Yulia Tymoshenko Won't Be President
Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko appeared before the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly (PACE) in Strasbourg yesterday. She stated that her country will not join NATO, if the Ukrainian people vote against that move in a referendum. She also assured the Russian delegation that Ukraine is not infringing on the rights of Russian-speakers in Ukraine, and “they don't eat newborns with sour cream.” She also told Kommersant special correspondent Mikhail Zygar that she does not intend to become president.
Man and Woman
New faces were seen yesterday morning in the Palace of Europe. The members of the Russian delegation that could not miss the United Russia congress arrived in Strasbourg. At about 10:00, Russian State Duma member Svetlana Khorkina ascended the steps of PACE arm-in-arm with fellow United Russia member Sergey Markov. An hour later, another pair, Tymoshenko and PACE chairman Lluis Maria de Puig, came up the same stairs. They conversed alone together for about ten minutes, then met journalists.
Several members of the Russian delegation left a discussion on illegal abortions and came out of the assembly hall when they heard that Tymoshenko was there. First Markov came, then he was followed out by LDPR-member delegate Leonid Slutsky and Communist leader Gennady Zyuganov.
“We prepared for her arrival,” Zyuganov confessed to the Kommersant correspondent. “Melnikov and I wrote down questions for her. The first question is what was the basis for her to sign the document on joining NATO when 70 percent of the citizens of Ukraine are against it. What will it bring Ukraine? Just converting the military infrastructure to NATO standards will cost Ukraine $20 billion. Where will they get that money, if tomorrow they have to pay world prices for oil and gas? Even now they can't pay!”
Listening to Tymoshenko make a short introductory speech, in which she said that Ukraine's NATO membership would be decided at a referendum, Zyuganov smiled. A Ukrainian journalists came up to him at that moment, and he admitted that he liked Tymoshenko.
“There is a joke in our country,” one of them said, “that the only real man in Ukrainian politics is Yulia Tymoshenko. Do you agree?”
“Yes, she makes that impression,” Zyuganov replied. “She could be.”
Fans and Competitors
Tymoshenko meanwhile proceeded into the assembly hall and began to give a speech in Ukrainian. She began with her recollections of the Orange Revolution.
“It wasn't directed against anybody,” she said. “It was for. For democracy, for honest elections, for honest courts, for a free press. It would be naïve to suggest that everything old was left behind and we immediately began to live in a new world. It turned out to be hard to break old traditions.”
Tymoshenko thanked two former PACE members, Renata Wohlwend and Hanne Severinsen, for their help during the Orange Revolution. As the leaders of the PACE observers mission to Ukraine in 2004, they “stood on the barricades with the Orange revolutionaries.”
Then the Ukrainian prime minister came to the main topic: her conflict with Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko.
“At the present time in Ukraine, the mixed authority of the president and parliament can be observed. That is an inheritance form the past. And it means that the time has come to change the Constitution so that it reflected Council of Europe principles. We have to demarcate the functions of the authorities and make Ukraine a traditional parliamentary republic, as is characteristic of European states. That model has an advantage over all other monopolistic systems of authority.”
The real audience for her speech was not the PACE members, nor chairman de Puig, nor Duma members Zyuganov and Khorkina. She was talking to her partners in the Orange Revolution, to Yushchenko, for example, who not only does not agree that his country should be a parliamentary republic, but even set up a special national constitutional council, which announced yesterday that it will present its draft constitution on April 23. According to it, Ukraine should be a presidential republic.
Then Tymoshenko explained that the current tension in Ukraine is connected with the approach of the presidential election there. Tymoshenko told PACE members that her team has “an absolute desire to eliminate corruption” and “the authorities themselves are the generator of corruption, more accurately, that part of the authorities that uses its fruits of its corrupt activities.” She did not, however, accuse those close to Yushchenko of corruption from the podium of PACE. “You can always count on our help,” de Puig responded.
