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Spain’s interest in Ukraine

Luis Javier Gil Catalina: EU won’t say no to a country duly prepared for admission
20 November, 2007 - 00:00
LUIS JAVIER GIL CATALINA, AMBASSADOR EXTRAORDINARY AND PLENIPOTENTIARY OF SPAIN TO UKRAINE / Photo by Ruslan KANIUKA, The Day

For quite some time Ukrainian-Spanish relations have not been on a markedly high level. Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Anatolii Zlenko last visited Spain in 1994 and our current foreign minister is going to visit your country again several days from now [this interview was carried by the Den ’ on Nov. 15 — trans.]. What is the reason for such a rather low level of contact between the dignitaries of both countries? What opportunities does Spanish business see in Ukraine? How does Spanish society feel about Ukrainian migrant workers? How is the Spanish embassy planning to reduce the number of complaints from those who wish to go to Spain? How does Spain see Ukraine’s prospects of getting closer to EU and NATO? Can Ukraine use Spanish reconciliation experience? On these and other issues in the following interview with Mr. Luis Javier GIL CATALINA, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Spain to Ukraine.

Ambassador: There was another visit when Spanish Foreign Minister Pique visited Ukraine in 2001. But you are right, there wasn’t that level of official intergovernmental relations which we have in the relations between the two peoples. In general, this is hard to explain because there isn’t a single plausible reason why our relations shouldn’t be better. We must work hard on both sides, so our official relations rise to the level of human ones. I have more work to do with each passing day. This means only one thing: although there are no high— and top-level visits, there is actually work to do, and this is proof that our relations are evolving and are getting closer every time.

What does the Spanish side expect from the Ukrainian foreign minister’s visit scheduled for Nov. 15-17?

I hope that this visit will be like a shot fired by a starting pistol launching an absolutely new stage, when our meeting on this level will become standard practice. On the other hand, there is the economic aspect. In 2012, Ukraine will stand a big chance of giving an impetus to the development of its economy. On the one hand, there are many Spanish businesses willing to take part in projects to prepare for Euro-2012, to develop and create the Ukrainian infrastructure. On the other hand, there are firms that are not directly involved in this project, but which know in which sectors of our economy they would be willing to cooperate on all levels, in order to make goods, sell them, and of course, make investments. Our relations in the economic aspect are lower than the possibilities of both our economies. In addition, Spain could help and give an impetus to tourism in Ukraine.

Mr. Ambassador, what’s holding back Spanish investments in Ukraine, considering that the latest estimates place the existing ones at 46 million dollars?

It is very little indeed. I have information to the effect that several Spanish firms are ready to make big investments in the Ukrainian economy. We can see that it is evolving very quickly. Its growth is over seven percent. We can see that people are having better opportunities, that loans are expanding. Evidence of this is found even on Kyiv streets — what has happened to road traffic because so many cars have appeared of late. In other words, Ukraine has opportunities and they must be utilized. We can see how your market economy is being created; it has an opportunity of receiving such investments. Yet both the Verkhovna Rada and the government of Ukraine must take measures to facilitate international investments. The Ukrainian side is told so by everyone, everyone points to the same measures that must be taken. I won’t reveal a single secret when I name these measures. A possibility to make investments in real estate, of course, tax laws, VAT refunds, legal safety and protection of investments, and corruption. Everybody knows all of this only too well. This task could be effectively carried out by the new government. Some measures have already been taken, but there is still much work to be done. The new government will a lot of work to do. EU countries are prepared to help in this matter, they are only waiting for the signal that the government will start taking these measures.

What do you think about the debates in Ukraine concerning a broad coalition because the democratic coalition won’t have a convincing majority? Does your Spanish experience say that it is expedient to form a broad coalition made up of parties with different ideologies?

That’s not my business to tell the Ukrainian people what kind of coalition they should have. However, the MPs from these parties and blocs were elected in the course of legitimate elections. Now it is their task to form a coalition. The only thing I can say is that the countries of Europe expect this coalition to be one most needed by the Ukrainian people. Europe expects Ukraine to become a prospering and stable country with a government capable of accomplishing all this. We cannot give any advices because this isn’t necessary. Domestic politicians must reach a consensus of sorts. They know best what their people need.

