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The "Kyiv Post's" Survey of German Experts on Ukraine II: Wilfried Jilge

By Olena Tregub  Posted by Andreas Umland (about the submitter)     Permalink
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[This expert survey was conducted in May-June 2011, i.e. before the trial and arrest of Yulia Tymoshenko, and later partly updated. Abridged versions of the expert interviews were previously published on the website of Ukraine's major English-language weekly "Kyiv Post."]

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Wilfried Jilge, lecturer at the University of Leipzig and expert on post-Soviet affairs and Ukrainian history, taught at the University of Potsdam and Humboldt University of Berlin. Until 2010, he was a Research Fellow with the project "Visual and historical cultures in East Central Europe in the process of modernization of state and society since 1918" at the Center for the History and Culture of East Central Europe (GWZO) in Leipzig. Since 2005, Jilge is a member of the "Kyiv Dialogue" - a NGOs forum under the auspices of German, European and Ukrainian MPs. He studied East European history, Slavic philology and economics at the University of Mainz.

1. How would you assess the results of Yanukovych's first year of presidency in comparison to those of the previous Orange leadership?

To begin with some positive observations: Without doubt, the Azarov government made serious and successful efforts to consolidate the state budget and thus provided for preconditions of Ukraine's relative economic stability after the financial crisis.

However, the moderate progress in economic and financial policies cannot make up for the steps back made in the in the democratization process. Here I would like to accentuate the local elections in Ukraine which took place in October 2011. They were seen as a test for the new administration's commitment to preserve the democratic achievements of the Orange Revolution, but turned out to be a big step back concerning the Ukrainian electoral process and legislation. Nevertheless, the new political leadership declared that important elements of the local election rules should serve as role models for the parliamentary elections in 2012.

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The elections in 2012 are of high importance for Ukraine 's democracy. Political pluralism and fundamental democratic rights in Ukraine have been preserved for the last five years (2005 until beginning of 2010) not by the effective functioning of state institutions or the separation of powers (the Orange forces failed to implement the necessary reforms). The balance of power of the main political forces and thus the political pluralism were guaranteed mainly by fair and free elections, the protection of which was the main political achievement of the Orange forces - together with the freedom of mass media.

Therefore the current president and government should draw adequate conclusions from the local elections and provide for the implementation of an election law which meets European standards. The government should seriously take into account the proposals of the opposition as well as civil society and not exclude issues from the current political debate which are crucial for fair and free elections. That is especially true for the electoral system which according to the government is supposed to be similar to the one used in the local election, that is to say the "mixed system" - the combination of the proportional system with closed lists and the majority vote system. The mixed system proved to be prone to the use of administrative resource during the parliamentary elections 2002 as well as the local election in 2010. It was one of the reasons for manipulations and favors the ruling party. The government should rethink its decision to adopt the mixed system and should be ready for an open discussion of alternatives. For example, a proportional system with open lists, where the voter can influence the position of the candidates on the list, could be an option, as it is less susceptible to non-transparent agreements between candidates and the ruling political forces.

2. Should the EU use the Association, DCFTA and Visa-Free Regime negotiations as a leverage and conditionality factor to promote political and other reforms in Ukraine, or should these agreements be signed as soon as possible?

Conditionality to a certain degree already exists and probably will be strengthened in the future. Referring to the Arab Spring and the democratic movements in the Near East , the German Foreign Minister, Guido Westerwelle, recently declared that the EU should reconsider the principles and instruments of its neighbourhood policies towards the partners in the South as well as in Eastern Europe . He had in mind creating a conditional link between institutional and financial support, on the one hand, and political reforms including preservation of fundamental democratic freedoms, on the other. Thus, further undermining of Ukraine 's democratization process could lead to a delay of the finalization of the DCFTA negotiations. However, in general, the EU and Ukraine should finish the negotiations to DCFTA soon, if possible, because the agreement will introduce European standards which help to prevent business from corruption and bring more transparency to Ukrainian economy. Thus the DCFTA strengthens the position of the small and medium-sized business.

3. Could and should the current pro-Russian German position be replaced by a pro-Ukrainian position? To which degree may domestic political changes in Germany play a role for its future Eastern policy positions?

The first question shows a one-sided geopolitical thinking rather than a comprehensive understanding of Germans foreign policy which is deeply integrated into the EU's policy towards its Eastern neighbours and overestimates the importance of Ukraine for Germany and other EU member states. The German foreign policy has been characterized by a high continuity after the country's reunification and has not been heavily influenced by domestic political changes. However, the current government stresses the close cooperation with Poland in European political affairs in general and towards the Eastern neighbours of EU in particular, which should have positive effects on Germany 's policy towards Ukraine .

4. Do you have any specific advice for the Ukrainian government to change Ukraine 's image in Germany for the better, and improve Ukraine 's attractiveness for German investors?

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It is about substance, not about image: The image of Ukraine will improve only as a result of economic and institutional reforms which are really and transparently implemented. German investors highly appreciate a reliable legal framework which guarantees long-term economic activity according to principles of market economy. Therefore the current Ukrainian state leadership should make more efforts to fully implement the rule of law in order to strengthen investors' trust in Ukraine 's business conditions. With regard to the lack of rule of law, the recent trials and arrests of the former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko and former Minister of Interior Yuri Luzenko surely had a negative impact on the attitude of German investors towards Ukraine . President Yanukovych still could not weaken the perception that justice is selectively being applied against members of the opposition because (a often Donbass-based) clientilism supported by the ruling party and a lack of transparency is practiced also in the field of administration of justice. The permanent changes and selective use of rules which seem to be politically motivated do not strengthen the investors' trust in a country where powerful economic monopolists, on the one hand, and ruling political elites, on the other, are closely linked together.

5. Did the decision of Victor Yanukovych to prosecute the former president Leonid Kuchma for the murder of a journalist add credibility to the current government and improve its image in the West? What are your expectations about how this case should be solved?

Certainly, the case of Kuchma did not add credibility to the government in the West. Reforms of the courts and judiciary which strengthen their independence is the only way to add credibility to the government and its institutions. The recently decreasing power of the Supreme Court of Ukraine which enjoyed a high reputation in Ukrainian society and which was usually seen as a protector of independence is not a suitable signal to produce trust in Ukraine's administration of justice.

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