EU and UK visa policy towards Ukrainians – ‘go back to Russia!’ (?)

Category: by Jonathan Hibberd, EU, guests, ukraine
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The shameful treatment of Ukrainians by the Schengen and UK visa systems continues to hit new heights, with at least two more atrocious stories emerging this week.

The UK’s Independent highlighted the rejections of visas for Ukrainian children who were due to spend a month away from the vicinity of Chernobyl. Whether these trips are healthwise still strictly necessary is open to question, but the point is that these summer trips have gone on for years without any problems. In just one example, only 7 out of 17 children due to spend part of the summer on the Isle of Wight were permitted to travel and, to make matters worse, they were in some cases informed only the night before travelling, with suitcases packed, that they would not be making the trip. The UK Border Agency tried to blame it on unsuitable host families in the UK, but the claims seem to be spurious.

Chernobyl/Pripyat Exclusion Zone (083.8244)
Photo from Chernobyl by Pedro Moura Pinheiro.

Another case highlighted this week was of two PhD students bound for Italy who had their student visas rejected. There is an exhaustive list of similar cases, including the Ukrainian dance troupe which protested against their UK visa rejections by performing outside the British Embassy in Kiev. A folk festival in Bellingham had been deprived of the same pleasure. A recent article in the Kyiv Post highlighted an unfortunate Ukrainian student’s extended stay in the departure lounge of Paris Charles de Gaulle airport due to the Icelandic volcano. The fact that he had friends in nearby Paris and was on a US student visa cut no ice with the French authorities despite clear evidence in favour of the applicant. Another case brought to my attention by my father was a group of Ukrainian steam train operators which was prevented from attending a gathering of railway preservationist organisations in Hungary. The gathering was part of the process of trying to bring Ukrainians round to creating the kind of railway preservation projects which have grown tourism in myriad places across the continent. Such developments are fairly alien in somewhere like Ukraine, but these are good examples of how visa rejections will serve to reinforce the status quo.

One not to be ignored result of this policy is the stress that it has caused to EU citizens in each case. With cases of a more personal nature this stress is amplified. In such cases the inviting party is treated as irrelevant to the matter in hand or even worse, de facto made out to be liars. These rejections are damaging business, cultural, educational, family and personal contacts of EU citizens. Don’t we have rights too?

With the common thread here seeming to be the apparently arbitrary nature of many visa rejections, does it smack of conspiracy theories to begin to question whether there is a more sinister motive at work here? Are the EU and UK in fact telling Ukrainians in fairly blunt terms to ‘go back to Russia’? The line has been drawn and, sorry, you’re on the Moscow side. If this is not the message they wish to give out, they’re not doing a very good job!

This was previously published at Chicken in Kiev.

Jonathan Hibberd recently completed post-graduate studies at Sussex European Institute, University of Sussex in the UK and has carried out research into questions of Ukraine’s European integration and the country’s relationship with NATO. He currently works with the British Council in Kiev.


A Western Coalition? – Western Ukraine needs a new strategy

Category: by Jonathan Hibberd, guests, ukraine
Tags: , , , , , , ,

Where is Western Ukraine in the new political order? You could be forgiven for thinking it had disappeared from the map altogether. The new President has put a Russian in charge of the country, and set out on a course coherent with restoring Ukraine’s place to that of the ‘little Russia’ which had for the past 19 years existed only the minds of out-of-touch, chauvinistic Muscovites. Western Ukraine is now a marginalised and, some would argue, despised frontier province with nothing to offer the new order. It may even now, some might suppose, become the ‘enemy’ on which the need for ‘stability’ (meaning authoritarianism) is sold to the people, in the way that Russia scapegoats the clearly terrifying Estonia and Georgia (and up until now Ukraine) as reasons to stick to ‘strong government’. Egg-throwing and rostrum-blocking in parliament does little to dispel these insinuations.