Mr. Ambassador, since an agreement and a memorandum are planned to be signed in Madrid, how do you think this new agreement will affect the status of Ukrainian migrant workers and possibly their adaptation to Spanish society?

As regards Ukrainian migrant workers in Spain, this agreement, whether signed or not, will have no bearing on this issue. What is actually important is how Spanish society feels about Ukrainian migrant workers or the Ukrainian colony in Spain. They are treated very well in my country. The Ukrainian colony is considered to be among the most peaceful ones. It gives no problems to Spaniards. These people came to earn a living, to help their families in Ukraine, and to help develop the Spanish economy.

Talking of the human factor, there is no avoiding the fact that there has of late been an increasing number of complaints from Ukrainian citizens applying for entry visas — and this after Ukraine and the EU signed an agreement on simplified visa procedures that will take effect in a couple of months. Is this problem felt in your Embassy?

The visa issue is really important for the Spanish government. We certainly do not want to conduct a closed door policy because ours is a tourist country. On the contrary, we welcome visitors and we would never be against Ukrainians going to Spain. It is our desire to make our service as good as possible, so people could be content to travel to Spain. Proceeding from our being interested in the largest possible number of tourists visiting Spain on the one hand, and on the other, from the fact that a great many Ukrainians wishing to go to Spain, the simplest way would be visa- free entry. The thing is that there are processes underway in Spain that the exact opposite of those in Ukraine. Over the years of your independence your population has decreased from 52 to 46.5 million. Meanwhile in Spain, over a shorter period, it has increased from 39 to 45 million — and this considering that there has been no increase in birth rate. Spain is currently receiving the largest number of immigrants in Europe, more than Germany, Italy, France, and Great Britain. Note that this is happening in a country which is historically a country of emigrants, people who left Spain. Due to these process, people’s mentality is changing very quickly and the government is acting in keeping with this mentality, these people, public opinion. Most Ukrainians currently working in Spain on a lawful basis received this status due to the so- called regularization. Besides, we know that they entered the country in an illegal manner. It was only thanks to these processes that they could receive a legal migrant’s status. Considering the decline in the Spanish economy, this country does not need many immigrants. On the other hand, life itself makes it imperative that the labor market be regulated. Therefore, we have to continue issuing visas. The number of those wishing to have these visas has grown considerably and our Consular Department is physically unable to accept and process so many applications. However, we are taking measures that will cost the Spanish taxpayers a pretty penny. To begin with, we have added to the Embassy personnel. As of today (Nov. 12. — Ed.) we are working in accordance with a new outsourcing system, whereby visa papers are accepted outside, we no longer receive applicants within the Embassy. We are also taking additional serious steps. God willing, we will have new premises for the Consular Department in a couple of weeks. When we advise Madrid of the rental charges for the building and office space, no one believes us. For example, the sum paid as half- year rent for a simple house in Kyiv would buy a palace in Madrid. Nevertheless, it has been decided to rent this house. God willing, we will be working there in the next couple of months. I hope that this will reduce the number of complaints from those who wish to go to Spain. I also hope the Spanish taxpayers will never know how much this decision has cost them.

It is also planned to sign a memorandum in Madrid in support of Ukraine’s Euro-Atlantic integration. How do you think the Spanish government could support it?

In fact, it is about two organizations, the European Union and NATO, so there are two approaches. As for NATO, this organization is conducting an open door policy in regard to Ukraine. It is for the Ukrainian government to decide on NATO membership and on how close the relations with NATO will be. Whether or not this decision is made by a referendum is the sole prerogative of the Ukrainian people. Whatever decision is made, so it shall be. On the other hand, joining NATO requires not only the people’s decision, but also a certain level of preparedness of the armed forces. From what we know — we have contact in the Armed Forces of Ukraine — you are on the road to getting prepared to reach the NATO membership level. Anyway, reforms in this sphere are necessary, whether or not Ukraine becomes a member of NATO.

