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The Ukrainian Week - - CONTENTS - An­driy Holub

The State of the Na­tion ad­dress to the Rada

Ap­plause, ova­tions, more ova­tions, laugh­ter in the ses­sions hall, one or two chal­lenges, and ap­plause at the end. That’s more-or-less the picture of re­ac­tions among MPs in the Verkhovna Rada to the Pres­i­dent’s an­nual State of the Na­tion ad­dress. De­spite it’s of­fi­cial name, “The Pres­i­dent’s An­nual Ad­dress to the Verkhovna Rada,” the Pres­i­dent spoke and the leg­is­la­ture “re­sponded” not at all for each other’s ben­e­fit. Both sides were ad­dress­ing Ukrainian vot­ers. Vot­ers will give their re­sponse to what they heard and saw only two years from now—pro­vided, of course, that ev­ery­thing goes well for to­day’s speaker.

The Pres­i­dent spoke for a long time, a speech that con­tained 9,340 words, com­pared to 2016’s 5,885 and 2015’s 7,603. Dur­ing his 90-minute ad­dress, Pres­i­dent Poroshenko cov­ered al­most ev­ery­thing that in­volved the coun­try. The ques­tion is whether he was able to place the right ac­cents and un­der­score the most im­por­tant de­tails. Af­ter all, this is what makes a speech a call to spe­cific ac­tions and not just a col­lec­tion of words.

Poroshenko earned his first ap­plause when he men­tioned the new chal­lenges that face Ukraine. “One of the most dan­ger­ous chal­lenges is pop­ulism,” he said. “The elec­toral niche va­cated by the com­mu­nists did not stay empty for long: a num­ber of par­ties that not so long ago were part of the pro-Euro­pean coali­tion very quickly took it over. The blue-and-yel­low flag waves above their head­quar­ters, but their so­cial slo­gans have been bor­rowed from the files of the com­mu­nist and pro­gres­sive-so­cial­ist par­ties. Pre­sent­ing them­selves as ‘de­fend­ers of the peo­ple,’ they look fairly con­vinc­ing un­til you take a look at their elec­tion prom­ises,” the Pres­i­dent said to loud ap­plause.

In­ter­est­ingly, this is the sec­ond time that Poroshenko has made this com­par­i­son. “Decom­mu­niza­tion, when it comes down to it, is not just about tak­ing down mon­u­ments,” he said in his first an­nual ad­dress in 2015. “Com­mu­nism has to be aired right out of our heads. Un­for­tu­nately, I see too many in this hall who are quite happy to take over the hope­fully dead Com­mu­nist Party of Ukraine and its left­ist slo­gans.”

Af­ter this first ap­plause, there were two stand­ing ova­tions in the hall. But not for the pres­i­dent him­self. The first time the hall took to its feet was af­ter he said, “The rea­son why the line of con­tact is near the Siver­skiy Donets River and not along the Dnipro is largely thanks to the Armed Forces of Ukraine. They are the real guar­an­tors of our free­dom.” The sec­ond time was af­ter he men­tioned the head of the De­fense Min­istry’s Spe­cial In­tel­li­gence Re­serves Maksym Shapo­val and awarded Shapo­val the ti­tle of Hero of Ukraine posthu­mously. Shapo­val was killed when a bomb blew up his car in Kyiv in June.

The one mo­ment that seemed the most gen­uine on both sides was when Pres­i­dent Poroshenko called on the Rada to re­move deputy im­mu­nity, a move that has been promised over and over again since the Orange Revo­lu­tion but never ac­tu­ally been acted upon, adding: “In or­der to make it eas­ier for you to take this step, so that you don’t feel that it’s aimed specif­i­cally at you all, I pro­pose a very sim­ple so­lu­tion. Let’s ap­prove this and have it come into force on Jan­uary 1, 2020, for the deputies who are elected to what will then be the new Rada.” At this, the deputies all be­gan to laugh and the Pres­i­dent laughed at their re­sponse. “Maybe this will be more ef­fec­tive,” he added, be­tween laughs.