If the new order is to persist, it poses questions to the west of the country that have never before been so prescient. Independent Ukraine was born of what one might call an unholy alliance between the communists of the east and the nationalists of the west. For many years this grand bargain carried benefits as well as disadvantages for both sides. Whilst an eastern-based business mafia held sway over the country’s industry and economy, a kind of ‘cultural mafia’ advanced a linguistic and cultural agenda that more favoured the west of the country. This grand bargain is now breaking up. Some would say this breaking up was started in the Yushchenko era. Others might contend that it is now, under Yanukovych, that one side of the country feels most disenfranchised. What is clear is that nothing is now being done with the aim of enhancing national unity. Instead of an over-arching, inclusive, reform-minded government under a prime minister such as Tigipko which the most optimistic might have hoped for, the new President has opted for a Russo-centric position. It is difficult to see how divisive appointments such as Tabachnyk can be considered necessary pragmatism. The idea that in the country that suffered the Holodomor children might in the very near future be opening textbooks that state that Stalin was a ‘strong leader who made tough decisions for Russia’ is going to be most sickening to those in the west.

Oleskiy Palace. Photo by Em and Ernie

Part of Western Ukraine’s problem is that the figures they have backed in the past have in fact served the region’s wider interests very poorly. Although large numbers turned out in the presidential second round to support Tymoshenko, there seemed little to recommend her, apart from that she wasn’t Yanukovych. The orange politicians who wrap themselves in Ukrainian patriotism in fact have interests much closer to the centre. At the other extreme, Ukrainian nationalist or patriotic parties can be seen as somewhat eccentric, perhaps extremist, in any case for many people not truly electable. Western Ukraine is clearly different to the rest of the country, culturally and linguistically and in its aspirations. These differences are only being exacerbated in the current circumstances. Western Ukrainians themselves need to start thinking about how to empower themselves against the current unenviable odds. A lot will depend on what sort of system emerges over the next couple of years.

If the current semi-parliamentary system persists, the west might look at its options modelled on regional/cultural political blocks in other European countries. In Italy, the Northern League sheds any illusions that it is a party of national consensus, and seeks to represent its regional interest within the country, where it feels under-represented. In Romania and Slovakia, the Hungarian minority is represented by Hungarian coalition parties. These coalition parties host within them a diverse set of views, from moderates to nationalists, but who manage to agree on over-arching concerns, and lobby for concessions in these areas, frequently as kingmakers in coalitions. Strong patriots might feel a need to prioritise issues such as UPA recognition, but in reality, forsaking the bigger issues over such matters does little to help the next generation. Even the People’s Self Defence block, which is an attempt at coalition party building, does not have a broad enough appeal. As the Conservatives in the UK who are learning coalition politics from scratch now realise, one has to look at the big picture. The over-arching issues for Western Ukrainians are obvious: education and language, relations with Europe and the need for a credible economic development policy for the region. So a kind of ‘Western Coalition’ could be the answer.

Lviv. Photo by Lyncis

However, we face the real prospect that the 2012 parliamentary elections may mean very little. Even if they are free and fair, including access of all political groupings to the media, the acquisition of ‘tushki’ might allow the powers that be to ‘tidy up’ any slightly messy outcome to the vote. Or who is to say at the moment that these elections won’t go the way of the currently delayed local elections? If this election finishes with the west of the country having no voice, thoughts will inevitably turn to the idea of secession. A strategy for independence would then need some serious thought. If there is a clear sentiment in favour of the idea, unofficial polls might be conducted, perhaps modelled on the unofficial pro-independence referendums that have been taking place across Catalonia.

Independence would have many advantages. Patriotic Western Ukraine would have the over-arching unity of purpose that has benefited the likes of Hungary and Poland. The overseas diaspora would be able to assist in the kinds of ways they were in Estonia, for example. Also, with suggestions that Moldova might just sneak into the EU because ‘it’s small’ (a lame criteria perhaps, but it is how many in Brussels seem to think) perhaps the EU will be able to stomach a bite-size Ukraine of, say, 7-10 million people rather than 46 million, a good chunk of whom it can be argued don’t even want to be there. A small ship is easier to turn. Observe how previously backsliding Slovakia leapfrogged its neighbours to join the Euro.

