Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Terry Davis: Instead of talking about early elections, Ukrainian politicians should concentrate on promises they made

This interview will be published in Ukrainian "Narodny Deputat" (ukr. Member of Parliament) magazine, in Ukrainian language.

Terry Davis: Instead of talking about early elections, Ukrainian politicians should concentrate on promises they made
- Mr Secretary General, every time we meet, I ask you for your opinion about the political crisis in Ukraine: last year we were talking about the Ukrainian crisis, as well as the year before. In your opinion, what’s happening in Ukraine now, and what can we, as Ukrainians, do to change the situation for the better?
- I think that sometimes it is a mistake to exaggerate the difficulties. I myself never use the word “crisis” when I’m discussing the political situation in Ukraine. Yes, it is a very difficult political situation, it’s a very complicated political situation, and there are lots of difficulties there. But this is not a crisis in my book. A crisis is something much worse. So, I’m glad that it is not a crisis by my definition. I have seen it suggested by some people that there might be another election…
- Yes, they are talking about next March…
- Well, that is for Ukrainians to decide - whether there should be another election. It’s not my business. But I must say that I find difficult to understand what people think a new election would bring. If there is an election, we must wait for the result…
- But isn’t it too often to have an election every year?
- As I know, in many countries elections took place twice in the course of two years. But there are two reasons why I think this is something to be avoided, if possible. First of all, it distracts attention from the real problems of the country and the real difficulties of the people of Ukraine. Secondly, in every democracy people may say: we don’t want to be voting every year, we elected these people, please, get on and do the job you are elected for. It damages democracy, when people think: the politicians can’t agree, they are just squabbling, fighting among each other, arguing… That actually damages the reputation of politics and democracy. Election is an essential part of democracy, but not every week.
- Is the Council of Europe planning to give some official advice concerning the situation in Ukraine? Are you going to meet with Mr Yushchenko and Ms Tymoshenko again?
- I have visited Ukraine several times during the last two years. I know that some people – people not from Ukraine, but from other countries – think that I should not visit Ukraine too often. They say: you should also visit us. There are several reasons why I take a special interest in Ukraine. It is not only because of the people of Ukraine, for whom I have great respect and affection. I think that Ukraine – like Belarus – has been neglected in the past by people like me from Western Europe. So, I try to compensate that a little bit by giving a lot of attention to Ukraine.
Ukraine is a very big country; it has a lot to offer to the rest of Europe. Also it has a very rich history. I have a lot of sympathy for the people of Ukraine, especially because of that period of 1932-33, which you call Holodomor, when so many people died.
- Ukraine is campaigning now for world recognition of Holodomor.
- It must have been a terrible period. This is not a case of being anti-Russian, it is a historic fact that millions of people did die in Ukraine. If I can just give you another example: I came from the United Kingdom, and our neighbouring country is the Republic of Ireland. In Ireland they still have the memory of the great famine which took place 160 years ago. They still remember it, talk about it. It takes a long time for such events to fade in a memory of the people. In Ukraine this memory is also very live.
That is not to blame people, not a case of who is responsible – this is a very difficult matter to judge history. But I can understand why Ukrainians are still so concerned and so upset about this tragedy.
- That’s why Ukraine asks the Council of Europe and the Parliamentary Assembly to condemn Holodomor as genocide against the Ukrainian nation.
- It is a matter for historians to argue, whether it was genocide or not. To me the most important thing is that millions of people died. Personally I pay respect to the people of Ukraine, and I try to encourage Ukrainians of today to build a better future for Ukrainians of tomorrow.
- To do that and to stop – not crisis, but problems – in Ukraine all the main political forces are thinking about a Constitutional reform. But the changes proposed differ from each other completely: from a strong presidential model to a pure parliamentary system. In your opinion, is it the right time for Ukraine to change its Constitution? Which way should we move?
- Of course, this is a matter for Ukraine to decide which system you should adopt. There are advantages and disadvantages in both systems. What I would say, as a friend of Ukraine, is that it would be in the interest of the people of Ukraine for the politicians to settle this issue as quickly as possible.
- Do you think it is possible to find a quick consensus in this situation?
- I think the situation has to be settled. If I were an Ukrainian, I would be more concerned about the school for my children or grandchildren, I’d be more concerned about being able to buy clothes and food for my family, and I’d be more concerned about the house or apartment in which we live. I’d be concerned about the quality of the air we breathe and of the water we drink. These are really important things – it is a standard of living and a quality of life. People are not very interested in whether it is the parliamentary system or the presidential system. What they want is results.
