- - Thursday, November 6, 2014


Some say my country, Ukraine, is like a pendulum: First it swings this way, and then that. Others say we are torn between the East and the West. As the dust settles from the first parliamentary elections since the outbreak of hostilities earlier this year, I think both explanations of Ukraine are overly simplistic, even as we endure the shocks of recent swings and tend to the fresh wounds of recent division. Our path to stability has really only just begun.

Consider what has happened in a year. First, street protests that turned violent ejected a democratically elected president from office. Then, we lost Crimea. Violence in the late spring turned two of our eastern regions into “antiterrorism operation” zones, where fighting has cost more than 3,000 lives — roughly equivalent to what the United States suffered on Sept. 11, 2001. During all of this, our currency has been devalued by 60 percent, and nearly 80 percent of our industrial capacity has been sidelined by war. Still, we had an election, which will form the basis of our next government — one that will now have unprecedented responsibility on its shoulders to restoring balance to Ukraine.

There are those in Ukraine who treat politics like a game — and then there are the rest of us. For the game-players, there is time to focus on accumulating marginal gains here and there, to dwell on vengeance and settling scores, or to put their geopolitical priorities over the needs of people. For the rest of us, there are simpler truths: We remain, if not in open war, in a state of false peace. Prices are rising, while salaries are frozen or falling. While we have yet to come to terms with already crushing debts, we lack energy resources at time when winter is coming.

In the aftermath of this election, some pundits say the result was “the most pro-European parliament in Ukraine’s history.” However, we should be quick to observe that it was a tumultuous debate about an association agreement with the European Union that precipitated our year of national crisis. I have served on the European integration committee in the previous parliament, and have thought seriously about these issues in the context of those who are already suffering and those who have lost the ephemeral sense of belonging to something that is no longer. Greater integration with the West is a goal to be embraced. Still, unlike some countries that joined the EU a decade ago, we do not wish to enter a union simply for its benefits, but rather wish to be full and equal partners capable of contributing our fair share.

Right now, Ukraine needs to do three things before we can reliably and credibly set our future path:

First, we need to end the war on terms that do not leave us the crippled inheritors of frozen conflicts. Looking at Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan, it is clear to us what a weight such unresolved issues places on the destiny of each of these aspiring states. Despite some recent suggestions to the contrary, Ukraine will not shed itself of the Donbas region, nor the Luhansk. Instead, we will pursue reintegration as a matter of existential priority.

Second, we must rebuild. Estimates of the losses we have incurred in the past seven months vary quite wildly, but what is clear is the fact that our industrial base has been diminished. It can and must be brought back stronger from the destruction it has suffered. Donbas is not a “rust belt,” but rather an integral part of Ukraine’s national economy. Without such a base, our future contributions to any larger economic union would be minimal.

Finally, we must reform our system of governance without freezing out the vulnerable survivors of a historical era that has passed. If the prospect of civil war has taught us anything, it is that unity — real unity — requires inclusiveness and not pitting one group against another. Our government is bloated, corruption continues to thrive despite the recent efforts of the “Euro-maidan” movement’s “architects,” and we have yet to develop the system we can build for better meeting our own energy needs. We must tackle these challenges fully before approaching any outside power on our knees.

On Oct. 26, millions of our supporters braved violence, threats and intimidation to cast their ballots for greater balance and stability than the past 11 months have brought. Those of us who earned their trust have a solemn duty to put aside game-playing and start showing results. The Opposition Bloc is committed to this goal, and we hope others in the new parliament will join us.

Julia Lyovochkina is a lawyer, parliamentarian and a vice chairman of the Monitoring Commission in the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. She represents the Opposition Bloc in Ukraine’s parliament.

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