Voting “no” in Dutch referendum means abandoning Eastern Ukraine

A pro-Ukrainian, pro-eurointegration demonstration in Donetsk, now occupied by "DNR" forces, on 6 March 2014

A pro-Ukrainian, pro-eurointegration demonstration in Donetsk, now occupied by "DNR" forces, on 6 March 2014 

2016/02/15 • Op-ed

Two months to go until the Dutch referendum on the Association Agreement between Ukraine and the European Union. Two months, and the Dutch population will have to vote on a detailed agreement that is so long, detailed and complex that only few will actually know what they are voting upon. Instead, the “no”-camp is using every possible argument to show that “No” is the right choice. “No” means voting against increased power for Brussels; “no” means voting against politics detached from the ordinary man in the street; “no” means voting against globalization and multinationals dominating the global economy; and last but not least, “no” means no to more refugees, no to more Islam in Western Europe, no to the Dutch no longer being the real “owners” of The Netherlands.

So where is Ukraine? Surprisingly, there are very few arguments heard that are related to Ukraine and that are really grounded in the daily Ukrainian reality. Yes, we hear that extreme right-wing politicians rule Ukraine and that there is a strong neo-fascist presence. Yet we also know that this is nothing more than rehashing Moscow propaganda and that in reality Western Europe has a right-wing neo-fascist political movement that is far bigger than in Ukraine (not to mention the fact that the largest fascist movement in Europe exists in Russia). Yes, we hear that Ukraine is corrupt, an economic mess and would cost the European Union huge amounts of money. But we don’t hear that Ukraine being the biggest country in Europe has a huge economic potential, is a vast market for European businesses and that it is in fact a miracle that in spite of two years of war and an economic blockade by Moscow the country is still functioning and inflation has not reached horrific proportions.

We also hear some Dutch politicians state that certainly not all Ukrainians want this Association Agreement, and that for the population of the so-called “People’s Republics in Donetsk and Luhansk” (in short, the DNR and LNR) such an agreement would be a disaster and would push them further into the arms of Moscow. They claim they spoke to many Ukrainians, e.g. as observer of the OCSE, and that thus their views are based on pure facts.

I dare to challenge this. I not only dare to challenge this, I also think this point view is quite shameful, and I will explain why.

Throughout the former Soviet Union, and even in the Central European countries that now form part of the EU, many members of the old generation are hesitant towards the European Union. This is not a feeling based on facts. It is an attitude based on the fact that as citizens of former totalitarian states they have reached their maximum level of change. To them living in a free market economy and a parliamentary democracy is too complex, gives too many choices, and has made them to a certain degree strangers in their own country. And thus out of nostalgia they claim that life was better under Communism. They easily forget the emptiness in the shops, the inhumanity of the old system, the fact that they were simple numbers and nobody in charge cared whether they would live or die. They have this fata morgana that they stick to, only because what is now is too frightening, too difficult. There is nothing you can do about this: they reached their ceiling, and only time will help. The older generations need to fade away and the younger post-Communist ones need to take over.

In Ukraine it is not different. After 70 years of Communism and 25 years of living in an amorphous state that could best be characterized as a very stable instability, it is very hard for them to adjust to new realities. There is no need to blame them, but as a Western politician you should have the brain to understand this very essential fact of post-totalitarian life in this part of the world.

What I find much worse is the notion of the population of the “People’s Republics” being pushed into the hands of Moscow if the Dutch vote “yes”. This claim shows that those who hold this view have actually no idea what life is like in these regions. I have many friends who have family and friends who got stuck in these so-called breakaway regions, and the stories are heartbreaking, one after the other. In fact, two million Ukrainian citizens are living in occupied territories being harassed by a bunch of criminal crooks in power that are only able to maintain their stronghold because of constant military backing by the current Russian leadership. We hear stories of lawlessness, of rape and pillaging, of maltreatment of prisoners, of unlawful confiscations, of life becoming increasingly difficult due to shortages of food, medicine and other necessities. Some say – well, it is their own fault, they voted for secession. Maybe yes, but many voted without understanding the consequences, in regions that were already militarily occupied with local gangs and Kadyrovtsy roaming the streets and under a bombardment of intense propaganda. Did they have a choice? And were the results real or were they orchestrated, just like in the Crimea where 123% of the population of Simferopol voted in favor of joining the Russian Federation?

