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

The unique initiative

President of the Norwegian Parliament Olemic THOMMESSEN: “We have no other choice than to stand up against Putin, keep up with the sanctions, and keep up with a very clear attitude to show the solidarity with Ukraine”
15 February, 2016 - 18:21
Photo from the website THEOSLOTIMES.COM

Past week, a delegation of parliamentary leaders of the Nordic and Baltic countries, known as NB8 (Denmark, Estonia, Iceland, Latvia, Lithuania, Norway, Sweden, and Finland), paid a visit to Ukraine. In an exclusive interview with The Day, Olemic Thommessen, President of the Storting (Parliament) of the Kingdom of Norway, explained that the entire group already visited our country past year. “But it’s very seldom that this happens,” he said. “I think the last time was the first time in history that we actually came from eight countries together. And so far we haven’t done it to any other country. And it’s not usual, I’d say. So, I think it’s a kind of unique initiative, it’s not an initiative from one country, it’s actually from a whole region, the Northern region of Europe.”

In your opinion, what was the purpose of the meeting and what were your expectations before it?

“You know, the Nordic and the Baltic countries work very close together. And we are all engaged in the Eastern Partnership initiative. And then we think it’s important for us to work together, not to run one after the other to see what we can do. Because we want to help in the best way, and it’s better for us to unite our resources than to divide them. Also, we think there is a value in introducing ourselves as a region which shares the solidarity with Ukraine in the present situation. Of course we, as leaders of parliaments, are not dealing with the foreign policies of the countries as such. So, we cannot offer the NATO membership or financial support, and that kind of things. But when it comes to the conflict with Russia, the only thing that we can offer is solidarity, and we can also strengthen the connections between Ukrainian politicians and Nordic-Baltic politicians.

“But where we can help is, when it comes to questions about democracy and anti-corruption work – that is where we have our strength. So, past year we had an initiative – all together, but it was a Norwegian initiative – to help the Rada and to support the Council of Europe reform program. For Norway, we have decided to receive groups of Ukrainian parliamentarians – small groups, size of ten, eight, twelve maybe – for them to come to Norway and study the Norwegian parliament and the Norwegian democratic system. We had the first group visiting us in November, and we made the program for them to see how a parliamentary committee works, how the control functions of the parliament towards the government work – you know, we have a special control committee, which controls how the government works. We also have a special body, organized at the parliament, which is called EOS – they control the secret service, both the military and police secret services. And also I think there is a big need for Ukrainian politicians to study the party system. Not the system as such, but how the parties are constructed, and how they work with the programming, with the local organizations, financing and that kinds of questions.

“So, the aim of the visit was to follow up the initiative from the past year to find out if we should go on with that further – maybe there are other things we could do as well. But it was also to learn and to know more about the development in Ukraine, and we have had many meetings about the reforms that have been done, or those about to be done, which I think is very promising. And it was also to strengthen the connections between our parliaments.”

And what were your impressions after the talks with Ukrainian representatives, politicians?

“My impression is that there is a will for reforms. Many Ukrainian parliamentarians really want reforms. And they really want to get into the European society in a way that can help Ukraine to raise the welfare of the population and that can also fix the security situation for Ukraine, which should be much better. But even though there are many things that are positive, I think there is quite a distance. There are many things that need to be done, and I think sometimes many of the parliamentarians are insecure of how to find their way further, on what should be done next – and also how to agree on the really big questions. But we had meetings with many people who were involved in the anti-corruption work, which I think is very promising   – both the anti-corruption bureau, and the body that’s a part of the state prosecutor. The reforms that are done on that field seem very promising and from the point of view, which I think I share with my colleagues from Baltic and Nordic countries, it is the most important thing that should be dealt with.”

What about security matters? Have you talked with the parliamentarians about how to deal with Russian aggression? President Poroshenko told in the interview to Bild today [this interview was recorded on February 3. – Author] that there are more chances now that a Russian attack will start.

“In every meeting, whatever we are about to discuss, the conflict, the war with Russia is a very pressing question. Of course it is. And it’s very understandable that it totally dominates the discussions. And I admire Ukraine very much for the way you try to deal with three different problems at the same time. The first one is the war with Russia. The second one is the need for reforms. And the third one is a very challenging economic situation. And you have to deal with all these three issues more or less separately. Because you have to deal with the war against Russia at the same time as you do reforms. And of course it’s a part of the Russian strategy, that the war will paralyze your political leaders in a way so they would not be able to do the reforms. And if they are not able to do the reforms, they will not succeed in their efforts to come closer to the European Union, or the European society. And if they don’t succeed in reforms, they would probably not succeed in creating a better economy either. So, it’s really a very, very challenging situation that you are into. But, still, I think many things are done and I think that you will succeed. I am optimistic after all this. When it comes to the Russian war and what will happen – well, who knows? I don’t know, I could not look in the crystal ball to see what happens. But what I think is obvious is that the Russian strategy, as I’ve said, is not simply to make another two quasi-states around themselves, it’s also to paralyze the Ukrainian political system.”

Yesterday I spoke with German deputies that were coming here, and they consider that the sanctions had been introduced in order to make Putin change his behavior. Do you believe that the current sanctions, as well as those decreasing prices on oil, would change Putin’s way of doing politics?

“Let’s hope so. And Norway supports the EU sanctions. And we will go on doing so. And of course the oil price weakens the Russian economy. So, let’s hope that it will also influence the Russians and make them change their strategy, because they will need to have a stronger trade and economic cooperation with the rest of Europe. But I’m not very optimistic about it. I think that as long as Putin succeeds in blaming everybody else on what’s going bad in Russia, he will have the necessary support from his population. But we have no other choice, we have to stand up and be strong – and keep up with the sanctions, and keep up with a very clear attitude for our countries to show the solidarity with Ukraine. And then we will see what happens. There is no other solution than try to achieve something through negotiations, and of course the Minsk agreement is very important. At least the Minsk agreement gives time and the possibility to rethink things on both sides.”

And in what way can Norway help Ukraine in order for it to become stronger economically and politically? I’m not talking of military help, but some kind of trade, or gas supply agreement. There was an idea proposed some time ago to build a gas pipeline from Norway to Poland…

“Well, first of all Norway contributes financially to Ukraine. Secondly, it’s important in the political regard to show solidarity. And I think the most important thing is to share our experiences and try to help establishing a country which will be interesting for Norwegian industries to invest into. On the day when one succeeds in building up a society with good economy, that is able to produce welfare for its inhabitants, then I think the populations of Donbas and Crimea will see that they chose the wrong side.”

They were forced, twisted in order to make this wrong choice. Because they had no free will in that issue.

“Of course, but they are on the wrong side anyway. Maybe they did not choose it, but I think that if you manage to build up a strong society, fight corruption, have the investors feel secure, have a working judicial system, have clean judges, have good systems for registration and that kind of things for companies to make all the formalities easier – if all that kinds of things work, I’m sure that many European, many Northern European companies will invest and will contribute to the economic growth and working democracy. And also another thing I think we can do is to have our political parties contribute to Ukrainian political parties to build more sustainable party structures.”

Have you seen such interest from people you spoke with in Ukraine to use your experience and knowledge?

“Yes. I think we have that. The groups of parliamentarians are visiting us, and they have expressed the opinion that it was useful for them.”

By Mykola SIRUK, The Day