This may all of course be pie in the sky. Secession is difficult to achieve from any country. However, if aggravations produce policy concessions rather than independence, this may in itself be valuable enough, and would be preferable to marginalisation. Against this however there is the question of the west-looking centre of Ukraine. They might be the next to be marginalised.

Perhaps a separatist approach is not the best way forward at a time when a united opposition is most crucial, but nonetheless Western Ukraine needs to think very carefully before persisting with politicians who talk the talk, but in fact have little interest in the region. There is a grave danger of Western Ukrainians continuing to throw away their votes to minigarchs, thugs and tushki, and it is perhaps time that, as a united front, the region acts for itself. In any case, if the coming years prove to be difficult, a distinction may develop between those who understand and defend their civil and democratic rights, and those who are prepared to allow their freedoms to be compromised for the ‘greater good’.

Of course, the best scenario is not independence for Western Ukraine but for the entire country to be anchored into the EU accession process which helps to foster civil rights, democracy and economic reform for the country as a whole, and which would put pay to many of the worries that currently exist. It is only in the complete absence of a membership perspective for Ukraine that worries about where Ukraine is drifting have become all too real, and hence the need to possibly take a look at some radical alternative scenarios. The alternative of wait and see could be very costly.

To take the analogy of Belgium, another European country that is frequently described as divided, a few decades ago the French-speaking south dominated industrially and culturally, whilst the Dutch-speaking north was poorer. A few years on it is now the north that is in the ascendency with its new industries, with the once proud south a decaying rustbelt. Steel and coalmining are yesterday’s industries, light manufacturing, services and tourism are tomorrow’s, and it is Western Ukraine that is best placed to grasp this opportunity, if it is allowed to.

This has previously been published at Chicken in Kiev (or) Kiev Rus


Bandera is still not an easy task to solve

Category: by sophie engström, EU, guests, ukraine
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I was asked a while ago to publish an open letter to the Portuguese MP’s of European Parliament signed by President of the Association of Ukrainians in Portugal, Pavlo Sadokha, 
President of the Association of Ukrainians in Portugal “Sobor”, Oleg Hutsko and the 
President of the Association of Ukrainians Algarve, Natalia Dmytruk. The open letter is a criticism against that the European Parliament adopted a resolution on 25 of February of 2010, starting “[d]eeply regrets the decision of the outgoing Ukrainian President, Viktor Yushchenko, is granted posthumously to Stepan Bandera, leader of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN)[…]“.

It is not an easy task to write an objective analyze how European Union, Ukraine, Russia should deal with the historical legacy of Stepan Bandera. I therefore hesitaed in doing so, and instead I refer to an article at Kyiv Post, published on the 13 of April 2010.

The open letter below was previously published at

Rua Félix Correia Nº1, 2-Esq., 1500-271 Lisboa
tlm.: 967135885 / 964795123 NIB 506 695 107


Open Letter to the Portuguese MP’s of European Parliament
Dear. Mr. / Mrs., MPs,

It is now widely accepted that the European project has contributed decisively to the economic and social stability of the continent and to promote freedom and equality of citizens in Europe. Its democratically elected representatives consider the main objective of the European Union to ensure the welfare and protection of citizens rights, and for that, and based on the lessons of history, rejected any form of discrimination (racial, ethnic, religious, etc.). However, this does not mean the denial of historical and cultural heritage of the peoples of Europe, oppositely, the preservation of national cultures and languages, and respect for the historical past are some of the essential prerequisites for EU membership.

Speaking of historical past should be remembered that Ukraine never has any expansionist ambitions, and, oppositely, was the battleground of rival imperialist powers, with the consequent loss of sovereignty and national identity. During the World War II following the Nazi and Soviet aggression, Ukraine lost about 7.5 million inhabitants and approximately 2 million of Ukrainians were deported to labor-slave activities to Germany.

