This is the full transcript of an interview conducted with Arseniy Petrovich Yatsenyuk on 06th September 2012.
A Ukrainian politician, Arseniy Yatsenyuk has been previously Minister of Economy (September 2005 – August 2006), Minister of Foreign Affairs (March 2007 – December 2007) and Chairman of the Verkhovna Rada (Parliament ; December 2007 – November 2008). He is the founder and current leader of the Front of Change (Фронт Змін) political party and one of the head of the United Opposition party “All-Ukrainian Union Fatherland” (Всеукраїнське об’єднання « Батьківщина). Ahead of the 28th October general elections, he is running on top of the campaign list. He is nr. 2 below Yulia Tymoshenko (currently in jail), that is to say the effective nr. 1 of the list.
Nouvelles de l’Est: How is the campaign going?
Arseniy Yatsenyuk: The campaign is really tough. This campaign is about 300 votes for the constitutional majority for President Yanukovich. That’s the true goal for the incumbent President as he fully realized that he could not be reelected in 2015 under the current electoral law. He has no chances at all to win the next presidential election. So his desire is to preserve the power, for himself and for his close aids and allies.
Picture: Interfax Ukraine
NdE: Do you think we are going to have free and fair elections on 28th October?
AY: Well, I believe we have to have free and fair elections. I don’t want my country to be isolated. But it depends on the incumbent president and on this governement whether they are ready to have free and fair and democratic elections. Because if we hold such elections, it is clear that the democratic forces will win, look at the polls!
NdE: Yet we have already seen some cases of violations and pressures. When we talk about holding a free and fair election, it doesn’t look good so far, does it?
AY: Yes, it’s true. They have intented fights and administrative and financial and media pressures. The key factor for this government is to get the victory in these so-called single-mandate constituencies. People are just scared, even those who run under the opposition flags. They try to intimidate everyone. There are different kinds of options, starting with intimidations and ending with clear-cut purchase, meaning they say we are going to buy this and that nominee from the opposition. It creates a huge trouble for us. But despite this we fight.
[N.B. On 12th September, Arseniy Yatsenyuk declared he did “not rule out the possibility of a new Maidan, were the victory of the Party of Regions be officially declared after these general elections”. Source: Ukrainska Pravda]
They prosecute, they track every financial donor and every financial sponsor of the opposition. They control the entire media environment. Look at the key Ukrainian TV channels: they are the properties of Ukrainian tycoons. TVi is the only channel which is really independent. I can easily name this channel as an opposition channel. 5 Kanal used to be, but Petro Poroshenko is now in the government. I would name 5 Kanal as mostly independent. To be fair, Starlightmedia (ICTV, STB, Novy) present a balanced picture. So apart from TVi being the only independent media, I would see only these ones as mostly democratic channels.
NdE: But yet, do you believe that this election may change something?
AY: This election is a bedrock for the presidential election. If we get the House, we can rebalance the power in this country. This is our chance to somehow limit President Yanukovich within his unlimited powers. But in order to change this country, in order to change the directions and in order to revent everything that Yanukovich did, we need the presidential office.
NdE: Starting with an impeachment…?
AY: Absolutely. I am the sponsor of this piece of legislation on the impeachment we introduced. Look, in this country we never had any law on the impeachment of the President. This is stated clearly in the language of the Constitution yet we cannot execute it due to the fact that we do not have any clear legal norms in the Ukrainian legislation. The Ukrainian President is absolutely irresponsible. We cannot ask any kind of accountability from the President of Ukraine, because we cannot impeach him. And it relates to the former Presidents, to the current President and probably to the future ones. So we need to stop this mess. So if we get the majority, we are to enact a legislation related to the procedure of the impeachment. And this is the real chance to release Yulia Tymoshenko.
I fully realize that Yanukovich will duck this legislation. But look, if we pass this legislation and Yanukovich ducks it, it cannot last forever. This is a certain type of trigger of a political crisis. It’s like the human body. In order to heal, one needs to have a high temperature. So we need this high temperature.