Next, the Pres­i­dent spoke about land re­form. The is­sue of set­ting up a land mar­ket comes up in al­most ev­ery pres­i­den­tial ad­dress. Year af­ter year, dif­fer­ent pres­i­dents have called on the Rada to fi­nally in­sti­tute a free mar­ket and ev­ery year, the re­form has been post­poned. “Why, then, do we al­low peo­ple to sell apart­ments?” Poroshenko asked, us­ing an in­ter­est­ing par­al­lel. “Some­body could buy them all up, too.” Then he added that here he had to de­pend on pub­lic opin­ion, which he said, was cur­rently “shaped by the pop­ulists” and won’t there­fore push for re­form. Still, he asked the MPs to ap­prove “at least by your words, in your minds and your hearts, a pol­icy in its fa­vor” and set a date in law for the mar­ket to be in­tro­duced, even if it is de­layed. At this point “rad­i­cal” leader Oleh Li­ashko tried to protest this and to make it very clear that he was firmly against.

The next ova­tion. The Pres­i­dent ap­pealed to Con­stantino­ple Pa­tri­arch Bartholomew to rec­og­nize a na­tional church in Ukraine. “May the lead­er­ship of the Ec­u­meni­cal Pa­tri­ar­chate also hear us,” he said. “Once more, I’d like to draw the at­ten­tion of His Ho­li­ness to the se­ri­ous­ness of our in­ten­tions. There is gen­uine po­lit­i­cal will among Ukraine’s lead­er­ship to re­solve this prob­lem, which has un­for­tu­nately been on the agenda since 1991. Ukraine has the right to a na­tive church and we must de­fend this right.” The room of deputies stood up and ap­plauded.

The next time deputies re­acted vo­cally was when Poroshenko called for the scan­dalous laws on e-dec­la­ra­tions for civic ac­tivists to be re­scinded: “In­sti­tut­ing dec­la­ra­tions for this group was our joint mis­take and mis­takes need to be cor­rected.” Here and there, you could hear a voice say­ing “No, no, no.”

The Pres­i­dent’s speech can be looked at from the point-of-view of lan­guage. If we count how many times he used cer­tain phrases and words in his speech, then we see lit­tle that is un­usual. As in most of the pre­vi­ous speeches, the most fre­quent word is “Ukraine.” With Poroshenko, we also see a lot of use of the word “Rus­sia,” which is clearly not sur­pris­ing. This year, in con­trast to his two pre­vi­ous ad­dresses, the words “weapons” and “army” fig­ured some­what less. Still, one strik­ing point is that the Pres­i­dent used the term “un­for­tu­nately” three times more of­ten: 17 times com­pared to 6 times in the pre­vi­ous two an­nual speeches.

“Un­for­tu­nately,” Ukraine re­mains in deadly danger to this day. “Un­for­tu­nately,” there is enor­mous ev­i­dence that Rus­sia is get­ting ready for a big war. “Un­for­tu­nately,” the ag­gres­sor coun­try is still ahead of us in terms of mod­ern­iz­ing its army. “Un­for­tu­nately,” the coun­try’s lead­er­ship un­der Yanukovych can only be sued in ab­sen­tia for now. “Un­for­tu­nately,” many Ukrainian MPs are work­ing to chill re­la­tions be­tween Ukraine and the US, not on im­prov­ing them. “Un­for­tu­nately,” the story of the fight against cor­rup­tion “has no happy end­ing” in the form of sen­tenc­ing and im­pris­on­ment. “Un­for­tu­nately,” Ukraine ranks only 20th out of 30 coun­tries in a sur­vey of suc­cess­ful re­forms in Cen­tral Europe and Asia. And so on and so forth.

