In a num­ber of words:

The an­nual speech of the Pres­i­dent out­lines ac­com­plish­ments and fail­ures. Over the course of mod­ern Ukrainian his­tory, the ad­dresses have painted the im­age of the coun­try’s ev­ery leader and his era in pol­i­tics

The Ukrainian Week - - CONTENTS - An­driy Holub

How ad­dresses of Ukraine's four pres­i­dents re­flect their po­lit­i­cal epochs

This year’s ad­dress of the Pres­i­dent to the Verkhovna Rada is the third for the cur­rent leader of the state. The text was pre­pared in sum­mer.

The Con­sti­tu­tion of 1996 de­fines the an­nual ad­dresses of the Pres­i­dent to the Par­lia­ment as a duty. They are al­ways a no­tice­able event in the me­dia. The Con­sti­tu­tion does not de­fine the for­mat and con­tent of the speeches, other than one re­quire­ment: it should no­tify the Par­lia­ment on the do­mes­tic and in­ter­na­tional state of Ukraine. This leaves some space for cre­ativ­ity for ev­ery pres­i­dent.

The ad­dress of 2000 stands out among all oth­ers. Freshly re­elected for his sec­ond term, Pres­i­dent Leonid Kuchma de­cides to cover the en­tire decade in his speech. His ad­dress an­a­lyzed his first term in the of­fice and de­fined the goals for the sec­ond one. The ti­tle re­flected the grand scale: Ukraine. March into the 21st Cen­tury. A Strat­egy of Eco­nomic and So­cial Pol­icy for 2000-2004.

Com­pared to the speeches of his suc­ces­sors, that ad­dress was prob­a­bly the most op­ti­mistic in Ukraine’s his­tory. Time played into Kuchma’s hands. The peak of im­pov­er­ish­ment and the cri­sis of the 1990s were al­ready be­hind, the po­lit­i­cal tur­moil caused by the mur­der of jour­nal­ist Ge­orgiy Gon­gadze and Kuch­ma­gate were to come.

In his ad­dress, Kuchma spoke of the “fate­ful ac­com­plish­ments” Ukraine ob­tained in the 1990s with its in­de­pen­dence. GDP was al­ready grow­ing, privatization had been im­ple­mented, the fi­nan­cial sys­tem re­formed. Things were pos­i­tive on the in­ter­na­tional arena: Kuchma men­tioned the nu­clear dis­ar­ma­ment and the ways Ukraine gained from it. “Ukraine es­tab­lished it­self as a full-fledged en­tity of the Euro­pean and global com­mu­nity, gained in­ter­na­tional guar­an­tee of se­cu­rity, signed friend­ship and co­op­er­a­tion treaties with all of its neigh­bors, and be­came an im­por­tant fac­tor of sta­bil­ity on the Euro­pean con­ti­nent.”

“All this serves as a ground for the much needed so­cial op­ti­mism, the con­fi­dence in to­mor­row, the be­lief that the path Ukraine chose in 1991 and with which it en­ters the 21st cen­tury is the only right one,” Pres­i­dent Kuchma summed up.

Kuchma’s speech of 2000 stands out of the an­nual ad­dresses by his suc­ces­sors in one other as­pect: the eco­nomic ac­cent fea­tured in the ti­tle was not mere words. The fre­quency of the words used in the speeches of dif­fer­ent pres­i­dents shows that the word “Ukraine” and de­riv­a­tives are the most used ones. In Kuchma’s speech, by con­trast, “econ­omy” and de­riv­a­tives were the most of­ten used words. “Econ­omy” first, “Ukraine” sec­ond: this for­mula sums up both terms of Kuchma’s pres­i­dency well. The other most fre­quently used words make a good elec­tion motto of the 1990s: so­cial, de­vel­op­ment, state, mar­ket, growth, pro­duc­tion, sys­tem, for­ma­tion.

In its con­tent and struc­ture, the speech of Ukraine’s sec­ond pres­i­dent de­scribes the time when Ukraine’s pol­i­tics had not yet fully bro­ken ties with the com­mu­nist epoch, but was al­ready try­ing to adapt to the new time. On one hand, it spoke about the “post-in­dus­trial vec­tor of civ­i­liza­tion de­vel­op­ment”. On the other hand, it ap­peared as a re­port with many eco­nomic indi­ca­tors from var­i­ous in­dus­tries, and a praise of the po­ten­tial of Ukrainian air­craft, space­craft and car in­dus­tries. Pres­i­dent Kuchma spoke at length about the need to con­tinue re­forms. One as­pect was to in­tro­duce the land mar­ket. Ukraine is still try­ing to do that, to no avail so far.

