- The Washington Times - Monday, September 20, 2004

Lithuania’s advice

The Lithuanian ambassador is urging colleagues in Ukraine to follow the example of his country, as Ukraine struggles against corruption and economic weakness in pursuit of its goal of joining the European Union.

The “big lesson we learned is that integration [into Europe] begins at home,” Ambassador Vygaudas Usackas said at a recent forum on Ukraine’s transition to a stable democracy.

Fourteen years after Lithuania declared independence from the Soviet Union, the Baltic nation has achieved democracy, a free-market economy and membership in the European Union and NATO.

The country’s “strategic vulnerability” caused by proximity to Russia served as a “major motivation for rigid, comprehensive and consistent reforms,” Mr. Usackas said.

“However close to the defined goals we felt, we have never taken things for granted and never accepted complacency as the way to move forward,” he said.

Ukraine continues to stumble on its path toward democracy, as it holds regular elections that sometimes are criticized by international observers. President Leonid Kuchma was elected in 1994 in what was considered a free and fair vote. However, monitors criticized his 1999 re-election campaign, although they did not question his victory.

Monitors from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe concluded that the 2002 parliamentary elections were flawed.

The government’s human rights record remains poor, according to the State Department.

Economically, Ukraine is still recovering from a decline in the 1990s that saw the standard of living of most of its citizens fall more than 50 percent.

Mr. Usackas said Ukraine must “pursue vigorous and consistent democratic and free-market reforms” if it has any hopes of joining the European Union.

Ukraine must also “implement a legal and administrative reform to free your public administration from corruption and crime,” he said.

“EU integration is a [great] job, which involves and affects everyone from the agricultural sector to the mining industry,” Mr. Usackas added.

However, he concluded, the effort is well worthwhile because Ukraine would be part of a market of 500 million Europeans.

Hong Kong optimist

Margaret Fong returned to Washington this month after five years in Hong Kong and is promoting her homeland like a cheerleader.

“I’m hopeful. I am ever the optimist,” she said yesterday over lunch.

Miss Fong, who served at the Hong Kong Economic and Trade Office here from 1997 to 1999, is back as director general, whose duties include working with Congress and Washington think tanks to explain the curiosity that is Hong Kong.

Seven years after China took over the territory and promised to respect its free-market and free-wheeling ways, the former British colony is thriving economically and pushing the limits of the political tolerance of their overseers in Beijing. Last year, a half-million people protested a proposed national security law they feared would curtail their civil rights, and the bill was withdrawn in Hong Kong’s Legislative Council. Elections were held on schedule earlier this month, but voters still select their representatives, in part, through interest groups such as lawyers, professionals or unions. Universal suffrage is scheduled to evolve gradually, and Miss Fong is confident it will come.

She said many Hong Kong analysts think that relations with Beijing will improve now that President Hu Jintao has consolidated his power by taking over as head of China’s military. Former President Jiang Zemin resigned the post on Sunday and retired after 15 years in power.

“We ask for patience,” she said of critics who want China to move more quickly to grant full democracy to Hong Kong. “We’ve really moved quite fast.”

Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297, fax 202/832-7278 or e-mail [email protected]

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