Ukraine’s EU membership calls for reforms affecting all of society. In this case they must be considerably deeper and wider. For me this issue is absolutely understandable. Article 49 of the EU Agreement reads that any country has the right to apply for EU membership. Without a doubt Ukraine is a European country. If it wishes to do so, it is absolutely within its right to apply for EU membership. When a country applies for membership, the European Commission prepares a report on the applicant, with findings as for that country’s conformity to the so-called Copenhagen criteria. These criteria include both economic and political indices. There is , however, another criterion: whether the European Union can admit yet another country. Considering the situation with the EU, after its recent enlargement, also considering the situation in Ukraine, now both sides are in a logical phase of their relations: talks on a new reinforced agreement between Ukraine and the European Union. This agreement will regulate relations between Brussels and Kyiv for the next couple of years. For the time being, Ukraine has the right to receive assistance from the EU. There is also a plan of action, another instrument that will allow Ukraine to get closer to the EU. However, the future lies in the new reinforced agreement. Among other things it includes a reinforced exchanged area. However, to this end Ukraine must first join the WTO. These are the prospects of Ukraine’s moving closer to the European Union. In my opinion, the EU will never say no to a country that has prepared itself for admission.

Mr. Ambassador, you must know that both the President and Prime Minister of Ukraine are insisting on including into the reinforced agreement a clause formulating the prospects of Ukraine’s EU membership. Does the Spanish side support this inclusion?

This desire on the part of Ukraine is absolutely legitimate. However, the current objective situation is not in its favor. The EU signed a new agreement recently and is in no position to do so. Remember Antoine de Saint Exupery’s The Little Prince and the hat the author sketched on the first page? It was actually a huge boa constrictor that swallowed an elephant. This is precisely what happened to the European Union after the last enlargement. It is like a giant boa constrictor digesting the elephant it swallowed. The EU’s population and territory have increased by 30 percent while the income growth rate shows a mere eight percent increment. Even the EU budget, particularly the agrarian items, had to be revised. The EU is in the phase of transforming documents. It is necessary to work out procedures for the EU institutions and bodies, when 15 or 27 members are in attendance. It’s like a glass of water: another drop and it will spill. Also, note that these quantitative changes have resulted in qualitative ones — in other words, the EU does not have the quality it did before the enlargement.

Getting back to your question about Ukraine’s membership prospects, it’s all laid down in Article 49. Ukraine must change, transform, carry out a number of reforms. You must realize that these reforms may turn out very painful. For example, the reform that prevented the EU to approve Ukraine’s WTO membership, the one dealing with investments. There must be lots of such reforms. Ukraine must go about this step by step and plan long-term reforms. However, these reforms are meant not only to somehow get Ukraine closer to the EU or to its membership. Ukraine needs them in the first place. They will be useful in building a democratic, transparent, and just society, and this will benefit Ukraine. Therefore, it is necessary to concentrate on deeds, not on words. It is not necessary to give names to things everybody knows what they are all about.

A few words about the prospects of another organization, NATO. How do you see them? Can NATO’s enlargement be a threat to Russia?

To begin with, NATO has nothing to do with the kind of organization that existed during the Cold War. As a matter of fact, today’s NATO is not aimed against any country, any bloc of countries. Of course, there are certain threats in the current world, but these are of an altogether different nature. Previously, it was a bloc aimed against another bloc. Someone was targeting tanks or warheads on someone else. Now such threats are more ambiguous; they are not concentrated in any given country. For example, international terrorism, international underworld. NATO has undergone very many reforms and had done much to find its purpose in the modern world. The Alliance is making efforts like peacekeeping missions in various parts of the world. Besides, NATO means an assembly of like-minded countries with similar ideologies. Therefore, this organization is helping world peace. First, there is close cooperation between the armed forces of the member countries. NATO is thus upholding peace in areas where there is no peace. I do not consider myself an expert on NATO problems, I wouldn’t want your readers to see me as a promoter of a product Ukrainian citizens should buy.

