“Without completing reforms, we will lose statehood” was one of the key phrases of the president’s annual message to the Ukrainian parliament on the internal and external state of the nation. The success of the national reform effort depends on all citizens, but above all on the government itself. Indeed, the Ukrainian Revolution of 1917-21 suffered from major issues that eventually led to its defeat.
This was also mentioned by Petro Poroshenko in his speech: “This year marks the centenary of the Ukrainian National Revolution of 1917-21. Ukraine was not able to secure a sufficient level of international support then and remained on its own against the aggressor. That is why we now focus on partnership with the world around us. However, the main obstacles that prevented the Ukrainian independent state from emerging then were a lack of internal unity and political strife.”
Have our current leaders drawn the correct conclusions from the hundred-year old experience? “I will keep opposing all those who will try to impose disorder and anarchy in Ukraine. Once again, I call on all the parties, both represented in the Verkhovna Rada and non-parliamentary ones, while they are engaged in tough domestic political struggle inherent in any democracy, to take into account those extraordinarily complex external circumstances in which we jointly build a European Ukraine,” the president said.
The reaction of the public, in particular on social networks, was mixed. Some praised the address, while others criticized it. As for the speech itself, then of course it was strong. We have repeatedly seen how skillful the Poroshenko team is in preparing his public addresses. What did the president pay attention to? The main theses were as follows.
“Introduction of visa-free travel is for the time being the main result of our three-year-long joint reform effort, which has involved all branches of government and the public.
“The main threat from Russia, unfortunately, is military in nature. There is no sign of the Kremlin being ready to retreat from the Donbas or leave Crimea.
ALIGNING WITH THE PRESIDENT / Photo by Mykhailo PALINCHAK
“Can we drive Russia out of Crimea by force? Realistically, the answer is ‘no.’ Will it leave the region on its own accord? Unfortunately, the answer is ‘no’ as well. But we can create conditions where Crimea will become an unbearable burden for the Kremlin.
“Over three years, the Armed Forces have not simply recovered their combat capabilities. They have been re-created.
“Only a direct intervention of Russian troops in the summer of 2014 stopped the process of liberation and prevented the speedy completion of the anti-terrorist operation (ATO), which seemed quite realistic before it.
“The government should also find ways to transform today’s sluggish GDP rebound into its accelerated and steady rise – that what is called sustainable development.
“Already this year, we forecast growth at 1.8 percent. We expect the economy to accelerate to 4 percent by 2020.
“The land market and privatization are two of the fastest and most reliable ways to quickly attract a decent amount of investment to Ukraine.
“I urge you to finally table and pass amendments to the Constitution which will cancel the parliamentary immunity. I have a very simple proposal – to put them into effect from January 1, 2020 for MPs of the new Verkhovna Rada.
“I request that in the coming weeks, maybe even days, you complete the consultations and submit proposals for new members of the Central Election Commission (CEC).
“I will never agree with proposals to take from the people the right to elect the president and transfer that right to the parliament.
“Ukraine has the right to an autocephalous church. The long-expected recognition of Ukrainian autocephaly by the Ecumenical Patriarch will in no way amount to either the appearance of a state church or the prohibition on the activities of other Orthodox denominations in Ukraine.
“We are consistently instituting specific measures to bolster the national status of the Ukrainian language.
“The state has officially recognized and honored the Ukrainian national liberation movement, including the Ukrainian Insurgent Army.”
THE CABINET OF MINISTERS IS PRESENT AT FULL STRENGTH. THEY ARE APPLAUDING AS WELL / Photo by Artem SLIPACHUK, The Day
The speech was beautiful and correct. The realisticity of what was said is another matter. There are, of course, a lot of problems with it. Actually, most experts point out this too. Characteristically, many of those we called had neither listened nor watched the presidential speech. They said: “Why would we? It was all just words.” By the way, even representative of the pro-presidential Petro Poroshenko Bloc (PPB)’s faction Mustafa Nayyem criticized Poroshenko’s address: “I think that after every presidential address, the country feels a bit like the wife of a poet: he says many beautiful and correct words, but the house is still a mess: the children are unhappy, the storeroom is empty, while his boisterous fellow drunkards are plundering the fridge. However, his poems are beautiful, and they will definitely enter the annals of literature.” His opinion is correct, but it will be better for the young MP to start with himself because he systematically criticizes the president, but does not want to leave his faction. This is a case of double standards at very least.
