TCS Daily

True Colors

By Anna Ibrisagic - July 13, 2005 12:00 AM

Two hundred years ago King Karl XII of Sweden fought together with the Cossack hetman (leader) Ivan Mazepa for the independence of Ukraine from Russia. Unfortunately they were not very successful, but it is still true that the Ukrainian flag has its colors, blue and yellow, from the banner of Karl XII.

Today, Ukraine is an independent nation. Two centuries of oppression have come to an end. The color of the Ukrainian democratic revolution was orange, not blue and yellow, but the joy people in Sweden and all over Europe felt when watching the crowds gather on Kievs Independence Square was overwhelming. Finally, one of the largest and most populous countries in Europe would be given an opportunity to experience true freedom and democracy.


In the European Parliament we were keen to show our support for the Ukrainian freedom movement and for President Viktor Yushchenko. The tabling of resolutions cannot be compared with the bravery showed by those Ukrainians demonstrating in Kiev, but I think what we and other politicians in Europe did actually made a difference. Russian President Vladimir Putin did not dare challenge such a unified public opinion in the European Union.


The Orange Revolution took place just a few months ago, but already many seem to have forgotten it. However, our responsibility did not end there. We encouraged the Ukrainians to seek freedom and to finally end Russian interference in Ukrainian politics. Now we have to show them that Europe can also be a partner to rely on. Europe must be there also when it is not fashionable for EU politicians to wear orange scarves or desperately try to get a photo opportunity with Viktor Yushchenko.


Ukraine is a part of Europe, Ukraine shares a long history and has deep cultural ties with other European countries -- Sweden, as mentioned before, but foremost Poland, now one of the most important member states of the European Union. Therefore it is only natural that Ukraine in the future becomes a full member of the EU. Europe needs Ukraine as much as Ukraine needs Europe.


Of course, the road to membership will not be an easy one. There are many obstacles. Ukraine is in need of economic reforms and the young Ukrainian democracy must be given time to mature. But, we should begin by establishing the end goal, then deal with challenges ahead, just as we did a few years back when ten other new democracies of Central and Eastern Europe knocked on our door. The process of accession for eight of those countries was not without complications, but now they are full members. Soon two more, Romania and Bulgaria, will join the EU. There will always be those who would prefer to keep the European Union an exclusive club, but we have more to gain from including new eager members than from excluding them.


Opening borders for trade and movement is the first step towards a Ukrainian membership of the European Union. We should not treat Ukraine and the Ukrainians as a potential burden, waiting for subsidies; we should let free trade do for Ukraine what it has already done for other dynamic, liberal market nations of Central and Eastern Europe. The Ukrainians, until now dependent on trade with Russia, want to face west and we should let them do so. If we help Ukraine to introduce Estonian or Polish style economic reforms, it will not be long before Ukraine is ready to join the EU.


Russia tends to regard Ukraine as its back yard, but the Ukrainians have sent a very clear signal to Moscow; they want freedom and independence, and they will not accept being bullied around. It is likely Ukraine will become a member of NATO before it joins the EU and this is something that should be encouraged. Ukraine must look to its security and should be allowed to share responsibility for the security of our continent. In Iraq Ukrainian troops showed their country can be more than just a Russian poodle.


We should continue to embrace Ukraine, just as we did during the peaceful revolution on Independence Square. The current crises among EU leaders will soon be forgotten and in a few years time Ukraine should be able to join the ranks of countries negotiating a membership of the European Union. It would be a historic mistake to leave Ukraine and freedom-loving Ukrainians out. We have a responsibility to care for the outcome of the Orange Revolution.


The author is a Member of the European Parliament from Sweden. She serves on the assemblys Committee on Foreign Affairs.


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