Tymoshenko had come to PACE to answer members' questions. The first to mount an attack was Communist Duma member Ivan Melnikov, who read the question about NATO that Zyuganov had thought up. The Ukrainian prime minister answered confidently that the letter she, the president and the speaker of the parliament had signed did not mean that Ukraine would join NATO.
“It is only the activation of our cooperation. A real politician will never deal a blow to the people. Everything will be decided by referendum and the politicians will not go against the will of the people. Of course, first an education campaign is needed. Many of those in Ukraine who are against NATO do not even know what the abbreviation stands for.”
Parliamentarians from Switzerland, Italy, Great Britain, Azerbaijan and Lithuania calmly asked her questions (the last two in Russian) and she calmly answered them in Ukrainian. Then came the turn of head of the Russian delegation Konstantin Kosachev. He stated that Ukraine was violating the rights of national minorities, especially Russian speakers, by closing Russian schools and even movie theaters, in connection with the recent decision to require dubbing into Ukrainian.
“And in Ukraine we eat newborns with sour cream,” she replied dryly in Ukrainian. The Russian delegation listened to the translation through headphones. “There is no need to enflame such passions. After the Soviet dictatorship, the Ukrainians became a minority in their own country. We will need a lot so time still to recover our identity. And another thing. I and all my family belong to the minority you are so worried about. I was born in Dnepropetrovsk. I spoke only Russian in my childhood. I only learned Ukrainian when I became a member of the government of Viktor Yushchenko. In 2000! My family still speaks Russian. And they are perfectly happy. No one infringes on their rights. When I tell my mother, Learn Ukrainian already,” she says, I'm to old to learn it.' But in her soul, she is Ukrainian and she shares the values of the country she lives in. So don't exaggerate problems that don't exist.”
After that emotional outburst, criticism of Tymoshenko seemed to have been exhausted. None of the Russians asked about the schism in the Ukrainian government or her conflict with Yushchenko.
Presidents and Presidential Authority
After her appearance, Tymoshenko went to meet with Secretary General of the Council of Europe Terry Davis. Hanne Severinsen, PACE mission head during the Orange Revolution, waited in the hallway along with the members of the Ukrainian delegation. She told Kommersant that she had recently began working as an aide to Tymoshenko on issues of European integration and even showed her pass to the cabinet of ministers' building.
“Do you think Yulia Tymoshenko is the most dedicated democrat of all the participants in the Orange Revolution?” the correspondent asked.
“Well, with politicians, there is no black and white. Everything is gray. I can say that Yulia Tymoshenko's intentions are exclusively good. She is trying to change her country and make it more democratic. I, of course, am very worried that there is no longer nay unity among the Orange democrats. I am very concerned.”
“Which are the most complicated now, relations between Tymoshenko and Yushchenko, or their relations with Yanukovich?”
“It's hard to say. I am afraid it's so,” Severinsen answered with sincere pain.
After all of her negotiates in Strasbourg were completed, the Kommersant correspondent was able to ask her the most important question of all. Does her intention of turning Ukraine into a parliamentary republic mean that she no longer is interested in becoming president herself?
“You are absolutely right,” she replied. “Our team has a very real chance of victory in the presidential election. That is why we want to take advantage of this unique time to do everything to strengthen democracy in the Constitution of Ukraine. I believe in the parliamentary form of government. It is a strong form of government if it is correctly, constitutionally set up.”
Tymoshenko also made it clear what would be left for Yushchenko with such a form of government.
“That doesn't mean that there will be no president's office in the country,” she explained. “And that doesn't mean that the president won't be elected. But his authority will be defined by the parliamentary format.”
“As in Finland and Germany, for example,” added Severinsen. “To a large degree ceremonially authority.”
The Russian delegation was still at the Council of Europe after the Ukrainian prime minister left. Khorkina had a report on teenage suicide to read in the evening. When the Kommersant correspondent asked if she had heard Tymoshenko's speech and if she had like it, she answered, speaking on her iPhone the whole time, “Formidable. I liked it.”
All the Article in Russian as of Apr. 17, 2008