Presidential elections. One day in Ukraine

Posted on 16. May 2014

by Ulyana Vynyarchuck

Ulyana Vynyarchuck

Currently studying as an Erasmus Mundus student in Rome, having left most of my family and friends back in the city of Lviv (Western Ukraine), my daily morning check up of news from home has turned into a torture.  And it is not that the news reports have always been optimistic. But rarely were they dominated by such exotic words to our press as “separatists”, “extremists”, “antiterrorist special operation”, “victims”, “invasion” and “military action”. The frequency of these key words appearing in the national and international press in the context of Ukraine as well as the level to which the media seem to enjoy the sensation of reporting from a battlefield so close to the EU border is impressive.

Naturally, all of this news from Ukraine keep bringing me down and there are three main reasons for that. Firstly, it is the realization that the whole conflict is of artificial nature, where the key actors are highly payed or fooled while their acts are thoroughly staged. The only thing that is real are the victims and the injured, no matter what flags they defend. Secondly, it is the impression of a lack of competency and a combination of inability and unwillingness of the authorities to fight the cases of separatist and obviously criminal actions. Thirdly, the fact that pro-Russian media try to put the equality sign between the events on Maydan and the ones in Crimea, Donetsk, Slovyansk or Odessa.

In this way they intend to devaluate the phenomenon of rising public awareness and readiness to give life for the ideas of human rights and freedoms as well as sovereignty of our nation, recently displayed by the Ukrainians in Kyiv. Ukrainian history is marked by a fight for independence. We have done it so many times. Now, that we have regained independence, why would our neighbours ask us to do it again?!

All of the mentioned above contributes to a rather lousy background for the upcoming presidential elections scheduled for the 25th of May 2014: a precondition for them to get postponed or even cancelled. In fact, the media does not provide much space for the election campaign. Even the most popular news web page (www.pravda.com.ua ) shows barely any notice of the upcoming elections over this week-end.

As the date approaches, the number of candidates is shrinking (now 23 out of 46), as well as the statistically forecasted votes score for the released former prime minister Julia Tymoshenko. The other front runner Petro Poroshenko has been around in Ukrainian politics and business forever and can hardly be expected to make any difference as a President in a way that would justify the sacrifice of “Maydaners”.  The rankings of other candidates, mainly the so-called ‘new faces’ are low and their political motivations are often questionable.

Not much of a choice, not much of a hope for a change for Ukrainian voters –  status quo in a way. This is also the impression I get in daily Skype conversations with relatives and friends. Although they tend to have an high interest in domestic politics and international affairs, their minds don’t seem to be  preoccupied with the Presidential elections, let alone the European Parliamentary Elections.

Given the dynamics of the development of the crisis in our home country, my friends and relatives turn out to be more worried about what is going to happen the next hour, the next day, how to protect their family. They wonder where to expect the next outbreak of separatist action, what will happen to the Ukrainian economy. We have hardly overcome the shock of seeing peaceful protesters being killed, when the new armed provocations took place. All we pray for now is for this man-made madness to stop.

This is why many still look forward to the day of the Presidential election. They hope that this day might possibly put an end to the ever escalating brutality and violence on the side of the separatists. But even this hope seems elusive taking into consideration recent reactions to the vague “antiterrorist operation” of the Ukrainian government against the acts of violence. The danger here is that this operation strengthens the position of our Northern neighbors, who don’t support the idea of holding Presidential elections.

For example Leonod Slutskyy, the head of the Parliamentary Committee on CIS, Eurasian Integration and Diaspora Contacts of Russian Federation, argues that this “antiterrorist operation” would further undermine the legitimacy of these elections. This makes others think that elections, should they take place, will trigger a conflict to reach its peak.

Not long now and we will see who was right or wrong in his or her predictions. However, as we anticipate the election day it is of paramount importance for the International Community, namely the OSCE-mission, to help the acting government of Ukraine secure a fair and transparent election process as well as stability in  particular regions in the meantime.  This would prove the Russian position wrong and show that Ukraine is a country where basic human rights and freedoms are respected.

What is even more important, it could potentially put an end to the seemingly endless speculations by Russian politicians regarding the legitimacy of the interim Ukrainian government. The French president François Hollande recently warned of the risk of a civil war in Ukraine. Even though I do not share this fear, I do believe he is right in accusing Russia of sabotaging the Ukrainian elections. According to the Financial Times, Hollande said that it was up to the EU to convince Putin.

This might turn out out to be an uneasy task, taking into account the diversity of national interests and the nature of the bilateral ties with Russia. At the same time the fulfilment of this task is absolutely crucial for the EU as a means to reinforce its fundamental pillars, such as peace, freedom, democracy and the rule of law, along with its central role for the stability in Europe. In commentaries in social media the European response to the crisis is harshly criticized.

Some of my Ukrainian friends make sarcastic jokes about EU leaders showing themselves “deeply concerned“, while the violence in my home country escalates. I find this unfair. The signing of the political part of the Association agreement served as an important message not only to Ukraine but also to other stakeholders of the Eastern Partnership.

Both US-President Barack Obama and German chancellor Angela Merkel urge that the presidential election continue to be carried out on the 25th of May – a symbolic date, as many EU member states are called to vote for a new European parliament. The crisis in the Ukraine might play a key role in the election campaign. According to a YouGov survey from the end of March, most EU citizens condemn Russian interventions in Ukraine.

But only 42 percent of British and German people, and just 35 percent in France support sanctions that might hurt their own economies. There is even less support for providing financial aid to Kiev. Populist and far-right movements could benefit from that mood, polls predict an upswing for these parties. Ironically enough, these are Russia’s key allies in the European Parliament, while Putin keeps denouncing the Ukrainian government as a bunch of facscists.

However, there is also some good news: According to surveys such as the Russian connection report by the Political Capital Institute, these movements are not going to have much influence in the new European Parliament. Despite gains, they still constitute a minority among the future 751 Members of Parliament. So there is hope that having an elected President in Kyiv after May 25, this could end reservations among European politicians when it comes to signing the economic part of the Association Agreement. This should be the next step. It would enable to redirect Ukrainian exports and facilitate bilateral trading procedures.

Having now spent around two years in Europe studying in the multinational environment I have to admit Ukrainians are not unique in their criticism and skepticism towards their political leadership. Unfortunately, great minds have proven there is no way we can go without one.

Thus for the country of Ukraine, whose former president has shamefully fled the country and the Northern neighbour is blindly driven by its imperial ambitions and aggression, it is a risky tactics to wait for a Ukrainian George Washington  to appear on the horizon. Recent events have helped to pull many political masks down. It will not make our choice easier but definitely more conscious.  The interim government elected by MPs was necessary, now is the time for the people to have their political say and the sooner they are able to do so, the better.

This article is part a part of a series of reflections by young Europeans, prepared in cooperation between FutureLab and Süddeutsche Zeitung Online. To read the original click here.