So, what do experts think about the presidential address?
“THE PRESIDENT’S SPEECH IN THE PARLIAMENT MAY BE CONSIDERED AS THE NON-OFFICIAL LAUNCH OF THE PRESIDENTIAL CAMPAIGN”
Andrii NOVAK, chairman of the Committee of Economists of Ukraine:
“The president’s speech in the parliament may be considered as the non-official launch of the presidential campaign. Most of his statements are of a populist nature. For the most part, these are promises regarding our medium-term future. Also, all these promises are linked to 2020, including the NATO criteria, GDP growth, and so on. In other words, the president’s statements can be expressed as follows: vote for me, and you will get the following result. Regarding economic reforms, we can hardly serve as an example for imitation, including for those countries in whose company we were leaving the USSR 26 years ago. Particular attention in this matter should be paid to the Baltic States.”
“WE MUST HAVE A SYSTEMIC VISION INSTEAD OF ONE-OFF REFORMS”
Serhii VYSOTSKYI, MP, the People’s Front (PF) faction:
“In my opinion, the president’s approaches to foreign and domestic politics are different. It is very important that the president described Russian actions as aggression. Poroshenko was also clear on European integration and Euro-Atlantic integration. But some things were very disturbing to me. In particular, it was the fact that Poroshenko clearly opposed the parliamentary republic format, which I am a supporter of. In my opinion, the parliamentary republic is absolutely in line with the spirit of European governance. Poroshenko clearly voiced the message that the parliamentary republic and the constitutional republic did not belong to his priorities. I consider this position to be short-sighted. But then, no president of Ukraine was inclined to redistribute their powers away and revise the architecture of government itself. For example, I believe that the answer to the question of parliamentary immunity can be found in adopting a new Constitution, and not in a situation where the president de facto manages law enforcement agencies and, therefore, the absence of such immunity will simply turn into opportunities for blackmailing MPs. Also, I believe that we need a new administrative structure, that is, an administrative reform. This administrative reform, in particular, will provide an answer to the questions that have arisen in connection with the occupied Donbas territories.
“As for visa-free travel, I think it is proper for the president to want his achievements to be recognized. But I would like to say it once again: without restructuring the government architecture we will not go far. Some isolated reforms will not solve anything. We must have a systemic vision of our future, and accordingly systemic reforms instead of one-off ones. We have to rethink the functions of the state. Unfortunately, the policies of the current government are focused on the paternalistic electorate. Well, but where to look for an effective increase in living standards? It cannot be done without a middle class. It is the middle class who can create a stratum of self-employed people, which will be focused on the needs and demand of the public. It will be the engine of transformation which must be enshrined in legislation. We, meanwhile, are still continuing to tax the middle class beyond what is permissible in order to provide for pensions. Of course, metallurgical and other industrial enterprises have been lost, so the government is trying to tax the middle class instead. But if it is destroyed, then who will give a new impetus to the economy? The president has to rethink all these things. We have many people shouting about fighting corruption, but no fight against corruption will be effective without a system of modern public governance. In such a situation, one can jail all the MPs one by one, but corruption will still be just as severe a problem. Of course, we still live in the conditions that Leonid Kuchma once created, and the authorities do not show a desire to change these conditions. We still live, just as in the time of Kuchma, in the system that he built. Nobody has dared to change this system yet.”
“THE PUBLIC IS NOT JUST TIRED, IT HAS NO TIME FOR DECLARATIONS AT ALL”
Oleksandr SOLONTAI, an expert of the Institute of Political Education, a member of the Power of People party:
“The president’s speech contained a set of unrealistic theses that reflected the public demand. Most likely, presidential speechwriters paid attention to opinion polls data and tried to combine them with the ideas of the president’s political technologists as he apparently seeks a second term. Accordingly, they looked for talking points that people would like.