On the other hand, Ukraine, was also the scene of totalitarian tragedies, one example being the Great Famine of 1932-1933 (Holodomor) – qualified recently by the European Parliament of “horrendous crime against the Ukrainian people and against humanity” – that killed about 7 millions of Ukrainians as a result of famine caused by the Stalin dictatorship. At that time, the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN), headed by Stepan Bandera, was forced to use the only language understood by a totalitarian regime and that could receive the attention of the international community: language of strength. On 22 of October of 1933, the Soviet consul in Lviv was killed by a militant of OUN in retaliation for the millions of Ukrainians decimated in the famine genocide.

This fact regain an greater meaning if we remember that other dramatic moments of the twentieth century, there was a need to commit a similar acts. For example, between 1920–1922, the militants of Armenian Revolutionary Federation killed several leaders of Turkey, in response to the Armenian genocide; on 27 of May of 1942, agents of the Czechoslovak secret service murdered the British Nazi leader Reinhard Heydrich, responsible for terror in Bohemia – Moravia and one of the key masterminds of the genocide of the Jewish population. 

Still on past history, the European Parliament adopted on 25 of February of 2010, a resolution on the current situation in Ukraine, stating that:
20. Deeply regrets the decision of the outgoing Ukrainian President, Viktor Yushchenko, is granted posthumously to Stepan Bandera, leader of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN), which collaborated with Nazi Germany, the title of “National Hero of Ukraine” and expects that new Ukrainian leadership to reconsider this type of decision and reaffirm its commitment to European values.

In this resolution, Parliament claims his right to indicate to Ukrainians how they should interpret their own history. Moreover, what is the basis of what decision? Is there any sentence issued by an International Tribunal to sentences Stepan Bandera or Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA) for collaboration with Nazi Germany? Have been carried out a thorough historical investigation of the Ukrainian independence movement?
It is important to realize that Stepan Bandera symbolizes in an undeniable and tragic way, a struggle for Ukrainian independence, finally achieved in 1991, was an inspiring idea to generations of freedom fighters and, simultaneously, the target of hatred of those who have imperialist designs for Ukraine.

On 30 of June of 1941, following the German invasion of the Soviet Union, OUN proclaimed the restoration of independence of Ukraine. This act represented a clear challenge to racial and expansionist plans of Hitler, which, in turn, wanted to convert Eastern Europe into a huge Germanic empire. Therefore, the German authorities demanded that the leaders of OUN abdicate its purpose, and at the refusal, unleashed a campaign of violent repression, forcing the independence movement to go underground and fight against the two occupying powers in Ukraine: the Soviets and the Nazis.

In July of 1941, Stepan Bandera was arrested and sent to the concentration camp of Sachsenhausen, where he remained until October 1944. Two of his brothers were deported to the extermination camp of Auschwitz, where they was brutally murdered. In the ravine of Babi Yar in Kyiv, alongside with thousands of Jews, were also murdered hundreds of militants of the OUN. Stepan Bandera himself also met a tragic end, when he was murdered in 1959 in Munich, victim of a secret agent of KGB.

At the Nuremberg Trials of 1945 was revealed a secret document of Einsatzkommando C / 5, dated of November 25, 1941, which invalidates any argument about the alleged complicity of Bandera and OUN with the Nazis:
There is evidence that the movement of Bandera prepares a revolt in Reichskommissariat, whose aim is to create an independent Ukraine. All members of the movement of Bandera should be immediately arrested and, after a thorough interrogation, secretly wiped out like bandits. 

In fact, what occurred was a brave and determined resistance of the independence movement against the violence used by totalitarian powers who wanted to order the Ukrainian nation to the slavery and extermination.
We, Ukrainians who came to Portugal in search of work and a better life, we have been committed to contributing to the progress and welfare of the host country. Many of us have chosen Portugal as their second home, receiving, therefore increasing visibility and relevance to our civic integration.

