according to the will of some of the political forces--the Oligards and the Communists. Perhaps many are surprised by this alliance. Where is the commonality of goals with these forces? The commonality is in the fact that the Oligards disliked very much the introduction of a transparent and open economy, the elimination of barter deals and mutual accounting, the elimination of the environment that provided for their colossal profits through the shadow turnover. Undoubtedly the Oligards could not put up with that. The Communists understood that the policies of economic development were working. The arrears started to go down, the salaries started to go up, and as you know that contradicts the sympathies that people may have for the idea of yesterday, the idea of the Communist past. So the worse the well-being of people, the more they are inclined to adhere to the ideas of Communism. The faster the market economy turns around, the higher the dynamics of growth, the better the social programs are developed and the higher the democratic support for democratic forces. That was clear.

During the elections about 25 per cent of the Ukrainian population voted for our block--Our Ukraine. That kind of trust was specifically brought about by the activities of my friends when they were in the ministeries of vice-premiers and all the structures that were part of the Ukrainian government.

I'm convinced that the most important thing that is dragging Ukraine back into the past is that over these past 12 years an effective political system hasn't been created in Ukraine. Over the 12 years of Ukrainian independence, the 12 years that have been dedicated to the struggle for democracy, not a single time has a democratic majority been present in Parliament in Ukraine.

I'm convinced that the powers that be did all they could to prevent the consolidation of democratic political forces in the Ukrainian Parliament because a Parliament with a parliamentary majority is capable of assuming political control over the events in Ukraine. But fragmented political forces cannot interfere with Oligarchic enrichment.

Today Ukraine, as never before, is facing a very difficult choice. Either democracy will win this country or the Oligarchic power system will win. Understanding that choice a year and a half ago the democratic forces of Ukraine formed an election block called Our Ukraine. This block included 10 political forces of my colleagues and my friends. These are various political forces because the political theatre of Ukraine has 125 parties. Today this political force, this block, enjoys the most trust of the Ukrainian population and the most support.

I'm convinced today that the main problem that Ukraine faces is its powers, its authorities. It is problem number one. God gave Ukraine all the rest. It is important to understand the ideology of these authorities. Why has it not changed over the last 10 years? Perhaps it is so strong.

No, naturally not; 11.8 percent of support means it is not strong. It doesn't enjoy the trust. Why has it not changed over the last 10 years? It is unchanged because over these 10 years it has very skillfully manipulated the fragmentation of opposing political forces. It's done all it could to prevent the consolidation of the democratic forces.

Today Ukraine faces the choice and it's in our interest to organize a round table of Ukraine and to invite forces to this round table; the forces that want to change the political system and to change the powers that be. We have to extend a hand to each other and understand finally that the victory over the powers that be is a problem for the democratic forces of Ukraine.

The second component is not only to win the political elections in October of 2004 but we will have to change the political system. Let us introduce to the acting Ukrainian legislation the changes that in a serious way would modernize the current political system of Ukraine. The power is given by a mandate from the voters. It is an electorate that elects a member of Parliament. It is an electorate that forms a political majority in Parliament. The political majority forms the Ukrainian government; the political majority of Parliament and the government forms the programs of actions and assumes political and economic responsibility.

I'm convinced that Ukraine is ready to elect the political majority that can form the Ukrainian government. Ukraine also desperately needs a law on the impeachment of the president, regardless of what the president's name is.

One of the key political laws would be a law on proportional system of elections because the existing majority system of elections in Ukraine is currently one of the most criminal election models. Some candidates don't even have to show up in their constituencies to be elected. All they have to do is transfer some money into the constituencies and they'll get the voters back in return. I'm convinced that that kind of politics is robbing Ukraine and does not allow for the modernization of society.

Today the majority of the population in Ukraine places a lot of hope with the democratic opposition forces. The arrival of democratic forces at the helm I think may be a mobilizing factor for demoralized Ukrainian society. I think that the future of Ukraine today is in the hands of the Ukrainian population. I'm convinced that our people

will not make a mistake again. Democracy will win in Ukraine and freedom will win in Ukraine.

Thank you for your attention.

The appreciation of the meeting was expressed by'rhe Reverend Dr. John 5. Niles, Rector, Victoria Park United Church and Director, The Empire Club of Canada.

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What's Happening in Ukraine

Taking Ukraine to a stable democratic path of development in economic and social matters. The political portrait of Ukraine in western society. Some detailed comments on that portrait. Issues covered include government, economy, mass media, the GDP, taxation, elections, the political system, and more. Some very difficult choices facing Ukraine today. Some concluding remarks.