“I think that the words of the president will have no impact whatsoever. The public trust in the president has fallen so low that his words are simply not believed. In principle, this is how he began his presidency – by promising something that he would not be able to implement. The public is not just tired, it has no time for declarations at all. At the beginning of his presidency, when Poroshenko declared some quite unrealistic things, people thought that at least some of them would come true. Now, people simply turn off their TVs when they hear the president speaking.
MEDIA ATTENTION HAS NOT DECREASED, BUT CITIZENS’ TRUST IN THE PRESIDENT’S MESSAGES HAS, ACCORDING TO EXPERTS / Photo by Artem SLIPACHUK, The Day
“In my opinion, Poroshenko should have clearly identified three to five objectives that he promises to achieve this year. Then it would be possible to link his words to concrete actions. Instead, he delivered a speech in which he touched everything, but there were no specific promises for which he would be held responsible.
“Initially Poroshenko had the good fortune to become president, and then he was fortunate enough to sign the Association Agreement with the EU and obtain visa-free travel. But there will be no such favorable conditions in the future. We will have to work really hard to get real results that will not be coming fast and the foundation for which it was necessary to create yesterday. In the beginning of his term, great hopes were placed on Poroshenko, and the war could be blamed for any failures. The West wanted to get acquainted with the new president of Ukraine and sought to help him. As of now, the situation is changing radically.”
“THE PRESIDENT HAS DELIVERED A BRILLIANT SPEECH”
Yurii CHEVORDOV, an advisor to the Chief of the Presidential Administration:
“The president has delivered a brilliant speech! Both in form and in content. I think it will be much analyzed and subjected to detailed study, but it is worth it. Now we are waiting for other potential second-round entrants to deliver their speeches, allowing us to determine who of them will do it in more colorful and fascinating manner.”
“A LAUGHABLE SHOW...”
Ihor MOSIICHUK, MP, the Radical Party faction:
“It was a laughable show. During his today’s speech in the parliament, President Poroshenko called on MPs to abolish parliamentary immunity from 2020. Following that line of thought, the law on the impeachment of president must enter into force in 2025.
“The behavior of those present in the chamber during President Poroshenko’s annual address to the Ukrainian Parliament was of interest as well. The Fatherland faction, which claims to be in opposition, applauded all the messages of the president against which these same MPs fiercely militate in every broadcast; remarkably, Yulia Tymoshenko herself appeared in the parliament after President Poroshenko had left the building. Meanwhile, Prime Minister Volodymyr Hroisman simply smiled all the time.”
“HE ENGAGED IN ‘SUBTLE’ MANIPULATION REGARDING THE APPOINTMENT OF THE CEC MEMBERS”
Viktor CHUMAK, independent MP:
“Let me turn to what the president omitted from his speech.
“I can basically agree with him on foreign and defense policy assessments.
“He lied about the number of deaths in the ATO in recent days. Only yesterday and the day before yesterday, two men from the Right Sector Volunteer Ukrainian Corps and the Ukrainian Volunteer Army died. One can say that they were not members of the Ukrainian Armed Forces. Yes, but they still fought for Ukraine, did not they?
“Also, he engaged in ‘subtle’ manipulation regarding the appointment of the CEC members. The list has long been submitted, but the PPB and the PF want to split the commission between themselves. Is it even legal?
“Regarding the selection of judges for the Supreme Court, his figures are completely disconnected from reality. The Public Integrity Council will say as much, I believe.
“‘It is necessary to decide on the creation of an independent anti-corruption judicial institution.’ So will it be a Court or a Chamber? – it looks like we will get nothing.
“There was not a single word in it about changing the electoral law. But he had promised it!
“He described oligarchs as ‘the main threat!’ It was supremely cynical given his approval of the Rotterdam+ pricing deal and still-uninvestigated accusations of his involvement in offshore finance that surfaced in the Panama Papers.
“He delivered a beautiful phrase about ‘the need to correct our own mistakes’ regarding the abolition of electronic tax declarations for NGOs. He did it while having absolute certainty that it would not get support from hawks in the ranks of the PPB and PF.
“But when you do not know all this, it truly looks beautiful.”