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Ukraine: Western Neighbors Keen To Help Transition To Democracy

Poland, Slovakia, the Czech Republic, and Romania are offering Kyiv help in transitioning to democracy. They say they can teach Ukraine a lot from their own experiences in making the same journey and that they are ready to become the EU’s and NATO’s “bridge” to Kyiv.

Bratislava/London, 26 April 2005 (RFE/RL) -- Ukraine is just embarking on a long and painful transition from postcommunist malaise to democracy. And her western neighbors -- Poland, Slovakia, the Czech Republic, and Romania -- say they are ready to offer help and advice.

Piotr Switalski, the undersecretary of state at Poland’s Foreign Ministry, said: “We want the matter of the processes of democratization in the East and the yearnings of our eastern neighbors to figure high on the agenda of the work of the European and trans-Atlantic institutions. This is because these are processes with great implications for the future of Europe, for the borders of Europe. And it is useful to remember that it is actually in the Ukraine where the future of the European identity is being decided.”

Switalski added that Warsaw also wants to persuade her partners in the EU and NATO about the need for “a more active policy” towards Kyiv, and a “wider opening to Ukraine’s aspirations”. And, Switalski said, Poland “also wants to be a team player” with her neighbors in the Visegrad Group and together help the process of changes in Ukraine.

Romania is still striving to enter the EU in the next wave, together with Bulgaria, said Teodor Melescanu, vice president of Romania’s Senate and a former foreign minister. Bucharest is, however, ready to help, too, he pointed out.

“I think our countries may be the best interface between the enlarged European Union and the former Soviet space. After all, we are more familiar with the kind of problems they have. I think this will be our important contribution to security and stability in Europe after joining the NATO and European Union,” Melescanu said.

Melescanu stressed that further enlargement should bring some regional security benefits, too. “The joining of Ukraine, Belarus -- in the near prospective -- in the European Union will solve problems for countries like Moldova. And I speak about a need for a European security policy for the enlarged Black Sea zone,” he said.

Slovakia should help Ukraine to speed up the transition process if possible. This is the view of Martin Butora, a former Slovak ambassador to the United States and honorary president of the Institute of Public Affairs. He said that the new EU/NATO members are already “engaged” in Ukraine in many ways. But they should also exert their influence in Brussels.

“They can to a certain extent also influence wider EU policies towards the whole neighbourhood. Regardless whether and to what extent the concept of further widening of Europe is going to succeed or not, or whether it may temporarily stop. They [the new members] can help applying their own unrepeatable experience,” Butora said.

Butora explained that the EU rules currently require aid to come through governmental channels. This needs to be changed, he stressed, because it did not help Ukraine. And it “does nothing” at present for the democratic opposition suffering under the dictatorial regime in Belarus.

The Czechs are also keen to help Ukraine. Jan Kasl is a former mayor of Prague and is chairman of the European Democratic Party. He said that such a relationship should benefit both countries. “Our task surely is to help those who are for the time being outside but could be inside [the EU and NATO]," he told RFE/RL. "And this is not just a one-sided communication either. It’s not just about bringing the know-how, democracy, technologies, and prosperity to Ukraine and to the East, but that we can also learn a lot of things there.”

Kasl added that in comparison with the old EU the new member countries share many more recent experiences with countries like Ukraine. He says this should help in jointly overcoming the unfortunate inheritance of the recent communist past.

Many member states of the “old Europe” view the readiness of the new members to help Ukraine positively. Anne Pringle, the director for strategy and information at the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office, told RFE/RL: “Their role as such is both to share their own experience of reform, but also to act as a bridge in understanding and interpreting what is going on in countries like Ukraine, etc. I think there certainly is a role for our Central European friends in that.”

Pringle agreed that Central European countries understand the mentality of their neighbors “maybe a little better than necessarily other countries in the EU do”. She does not think, however, that responsibility for the relations with the potential future EU members should be delegated only to the Central European countries, “because today’s foreign-policy challenges require all member states to be wholly involved.”

The Ukrainians themselves welcome the offers of help. Their representatives confirmed this last week in the capital of Slovakia, Bratislava. The issue formed part of the debate of a conference organized jointly by the Global Panel, the Prague Society for International Cooperation, and the American Foreign Policy Council.

Petro Datchenko, a councillor at Ukraine’s Embassy in Bratislava, summed up what help Ukraine wants from the new EU/NATO countries: “[Ukraine needs] help in the implementation of the plan of actions Ukraine-European Union. And during the review next year to add a provision which would envisage the prospect of signing an association agreement.”

Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko, who took office in January, has pledged to usher in Western-oriented political and economic reforms.