Kuchma ended his 2000 speech with the key task for his next four years: “to speed up the de­vel­op­ment of the econ­omy along the tra­jec­tory of sus­tain­able growth through deep struc­tural changes and the deep­en­ing of the course for mar­ket re­forms, ac­tive and con­sis­tent so­cial pol­icy… As it en­ters the new 21st cen­tury, Ukraine has ev­ery­thing to im­ple­ment th­ese as­pi­ra­tions of ours into re­al­ity.”

In Fe­bru­ary 2006, Vik­tor Yushchenko dur­ing his first an­nual ad­dress to the Rada spoke about the pre­vi­ous gov­ern­ment and its ac­com­plish­ments: “We re­ceived a coun­try with the signs of eco­nomic de­cline. Ukraine lived with an oli­garchized, ex­tremely en­ergy in­suf­fi­cient, en­ergy-de­pen­dent, un­bal­anced and un­com­pet­i­tive econ­omy which, in essence, has ex­hausted its re­sources. Bud­get deficit started un­fold­ing from UAH 12bn al­ready, the macroe­co­nomic sit­u­a­tion was de­te­ri­o­rat­ing.”

Yushchenko can be con­sid­ered an in­no­va­tor, at least in the cause of ad­dresses to the Verkhovna Rada. His (or his speech­writ­ers’) twist was an af­fec­tion for the quotes of fa­mous peo­ple. The third pres­i­dent of Ukraine in his speeches went from quot­ing the em­peror and great re­former Napoleon, through the con­tro­ver­sial Het­man Bo­hdan Kh­mel­nyt­skyi, to “one Span­ish philoso­pher” whose name the ad­dress drafters never spec­i­fied.

2007 stands out in his pres­i­dency: it was the year when Yushchenko ig­nored his duty to de­liver the ad­dress at the Verkhovna Rada, and the Par­lia­ment passed a res­o­lu­tion to “point the Pres­i­dent’s at­ten­tion to the fact that he has not ful­filled his du­ties.”

In terms of the fre­quency of words, Yushchenko’s speeches did not stand out as very orig­i­nal. Still, they had some in­ter­est­ing nu­ances. In 2006, “pol­i­tics” was used more of­ten than “econ­omy”: this could be be­cause of the per­ma­nent po­lit­i­cal cri­sis that marked his en­tire pres­i­dency. Sur­pris­ingly, the word “re­form” only ap­peared among top 10 most used words in 2008. The words “Euro­pean”, “Euroat­lantic” and de­riv­a­tives made it into the top 10 in 2009, in Yushchenko’s last ad­dress. At that point, he was pre­par­ing to get the NATO Mem­ber­ship Ac­tion Plan and to launch the di­a­logue on the can­ce­la­tion of Schen­gen visas for Ukraini­ans.

In terms of the con­tent, the third pres­i­dent of Ukraine knew how to put the right ac­cents. "Our in­ter­na­tional po­si­tion is se­cure, yet vul­ner­a­ble to nu­mer­ous new risks. The key threats come from the cor­ro­sion of in­ter­na­tional le­gal stan­dards, from the over­all wors­en­ing of at­mos­phere in in­ter­na­tional af­fairs, from Ukraine’s en­ergy de­pen­dence, and the dan­ger­ous, ru­inous and short­sighted at­tempts to use force to solve dis­putes or con­flicts,” Yushchenko said in his 2009 ad­dress.

“In my view, the fail­ures of the past years were caused by the lack of un­der­stand­ing of own re­sources and pos­si­bil­i­ties, the un­der­tak­ing of wrong goals, the su­per­fi­cial self-pos­tur­ing in the world. We have a sit­u­a­tion where the South and East of Ukraine could no longer do with­out Rus­sia while the West was doz­ing and dream­ing about Europe. Kyiv has turned into a cen­ter of strug­gle for power. That lasted un­til the na­tion united and de­cided the fate of its coun­try,” he said in his first ad­dress of 2006. Also, Yushchenko was the first one to raise the is­sue of Holodomor, the need to es­tab­lish the uni­fied Ortho­dox Church in Ukraine and to shape na­tional con­scious­ness.