NdE: So one of your top priorities is to free Yulia Tymoshenko?
AY: I would rather say that my top priority is to release Ukraine. From corruption. From unemployment. From unfair prosecution. From corrupted judges. And to release those who are politically persecuted, like Yulia Tymoshenko and Yuriy Lutsenko.
NdE: What would come first? Start an impeachment procedure against Yanukovich or release Yulia Tymoshenko?
AY: I would start with a new majority in the Parliament. We need to win this election in order to launch the process of real changes in this country. The action plan we propose to the people of Ukraine and to our voters is very comprehensive. It comprises more than 80 pieces of legislation, starting with anti-corruption laws and ending with healthcare and education reforms. That’s what the people of Ukraine need. And Yulia Tymoshenko is a key factor: it’s an impediment on our way to the European Union, so we need to lift the impediment, to lift the bar. Because it’s not all about Yulia Tymoshenko. She became an icon. But she is only the top of the iceberg.
NdE: You suggested previously that presidential elections could be held before 2015. Let’s say you would be to impeach Viktor Yanukovich and start a process for holding early presidential elections; would you be the one running on behalf of the united opposition? Or would you first have Yulia Tymoshenko freed so she can run?
AY: It’s not fair to ask this question. Look: the key goal for us, it’s not even political, it’s personal: to release Yulia. It’s not fair when politicians emprison their opponents, like Yanukovich did to Yulia Tymoshenko. So that’s our main goal. If Yulia is free, and if she has real chances to win the presidential election, she will run and she will win and I will back her. We will have one nominee and one presidential hope. Yulia has a kind of a “priority pass” because of her emprisonment and because of her record. So she truly has a priority pass.
NdE: But back in 2010, she didn’t…?
AY: It’s the past, I believe we need to talk about the future.
NdE: Still. Back in 2009, you declared you didn’t have any political ally. You believed that the Bloc of Yulia Tymoshenko and the Party of regions were almost like a single whole, and that they were to unite at some point. And now you run as a leader of the united opposition, hand in hand with the same Bloc of Yulia Tymoshenko.
AY: We were so fractionned that we lost. And the only formula to win is to be united.
NdE: But these are the same people as before…?
AY: Sometimes it happens in politics, to revise your own vision. The same happened to Yulia, not just to me. It was our mutual decision. We actually represent the same share of the electorate. We present the share of ideology which is shared by the same share of the electorate.
NdE: In that case, why would you not unite into a single party?
AY: It’s a matter of future negotiations and debates. I was very clear in saying that my political dream is to have one united democratic party. And we can reach this target after the parliamentary election. And the political landscape of Ukraine is very fruitful and positive in terms of having this bipartisan system. We have the Party of Regions, which represents more a post-Soviet and Eastern-oriented ideology. And we have a number of parties with pro-Western ideology and democratic ideology. So if we unite these parties we can reshape the entire political landscape of this country. We will sure have these so-called third forces. It always happens in this country. Someone new emerges on the surface and some people, between 5% and 12% on average, are looking for something else, something new. So third forces will remain.
But despite this we have two controversial ideologies: those who support the EU and those who support Russia. Those who support the Ukrainian language and those who support the Russian language. Those who support Western integration and those who support Eastern integration. Those who support a collaboration with NATO and those who support a military bloc with Russia. Those who support democracy and those who support autocracy, totalitarian regime and dictatorship. Those who support a liberal type of economy and those who support clear paternalism. So we are different. And in order to build up this kind of strong political party, which is very important for the future of Ukraine, we have to be united, we as democratic forces.
NdE: But don’t you think that the pre-election pressure makes it the best time to unite the opposition forces? Such a project might get weaker and less relevant once the election are behind…?
AY: Not enough time. We actually are united and we are running under the flags of Bat’kivshchyna, Yulia’s party. I am to chair the list, but actually Yulia is the head of the party. It wasn’t an easy decision for either of us. But it was the right decision.
