Ukraine’s "European choice" was welcomed at the 2007 Ukraine-EU Summit, held in Kiev, where EU officials emphasized that "further internal reforms and introduction of European standards would bring Ukraine closer to the EU." Aside from this assertation, however, no tangible promises have been made, especially with respect to Ukraine’s future EU membership. An absence of such clear commitments on the part of the EU has been interpreted by some to be a significant setback to Ukraine’s overall democratic development. However, as opposed to expecting democratic incentives from the EU, Ukrainian government itself should foster its country’s democracy by supporting and engaging its citizens, especially the middle class, in furthering their country’s democratic advancement.
There has indeed been some progress in Ukraine since 2005. Economically speaking, a post-Orange Revolution Ukraine is better off. Its GDP (purchasing power parity) was $364.3 billion in 2006 as opposed to $299.1 billion in 2004, and its GDP per capita amounted to $7,800 in 2006, as opposed to a mere $6,300 two years earlier. Its real GDP growth has also been impressive – 7.1 percent compared to 2.4 percent in 2005.
Politically, there has been some progress, too. Media has been somewhat liberalized, the broad interest of the general public in domestic politics has significantly increased, and a common belief in the possibility of political change has re-emerged.
However, there is still some work to be done. Over the past two years, the Ukrainian middle class has been significantly weakened. Rising prices for consumer goods (present inflation rate is 9.1 percent) and low wages for white-collar workers (i.e. a teaching university professor receives ca. 1,000 hryvnas, or $200 per month) have significantly diluted Ukrainian citizens economically and lead to their lesser civic engagement. Recent political instability, mostly exhibited by the numerous repeated elections and corruption scandals, has further discouraged Ukrainians from engaging in their country’s political life. In short, many Ukrainians have become economically weak and politically disengaged, a trend that can significantly endanger further democratic advancement in Ukraine.
To prevent this from happening, the government of Ukraine should pursue the following course of action:
- It should guarantee a sustainable economic existence and further advancement of the Ukrainian middle class. It should create new jobs and protect existing ones by applying protectionist measures that are already practiced within the EU. These policies would safeguard Ukraine’s agricultural sector, which is presently weak and needs considerable restructuring. By aiding the development of the agricultural sector, the government will help to re-launch Ukraine’s industrial sector, which, in turn, will create more jobs and lead to greater economic stability for the middle class.
- It should engage its citizens politically. After the Orange Revolution, it became even more important to reconcile regional differences and define national identity. What does it mean to be Ukrainian? What should the official language of the country be and how should minorities, especially Russian, be treated? What historical legacies should be included and which ones not? How can Ukrainian cultural heritage be used to define national identity? These and other related questions need to be debated nation-wide.
- More importantly, the government should initiate a national discussion on the political future of Ukraine. Given present anti-American sentiment and general resistance to external interference, it is important to let Ukrainian people choose their country’s political future themselves. How do they see it? Do they see democracy as their ultimate goal? If so, how do they define it? As a start-up, the government can launch a PR campaign in major newspapers that would feature articles on above-mentioned topics written by prominent political scientists, sociologists, and historians, among other scholars. The government can also cooperate with major universities to further foster this debate.
All in all, the options are limitless. But, essentially, it is not only what the external actors, such as the EU, can do for the country. It is what Ukrainian government is ready and committed to do for its own citizens. The future of Ukrainian democracy is now in its government’s hands, which should not evade the progress that has been made as a result of a peaceful democratic uprising, the Orange Revolution.
Christine Otsver holds a M.A. in German and European Studies from Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service and a B.A. (maxima cum laude) in Political Science and German from La Salle University, Philadelphia, PA. She is currently a PhD. candidate in Political Science and Law at the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität Munich in Germany. She is also a research associate at Foreign Policy Research Institute in Philadelphia.
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