Other than that, the ac­cu­rate ac­cents in Yushchenko’s speech were off­set by al­most com­plete in­ac­tion. In 2008, he stated that the then debt on wages had to end “for good” that same year. “Un­paid wages have al­most dou­bled from Oc­to­ber 2008 till Jan­uary 2009 to UAH 1.6bn,” he said in the ad­dress of 2009. This, how­ever, was tak­ing place with the global fi­nan­cial cri­sis in the back­ground. It was the ma­jor en­vi­ron­ment of the last year of Yushchenko’s pres­i­dency.

In his very first ad­dress, Pres­i­dent Yushchenko spoke about seven key re­forms: from courts to coun­try­side. He also said that a new Con­sti­tu­tion had to be passed af­ter the 2004 change brought in chaos be­tween the Con­sti­tu­tion and the over­all leg­is­la­tion. Vir­tu­ally all of th­ese things were re­peated year over year. In his last ad­dress, Yushchenko sug­gested to amend the Con­sti­tu­tion, in­clud­ing on the cre­ation of the two-cham­ber par­lia­ment. Also, he kept call­ing on ev­ery­one to stop “the craze of the po­lit­i­cal in­fight­ing” ev­ery year. The in­fight­ing in­ten­si­fied.

Yushchenko’s suc­ces­sor, Vik­tor Yanukovych, was far less ac­cu­rate in his fore­casts and at­tended the Verkhovna Rada rarely. In 2010, he de­cided to ad­dress “the peo­ple” rather than the Par­lia­ment, and filled Ukray­ina Con­cert Palace for that. In re­al­ity, it was filled mostly with his part­ners in gov­ern­ment. The Verkhovna Rada was sent a writ­ten ver­sion of the ad­dress. Yanukovych would later use that prac­tice two more times in 2012 and 2013. His only speech in Par­lia­ment took place on April 7, 2011.

His most used words were noth­ing new. The ac­cents were on “de­vel­op­ment” and “re­forms”. Pres­i­dent Yanukovych’s view of for­eign pol­icy at that time was the most in­ter­est­ing as­pect: “The lat­est de­vel­op­ments in North Africa, Mid­dle East have once again proven that the pe­riod of po­lit­i­cal and eco­nomic trans­for­ma­tions in those parts of the world will be dif­fi­cult and dra­matic. But I am con­fi­dent that there will be no re­turn to the time of global con­flict. This is ham­pered by the gen­er­ally con­sid­er­ate and re­spon­si­ble poli­cies of the world’s lead­ing states and the en­tire demo­cratic com­mu­nity.” That was how Yanukovych ex­plained the need for Ukraine’s non-aligned sta­tus. He signed the re­spec­tive law in Jan­uary 2011.

Petro Poroshenko de­cided to per­son­ally choose the key word in his first ad­dress to Par­lia­ment in 2015. “Re­form is the key word in my ad­dress to­day”. The most used word, how­ever, was “Rus­sia”. He used the word it­self and de­riv­a­tives 41 times, while his pre­de­ces­sors men­tioned it from one to six times per speech. The rea­son for this change is ob­vi­ous. It is equally ob­vi­ous why Pres­i­dent Poroshenko of­ten men­tioned “weapons”, “Armed Forces”, fol­lowed by “re­forms” and “cor­rup­tion”.

The text of the speech was de­liv­ered to MPs in 2015 on flash cards, not pa­per. This was to sig­nify “not only con­cern over en­vi­ron­men­tal prob­lems, but a trans­fer to e-gov­ern­ment”. Also, Pres­i­dent Poroshenko men­tioned a threat of po­lit­i­cal split in 2015: “Decom­mu­niza­tion… is not about re­mov­ing mon­u­ments alone. Com­mu­nism should first and fore­most be re­moved from the minds. Un­for­tu­nately, I see many peo­ple in this ses­sion room who are will­ing to take over the left­ist slo­gans of the Com­mu­nist Party of Ukraine”. The 2016 speech showed that the po­lit­i­cal strug­gle has grown more acute: “I am con­fi­dent that we are on the right path his­tor­i­cally and strate­gi­cally. But I see a risk whereby the press of po­lit­i­cal desta­bi­liza­tion can crush the first sprouts of so­cial-eco­nomic re­vival brought forth through the suf­fer­ing of the en­tire peo­ple, for which such a high price was paid. It is in­ter­nal tur­moil that the ex­ter­nal en­emy places its key bet on.”

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