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24.02.2014

Ukraine’s leaders must be as mature as its citizens

Ukraine’s citizens are heroes. They have stunned and impressed the world by standing up to repression and violence, putting their lives on the line in the process. There have been many dead; just a few days ago it seemed as though there may be many more. But thanks to the bravery of its people and the support of international partners Ukraine was able to step back from disaster. We have seen a people’s revolution, not a revolution of the politicians.

The people of Ukraine have learnt from the mistakes that followed the Orange revolution of 2004, where initial hopes of a free and democratic Ukraine foundered in recrimination and corruption. Today civil society has proved itself to be much stronger. Now the spotlight is on politicians and big business, who must prove they can match the maturity demonstrated by ordinary Ukrainians and that they are prepared to put their country first, ahead of their own interests.

I have not been on the barricades. Ordinary Ukrainians have. Civil society turned out to be far ahead of us. We must now put all our efforts into addressing the social problems of Ukraine, and the long-term challenges of our country. We have all long known what they are: lack of rule of law, red tape, corruption, lack of opportunities, lack of infrastructure.

Only if politicians and big business rise to this challenge will Ukrainians be able to channel their energy into reforming and rebuilding the country.

Hundreds of thousands of citizens felt they could rely only on themselves, and went out and risked their lives to save their children’s future. Only if they regain trust in the state and those in power will they be prepared to hand back the monopoly of power from the Maidan to the institutions of state.

Ukrainians have united against violence. But now cultural differences – whether of language, ethnicity or general outlook – pose a threat to the unity of our state. It is therefore even more incumbent on politicians and business leaders to work together for a united Ukraine.

For far too long Ukrainians have felt that they could not rely on the rule of law. The huge disappointment after the Orange revolution was that this did not change. Corruption is now one of the crucial challenges facing the country. Politicians and big business must contribute to quick and significant reforms, so that society will be ready to give rules, democratic procedures and the legal system another chance.

Now is a unique moment but it is only the beginning of a process where success is not guaranteed. We know from our history that Ukrainians were also brave in the past – but were very seldom lucky with their political leaders.

Now more than ever Ukraine needs politicians to demonstrate honesty, competence and a preparedness to really serve their country. Perhaps for the first time in modern Ukrainian history, talking honestly about the need for painful reforms may actually boost a politician’s personal standing. Ordinary citizens have already shown what huge sacrifices they are prepared to make for a better future.

Honesty will also be needed in the wider discussion about Ukraine’s relations with the EU as well as with the Russian Federation. Ukraine should be the country where west and east meet and co-operate effectively.

The most important immediate task of Ukraine’s politicians will be the formation of a coalition government. This government will need not so much the experience of its predecessors but rather those of its colleagues in countries that have experienced deep crises such as Greece, Portugal, Spain, Ireland.

And the most important test for all Ukrainians – citizens, politicians and business – will be the holding of completely honest and fair presidential elections. These will give Ukrainians a chance to demonstrate not their courage, but their wisdom in choosing their next leader. If we get our act together, Ukraine has an extraordinary future.

In the meantime, the EU could demonstrate its recognition of the braveness displayed on the streets of Kiev and across the country by undertaking one brave – first – step: extend a visa free regime to Ukrainians with immediate effect.

Source: © The Financial Times (For Subscribers Only) Author: Victor Pinchuk
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