Ukraine's Quest for Mature Nation Statehood Roundtable VIII:
Theme: Ukraine as a Constituent Part of European Political Culture
Sub Theme: Ukraine’s Role as “Elder Brother”
Dr. Zbigniew Brzezinski
Second day Keynote Address by Zbigniew Brzezinski, former National Security Advisor and Professor of Foreign Policy at Johns Hopkins University, delivered during Ukraine's Quest for Mature Nation Statehood Roundtable VIII: "Ukraine-EU Relations" Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center, Washington DC, October 17, 2007. Video of the keynote and the following question and answer session is available here.
Transcription by: Matthew Dubas [Correspondent/Ukrainian Weekly]
[Thank you very much. Thank you very much, Herman (ed.- Herman Pirchner/President of the American Foreign Policy Council and Chair of the Session) for reminding me about that speech. I have almost forgotten about it. Indeed, it did transpire and your rendition of it is very accurate.]
I am grateful to speak before this audience once again and through this audience also to the people of Ukraine. I want to begin by congratulating the people of Ukraine on their political maturity. They”ve shown it once again. They have shown that they have a political culture of which they have reason to be proud. A political culture which is part of the universal political culture of democracy. That is to say, agreeing to disagree, debating fiercely, dividing politically, all within a constitutional process that is enduring. That”s a significant accomplishment and I think the Ukrainian people have reason to be proud of it.
In fact, Ukraine should not hesitate to say to its younger brother, Russia, that it should learn Ukrainian political culture. I see some people smiling, “younger brother?” Russia is the younger brother of Ukraine to anyone who knows history. And politically, Ukraine has shown maturity and ability to compromise of the kind that Russia has yet to demonstrate. Look at the several presidential elections. Look at the several parliamentary elections. There is one very simple test of democratic electoral processes. If you can”t be sure who is going to win, and if your predictions often turn out to be wrong, you know it”s a democracy. I have no difficulty in predicting Russian elections whatsoever. We know their outcome. And that tells you something.
So the younger brother should learn from the older brother and I think we should also learn because I remember when Ukraine came into being, the dire predictions, the dire predictions about Ukraine. Ukraine will not endure. I remember some very competent intelligence analysts telling us that Ukraine will split into two, that the country is inherently unstable. That maybe, maybe western Ukraine, Galicia, might end up independent, but the rest, probably not.
Look at the last elections; there is an increasing cross-cutting pattern of voting. Tymoshenko made significant successes in the east. Actually Yanukovych even gained a few votes in the west, and the country is increasing voting as a unit. If you want another example, go back to the days – the brief days, fortunately – of what might be called the mini crisis of Tusla, the little island in the Sea of Azov, which by some peculiar logic, the Russian Federation tried to draw into its own terrain by transforming it from an island to a peninsula attached to the Russian Federation. Do you remember how the Ukrainians reacted? All of them, all of them, President Kuchma flew back from Brazil, and stood on the shores of Tusla proclaiming fiercely, “this is Ukrainian territory.” And look at the resolution of the Rada. I believe the vote was close to unanimous, if not unanimous, including the Communists. Voting fiercely that the territorial integrity of Ukraine is untouchable.
So we know that Ukraine is a success as a nation state. Ukraine is here to stay and there is no doubt about that. Ukraine is part of the European scene, there”s no doubt about that. Ukraine is part of the European political culture. It has demonstrated that. Ukraine is part of European culture, and anyone who visits Kyiv, even briefly, sees countless evidences of that. And that is an enduring reality, to which everyone has to adjust. And in adjusting, one has to get rid of one”s ignorance.
When Ukraine became independent, many people in this country weren”t quite sure what it is and where it is. It was even referred to as “THE” Ukraine, rather than as Ukraine. But that is now changing. But it is also important that in Ukraine there be also change. And I have something very specific in mind. Namely, a country, a nation is a reality when it has a profound historical awareness of itself – historical awareness of itself. And that is important because a country without a memory is like a human being without a brain, without a self-awareness. I was struck by that several years ago when I was in Kyiv and I decided in the course of my visit just to pay personal homage in the area of Bykivnya, which I”m sure most of you know about. When I spoke to a senior Ukrainian close associate of President Kuchma, he did not know what Bykivnya was, he actually didn”t know what it was. And I suspect that a lot of other Ukrainians in recent past have had no awareness of Bykivnya and it is important to know these things. This is why the resolution in the Rada about genocide is historically and politically important. It”s a landmark. It reminds people of things that have happened it reminds people of the importance of being independent and in charge of your own country. And that is taking place in Ukraine. And that is all to the good and is part and parcel of the much more complex technical and financial issues that you have been discussing about Europe”s, or the European Union”s, relationship with Ukraine.
There has to be a vital, thriving, politically successful Ukraine for it to be part of Europe and Europe has to adjust its own vision of the East to realize that the frontiers of Europe do not end at the Buh River. The fact is that Europe is a dynamic reality, but simultaneously a part of its own history and culture, and Ukraine is a part of that history and that culture.