Therefore, in the dual capacity of Ukrainian and Portuguese fellow citizens, is urgent to repeal section 20 of the European Parliament resolution of 25 of February of 2010, in which the National Hero of Ukraine is unreasonably accused of cooperating with the Nazi tyranny. It is a moral imperative to recognize Stepan Bandera not only as a figure in the history of Ukraine, but also the universal fight for freedom and human dignity.

Yours sincerely,
President of the Association of Ukrainians in Portugal – Pavlo Sadokha 
President of the Association of Ukrainians in Portugal “Sobor” – Oleg Hutsko 
President of the Association of Ukrainians Algarve – Natalia Dmytruk

20. Deeply deplores the decision by the outgoing President of Ukraine, Viktor Yushchenko, posthumously to award Stepan Bandera, a leader of the Organisation of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN) which collaborated with Nazi Germany, the title of ‘National Hero of Ukraine’; hopes, in this regard, that the new Ukrainian leadership will reconsider such decisions and will maintain its commitment to European values;

Open Appeal from Ukrainians to the Members of European Parliament with regards to the defamation of Stepan Bandera in the text of the Resolution of the European Parliament on the Situation in Ukraine from February 25, 2010.


Simple-minded portrait of Ukraine

Category: by sophie engström, EU, NGO, ukraine
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It is intrigues to note how international media is covering the aftermath of the Ukrainian Presidential election. I am not considering the political battle, or the long and protracted death struggle by Tymoshenko, but actually how international media looks upon the result. First of all, it seems to me that many journalist in “old media” (to use a concept from the Swedish Pirate movement) seems to have a predilection to depict Ukrainian voters as a hopeless passive group, like silent masses that never would be able to protest against possible violations against human rights or freedoms of speech. In most articles the voters does not even exists! (One example from the leading Swedish newspaper Dagens Nyheter.) It seems to me that many international journalists actually nurse the idea that the orange revolution was created by some kind of misstake. NOT as a protest against something that the Ukrainian voters actually felt humiliated by. This rather retarded interpretation of the situation actually leads to that many journalists seems to think that it is EU that must “save” Ukraine from itself. I would say that Timothy Garton Ash in actually nurse this particular perspective.

From his perspective it is important that Europe (which seems to be the same thing as EU for Ash) somehow secure the Ukrainian freedom. In one respect I must give him right, it is really important that EU understands the importance in having good relationship with Ukraine, and it is also important for EU to try to work faster and less obsessed by bureaucracy. But when he diminishes Ukraine to be only its politicians, I am wondering if he actually has understood what has happen during the past five years.

What we have been witnessing during this election is a triumph for democracy, and I am not sure that we should thank EU for that! I fear however that Ash would have preferred a complete capitalist integration, in that extent that Western interests should control all affairs and political life in Ukraine. Some kind of weird capitalistic interpretation of democracy. I can admit that I am as fond of Ash and trust him as much as I like Anders Åslund, which implies serious skepticism. For me it is just too obvious that the iron wall is really high and thick in their minds!

I, however, believe that democratic movements and freedoms of speech will need help during the next coming years, but I also believe that EU is not necessarily the guarantee that we will keep and develop that! What I am hoping for is grassroots initiatives, actions and connections over our boarders! It was actually grass-root movements that made the orange revolution possible, so let’s hope we together can create the best environment for freedom of speech and human rights in Ukraine.

(UPD: Thank you, Olha Wesnjanka for highlighting the article by Ash.)


Focus Ukraine

Category: 1989, eastern europe, EU, ukraine
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It is possibly that somebody have noticed that the a current focus at in Ukraine. Actually December and January, and possibly also parts of February, will have focus Ukraine. I dont want the articles to focus only on politics or/and economics, so if you have any ideas, essays, articles etc about Ukraine, that you would like to share, please send me a note or just comment on this entry.