Of course, for ev­ery “un­for­tu­nately,” the Pres­i­dent had an ex­pla­na­tion for why things were so, but he did not pro­pose con­crete steps to re­solv­ing those prob­lems. Some­times it was just a mat­ter of stat­ing a fact. In other cases, the Pres­i­dent called on deputies to deal with well-known is­sues. For in­stance, when it came to fight­ing cor­rup­tion, he asked for the State Bureau of In­ves­ti­ga­tion and the spe­cial Anti-Cor­rup­tion Court to be set up.


In the case of the army, a re­ally im­por­tant phrase came up. Poroshenko ac­knowl­edged that most of the equip­ment that the army was given in the last three years was “phys­i­cally new but tech­ni­cally out­dated” and served only to pro­vide for the most ba­sic needs. The Pres­i­dent then an­nounced a pro­gram to mod­ern­ize the army to “bring Ukrainian weaponry to the level of the 21st cen­tury.” The pur­pose is clear and un­der­stand­able. Now we need to hear the de­tails of this pro­gram and how the ob­jec­tive will be reached. In ad­di­tion, there is some­one who is re­spon­si­ble for it all if things go wrong or the an­nounce­ment turns out to be a fake.

As it turned out, how­ever, there were very few clear and un­der­stand­able goals in the rest of the Pres­i­dent’s speech. He spoke about the goal of mem­ber­ship in the EU and NATO. He even named the steps needed to move in­te­gra­tion for­ward, but he said noth­ing about how to per­suade many ex­ist­ing mem­bers of th­ese al­liances who in prin­ci­ple do not wish to see Ukraine join them. A ref­er­en­dum on NATO mem­ber­ship? The Pres­i­dent “does not ex­clude this op­tion,” but he men­tioned no time­frames.

As Poroshenko him­self put it, “Fi­nally, we come to the main point. About peace and the prospects for re­turn­ing Don­bas and re­turn­ing Crimea.” He spoke about oc­cu­pied Don­bas and once again em­pha­sized the need to im­ple­ment the Minsk ac­cords.

“Un­for­tu­nately,” there is no peace be­cause of Rus­sia’s com­plete re­cal­ci­trance, while Ukraine is not strong enough to fight off its army, said the Pres­i­dent, stat­ing the ob­vi­ous. He re­turned to the idea of “blue hel­mets, with­out ex­plain­ing how to get around Rus­sia’s po­si­tion on this is­sue. Mean­while, he of­fered no word about the cur­rently de­bated bill on the oc­cu­pied ter­ri­to­ries, which is reg­u­larly an­nounced but not brought up in the Rada.

The Pres­i­dent moved on to Crimea. “Un­for­tu­nately,” Rus­sia will not leave the penin­sula of its own ac­cord and tak­ing the ter­ri­tory back by force is not an op­tion. Poroshenko then listed what Ukraine has done in this arena: law­suits in in­ter­na­tional courts, pres­sure through the UN and UNESCO. But no new ideas came up. The Pres­i­dent also said noth­ing about the fate of an ear­lier idea he had pro­posed of changing the sta­tus of the penin­sula in the Ukrainian Con­sti­tu­tion and estab­lish­ing a na­tional au­ton­omy of Crimean Tatars.

On the other hand, is it re­ally pos­si­ble to of­fer a so­ci­ety a clear goal in a sin­gle speech? Prob­a­bly not. Es­pe­cially if we take into ac­count that the elec­torate is tired of this gov­ern­ment and does not trust, which the Pres­i­dent him­self men­tioned in his ad­dress. This state of af­fairs can only be changed by deeds, not words. At this point, Petro Poroshenko pro­posed yet again that Ukraini­ans all unite and “keep Ukraine from fall­ing apart.” At the end of the speech, he re­peated the now-tra­di­tional “Slava Ukraini!” Ap­plause.

Who con­trib­utes to the Pres­i­dent’s An­nual Ad­dress to the Verkhovna Rada On the Do­mes­tic and In­ter­na­tional State of Ukraine

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