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.