After the recent elections, Ukraine has a chance again to demonstrate in practice its political maturity. I think the people have demonstrated it by their vote, not only by the specific character of the vote, which I happen to applaud, because I believe the Orange Revolution actually put the final stamp, the end to the issue of whether Ukraine is going to endure or not. That was several years ago. But it is also important to demonstrate political leadership. Show that it is mature. In response to the politically mature people. And that means that the people must have a clear notion of responsibility and accountability for political decisions and political programs. The whole notion of democracy is a notion of competition of programs and a competition of leadership and then accountability and responsibility for performance of leadership, and the latter cannot be fuzzed, the latter must not be obscured. The problem of responsibility and accountability must be sharply defined. And this is why I think President Yushchenko has a real opportunity to put in place a seriously working and effectively working system of responsibility and accountability based essentially on two parties – a majority formation and a minority formation. The majority formation may be a two-party coalition, it can even be a partial grand coalition if some members of the opposition want to be a part of it, but it should not be a government which obscures accountability and responsibility by fuzzing the division between the programs and the division between the elites with alternative programs, because that absence creates political cynicism and creates the impression
of “we the nation” and “they the elite” and reinforces the belief that the elite is corrupt and makes amongst itself and is never accountable to the people.
The alternatives that are involved in this cycle of leadership and governorship is an important aspect of democracy and President Yushchenko now has the opportunity to institutionalize that, either through a two-party coalition or a two-party plus coalition, maybe even in a very vague sense, a partial grand coalition, but certainly not a complete grand coalition in which fuzzes accountability and responsibility.
Prime Minister Tymoshenko has now an opportunity to show that she is a genuine national leader, and she has gotten a big boost through the elections in that affirmation. But she also has the opportunity to govern in a manner that demonstrates that she is not only an electoral populist, but a responsible national leader, who can formulate policies for the long-run, without passion but with commitment. With firmness, but without vengeance, in a manner that gains her support and enduring respect. She has shown enormous political talent and is obviously a rising star in the Ukrainian political firmament. And now she has an opportunity to translate these talents into enduring leadership.
Former Prime Minister Yanukovych also has an opportunity to show himself to be a responsible opposition leader. Not the preferred choice of a major neighboring country, but a genuine Ukrainian national leader who partakes of the general thrust of Ukraine into Europe. And he has said that during his recent service as prime minister, but the taste in the pudding is in the eating and one has to demonstrate that commitment, not only verbally when in office, but in practice when the opposition leader and facilitate those steps as a leader to make Ukraine a possible participant in the larger European adventure.
So in different ways, each of the three political leaders of Ukraine has now a historical chance, a historical opportunity to prove to everyone that Ukraine is not only a national success, but that it is a country that is closing the inevitable gap between itself and what is west of it. That gap is not the fault of the Ukrainians. It is a consequence of the absence of freedom, of the absence of independence, of the presence of communism for so many decades and of subjugation with a large imperial system for centuries. If you consider all of these causes for the gap, you have to be impressed how narrow the gap today is. And how close is the day when Ukraine is going to be a full-scale participant in the European adventure. One can talk endlessly about the problems to be resolved, the criteria to be met, the standards to be satisfied, the shortcomings to be overcome, but the fact is that the momentum is in that direction. And Europe is also changing its view of Ukraine. The ignorance that I sensed in this country about Ukraine 15 years ago was equally widespread in Europe, maybe not as widespread but close to it. Today that”s dramatically changing and the picture of Ukraine as a normal European country is gradually becoming the predominant one. And in that there is not only a hopeful perspective for Ukraine, there is a longer range and further hopeful perspective. I am deeply convinced, truly convinced, strategically convinced, that as Ukraine moves toward Europe, the imperial option for Russia closes forever and Russia then only has one option – to follow suit in the lead of its older brother. And that is a very hopeful and serious prospect, because eventually Russia has no choice if you look at the vast space of Russia and its demographic crises, the rising power of its eastern neighbors. If Russia doesn”t move toward Europe, a different promise will be fulfilled. A promise which was once made allegorically, but which has an ominous geographical definition to it. “Europe to the Urals”; remember General De Gaulle when he talked about Europe to the Urals. He wasn”t suggesting that Russia be partitioned, he actually meant Russia in Europe. Russia in Europe to Vladivostok may be an attractive option for Russia, but if they fail to exercise it, they face an ominous uncertainty in the future. So Ukraine, in a way, offers not only a lesson, but a hopeful avenue for Russia, and an avenue that all of us in the West should hope that Russia will pursue. Because it would be in the interest of the larger West if Russia, in time, became more closely and more genuinely associated with the West.
Ukraine poses a truly momentous geopolitical challenge to all of us, but I think it is a challenge that today, shortly after the Ukrainian elections and in part particularly because of the outcome of the elections, we can view with increasing optimism.