In the wake of the recent changes in Ukraine’s parliamentarian staff and coming ones within the Cabinet of Ukraine, ForUm has requested Tammy Lynch, a Senior Fellow at Boston University’s Institute for the Study of Conflict, Ideology & Policy to share her views on Ukraine’s current political situation and its possible trends of development.
- Ms. Lynch, why did you become interested in our country and when was your first contact with Ukraine?
- As a graduate student 8 years ago, I studied international relations, specializing in the former Soviet Union. Most of the courses available at the time were focused on Russia. But, I took one class about Ukrainian history and nationalism and became fascinated with the struggles that the country and its people have gone through in the past. I began focusing primarily on Ukraine, but also Belarus and Moldova.
I then worked for several years at a non-profit group in Washington DC where I focused on Russia, Ukraine, Belarus and Moldova.
I have to say that I truly fell in love with Ukraine when I was here doing research in 2004 before, during and after the Orange Revolution. I have worked and lived in many countries, including in the former Soviet region, but I can honestly say that Ukraine and its people are special. There is a special spirit here now. I guess I’d say it is hope. I know often Ukrainians can be very negative toward their country and their people. But you should be proud for what you’ve achieved and how you’ve achieved it not just since 2004, but through your entire history. Believe me, no country is perfect. I hope to spend as much time here as possible.
Now, I am a Senior Fellow at Boston University's Institute for the Study of Conflict, Ideology & Policy, where I write regular analysis of Ukrainian political events. I am also completing (finally!) my doctoral degree there.
- Which theme do you prefer to cover political, economic or social life of Ukraine and why?
- I am a political junky! In other words, I find political maneuvering and decision-making fascinating, and I love trying to look behind the headlines, behind the most obvious actions to understand what is really happening and why. I hope that sometimes my writing can help explain a situation (at least as I understand it) and maybe make the reader want to get involved in solving a problem or responding to an issue in some way.
I also see Ukraine’s political development as essential to its desire to join Western structures. And I know that political parties and Western-style governance procedures don’t happen over night. They take time, and there will be a lot of mistakes. But, I am fascinated to watch your country grow, mature and develop as it is.
Regarding economics and social issues, covering Ukraine, it’s always necessary to understand the economic and social problems facing the country, and how these problems interact with the political sphere. It’s all related, so as an analyst, you need to be aware of and understand at least the basic issues of economics and social benefits.
- Which sources of information, I mean Mass Media, do you consider credible? What are you guided by choosing this or that source?
- I’m lucky in that I can use a number of news gathering agencies and tools, like Lexis-Nexis, for example. But I try to use Ukrainian sources as much as possible. I watch 5-Kanal when I’m in Ukraine, and sometimes on the internet in the US. I find most of the TV channels in Ukraine very useful. I also use a lot of US and European wire services, like Associated Press and
AFP, and the press services of most political parties in Ukraine. And the news websites like yours and Ukrayinska Pravda, of course.
The most important thing is to depend on many different sources. So, to use a real example, one source said, Tymoshenko will not insist on premier point in coalition agreement. I checked at least three other sources to confirm. They all said different things, so I checked the Tymoshenko and Socialist websites to find out that the first source was wrong.
- Do you consider there is a freedom of speech in Ukraine? If yes, is it the achievement of the orange revolution and the new power?
- Yes, I believe there is freedom of speech now. Sometimes I feel that your media actually questions your government more openly than the media in the US questions the US government. I don’t think journalists are afraid of being attacked anymore (with the huge exception of a couple of regions), and the people I meet on the street say they’re no longer afraid to express their opinion publicly.
I believe it has been the achievement of, first of all, the people of Ukraine, who stood up and said they would not be afraid and would not be quiet anymore. There is also no question that the current president and government have not tried to control the media like the previous administration. Despite perhaps not totally understanding the concept of a Western free press, political leaders have worked hard to preserve the principle of freedom of speech. Of course, I wonder what would have happened if those in power had tried to limit freedom? Could they have done it? I don’t think so, not really. Society has come too far. But to their enormous credit, they haven’t tried.
- What flaws in Ukraine’s Mass Medias can you point out?
- First, let me say I’m impressed with your media. In my opinion, for whatever it’s worth, it seems your journalists are doing a good job of monitoring the government and that’s the main job of the media. But, I’d say, frankly, that the level of investigative journalism isn’t as high as it could be. I think sometimes the full story isn’t explained. Sometimes, only one source is used. Sometimes, reporters fall back on the reflex of simply printing what those in charge say.
For example, if a party leader has a press conference and says, I am absolutely not negotiating with that person, the journalists will write a story Mr. political leader says he is not negotiating with that person.
And that’s the end of the story. But, maybe earlier, that person already said they were negotiating. Or, if a journalist called that person he or she would say, That’s not true. It’s this last step that sometimes isn’t taken.
- What is your opinion about Yulia Tymoshenko’s claim to the post of Prime Minister of Ukraine and about the situation around formation of the orange coalition in general?
- I think every Western European country supports the democratic principle that the biggest party in a ruling coalition chooses the prime minister. In the case of an orange coalition, that’s the Tymoshenko Bloc. If Ukraine truly wants to be counted among the democracies of Europe, then it would follow that it, too, should adhere to this principle.
It’s not usually a point up for such long-term discussion (of course, there’s sometimes maneuvering) because it’s such a basic principle of democratic governance. In Germany, used by politicians in Ukraine as an example, Gerhard Schroeder stepped back to make way for Angela Merkel, even though she only had a plurality of four seats and less than one percent. And the first point they agreed upon was the name of the prime minister. So, it was done very differently.
The fact that some political leaders (and I think there are only a few) don’t understand this, or reject this, is problematic for the development of your political system. But, this is expected in new democracies, and I should say the fact that so many of your political leaders do understand these basic democratic principles, and do understand the need to compromise to build a coalition is very, very positive for the country.
Regarding the possibility of an Orange Coalition, I personally feel it’s the best option for Ukraine’s development assuming that the Ukrainian people continue to want this development directed toward the West. I personally have a problem returning power to the party that helped spark the revolution. And I believe that the policies of the three orange parties correspond much more closely than those of Our Ukraine and the Party of Regions.
I try to talk as much as possible to U.S. officials, who view Ukraine as a long-term strategic partner. This is evidenced by the tentative plan of President Bush to visit in late June. But if there is no reform-oriented government in place by then, I’ve been told that the U.S. President will not stop in Kyiv. They strongly support President Yushchenko’s reform policies, and are waiting to see if the next government will continue these. There is some concern about the length of negotiations and the stalemate over the PM post. Of course, they’ve said the U.S. will work with any government. The level of partnership is the question.
What will happen in Ukraine if the Orange Coalition falls through, or Tymoshenko isn’t confirmed as PM, I don’t know? But, I think it won’t be the best scenario for the president or his allies based on the election results.
- Several politicians back the federalization reform in Ukraine. What is your opinion on this issue? Do you think federalization will split the country or, vise versa, will bring order in Ukraine?
- I have to honestly say I don’t have all the information to comment extensively on this. My general feeling is that excessive federalization in a country as new as Ukraine (politically, not historically), can split the country badly. It’s a delicate balance. Regions need to be responsible for certain things, like infrastructure, but there must be national standards.
- What do you think about Ukraine’s aspiration to the EU? Does Ukraine need
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