The free trade area is working now. Shall the relations be further developed? Will the quotas grow and the rates go lower?
From my perspective, the Ukrainian World Congress got involved in helping to raise important export for Ukraine. We organized a conference during our general annual meeting in August of this year with the participation of government officials from Ukraine and businessmen from outside and inside of Ukraine. The general purpose was to look at means in order to increase the attractiveness of Ukraine economically for the economy to pick up. The efforts that we discussed hopefully when implemented would give positive results. We already see, notwithstanding the fact that Ukraine is a victim of vicious Russian hybrid war that cost Ukraine to lose over 7% of its territory in Eastern Ukraine, notwithstanding the illegal annexation of Crimea, notwithstanding 1.8 million internally displaced persons, that the projection for 2017 is the growth in GDP is the 2% and exports are predicting in the vicinity of growth of 3.5%. I think that with additional efforts that will be implemented both by Ukrainian authorities and the Ukrainian World Congress and a number of organizations and Ukrainian communities around the world will get those numbers even higher.
What about investing in Ukrainian business?
Again, various reforms that are currently being implemented will bring more interest amount investors to Ukraine hopefully. I think to a great extent when the legislation on the anticorruption court will be adopted which we understand from the statements of the President of Ukraine is forthcoming, it will help to raise that confidence in a court system with the additional reform that is ongoing in Ukraine. The confidence in the court system in Ukraine will be more important in raising the interest of the investors to Ukraine.
Lethal arms. A lot of fuzz is around this topic in Ukraine. Is it an issue for the debates in Canada?
The UWC together with our member organizations and obviously Ukrainian authorities have been able to convince the international community right after the Euromaidan to overcome Russian disinformation to the effect that a fascist “hunta” took over Kyiv and created internal conflict. I think only Russian agents and useful fools still hold that line. But the large international community recognizes this is clearly Russian aggression against Ukraine. And that it is why you have seen support from the international community to Ukraine including sanctions against the Russian Federation for violations of the international order, you’ve seen military support to Ukraine. The UWC and its member organizations want to take a step further and to convince the international community that it’s not strictly a conflict between the Russian Federation and Ukraine but rather the Russian Federation challenging democracies and Ukraine being in the forefront stopping Russian aggression from moving further westward. There’s one quote that I often use is the statement by the Minister of Defense of Poland during the last NATO summit to the effect that Ukraine in defending its territorial integrity isn’t, in fact, stopping Russian aggression from perceiving westward, and that Ukraine needs NATO and its member states, but that NATO and its member states also need Ukraine. If we are successful in getting the international community to recognize this for what it is, I think that lethal help, lethal weapons will be forthcoming because people will understand that this is in their best interest to ensure that Europe is saved from that type of Russian aggression. We’ve seen that Russian hybrid war isn't limited to Ukraine because Russian cyber attacks are not limited to Ukraine, interference into electoral processes is not restricted to Ukraine, ad destabilization of neighborly countries to the Russian Federation is not strictly limited to Ukraine. I think people are seeing that it is in their best interest to help Ukraine protect its territorial integrity and thereby ensure safety, security, and stability in Europe.
You do see that Russia is interfering states neighboring to Ukraine – Poland, Hungary, for example?
Well, it’s not just what I see. We have seen in the United States clearly that this is a very hard issue. And the question is not whether the Russian Federation is interfering, but I guess to what extent it is interfering. We have seen the statements that the President of France said that Russia’s propaganda machines des-inform the electorate, they tried to des-inform French electorate. So we clearly see that interference in other countries.
Can I ask you to go back in history? There was an exaltation here in Ukraine in 2013 – 2014 after the tragic events during the Revolution of Dignity. Right now, the society is very frustrated and disappointed with everything going on here. The level of corruption despite the government is trying to fight it on all the levels, is still there. From this perspective, what is the image of Ukraine in the eyes of Canadians, representatives of diasporas in different countries?
