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Where there is no law, but every man does what is right in his own eyes, there is the least of real liberty
Henry M. Robert

Maidan as European phenomenon

Or Why the EU’s eastern policy should not be fully disregarded
13 January, 2014 - 16:30

Analysts and commentators were expecting apathy from Ukraine, but they had found a protest on an unprecedented scale. Politicians were ready to get along, but the people on the main square of Kyiv turned out to be a partner reluctant to the rotten compromise. Now everyone must answer the question on what to do next. This question has to be answered by the Ukrainian authorities, the opposition in Kyiv as well as the EU, which declared more than it was ready to give. Zbigniew Brzezinski is right when he says that the euro-Ukraine has already won. The question is when and with whom it will accomplish its demands.

The symbol of the failure of EU policy in the East is the helplessness over the beatings of protesters on Kyiv’s Maidan, and over the attacks on activists and journalists. While we were talking about money and reforms, it turned out that the biggest problem is the awareness of the Ukrainian elite of what the “European values” are, in a situation when Ukraine is seeking for its route to Europe. But the lack of understanding of what “Europe” is for Ukrainians has been a problem for Brussels too. The rich did not appear at Maidan. Over the years the EU focused on technical and commercial aspects of the agreement with Ukraine. Meanwhile the Kyiv street answered with requests from a completely different reality: regarding dignity and the right to be in the EU. There were no answers to these requests.

The strength of social protest in Ukraine was not appreciated by some of the political elites in Kyiv. Promises and declarations, made for months, have been reversed within a few days. The problem lays not in whether or when Ukraine will sign the Association Agreement. The point is that for months everything concerning the agreement was clear and skeptical statements regarding the signing appeared just a few weeks ago. The same lips started to say completely different things about integration with the EU than before. This attitude gave birth to the social anger. But the EU has not been able to appreciate the Ukrainian society – history of European integration does not know of any case, when hundreds of thousands of people for almost a month and a half have been freezing in the middle of winter, under the flags of the European Union. Catherine Ashton never has had such a warm and passionate greeting in her career, as when visiting the protesters on Kyiv’s square.

The biggest threat to the EU’s policy in the East lies in the formation of an impression that people on the Maidan have been left to themselves by the West. EU leaders failed when they did not promise the abolition of visas for Ukrainians – it was a signal for which the people on Maidan were waiting for. Year 2014 begins with a question whether and who will use the surprising vitality of the Ukrainian protests. Is the opposition in Kyiv going to be able to offer an attractive scenario for the crowds in the capital and all around Ukraine? Will the EU change its policy? Will the Party of Regions be able to try to reverse the effects of the events of recent weeks? Neither in Poland, nor Russia such protest as those in Ukraine are imaginable – of course, for different reasons. Maidan is a European phenomenon. But it is a myth that people can accomplish their demands standing on the square. If you do not dream about a violent, bloody revolution, you need experience, procedures, victory in the elections. But people on the Maidan may, however, force the elites to do something, tighten the reins of Ukrainian statehood, force the authorities to start the reforms, etc. Elections in 2002 and the “Ukraine without Kuchma” campaign, despite some victories, ended with disappointment. However, they were a harbinger of something much bigger – mass protests in 2004. Firstly, we do not know whether Euromaidan is not a herald of a greater wave of protests. The second thing is that no one from abroad will politically “furnish” Ukraine. Neither Brussels by its declarations, nor Russia trying divert the float of Dnipro by force. Today, the goal for all is clear: the outcome of the election in 2015. Partner, which has to be sought is a protesting society. The result is unclear, because no one knows who will be recognized as its political representative after 2015. The question is how to ensure transparency of the elections, which will be crucial, just like every previous ones in Ukraine.

In the case of Ukraine the Eastern Partnership is not an institution we should blame for the failure. Recent events have shown a much bigger problem, far beyond the imperfections of one of the EU programs. A phrase popular among many analysts found confirmation – the European Union is not suitable for geopolitics. The November decision of the Ukrainian government to stop preparations for the signing of the Association Agreement showed, that in our closest neighborhood we cannot prevent pressure from other countries or institutions. Even in August, when the Kremlin not very subtly showed how will trade with Ukraine, after the signing of the Association Agreement look like, the EU was not able to do anything, except pointing a finger on Kremlin and delivering anti-Russian speeches. The time to act was right then – and as we failed, the Ukrainian authorities got a signal that they will have to face the consequences of signing the agreement on their own. The belief that the EU’s proposal was worth dying for and that Brussels was holding all the cards caused, that the decision of the Ukrainian government has left Western diplomats with their mouths wide open.

But you cannot write off entirely the EU’s eastern policy. If we draw conclusions from the few years of the Eastern Partnership’s functioning and outcomes of the last summit in Vilnius, we will be able to work much more efficiently than before. First of all – a stronger offer with a clear promise of the abolition of visas and prospects of membership – maybe without specific dates, but under specific conditions. Secondly, real financial support for reforms and a formal point in the AA about ensuring the economic safety in the case of economic blockade from a third country. And last but not least – real investments in the young generation, in the form of creating a new system of grants or opening the University of Eastern Partnership.

By Pawel KOWAL, Chair of the European Parliament’s Delegation to the EU-Ukraine Parliamentary Cooperation Committee, special to The Day