After I wrote the short comment on the Ukraine-EU summit yesterday, I discovered that this issue actually is able to be more debated than I thought. Checking around the web I see that very few have mentioned it at all. The one that have discussed it seems to have been less critical than, at least I, desired. And after a conversations over lunch yesterday with a Swedish project leader working with Georgia, I felt I need to come back a more to this issue.

Just to clarify, I have never had any high thoughts about EUs “commitment” in Ukraine or any other country east of Berlin, actually. But I think possibly EU should learn from some mistakes before and especially by US. After the fall of the Iron Curtain in 1989, USA seemed to lack ambition with their eastward connections. As Gross & Steinheer claims in “Economic transition in Central and Eastern Europe: Planting Seeds” (2004) USA had no clear view on how to approach economical changes in Eastern and Central Europe (I hate that concept, but please give me an acceptable idea of what to use instead and I will use that!) which implied that Europe, or consequently EU, won the economic battle. Of course, this is something that could be disputed – against and for Gross & Steinherr conclusion. But we could possibly agree on that EU have an influence over Eastern and Central Europe. Regardless or not of the American influence, because it is perhaps not possible to evaluate how “little” the American influence is in that comparison.

But honestly, this is not what I had in mind to discuss, I just wanted to establish once more that EU actually have an influence, and that the crucial point is not how big the influence are but rather what is the main idea with it.

As I told my “colleague” at lunch yesterday, I am not sure EU know what to do with their Eastern connection and Ukraine. They don’t have an agenda and consequently have to jump from one tree to an other in order to try to avoid and maneuver nervous, pleading questions from Ukrainian leaders. My opposition is that an unaware influence actually can be much more damaging than having an aggressive attitude or even xenophobic and warmongering one. Xenophobic attitudes is easily raised, everywhere, evidently also in Ukraine, as Olya Vesnjanka wrote today at Deutsche Welle.

Conclusions? Well, I am not certain EU ever had any clear ideas about Eastern and Central Europe. I just think they “won” the battle economically once, due to the fact that that USA was even more hesitating and doubtful than EU. But one can call me illusionist ; ) from one perspective, and that is from the point of view that I wish EU to evaluate what the connection and commitment with eastern Europe actually is about! And answer the questions, even if the answers gets nasty and unpleasant (as in “We don’t care about the countries, but we want to suck them dry and have what reamins of their small resources”). And it is possible that this could imply that future cooperation dies. But as I said above, the todays unaware and near-sighted commitment could in the long run be pretty harmful!


Surprised by the Ukraine-EU summit

Category: by sophie engström, EU, ukraina, ukraine
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I have to admit I was really surprised when I opened my weekly issue of one of the leading newspapers in Sweden this saturday and found a small note about the Ukraine-EU summit. I was not as surprised by the actual agreement. Of course there where no real change in order to improve the relationship between the Ukraine “the EU’s closest cooperation and trade partner”, as the Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt said, and EU. I think, that even though I am a sceptic, pessimist a real misanthrope in these circumstances, I am probably not alone when say that one of the priority issues during the Swedish Presidency, The Eastern Partnership, is perhaps a real fiasco. It has actually been so little talk about this priority, so I started to imagine that they perhaps had moved it out from the priority list… Anyway, I wonder, really wonder, what the chairman of EU, Mr. Reinfeldt, and Chairman of the European Commission José Manuel Barroso, hopes to achieve when their main focus is to pressure and lecture Ukraine, pointing on that Ukraine’s reforms are too slow or not democratic enough? The only achievement I can see is that they follow wishes from IMF like little doggies? • woof woof •

I am especially worried, because it seems like EU has run out of any creative ideas about how to cooperate with, for instance, Ukraine. And it is possible that this inanity actually affect the relationships in a many negative ways. I can’t say I have any constructive ideas right now on the issue, but I at least do know that even though the EU leaders congrats themselves, the whole agreement is painfully worthless.

Or? Any objections?

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