16 December 2019, Monday, 12:40
The Wait Is Nearly Over

Bohdan Yaremenko: Revolutionary Changes Appear Possible In Ukrainian Elites

Bohdan Yaremenko: Revolutionary Changes Appear Possible In Ukrainian Elites

The Servant of the People party adopted quite high standards in the matter of human rights.

Director of the Maidan of Foreign Affairs Foundation, former Consul General of Ukraine in Edinburgh and Istanbul, candidate for people's deputies of Ukraine at the elections to the Verkhovna Rada Bohdan Yaremenko said this in an interview to Charter97.org website.

- Bohdan, you are an experienced diplomat, the founder and head of one of the best analytical centers in Ukraine. Why have you decided to participate in the elections to the Verkhovna Rada?

- Thank you for such a flattering assessment. Indeed, the analytical center of the Maidan of Foreign Affairs Foundation is one of the most cited in the five years since its launch.

Moreover, although we very tightly restrict ourselves with national security issues, we do not deal with economics and the fight against corruption - but, nevertheless, even this issue is enough to understand the depth and magnitude of the problems the Ukrainian state faces.

And, since the backbone of our analytical center is formed by the people with 20+ years of work experience in state administration, intelligence, military, diplomacy, we see problems that exist in the country - in terms of the need to regain confidence in the state bodies, the state administration system and the state affairs.

We understand that without a qualitative change in the Ukrainian elites this will not happen. We have an ambition (this is also my ambition), that we can be those people, I can be the person who can bring a new quality to the Ukrainian ruling elites and take responsibility for the country.

Therefore, participation in elections is a reasonably balanced decision, which is based on the understanding of the problems the country faces, and my capabilities. Now, when President Volodymyr Zelenskiy provides an opportunity for literally revolutionary changes in the elites - it is just time to speak up and try to come out with a new team for something new.

- Until recently, you headed the Kyiv branch of the UKROP party. Now you are going to run at the election in the majoritarian electoral district in Kyiv, from the Servant of the People party. Why have you decided to join the party of the new president of Ukraine?

- During the elections, the Maidan of Foreign Affairs advised Volodymyr Zelenskiy’s electoral campaign. We were consultants, offered our assistance in the preparation of materials, approaches of the Zelenskiy team on the issues of foreign policy and national security.

We assisted elected president Zelenskiy before the inauguration - even in the preparation of some practical international meetings. After the inauguration, however, this cooperation was over. Then, it seems to me, membership in the UKROP party began to create a certain conflict of interests. Prior to this, the party leadership was aware of my activities (in the presidential campaign - edit.) They supported it in every way, because the party participated in the elections only in the first round, and in the second round most of the party members supported Volodymyr Zelenskiy.

It is very important that the parties UKROP and Servant of the People have no particular disagreements in terms of economic policy. They also have common foundations in terms of understanding political philosophy. Both parties have the opinion that it is necessary to change the political structure and system of government in Ukraine in order to reduce the state’s ability to restrict its citizens. This means a more service type of government, a more service type of state power and apparatus, more opportunities and rights for citizens.

This became the political and philosophical basis for our cooperation. However, since after the presidential election, the UKROP party decided to refrain from participating in parliamentary elections, I had a dilemma: to take a break from political activity for several years together with the party, or still try to realize myself.

Having consulted with colleagues, also by the party, we made a civilized, friendly decision that I should move on, given that the issues that I deal with are extremely important, vital for Ukraine. I mean foreign policy issues at the time of war and national security at the time of war.

Therefore, we broke up with the UKROP party, but in a very friendly and civilized manner, having preserved the best relations. I have not yet joined the Servant of the People party, but received an offer and support to run in a single-mandate majoritarian electoral district in Kyiv. I accepted the offer, it is a great honor for me.

In the end, I run with the support of the Servant of the People party, but as a non-party candidate.

- You carry out meetings with people now. How has the Ukrainian voter change in the last five years?

- To do this, you do not need to hold meetings in the district - every day I travel in minibuses and subways and I see people’s moods well, I do not have the syndrome of isolation from real life. I understand the needs of Ukrainian society.

This is a plea for change and very big disappointment due to the lack of implementation of the demand for dignity and dignified attitude to the people.

Naturally, in Ukraine there are still a lot of paternalistic attitudes, given the complexity of the economic and social situation. A huge problem for us is the fight against poverty. A huge number of people, due to an insufficient amount of experience, knowledge and, most importantly, money, expect that someone else will solve their problems.

This is such a difficult situation for us: there is a rather active part of the population, demanding changes in the direction of expanding their rights, but at the same time there is a huge demand for a more active role of the state in solving the problems of citizens. In such a complex mix, we need to look for a way to move forward and change the country.

- What, in your opinion, are the key tasks of the Servant of the People party in the Verkhovna Rada? What draft bills are needed to be adopted in the first place?