NdE: And how are you going to ensure that after the election the united opposition remains united and that elected MPs stick to the party?
AY: Again, it’s about the future. If people trust that we will win the presidential election, we will be together. If people trust that we can have a very solid political party, they will do their utmost in order to be a united opposition and strengthen a united party. I won’t tell you that someone could defect or whatever, it could happen. It always happens in Ukrainian politics. But I strongly believe that the majority of newly elected MPs will be united.
NdE: But many of these would-be newly elected MPs are currently seating in the House. And you have heard about this “Chesno” campaign, designed to evaluate the honesty and integrity of candidates. The largest number of violators of the Chesno’s criteria belong to the party of regions. But candidates running under your flag did not perform that well either…
AY: I don’t want to dig into details when it comes to different kind of movements. One can say that these people are better, another one can say those people are better. It’s not about the movement. It’s about the voters. Voters will decide. You cannot find any kind of “sacred” politician. There is no such a thing anywhere in the world. But we have the desire to be better and to make our country better.
NdE: Do you give any credibility to the “Chesno” campaign ?
AY: Look, there is a number of different movements. I appreciate that these people are interested, that they have a vested interest in politics. It’s great they can express their own vision, I appreciate it. But it’s up to the voters to decide.
NdE: I understand the ideological differences between the party of regions and your party. But one party that is very close to you from that point of view is the Udar, the Klitschko party. How do you explain they didn’t join the united opposition?
AY: We proposed to everyone to join the united opposition. But not everyone in this country is ready to say that he will support the impeachment of President Yanukovich. Not everyone is ready to have a real clash with the government.
NdE: And you think Klitschko is not?
AY: Not everyone. It’s politics. You have to fight. And you have to show the real fight. Not just the desire to get a number of MPs in the new Parliament. But the desire to change this country and to establish proper political rules. It’s a real fight for the country. But not for yourself. And it makes a difference.
NdE: Were you to win the elections and to form a new government, would you consider entering a coalition with parties which have not backed you before, such as the Udar?
AY: We cannot form a new government under the auspices of President Yanukovich. Under the current Constitution, only the President can nominate a new Prime Minister.
NdE: President Yanukovich proposed your name back in 2010. He could do it again, couldn’t he?
AY: Yes, he proposed my name. But I was very clear, sitting in his office, I told him: “Mr. President, sorry, but we are different”. And this time, I don’t need his proposal. He can propose him to step down. That’s my proposal to the incumbent President. Two and half years is enouugh.
NdE: Coming back to fighting. Were you to win the elections, would you fight against people who lead now political prosecutions? Would you have them prosecuted?
AY: It’s a very complicated question. The easiest way to answer this question is yes. But the most complicated answer is yes. Look, it’s not just about political prosecution. I don’t want to remind people the ruling of President Yanukovich in doing the same stuff as they are doing now. It’s about things these guys did in their lives that are unconstitutional, that breach the law, that is a clear-cut violation of the current legislation. And that has to be persecuted and prosecuted. They did a number of things. And I already filed a lawsuit against President Yanukovich. I did it deliberately in order to show to all Ukrainian people that we undertook the first steps to prosecute the President and to start an impeachment procedure against him. It’s not just political bla-bla-bla. It’s clear criminal charges against the incumbent President! It’s a number of political felonies that have been committed by President Yanukovich. And the same goes with his close allies.
Look at what they did with “Euro 2012”. We spent more than 10 billion dollars. They have stolen about 5 billion out of it. Someone needs to be responsible for this. Look at what they did with the Constitution back in 2010, when Yanukovich easily overrode Constitutional Court’s ruling. I have a statement by a former Constitutional Court judge, explaining that the Presidential administration pressed on him in order to get his vote. So we have to unfold this story. Look at the budget. In two years, they doubled the Ukrainian external debt ! It’s not about personal attitudes. It’s about the way they rule the country. Everyone in Ukraine has to realise that these guys are responsible, not just for sitting in the office, but for every single act they did. As a President, as Prime Minister, as Minister, as General Prosecutor, as a judge. This is what we call a rule of law state. There is a huge deficit of rule of law here.