I think that the issue of the frustration that you’ve just described – probably various factors contribute to that, not the least of which is the fact that Crimea was illegally annexed by the Russian Federation because of blatant violations of human rights in Crimea and with international kidnapping of activists into the Russian Federation and torture and various other forms of human right abuses on an ongoing basis. I think that people are frustrated because of four years of military aggression in Eastern Ukraine, because there have been over 11 thousand people killed, because of 23 thousand of young individuals, men and women, have come back home injured from the military attacks. I think people are frustrated because of the level of internally displaced persons is almost 2 million. I think that as in any country that does substantial reforms the initial period after reform is usually a period that requires adjustments, that requires a certain degree of sacrifices and that is not exactly the best period although the reforms per say, in the long run, are good. That's why it's not a great secret that just about in any country governments do reforms in the very first or second year of their mandate and not during the election year because of that factor. So I think that all of those factors certainly contribute to people being frustrated as they still do not reap the full benefits of the reforms that have already been adopted and those that are in the process of being adopted. From the Ukrainian diaspora, and certainly I can speak about the Ukrainian Word Congress, what we are promoting is our various meetings with leaders of various European countries, Canada, the U.S., and elsewhere that Ukraine over the last three years has probably made more reforms, more change than during the first 22 years of Ukraine's independence and that much still needs to be done. But giant steps in the right direction have been done and from my perspective, those reforms will in the medium and long terms be beneficial to the Ukrainian people, once people see those benefits in the most tangible way, they will clearly see Ukraine being reformed, modernized. And there will be a better understanding of what is happening and much bigger buying into that beneficial change in Ukraine.
So, Ukrainians shouldn’t be frustrated or be crying "Betray" (zrada)?
I think it is very understandable that Ukrainians are certainly suffering from Russian military aggression in Eastern Ukraine, and it's difficult for us, Ukrainians, in the diaspora to say that you should not be frustrated. What is important to understand is that the suffering that people are ongoing by enlarge caused by a very vicious neighbor that simply does not recognize that Ukraine is an independent country that can decide where it wants to go and simply does not recognize that Ukraine has decided in certain terms after the Euromaidan that it wants to move towards Europe and never go back to any Soviet or revamped Soviet Union. There is also a very substantial Russian disinformation campaign that is aimed to convince both Ukrainians living in Ukraine and the Western democracies that Ukraine is a fail state. I will tell you for instance that not the UWC's statistics, but the statistics of the Deputy Secretary of State of the U.S. Benjamin Ziff, who's testified before a Senate Committee in the United States in 2015 and said something along the lines that Russian disinformation campaign is going to the tune of 1.4 billion dollars on manual basis reaching out to six hundred million people in 130 countries of the world in 30 languages of the world. And that disinformation campaign depending on the country has a specific aim - regarding Ukraine it is exactly what I just mentioned, namely to convince Ukrainians and discourage Ukrainians that Ukraine is essentially a fail state. I think that's it also contributes to that frustration that the people have.
Let us clarify and underline the contribution of Ukrainian diasporas into life in Ukraine, I mean current tough relations between Ukraine and Hungary due to new Ukraine’s law on education. I know you are applying some efforts to fix the conflict. Which steps were made by the UWC and what is going to be done?
First, let me requalify – I don't think it's a scandal. From my perspective first of all, when I look and that is the message that I essentially conveyed during my current six-country tour mainly in Romania, Bulgaria, and Hungary, where I met government officials. First of all when I tell them, when looking at the education reform as a whole, essentially the aim of Ukrainian authorities was to raise the standard of education to the European standards. And clearly that is in the best interests of all including the ethnic minority be it Hungarian, Bulgarian or Romanian in Ukraine, When one zooms in more specifically to section 7, again I tell them that behind that article from the perspective of the Ukrainian authorities is to ensure that every student in Ukraine is given the opportunity and the chance to learn the state language of Ukraine at the same level in order to be equally competitive on the job market when applying to University or to work in government structures of Ukraine. So again from that perspective, I think that it is a beneficial change for everybody including for the ethnic minorities in Ukraine. What those that are raising concerns regarding that piece of legislation concern that the level of teaching in Hungarian or Bulgarian or Romanian languages will be reduced to an unacceptable level, and I try to convince them that that is not the case, that certain provisions are there in order to enable the state language to be better absorbed by students, but by no means there is any intent to reduce to an unacceptable level the teaching of the ethnic languages or any plan to fire teachers or to close schools. That is a part of disinformation that circulates around this education reform.
And what I have been calling on is for the both parties with the contribution it may be of the UWC to create working groups with experts in order to see how best to go forward in order to ensure that the principal goal of this legislation which is to raise the level of education to European standards and to ensure that the state language is properly learned by all the students who graduate from public schools in Ukraine and at the same time that addresses the concerns of the countries that have raised these concerns, is satisfied.
