Over the last five years, Ukraine has been presented with its two greatest foreign policy opportunities: to sign a NATO Membership Action Plan and the European Union association agreement. The Ukrainian Cinderella has been invited to the ball, but needs help to get ready.
Paradoxically, all foreign political efforts undertaken by Ukraine can be imposed on the familiar but painful Cinderella story: not physically strong but industrious, with permanent doubts and internal change, unnoticeable and unknown to the outside. In 2008, the Ukrainian Cinderella received an invitation to the NATO “ball,” but her internal doubts held her back. After a short while, the ball organizers even withdrew the invitation.
“As to the participation of Georgia and Ukraine in the (NATO) Membership Action Plan, it is too early to speak of membership… Some steps should be taken for the beginning.” These are the words of German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier and his Dutch colleague Maxim Verhagen, when Ukraine’s NATO ambition was discussed in 2008.
Five years later, another “ball” is being organized, this time in Vilnius. And the organizer is talking in quite a different manner. Since summer, the invitation for Ukraine has had a positive tone. Recently, though, it has taken a darker turn.
What does the ball organizer want from the Ukrainian Cinderella? It certainly does not want to see a pumpkin at midnight, but they also don’t expect glass slippers. And what should our Cinderella do to prevent her magical façade of transformation disappearing as the clock strikes midnight?
A dress of blue and gold
The first gift her Fairy Godmother must bring is a change in attitude: Ukraine must have a dress of blue and gold stars, to show its interest in membership. How seriously will the organizers take Cinderella if she herself is unsure if she wants to join the party? Since the Orange Revolution, a veritable anti-NATO campaign launched by the Party of Regions cultivated certain stereotypes about the West, and as a result, in 2008, 48 percent of Ukraine’s population believed that NATO was an aggressive military bloc, according to the Razumkov Center.
“NATO would be interested in Ukraine but the problem is that both now and then NATO is not popular in Ukraine,” says Andreas Umland, a German political science professor at Kyiv Mohyla Academy.
In 2008, to most Ukrainians, NATO differed from the EU perhaps only in name. However, five years have passed, and in 2013 sociological results are radically different regarding people’s views, with up to 43 percent supporting EU accession.
Slowly Ukraine’s fairy Godmother has been working her magic on the Ukrainian people’s desire to join the West. Only five years ago, a large part of Ukraine’s population viewed the West as a threat, but now it is interested in belonging to the same group.
“A value shift towards Europe has occurred in Ukraine. I cannot say exactly when it happened. Five, or 10, or 15 years ago, but the shift has become quite noticeable somewhat since the first decade of the 2000s,” says Yaroslav Hrytsak, a doctor of history, publicist and professor at the Ukrainian Catholic University in Lviv.
An important motivation for the change was the understanding that the West would not punish it for disobedience, that it would not threaten, and that it would grant and value freedom of choice, while Russia’s response would be quite the opposite.
“When Europeans say, ‘it’s your choice and we won’t punish you,’ demonstrating a European style in relations, leaving us a choice, waging no information wars, then their stance seems more attractive than the commercial and information war waged from the other side”, points out Olha Herasymiuk, journalist, and former member of parliament.
The Ukrainian people choose potential rather than obligation. NATO offers security whereas the EU offers trade, better laws and administration, simplified movement of people, freedom of thought and expression. In return, the Vilnius ball organizers want and see the spell cast by Ukrainian Cinderella’s fairy Godmother – unity in its aspirations to join the ball.
A horse-drawn carriage
To get there, Cinderella will need a carriage drawn by four powerful horses headed in the same direction. Five years ago, Ukraine was unstable, nervous, and chaotic. In 2008, the NATO Bucharest “ball” organizers did not want to see such a guest.
“Ukraine is a neighbor to everyone, not just to Poland where it has an actual frontier. Therefore all the EU countries are interested to see a stable Ukraine”, explained Linas Balsis, Lithuanian Seim member, Deputy Chair of the Seim Commission for European affairs.
Time has passed, and since the fairy Godmother has put strong reins on the horses.
“Perhaps for the first time in the few last years, a new consensus has emerged in Ukraine that has never been seen before: the administration, the opposition, and society all want the same thing. Such a situation last existed in 1991 when Ukrainians decided to move away from the Kremlin, from the Empire, from the Soviet Union,” Hrytsak says.
If there’s unity, the need to maintain the unity must be the next step.
“The establishment’s stance was described by Zbigniew Brzezinski when he said in the ‘Logic of Gangsters’ that a neighborly policeman could seem better to a gangster at a certain moment than another big gangster. This explains the establishment’s logic,” points out Yevhen Hlibovytskyi, a political scientist and founder of the Univska Hrupa intellectual association.
Europe wants to have stable neighbors. The Vilnius ball organizer wanted this change in our Cinderella, and with the help of the power fairy, he has seen it.
An invitation to the ball
“Politics is a game of interest in the first place. At present, there is a political climate provoking that game. In 2008, on the contrary, Europe was considering that if it were to give Georgia and Ukraine the MAP, it would have not only to reform but also defend them. And that would be quite expensive,” explains Wojciech Luczak, a Polish political scientist, journalist and vice president of the ALTAIR agency.
Analysis by Luczak illustrates that the political climate five years ago was not favorable towards Ukraine. Now, despite the “stable instability” of Ukrainian politics Europe sees for itself an opportunity of opening a market of 46 million people and securing a foothold there.
Another factor is the change of geopolitical attitudes in Europe. The ball organizers have realized that our Cindarella simply needs to be invited to the ball. The growing level of aggression lately emanated by Russia has provoked the organizers to resolute action.
“First of all, the Cold War logic, ‘us against them,’ has returned, and it has happened because of Russia’s increased aggression. Secondly, the German political elite has been disappointed in Russia. Earlier, Germany was the main critic of Ukraine’s integration into European, but now Germany is rather neutral,” Hlibovytskyi says.
What Cinderella wants
Ivan Maksymovych, 85, is a retired mathematician who has lived in Lviv since 1962. He is one of tens of millions of Ukrainian people who make up our Cinderella.
What’s your impression of Lviv nowadays?
“Lviv has become very neglected. When I came here in 1962 I saw cleaners washing passages in house entrances. There was order then.”
Ivan Maksymovych, do you remember 1991? Maybe you took part in the “human chain”?
“No, I did not. However, I remember that attack on the TV studio, we sent a telegram of support to the TV people despite those times.”
How did you find the first decade of independence? Did you feel nostalgia for the Soviet past?
“No, never. That was a terrible system, worse than slavery. Slaves had at least collars but people under that regime had neither collar nor passport. I remember well the famine in Kharkiv region. I remember those people with distended stomachs lying near our fence, so many, and they were dying. In a village in Cherkasy Oblast, Chornobaisky district, my mother took me to a house near a pond. The house was like that in a Taras Shevchenko’s poem – the thatched roof torn, doors down, no windows. My mother told me that people in that house had eaten their child after it had died of hunger. My village relatives died during the famine.”
Have you been abroad?
“Yes, I visit Poland every year.”
Ivan Maksymovych, did you also go to Poland in the 1990s?
“Yes, and they had a much worse situation than we did then. It was terrible.”
And what’s your impression now?
“Incomparable. Cleanliness. Things are in order. And our people accuse President Viktor Yanukovych for all troubles. But why is he to blame? People themselves are guilty, they elected him… without vote rigging.”
In 2004, Poland was invited and became the queen of the ball – it was admitted to the European family.