- So, the reform in Ukraine should be done very soon?
- My strong wish is that the politicians of Ukraine should settle this issue in the interest of the people of Ukraine as quickly as possible. And then start discussing, even arguing, about the policies to be followed by the government in terms of schools, hospitals, housing, and the essential things of life. That’s what people want to hear.
- Politicians just have to start to work…
- I think it is very much in the interest of democracy for the debates in Ukraine to move away from a constitution onto the political issues. I don’t know what this policy should be – in a democracy that is for politicians and for the people of Ukraine to decide. Politicians should propose ideas about policy. It’s true that the best way to decide this is an election. But you do not have an election every year...
It’s like a sailing: you have to decide on a course you are going to follow. That does not mean you simply go ahead regardless of the fact that there is an iceberg in front of you. But you should not keep changing course, you should not keep changing a captain of a ship.
- Talking about the captain of the ship, some Ukrainian politicians advise to have an early election not only of the Parliament, but also of the President of Ukraine. Do you think it is a good idea to change everything in one day?
- Well, it’s a matter for Ukraine, not for outsiders. Of course, Ukraine is a very important member of the Council of Europe, but as a Secretary General of the Council of Europe I do not tell Ukrainians what they should do and when they should have an election.
- The next big problem for today’s Ukraine is its aspiration to become a member of NATO. This trend of Ukrainian foreign policy has already worsened our relationship with Russia. What tone of conversation should Kiev choose in dialogue with Moscow, in order not to spoil our bilateral relations, but to move towards NATO membership?
- You have so well educated and experienced diplomats that I do not think Ukraine needs any lessons in this field. But if I were Ukrainian, I would say to Russians: I ask you to think, why we want to join NATO. Russians should think themselves, why does Ukraine want to join NATO, why does Georgia want to join NATO. And I told that to Russians…
- What did they answer?
- They were surprised because they haven’t thought about that.
- What is your opinion on this issue? Should Ukraine join NATO?
- I am not going to express my opinion about whether Ukraine should join NATO for one very good reason: I know that it is a subject of intense political debates in Ukraine. I never get involved in domestic politics. That’s a matter for Ukrainians to decide.
- Moscow has warned Kiev that if Ukraine joins NATO, or Membership Action Plan (MAP), it will apply some serious sanctions. Will you and the Council of Europe get involved if Russia keeps this promise?
- It depends on what these sanctions are. For example, the price of gas is not a matter for the Council of Europe.
- And if it will be the withdrawal of the Friendship, Cooperation and Partnership Agreement with Ukraine?
- I do not know the terms of the Friendship and Cooperation Agreement. One thing I can say is you cannot force someone to be your friend.
- Lets talk about the issue you know very well – it is the election of the Ukrainian judge of the European Court of Human Rights. Why this process is so long? I know that there is some misunderstanding – or something else – between the President of Ukraine, his Secretariat and the Council of Europe. Can you explain what’s happening and what is the future of this issue?
- You are absolutely right – I agree with you – it just takes for too long to settle this issue. When I visited Kiev last time, I had discussions about it, in particular, with people in the Secretariat of the President. Based on these discussions –they were private discussions – I think there was a lot of misunderstanding. I have done my best to clarify the situation and the rules for the Ukrainian authorities. If there is goodwill on their side, this issue should be settled within the next few weeks.
- I hope so. But what if the problem will not be settled? What next?
- What I’m saying about the political difficulties – not crisis, but difficulties – in Ukraine is that they distract attention. They draw attention away from the real problems of the people of Ukraine. There is an argument from Ukrainian authorities that because there is a political tension, they focus on other issues. But the important issue of the election of the judge should be settled – the quicker, the better for the people of Ukraine.
- It seems to me that the monitoring process concerning Ukraine will not be finished in the near future…
- I will be surprised if the monitoring process is finished in the near future. I would like it to finish, but I do not think it will be finished, until Ukraine has made more progress in keeping its promises. So, I repeat: instead of talking about an early election, instead of talking about when you will have presidential elections, instead of talking about getting your judge elected, it would be a very good thing if the politicians of Ukraine concentrated on the outstanding promises which they made on behalf of Ukraine, when it joined the Council of Europe. Then I would celebrate with the people of Ukraine the end of the monitoring process.


Julien Frisch said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Julien Frisch said...

I really like Mr Davis' diplomatic directness, he takes his work seriously.

Thanks for providing the interview in English, Tetyana!