I also made a call, particularly in Hungary, for that search for the solution that is satisfactory to all the sides in a reasonable and good neighborly fashion, not with a threat about supporting or not supporting Ukraine's European and Euro-Atlantic integration. Hopefully, with the findings of the Venice Commission, we will create such working committees and that solutions will be found. From our perspective, this legislation contains goals that are totally acceptable and totally correct. At the same time, it addresses the issues of the ethnic groups in Ukraine in a satisfactory manner. I am very convinced that that would be done and people will endorse what in essence is a very good piece of legislation.
Are you aware of the situations like this in any other countries of the world?
Well, I come from a province where I was born and live in Montreal, and the issue of language is a very hot issue and Quebec has gone and I witnessed two referendums where Quebec should separate from Canada. One of the principal issues was turned around the issue of language. So yes, there are countries and places in the world where language is a sensitive issue.
Which Ukrainian diaspora is most powerful and contributing?
Having visited around 30 countries in 2017, I think that the Euromaidan has revitalized not only a very vibrant society in Ukraine but also Ukrainians living outside of the country. I think that today not everybody with the same needs and possibilities, but I see pretty much in every country that I visit a community that has an intent to support Ukrainian people in Ukraine through these very difficult times in the best possible ways. Obviously in countries where they have long established diasporas, for instance, Canada, the U.S., obviously people in those countries have arid a very integrated and various aspects of organized life and have a much stronger input in advancing an issue. I think that from that prospective Ukrainian community in Canada and the United States have probably the strongest organized umbrella organizations.
Young people born in different countries are a bit different from older people who made their choice to migrate from Ukraine. Youth organizations - do you support them?
Personally, I was born in Montreal. My parents left Ukraine as minors. So that was a decision made by my grandparents at the end of the WWII. Yes, I do support Ukrainian youth organizations. I actually chair one of them for a long period of time. And I think that Ukrainians in those organizations and youth organizations have certainly demonstrated an attachment to Ukraine. We've seen that in various periods they can demonstrate that starting with the number of election monitors that have traveled to Ukraine during the Orange revolution, during various Presidential and parliamentary elections that followed, including the very important ones after the Euromaidan. When I traveled with one such group from Canada, there were a lot of people that came from western Canada, where are 4th, 5th and some of the 6th generation of Ukrainian Canadians that were still very much interested to go to Ukraine during the Orange Revolution when they celebrate Christmas on December 25th. So they actually pretty much sacrificed their Christmas holiday in order to monitor the elections. Again when young people today look at the events that are ongoing and look at the blatant violations of the international order by the Russian Federation, they are clearly supportive of Ukrainian people and try in one way or another to contribute and to help in these difficult times.
The young people are certainly acting in a different manner and they are using different tools. Young people today are very helpful in supporting Ukraine in what they are much more effective, for example with social media. And we all know the power of social media today. For those who are still not convinced that's useful just to recall the power of Twitter that is used by the President of the United States. So I think that young people today can use a very important and effective tool to communicate and to support the Ukrainian people and to counter a very powerful disinformation. We've also seen various humanitarian programs that need a substantial number of volunteers, and by enlarge, we've seen lots of youngsters volunteering their time to support such humanitarian programs. During Euromaidan, we had about 40 recorded Euromaidans in 42 countries at the same time as Euromaidan in Ukraine. very often those Euromaidans would be done either on a daily basis or weekends with a very good representation of young people. They might not necessarily be interested in going to the traditional meetings of some established organizations. They might not like certain things and to commemorate some anniversaries the way the older generation may be doing it. But they are they are certainly very much interested in a supportive and creative way. They are very proud of their identity. We see that with the involvement of young people in various dancing ensembles in various countries and participating in other forms that maintain the Ukrainian identity and the country of their residence.
Is the UWC involved in the issue of involving peacekeeping mission to Donbas?
We are not getting involved in a peacekeeping mission, what we have done is that we have supported when the President Poroshenko has turned to the UN for its peacekeeping mission at the outset of the conflict. And we have certainly criticized the balloon that the Russian President has done in asking for a peacekeeping mission that was not a peacekeeping mission but just a consolidation of the territory that he was to overtake illegally. Again, we are supporting Ukrainian authorities that say that they would want a real peacekeeping mission which will have the access to the whole Donbas region, a mission that would certainly control the internationally recognized border between Ukraine and the Russian Federation and a peacekeeping mission that would obviously not have any involvement by the Russian Federation, because you cannot at the same time lead an aggressive war and a peacekeeping mission.