PAIC conference report – Ukraine in the Election Year 2019: New Tendencies and Developments in Politics and Civil Society
With the presidential elections that took place in March and the snap parliamentary elections that are coming up in July, Ukraine is right in the middle of its “Super Election Year” 2019. According to election forecasts, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s party “Servant of the People” is going to win the election, equipping him with an enormous amount of power. With the war in Donbass and an ambitious reform agenda on the table, Zelenskyy will have to prove his abilities.
In the light of the political transformations taking place in Ukraine, the Institut für Europäische Politik (IEP) organized a conference on “Ukraine in the Election Year 2019: New Tendencies and Developments in Politics and Civil Society” that took place on 12 June 2019, to discuss how these new developments might influence the progress of Ukraine’s reforms and its foreign relations. As part of the project „Platform for Analytics and Intercultural Communication“ (PAIC), the conference was also taken as an occasion to present first findings of a study about Ukrainian and German think tanks.
In their welcome remarks, Dr. Katrin Böttger, director of the IEP, and Rostyslav Ogryzko, Minister Counsellor at the Embassy of Ukraine to the Federal Republic of Germany, highlighted the free and democratic character of the latest presidential elections which would underline Ukraine’s commitment to democracy. Moreover, over the course of the last year, first results of the reform efforts would have become visible and cooperation between Germany and Ukraine intensified.
Zelenskyy’s foreign policy priorities: Securing peace and relations with the European Union
The first panel discussed the foreign policy perspectives and questions concerning international cooperation after Zelenskyy’s election. Dr. Andreas Prothmann, Head of the Ukraine Section at the Federal Foreign Office of Germany, confirmed the commitment of Germany to its close ties with Ukraine and to maintaining cooperation with Ukraine. Improving the living conditions along the contact line would be the top priority. In the long run, Ukraine would need to face the issue of natural gas production, its distribution and gas transit.
As a second speaker, Alexander Hug, former principal Deputy Chief Monitor of the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine, stressed that the Minsk agreements should be re-evaluated five years later, the question being how far weapon withdrawal and disengagement are being pursued. In addition, he advocated for the maintainance of international support and emphasized the importance to deepen knowledge about the conflict and its dynamics.
With regards to Zelenskyy’s foreign policy orientation, Dr. Kateryna Zarembo, Deputy Director of the New Europe Center, explained that Zelenskyy would break with his predecessors, seeking rapprochement towards Poland and Hungary. Nonetheless, the fact that the destination of Zelenskyy’s first official visit was Brussels would be a sign for his pro-European orientation. Furthermore, he promised to advocate for an accession to NATO.
Finally, Dr. Katrin Böttger highlighted the importance of the Ukrainian civil society as a major driving force in the Ukrainian reform process as well as the relations with the EU. The results of the last election for the European Parliament, however, would cause aggravating circumstances: With two thirds of new deputies, old contacts would no longer be “valid or valuable”. Therefore, it would be of utmost importance to quickly establish new connections.
A westward orientation and potential for reforms
During a second panel discussion, the conference speakers and attendees discussed Ukrainian domestic policy, addressing the question which orientation the new government will take in this policy field.
Dr. Yuriy Yakymenko, Deputy Director General of the political and legal programs at the Razumkov Centre, analysed Zelenskyy’s main domestic priorities, which would be to increase the accountability of deputies and judges, to establish elements of direct democracy, the fight against corruption, successful continuation of the justice reform and the digitalization of public services.
Prof. Oleksiy Haran, Lecturer at the Kyiv Mohyla Academy and Research Director of the Ilko Kucheriv Democratic Initiatives Foundation, criticized the style of Zelenskyy’s campaign for partially using populist methods and trying to discredit the parliament.
As a last speaker, Dr. Olena Pavlenko, Director of the Kyiv-based think tank DiXi Group, focused on energy issues. She welcomed that Zelenskyy wants to continue with the demonopolization of the energy market and elaborated on the state of implementing EU directives in this field.
Disinformation, the Ukrainian media landscape and the communication of reforms
In the afternoon, a third panel discussion dealt with the topic of political and public communication and the question whether there are new challenges for civil society and the state. Wilfried Jilge, Associate Fellow at the German Council on Foreign Relations, stressed that the latest presidential elections were the most free and transparent elections since the independence of Ukraine, although he reminded that Zelenskyy’s communication follows a binary narrative. Furthermore, he criticized the lack of independent journalistic reports.
Similarly, Natalia Popovych, Co-Founder of the Ukraine Crisis Media Center denounced the predominance of “oligarchic media” and the biased coverage of their broadcasting. Furthermore, she explained that the way in which reform efforts are communicated would shape the success or failure of their implementation. Regarding the decentralization reform, communication would have been effective and led to a high level of approval among the Ukrainian citizens which supported successful implementation, while the efforts to fight corruption would not have been communicated well and therefore lacked public engagement.
To fight biased reporting or disinformation, Ruslan Deynychenko, the Co-Founder of Stop Fake, presented their website which aims at debunking fake news and underlined the consequences of Russian interference during the Ukrainian presidential campaign.
Think tanks in Ukraine: Their role in society and opportunities for development
During the last panel discussion that focused on the role of think tanks as civil society actors in Ukraine and Germany, Dr. Iryna Bekeshkina, Director of the Ilko Kucheriv Democratic Initiatives Foundation, stated that Ukrainian think tanks would serve as drivers of necessary reforms and that they would be able to successfully influence policy making in Ukraine. Then, Mona Richter, Research Associate at the Institut für Europäische Politik, presented the first results of the PAIC study: German and Ukrainian think tanks would differ with regards to the audience that they address. While Ukrainian think tanks would focus on addressing a broader public, the German organizations surveyed would prefer to work with decision makers and more specific target groups.
Ljudmyla Melnyk, Research Associate at the Institut für Europäische Politik, explained that the dependence on donors would influence both funding and institutional structure of think tanks in Ukraine which might cause problems regarding the sustainability of their work. Therefore, an important question would be how to promote sustainability and – in the long run – the financial independence of Ukrainian think tanks. Finally, Dr. Tymofiy Brik, Professor at Kyiv School of Economics and Head of Supervisory Board at CEDOS, explained why a strong think tanks network would be crucial. The exchange of lessons learned as well as mutual support would be key. As an example, he mentioned that media NGOs could support the outreach activities of organizations that devote their work to research, while the latter ones could feed media NGOs elaborated content.
Please follow this link to access the full conference program.
The conference took place within the framework of the project “Platform for Analytics and Intercultural Communication” (PAIC) which aims at supporting the Ukrainian think tank landscape as well as fostering the exchange between German and Ukrainian research institutions and transferring knowledge about political processes in Ukraine to Germany. PAIC is conducted by the Institut für Europäische Politik (IEP, Berlin) in close cooperation with the Ilko Kucheriv Democratic Initiatives Foundation (DIF, Kyiv) the think tank initiatve “think twice UA” (Kyiv) and is kindly supported by the German Federal Foreign Office.