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Ukraine's Road to Europe

"East is East, and West is West, and never the twain shall meet," Rudyard Kipling famously said. Ukraine may undoubtedly be of the East, but it is the East of Europe. So when Ukraine regained its independence ten years ago, integration with Europe became the goal for many of us. That road to Europe, however, wasn't paved with good intentions; it often wasn't paved at all. Yet, as the results of the parliamentary elections held on March 31 demonstrate, Ukrainians remain determined to travel that road.

I am a social democrat who was never a Communist party member, though I achieved success as a lawyer in Soviet times. I recognize that our Soviet "heritage" accounts for much of the hardship Ukraine faced in seeking its European vocation. After the USSR collapsed, Ukraine possessed an inefficient and militarised industrial base and a blundering bureaucracy. Its vast agricultural holdings were hamstrung by worn-out equipment and the inertia of Soviet state farming. Rural people became mired in squalor. Nowadays, low salaries make many lives here miserable, pensions are a joke, and the shadow economy is vast.

But our Soviet heritage does not excuse everything. We muddled reform on our own. For we often sought to import tried and tested Western practices -- private property, the free market, competition, strict observance of human rights, the creation of civil society, representative democracy -- in diluted forms that would somehow help us maintain elements of Socialism.

Despite this nostalgic policymaking, enactment by the Supreme Rada (Ukraine's Parliament) of civil, criminal, land, family and economic legal codes over the years was something of a near revolution. Indeed, although painful, acceptance of Western values by a society excluded for centuries from European history has gained momentum despite the fact that we often see ourselves as different from Western nations. We think ourselves more open, sentimental, cordial, and family oriented, but also more disorganized and blase, at times irresponsible and lazy.