Europe's Solidarity With Ukraine

Many generations of Poles dreamt of the day when Europe's postwar division would be undone. Many generations of Ukrainians were also deprived of a right to their own country, language, and culture. What united prisoners of conscience in the 1960's, 1970's, and 1980's was the faith that one day their countries would find their place in a united Europe.

For Poles, the dream was realized on May 1 with EU accession. For Ukraine, the situation is more uncertain, but momentous decisions about its future are also about to be made. In May, the European Union will specify the principles that will guide relations with its new neighbors. In June, a NATO summit will discuss prospects for Ukraine's entry into the alliance. And this autumn Ukraine's presidential election will determine the country's development for decades to come.

Support Project Syndicate’s mission

Project Syndicate needs your help to provide readers everywhere equal access to the ideas and debates shaping their lives.

Learn more

At this crucial moment, we call on Europe to open itself toward Ukraine, a great European country whose needs and aspirations cannot be forgotten in the process of constructing the new Europe. Europe should go beyond defining its relationship with Ukraine as a neighbor: it should clearly state that Ukraine has a realistic chance of entry into NATO and the EU.

Such a statement is essential to support democratic forces in Ukraine at a time when they stand a realistic chance of shaping Ukraine's future. Ukraine's ruling elite is brutally suppressing opposition, limiting freedom of speech, and curtailing economic liberty. The coming presidential election is thus a test that will answer several fundamental questions. Will Ukrainian society maintain its right to choose its representatives, or will a so-called "managed democracy" win out, with power transferred back and forth within small circles of oligarchic clans? Will a free market flourish, or will oligarchic capitalism serve the interests of the few? Will civil society thrive, or will Ukraine be a society of obedient subjects? Will the law serve all, or only the elites?

The victory of the opposition in the parliamentary election of 2002 attests to the potential that may be unleashed with a victory by democratic forces in the presidential election. As a result of the policies initiated in 2000, and particularly the struggle against oligarchic omnipotence, Ukraine's economy has been growing for five years in a row. The parliamentary victory of the opposition also forced the reluctant authorities to declare Ukraine's readiness to enter NATO and the EU.

To complete the process of democratic transformation, Ukraine needs a declaration by Europe affirming Ukraine's European and Euro-Atlantic prospects. Such a declaration would mean that Europe is not closing its doors on Ukraine, a country with a European cultural identity and a long tradition of struggle for democracy and human rights.

It would be hard to overestimate the importance of such a declaration. The example of Poland and that of the other countries of Central Europe shows that the clear prospect of EU membership may be one of the engines of effective reforms and may significantly enhance the ability of local leaders to persuade their people to accept the need for reforms that are sometimes painful.

More generally, discussions about the future of Europe should be permeated by a spirit of solidarity with respect to the states and nations that are not yet members and whose membership is not envisioned in the near future. Otherwise, the continent will again be divided into rich and poor, into peoples living under democracy and those subjected to authoritarian regimes. We do not want a new Iron Curtain on the Polish-Ukrainian border.

In the years since it regained its independence, Ukraine has proved that it can play an important and constructive role in the region. In the early 1990's, Ukraine gave up its nuclear weapons. Since then, it has participated in UN and NATO peace missions, and it has settled its borders with all its neighbors. Independent Ukraine has been free of ethnic conflicts, even though there has been no shortage of attempts to incite them.

In terms of its historical heritage, economic interest, and ethnic composition, Ukraine belongs to both Central and Eastern Europe. Its location on the Black Sea ties it to Southeast Europe, the Balkans, and the Caucasus, as well as Turkey. Ukraine has formed a regional association with Georgia, Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan, and Moldova, and its ambition is to play the role of a center of democracy and economic freedom in this huge area.

Both Ukraine and Poland pay special attention to good neighborly relations with Russia. Strengthening Russian democracy is in the interest of Ukraine, Poland, and all of Europe. A democratic Ukraine, closely cooperating with Poland within the framework of the European community, will open new possibilities for developing and strengthening partnership with Russia.

We are aware of the problems inherent in the creation of a European prospect for Ukraine. Integrating the ten new member countries that joined the EU on May 1 will demand tremendous effort on the part of the Union, as well as a fair division of the burdens. But this should not make us lose sight of other challenges. One of the most important is the fate of Ukraine, and the need to strengthen liberty and democracy there.