YES, we like it

Kyiv Post - - Opinion -

With Ukraine’s hopes for in­te­gra­tion with the Euro­pean Union go­ing nowhere amid Pres­i­dent Vik­tor Yanukovych’s au­thor­i­tar­ian lean­ings, one event de­voted to the cause keeps get­ting bet­ter. Vik­tor Pinchuk’s 9th Yalta Euro­pean Strat­egy, which took place on Sept. 14-15 in Crimea, is truly be­com­ing a plus for a na­tion still lack­ing in in­ter­na­tional iden­tity, stature and re­spect. Bil­lion­aire Pinchuk has man­aged to turn this sea­side gath­er­ing into some­thing unique and ben­e­fi­cial.

Speak­ers like for­mer U.S. Sec­re­tary of State Con­doleezza Rice and Turk­ish Prime Min­is­ter Re­cep Tayyip Er­do­gan spoke about global se­cu­rity chal­lenges. Vi­sion­ar­ies like Bri­tain’s Richard Bran­son spec­u­lated on the fu­ture of cap­i­tal­ism. Authors like Wal­ter Isaac­son rem­i­nisced about ge­niuses and in­no­va­tion. Ukraine got a chance to show­case it­self to a dis­tin­guished au­di­ence of sev­eral hun­dred peo­ple at Li­va­dia Palace, where the event is held. Un­for­tu­nately but in­struc­tively, this gath­er­ing starkly re­veals how cruel, un­demo­cratic and prim­i­tive Ukraine’s lead­ers re­main in too many re­spects.

This year, the vil­lain of the event was Deputy Pros­e­cu­tor Gen­eral Ri­nat Kuzmin, who came across as in­com­pe­tent and ar­ro­gant. It’s fright­en­ing that this man and the of­fice he oc­cu­pies have such great pow­ers that are be­ing abused. He made it clear that Ukraine will not back­track in the case of im­pris­oned ex-Prime Min­is­ter Yu­lia Ty­moshenko, whom many in the West are con­vinced is a po­lit­i­cal pris­oner.

Yanukovych and Prime Min­is­ter Mykola Azarov also failed to con­nect with the au­di­ence. Other politi­cians came off look­ing bet­ter, in­clud­ing top-rank­ing of­fi­cials Sergiy Tigipko, Va­leriy Khoroshkov­skiy and Petro Poroshenko, and op­po­si­tion lead­ers Vi­tali Kl­itschko and Arseniy Yat­se­niuk. Such dis­par­i­ties are im­por­tant for the world to see. Ukraine’s politi­cians need to be put in the same room as some of the world’s bright­est peo­ple. Maybe in­tel­lect will rub off.

Live spar­ring is healthy in a po­lit­i­cal cul­ture where lead­ers shun de­bate and un­scripted in­ter­views with jour­nal­ists. They are forced to think on their feet in such set­tings as the YES con­fer­ence, which man­aged to group top gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials and the po­lit­i­cal op­po­si­tion on the same panel to talk about the Ty­moshenko case. Jour­nal­ists are best trained at ask­ing tough ques­tions, and they get am­ple op­por­tu­nity to con­front top of­fi­cials on the side­lines of the YES con­fer­ence, but sadly they are not per­mit­ted to ask ques­tions dur­ing dis­cus­sion groups. Ques­tions are lim­ited to fel­low politi­cians, ex­perts and other hon­ored guests. Pinchuk should change this.

Pinchuk wanted to cre­ate a mini-Davos in Ukraine, and he is close to do­ing so. We have been crit­i­cal of the event in the past, and Pinchuk shouldn’t be let off the hook en­tirely. We’d love to see YES pan­els en­ti­tled “Who is re­spon­si­ble for the 2000 murder of jour­nal­ist Ge­orgiy Gon­gadze and why aren’t they in prison to­day?” and “How did Ukraine’s oli­garchs re­ally get rich and how are they sti­fling the na­tion’s fu­ture to­day?” But that’s ask­ing too much, con­sid­er­ing Pinchuk is the party host and his fa­ther-in-law is ex-Pres­i­dent Leonid Kuchma, im­pli­cated in the Gon­gadze murder but stead­fast about his in­no­cence.

We also wish that the jour­nal­ists who at­tend YES would start pay­ing their own way or get spon­sor­ship from non-profit groups, rather than ac­cept Pinchuk’s money. It is the na­tion’s lead­ers who should use these op­por­tu­ni­ties bet­ter, not just once a year, but con­tin­u­ally. They are go­ing to have to change the most in or­der to break Ukraine’s stale­mate with the West over con­flict­ing val­ues.

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