NdE: Something they did and that was all over media is the law on minority languages. Were you to come to power, would you invalidate the law?
AY: Yes, absolutely. Because it has nothing to do with minority languages, nor with the European Charter on minority languages. We cannot enact a law that abolishes the Ukrainian language. That’s what I think. And that’s what the law is about, on how to impulse a number of restrictions on the Ukrainian language. And I strongly oppose this.
NdE: But you don’t believe that native Russian-speakers, for example in the East, have the right to address the administration in their mother tongue?
AY: Well, the thing is that in this country, most people are bilingual. We easily speak Russian, Russian is not a problem. The problem in this country is English, German, French. What Yanukovich did, he just redirected the attention of the voters from the economic meltdown and corruption to a very sensitive issue, which is language. So this language law has nothing to do with minority languages. This is about the political agenda of President Yanukovich and this is about the Russian influence on Ukraine and I can hardly understand how Yanukovich does not realize this! Are they so stupid? Russian influence is not about a new type of Soviet Union. It’s about economic leverage and a human issue I would say. It’s about history, about language.
NdE: And when it comes to this economic leverage: you were against the Kharkiv agreement when it was signed in 2010. Were you to come to power, would you do something about it?
AY: President Yanukovich sharply criticized Yulia Tymoshenko for this gas deal. But what did he do? He personally ascertained it! The commercial deal between Naftogas and Gazprom shifted from a commercial deal to being an international treaty. And the chance to solve the conflict dissapeared after Yanukovich signed the law ratifying this gas deal. Russians were quite sophisticated, I would say, in getting this deal. And not only in getting this deal but also in providing the legal ambush with this Kharkiv agreement. And I was just astonished with the way Ukrainians accepted this. If we denounce the Kharkiv agreement, Ukraine is to pay billions of dollars as a fine to Russia. My answer is: it’s unconstitutional to deploy any kind of foreign military base on the territory of Ukraine. We ought to do our utmost to have Ukrainian troops on Ukrainian soil.
NdE: Would you go to the international court of arbitration in Stockholm?
AY: In this case, the deal is out of Stockholm’s jurisdiction. It may have been a very cosy place to fight this deal before the Kharkiv agreement. But after the Parliament ratified the agreement and approved the gas deal, I can hardly imagine we can gain something in Stockholm. Yanukovich did everything in order to concrete this deal with Russia.
NdE: And what about this kind of a Western fantaisy that Yanukovich would have plans to transform Ukraine as a kind of a Ukraine governorate within Russia?
AY: It’s not about fantaisy. Yanukovich has no plan at all. Putin has a number of plans. He was very clear in his inaugural speech, declaring that “he has a dream”, like Martin Luther King (laughing), a dream of a new Eurasia. And you cannot have any kind of a Eurasian union without Ukraine. The key pillar in any kind of pan-Russian union is Ukraine. I want Ukraine to be democratic, independent and to be a part of a big Europe. But not of big Russia. Enough is enough.
And I call it big Europe. If I say: “we want to be member of the EU”… We have to speak in an open manner to our voters. We have to be honest and candid and fair. We cannot be sly politicians. We have to be open-minded, telling the truth. I am not sure we can join the EU in the near future. But I am sure we can approximate Ukrainian life and Ukrainian standards to the EU standards. And that’s how we go. To become a kind of a real European country in Europe.
Look, I fully realize you can catch me saying that it could be a mistake because look at the financial sector in the EU, at the political situation in Hungary, at the economy in Greece, in Portugal, Italy, everything: how can you join this Union? We want to join this Union. In any case. We want to stick to some kind of higher standards. And in the EU, there are these higher standards.