Mr. Ambassador, I believe there is a lot in common between Ukraine and Spain. Your country suffered a civil war, Franco’s dictatorship. We had Stalin’s dictatorship, then the confrontation between the Soviet Army and the Ukrainian Insurgent Army [UPA], during and after the Second World War. Even now Soviet Army veterans cannot be reconciled with UPA counterparts. How did Spain go about reconciling the former hostile sides?

There are a great many subjects warranting debate on the part of politicians, academicians, scientists, businessmen, and members of the public. We will have a conference on the subject in Barcelona before long. Transition period was the first element on the road to reconciliation in Spain; the second one, Spain’s EU membership; the third one, Spain’s NATO membership. The latter took place at a time when Spanish society was totally opposed to it. Remember: there were military blocs at the time, in other words everything was much more complicated than today. The fourth element was the Spanish political system, particularly the presence of an autonomy. We experienced mistakes and success on this road. You can see how we could unite different languages, varying national feelings within a single country; how we created a single country. I believe that it would serve the good of Ukrainian society to study and learn from this experience. However, this should be done using an open-eyes approach.

By the way, the forum in Barcelona won’t be the last one. I would like it to be followed by similar gatherings on various levels, so there could be a process of mutual studies of history, mistakes, and positive experience.

As for reconciliation, peacemaking, those were Herculean efforts on the part of the entire people. Each of the sides — Spain was divided into two large parts at the time — had to make concessions. The Republicans had to adopt monarchy, and they did. Those supporting a centralized state had to put up with autonomies. The Socialists had to accept market economy. In general, everybody had to realize that must work for the good of their country. Spain has achieved prosperity, owing to the efforts of more than one generation. Yet we should not rest on the proverbial laurels and be satisfied that everything has been accomplished. There is much work to be done because no balance lasts forever.

Mr. Ambassador, proceeding from your experience, how do you feel about Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Dmytro Tabachnyk’s proposal to put off the issue of UPA and Holodomor for a hundred years and leave it to be assessed and analyzed by future generations?

I believe that Mr. Tabachnyk knows more about the issue than I do. However, I would like to point out that history remains. Mr. Tabachnyk says postpone a decision in order to accumulate tolerance and understanding. This is a possibility. Be that as it may, history is still there; there is no way change it, it has to be recognized and pay homage to the dead. The descendants of those who may have done horrible things should not be held responsible. Their children, grand- and great grandchildren should not be blamed. In Spain, it was especially important to forget in order to achieve reconciliation. History should be left to historians, let them carry out objective studies and then tell us what actually happened. What do we have to do? First, we must not apply our current mentality and understanding of democracy in viewing the Spanish past. Back in the 1930s, there were no true democrats in Spain — it’s just how we try to visualize the acts of certain persons at the time from our current democratic standpoint. Also, we must realize that there were only angels and victims on the one hand, and only monsters on the other. We cannot look back on history using our mentality. Let it be, let the historians handle it. We have to think of our future, of building our new world, of living there with a view to the future.

The Spanish Parliament passed the bill acknowledging the Holodomor of 1932-33. Last year, the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine ruled that the Holodomor was an act of genocide against the Ukrainian people and passed the Holodomor bill. Our President is asking other parliaments to accept this Holodomor formula. What do you think?

Do you want my personal opinion or an ambassador’s one?

Whichever you are willing to express.

I would like to learn more about the Holodomor, but it was undoubtedly a famine organized by the state. Which makes it even more painful and tragic. We know that it was a great tragedy. We know who organized the Holodomor. We also know that the SBU has carried out a large amount of work in spotting and revealing documented facts that are being published. We know that a book on the Holodomor has been published in Ukraine, that it contains all such evidence. I am waiting for this book to be translated into English, so I can read it. After I do, I will have my own opinion. The main thing is not how you name it, it’s not that important. We know that it was a heinous crime. It was so grave, alongside many other crimes committed during Stalin’s epoch, that the West could not even imagine its scope. Of course, it is a crime, so any propaganda refuting it was needed to conceal the depth and range of it.

(Due to reasons beyond our control, the English version of this interview was not edited)

Interviewed by Mykola SIRUK, The Day
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