Longtime members of the European Union now seem to doubt the Union’s future, but we in Ukraine look at the European Union with hope and admiration. To join in the EU’s progress is the basic object of our foreign policy, for Ukraine has discovered that nationhood is not an end, but a beginning.
Indeed, European unity is indivisible: when one nation is ostracized, all are not free. We Europeans are caught in an inescapable net, tied in a single garment of destiny. Every aspect of our shared culture, if not the last century of shared suffering, confirms that for us. Whatever affects one European directly, affects all indirectly.
Never again can we afford to live with the narrow notion of two Europes, of haves and have-nots, of insiders and outsiders. Anyone who lives within the European continent cannot – indeed, must not – be considered a stranger to its Union. Today’s great Pax Europa and today’s pan-European prosperity depend on this.
Of course, some people mutter that Ukraine is not Europe. Let them come to Kyiv and speak to the people, young and old, factory worker, farmer’s wife, the lawyers and doctors and teachers who stood and stayed in the cold and snow for weeks on end last winter to defend their freedoms.
Are they not united with those who stood alongside General de Gaulle in the French Resistance? Are they not one with those who died fighting for the Spanish Republic in the 1930’s, who liberated Budapest in 1956 and ended fascism in Spain and Portugal in the 1970’s? Are they not animated by the same spirit as Poland’s Solidarity and the peaceful masses that created Prague’s Velvet Revolution in 1989? That is the true European spirit, and no doubts can crush it.
To those who say that Ukraine is too backward for EU membership, I say: Let them, too, come to my country and see the mothers who stay late at night at work teaching their children to use their workplace computer. Let them come to the language classes in every village and city where young people are readying themselves for Europe by learning French and German and English. Those who doubt Ukraine’s European vocation should understand that Europe is not a matter of hardware and superhighways; it is the unquenchable desire for freedom, prosperity, and solidarity.
I believe that our future is as promising as Europe’s past is proud, and that our destiny lies not as a forgotten borderland on a troubled region, but as a maker and shaper of Europe’s peace and Europe’s unity. Self-determination no longer means isolation, because achieving national independence nowadays means only to return to the world scene with a new status.
New nations can build with their former occupiers the same kind of fruitful relationship that France established with Germany – a relationship founded on equality and mutual interests. That is the type of relationship that my government seeks with Russia, and achieving it is how we can help extend the zone of Europe’s peace.
Of course, it is premature to do more than indicate the high regard with which we view the prospect of EU membership. We know that our part in that great edifice will not be built overnight. We know that the great works of European unification lay not in documents and declarations, but in innovative action designed to better the lives and insure the security of all Europeans.
Building a Ukraine worthy of EU membership will not be easy, cheap, or fast. But, like the Union itself, it will be built and it will be done. We know the challenge is great, but the prize is worth the struggle, and Europe should know that this is our goal.
Part of the work of renewing Ukraine is a creative battle to put an end to a nightmarish century during which fascism and communism – ideologies born in the heart of Europe – battled for mastery. Only a few months ago, in cities throughout Ukraine, our children and our parents confronted armed troops, snarling dogs, and even death. Only a few years ago, a young journalist, Georgi Gongadze, seeking to inform the public about our old regime’s corruption, was brutalized and beheaded by that regime’s thugs.
But our Orange Revolution last winter shows that Ukraine’s people prevailed. So, despite today’s doubts and difficulties, I retain an abiding faith in Europe. I refuse to accept despair as the final response to the ambiguities and horrors of Ukraine’s history. I refuse to accept the view that Ukraine is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of communism’s legacy that we can never see the bright daybreak of peace and true European unity.
When the EU’s citizens ponder Ukraine’s place in Europe, they should look both beyond and more closely at the face they see. They should look beyond the ravaged wastelands that communism inflicted, beyond the poverty, and beyond the social divisions through which our discarded ex-leaders sought to prolong their misrule.
Instead, they should look closely at the face of our president, Viktor Yushchenko, ravaged by poison during last year’s election campaign, and recall the words of the great Frenchman André Malraux, for whom “the most beautiful faces are those that have been wounded.”