- The main task is to restore confidence in the government. This question is much more complicated than the introduction of any bills. This is a method of political behavior of the Servant of the People party. It must fully comply with the declared principles: in the selection of personnel, in shaping the agenda, and so on.

These are huge demands. Of course, disappointments are inevitable, because a very large new structure is being formed, and the Servant of the People party will have problems of growth. However, voters in Ukraine are sufficiently informed and able to distinguish objective problems, and when there are systemic omissions or unwillingness to target people.

Thus, the party should not disappoint people and try to do what it declared: to be open, to be ready for a dialogue, and to be inclusive. This is something that the Ukrainian politics lacks badly.

As for the bills, there is a very broad program that covers all spheres of life. It is also about removing corruption schemes in the energy sector, about reducing corruption in general, reducing dependence on the government, which should also be implemented through legislative initiatives.

It is clear that a party that according to ratings can form a majority in the parliament should have a program. And it has a program, which provides for not even reforms, but transformations in all areas.

Again, the party pays great attention to digitizing the country, updating technological skills and services - both as a way of fighting corruption, and as a way of establishing clearer communication with citizens, and creating tools to respond to their problems.

There are several basic tools that the party sees and which will help solve all other problems. Legislative registration is partially taking place; President Zelenskiy is already submitting some bills. For example, the law on the system of impeachment, which 28 years before could not be considered in the parliament. This is also one of the steps to increase confidence in the government: the president declares that he wants to create tools for self-control.

After the elections, the services of the Servant of the People party (which, I hope, will receive if not a single majority, then a majority), will be the Secretariat of the Verkhovna Rada, which is used to present all ideas, visions, programs in the language of draft laws.

Now the main thing is political victory, and after that it’s a matter of technology: to transform the visions and program moments into the language of legislation. I think this will be done fairly quickly.

- How do you see your participation in the work of the Rada in case of election? Which commissions do you plan to join?

- Of course, that soldier is bad, who does not want to become a general, but I’m quite an experienced person to understand that these will be quite complicated negotiations and decisions, if only because of a rather large number of people. Political coalitions involving several parties are possible, so it would be presumptuous and foolish to talk about positions now.

This will all be subject to political agreements. Of course, my biography clearly suggests that my field of activity is national security, international politics and defense. Somewhere in this area, I see myself in terms of legislation and work in committees.

However, I am also well aware of my role as a majoritarian deputy (although I do not agree with this practice in my heart). I understand that there is a great need for citizens to have a lightning rod and the last hope in the person of a deputy, which can be addressed when the local authorities do not resolve any issues.

This part of my work is also very important. I realize that this is a very time consuming and lengthy process, but this cannot be avoided. And I will treat this with great responsibility.

- What foreign policy priorities should the party of the new Ukrainian president have?

- In this case, our president has the “right of first wedding night” in matters of foreign policy, the Constitution gives him almost the sole right to determine and implement foreign policy. Here, the role of parliament is more auxiliary: it defines some fundamental principles of foreign policy.

They are enshrined in our legislation and the Constitution. This is European integration and integration into NATO as a direction of movement.

I am a supporter of the Ukrainian-centric concept. For me, all these integrations are only a tool to achieve the most important tasks for the Ukrainian people.

This is receiving external support and resources for carrying out internal reforms and creating a favorable environment for the development of Ukraine and Ukrainian society, which, naturally, should include the return of the occupied territories, a cease-fire, the termination of the war, and payment of compensation.

- What should be Ukraine’s policy towards Belarus?

- The attitude to Belarus has not yet been spelled out in the party programs of the Servant of the People, therefore I set out my personal opinion as an expert.

We in the Servant of the People party have adopted rather high standards in the matters of human rights. And it seems to me that we as a party will not have the right to ignore the fact that the reputation of Belarus as a country violating human rights is quite renown. Starting with the problem of the existence and use of the death penalty - and further, continuing the issue of restriction of freedoms.

If I, as a deputy, have an opportunity to advise the President of Ukraine on these issues, naturally, I will be advised to take this into account in relations with the Belarusian authorities.

At the same time, I think that our position should be much more difficult: we must seek and use all opportunities to maintain relations with the Belarusian civil society, and with the society as a whole. To maintain a sense of the special cultural closeness of our peoples, to maximally promote the development of contacts at the level of non-governmental organizations, interpersonal contacts.

We have no problems with the Belarusian people, but there are very serious differences in the fundamental issues related to the protection of human rights with the Belarusian government, the authorities and Lukashenka. This, of course, should affect the foreign policy of Ukraine.

- You have always stuck to principled stance on supporting democratic forces in our country. Are you ready to seek a more clear policy on this issue in the Rada?

- My personal beliefs can change only under the pressure of facts and arguments. I see no reason to change my position regarding what is happening in Belarus.

