In April, the Ukrainian president decided to dissolve parliament, prompting elections expected to take place on September 30th. As that date approaches, political confrontations in Ukraine are intensifying. EuroNews was not able to interview Viktor Yanukovich, the Prime Minister and leader of the country’s biggest party, “the Party of Regions”, as the appointment was cancelled at the last minute without explanation. However the Ukrainian president Viktor Yushchenko – supported by the block called “Our Ukraine – Popular self-defence” – answered our questions.
EuroNews: Mr President, welcome to EuroNews. Why did you initiate parliamentary elections last spring?
Victor Yushchenko: The situation is simple enough. After honest and democratic elections, parliament changed the results of the vote. The majority parties began to buy the MPs from other parties by bribing them with money. First two MPs, then another two and 13 more. Then they announced that the following week there could be another 25. It was a violation of the constitution. The Parliamentary majority had become illegitimate, because it was not based on a coalition of parties, but on the mandates of MPs. The constitution forbids that. As President, I called on Parliament to stop these practices, and revert to the status quo, but unfortunately that was not done. The only thing I could do in that situation was to organise the early elections to bring legitimacy back to the Ukrainian parliament.
EuroNews: What do these elections mean to Ukraine?
Victor Yushchenko: They’re very important for the country and very important for Ukrainian politicians. And I am sure that after the elections, what is happening in Parliament – this political corruption – will, in the main, stop. We will radically reduce the field of political corruption, about ‘buying’ laws, and modifying election results. It is essential that the country begins to understand that we can escape crises like these through democratic means.
EuroNews: There’s a feeling that since the orange revolution, Ukraine has only seen political confrontation. But has people’s quality of life changed since then?… how is the economy developing?
Victor Yushchenko: I will say that after the Orange Revolution, there were changes that the Ukrainian economy had not seen for fifteen years. In terms of macro-economics, our Gross Domestic Product grew at 7, 7 and a half, 8 per cent. It is a stable parameter which has given us the opportunity to change lots in terms of the budget. In 2005 – in just a single year – we increased income revenues by 54 per cent, and in 2006 by 37 per cent. Ukraine has not seen social discontent for 2 and a half years. For example, the minimum wage and minimum pension are at the same level. It is a very sensitive subject for Ukraine, especially for its 14-million pensioners. In 2005, wages went up by 50 per cent, people’s real incomes went up by 21 per cent. And many other things too – I’m very happy with the nation’s economic potential and the social and humanitarian potential of its people. They are changes which the country has been waiting for for a long time.
EuroNews: Why didn’t you support the idea of a referendum on the status of the Russian language, and on Ukraine’s joining NATO?
Victor Yushchenko: I am not sure that the language of another country lets us identify ourselves as Ukrainians. It is not even up for discussion. Secondly, the linguistic politics which features in the Ukrainian constitution gives precise details on the development of the Russian language or any other minority languages. Our doctrine on language is clearly inspired by the European language charter. It corresponds exactly. Now, on NATO. No-one has asked us whether we want to join NATO or not. The time will come when we will be asked and we will give a national response. I have already said that for Ukraine, joining NATO or not is a question for a national referendum. There are no discussions on that subject. The answer will come from the people.
EuroNews: Is European integration a national issue in Ukraine?
Victor Yushchenko: It is very current. Deep inside, society sees it quite simply. Right now, the EU is the Ukraine’s main trading partner. And each year, these relations develop a little more. Each year we reach into new corners of the European market. It was very important for us to sign a three year EU/Ukrainian deal which is proving a success. It already applies to more than 70 different fields. We have signed a common energy system deal. There is the resolution adopted on the Odessa pipeline – from Brody to the EU – there are agreements on outer space, airspace and other fields. Now, Ukraine is knocking on the door of the World Trade Organisation. We believe that membership could improve relations with our neighbours – large and small – but above all the EU. It is already a topical subject which touches Ukrainian citizens in everyday life.
EuroNews: Ideally, how do you see Ukraine’s short-term future?
Victor Yushchenko: It is a European country. It is a democratic country. It is a country where the principal democratic values are clearly and irrevocably fixed – starting with the right to choose all the way through to freedom – the freedom of speech. It is a country which, I am sure, will set the standards in human rights and law. We will bring corruption to an end – it will become a thing of the past – an ill which touches all spheres of society. We talk publicly about it and we publicly fight against it. And I am sure we will succeed. I am sure we will be the country of affluence, and of human dignity – a country which will enjoy fair, open and friendly reltions with its neighbours, be it in economic, social or humanitarian spheres. I am very optimistic about Ukraine’s prospects, because it’s a country which has always been at the centre of Europe. When I talk about European values, I know my country has contributed to them at great cost. Ukraine has helped shape European policy.