My ability to influence decision-making by the president and the Servant of the People party should undergo a test of time.

- How do you think - should the system of support of the projects of the civil society and independent media in Belarus, similar to that existing in European countries, be created in the new Ukraine?

- It seems to me that the human rights system is an essential component of a democracy system. Without a guaranteed protection of the human rights system, there can be no democracy. Without democracy, there can be no complete confidence in the security of neighbors.

Therefore, the violation of human rights in Belarus (given that security and human rights issues today are not preferences of national statehood, but international issues) affects the situation in the region. This cannot be ignored and cannot be treated as problems with democracy in Belarus being exclusively internal issues of Belarus.

Ukraine should look for a way and dialogue with the Belarusian authorities on this issue, expressing its position, why we find it unacceptable to violate political and human rights as a whole, and (given the means and possibilities) to engage in a dialogue with the civil society and political parties in Belarus.

We are close neighboring states, so we must understand the entire structure of society, the needs and demands of Belarusians. So, we need to support certain opposition projects and movements, maybe not at the expense of Ukrainian taxpayers, but in Ukraine.

- Many Belarusians and citizens of other countries are fighting for Ukraine in the Donbas. What laws should be taken in their favour?

- Here, President Zelenskiy has already taken initiatives and quite sharply responded to Russian President Putin with regard to the decision to distribute Russian passports in the occupied territories of Donbas.

I think that Ukraine faces a difficult path to liberalize the institution of citizenship towards the European approaches. One of the directions of the reforms is the simplified, very fast granting of citizenship to all those who, as part of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, protect our country from external aggression.

Helping these people to create conditions for living in Ukraine, including by granting citizenship, should be a priority. And not just a priority - the moral obligation of our society.

- What is your prognosis with regard to the parliamentary election in Ukraine: what can be the outlook of political forces in the Verkhovna Rada? Will the Servant of the People party be successful in getting the majority in the Parliament, and, if not, what coalitions are possible?

- Ratings give an idea of the possibility of getting a simple majority in the Parliament by the Servant of the People party. However, in Ukraine there is real democracy in this regard, here everything is changing very quickly and citizens have the opportunity to receive any information, and on the basis of it change their point of view.

Therefore, everything can change, but only a month is left before the elections - this is very little time. So far, the ratings of the Servant of the People look very impressive: in some polls this is just over 50%, in others from 45 to 49% of electoral support from the number of those who take part in the voting.

However, the forecast is complicated by the fact that only half of the parliament is elected by party lists. The second half is elected in majoritarian districts, and there sociology shows that the citizens of Ukraine are somewhat different in their attitude to the election of a deputy, his partisanship is secondary for them. Therefore, now the electoral mystery remains how successfully the Servant of the People party will conduct the majoritarian election campaign. Since the new party did not take part in the elections before, this part is very difficult to predict.

As for possible coalitions, both President Zelenskiy and the party’s leadership have repeatedly stated that, apart from parties with a pro-Kremlin reputation, all the other political forces of Ukraine in parliament are potential allies and partners.

- You have repeatedly said in interviews to Charter97.org that ex-President Poroshenko was very reluctant to listen to the opinions of professional diplomats and independent experts on what the foreign policy of Ukraine should be. How do you think - is President Zelenskiy ready to listen to alternative opinions?

- I worked with him until the inauguration. During this period, he did not just listen to the advice - he asked for it, clearly analyzed what he heard, and tried to implement, having passed it through his experience.

After the inauguration, I have had no contact with President Zelenskiy, and it is hard for me to say what is happening in his administration and how the work is being done now.

But he has a career professional diplomat Vadym Pristayko, a candidate for the post of the Minister of Foreign Affairs, now he is appointed to the post of Deputy Head of the Presidential Administration. So, the president now has an opportunity to listen to the opinion of a professional.

- The non-inviting of Lukashenka to the inauguration of Zelenskiy, and the refusal of the President of Ukraine to attend the opening ceremony of the European Games in Minsk - is this a coincidence or a value-oriented policy?

- No, this is not a coincidence. President Zelenskiy is experienced enough to understand that there can be no coincidence in such cases. This is not a coincidence.

- You make an impression of a person with inexhaustible vitality. What supports you and gives strength?

- I don’t think I differ much from other people on this planet. There are colleagues who constantly feed me intellectually, cheer me up and at the same time analyze me.

There is my family that is trying to help and contributes. Although my wife is a small fan of politics, she nevertheless tries to support me in a family and in-kind way.

There is my brother who, without having information that I run for a deputy, said: you must run and I am ready to support you as a lawyer.

There are readers in the social networks who write their comments, sometimes very critical - some of them I take very seriously.

There is some understanding of my mission in life. I have lived long enough to understand the complexity of the situation and realize what I can and cannot do about it. I am the same person as everyone, and I am supported by the same things as everyone.