Let’s imagine, The Netherlands in 1942. The country is occupied by the Nazis, but life is still bearable and Jews are not yet sent to their deaths in Auschwitz and other extermination camps. In the mean time, the Dutch are nicely trading with the Germans, business as usual as they say. Reichskommissar Seys-Inquart organizes a referendum for joining the German Reich. What would have been the outcome, you think? And what if the Allies, Churchill and Eisenhower, would then have told the Dutch Government-in-Exile: “listen, guys, your population seems to be in favor, so we won’t do anything that pushes them further into the arms of Berlin.”

Nonsense? I don’t think so. The Dutch would have voted in favor, purely because of the inextinguishable desire to survive. People are very compliant, and most will go along, almost at any price. So don’t judge the people in the DNR and LNR, and don’t tell fairytales that the Association Agreement with the EU will push them into Putin’s arms. If there is one part of the Ukrainian population that needs this link with a brighter future it is they. They have felt what life with Putin is like; they pay the price for their wrong choice, and they do so every day. For them association with the European Union is a glimmer of hope, a reason to hold on and hope the nightmare will end some day.

How paradoxical that those who live in one of the wealthiest countries of the world, that rose out of its ashes after World War Two thanks to persistent support from the Allies, are now sitting back and denying others a better future purely because of their own egocentric needs. It is not only paradoxical, it is pitiful and for me, who has been witness and part of the birth (1991) and rebirth (2014) of the Ukrainian state, it is pretty much despicable as well.

 

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  • canuke

    Wow, nicely put, Robert!

  • Randolph Carter

    “How paradoxical that those who live in one of the wealthiest countries of the world …. are now sitting back and denying others a better future purely because of their own egocentric needs.”

    You are sadly right, Robert. I often dream of visiting my girlfriend in Lugansk and, upon meeting her friends and family, the first thing I would do is hang my head in shame and anger and apologize for the self-centered, egotistical bastards who run my country. Betrayal counts high with me, as does dishonor – I would turn from their gaze and ask their forgiveness. Maybe the saddest thing is that they would give it, making simple, ordinary Ukrainian folks more honorable than the Nobel-prize winning leaders of my land. I think that is the worst.

  • Patrick

    Nice article but as a Dutch citizen I can tell you that the main arguments of the “no”-camp representatives are different here and there:
    – Given the disunity among Ukrainians about the orientation of their country, the association treaty forces Ukraine to choose sides (Russia vs. EU), tearing the country apart with the ordinary Ukrainian people who are the victims.
    – A closer relationship between Ukraine and the EU will cost the Dutch taxpayer extra money through structure funds.
    – The yes camp is sponsored by wealthy oligarchs like Mr. Soros with many business interests in Ukraine.
    – Ukraine is a very corrupt state. A closer relation means that corrupt Ukrainian money will more easily enter the dutch economy.
    – We shouldn’t provoke Putin because that is dangerous.
    – The association treaty forces Ukraine into a sell-off of companies and state enterprises which make many Ukrainians cheap workers who will be exploited.
    These are the main arguments I heard and red.

    • Greg

      You truly have no idea of what is occurring in Ukraine! It is truly astonishing that so many people like yourself think of only yourself! I am a Canadian, our nation lost many lives to liberate Holland. Sacrifices we made as a young country for others! I read your words and I read them of as being in the 1930’s. You sir are a credit to Chamberlain who refused to acknowledge the evil of Hitler. yes we will appease him to save our own skins!

      Putin will advance further into Europe just as Hitler was embolden to take more. At what point sir will you develop a back bone and stand! Stand for freedom! Stand with those who seek to throw off the yoke of Russian oppression.

      I suppose Canada of the 1940’s made a serious mistake in sending our youth to fight for your freedom! it is discussing to read such tripe! My grandfather fought in Holland, he would be ashamed of your words and the actions of others like you.

      I have been to Ukraine, I talk to Ukrainians almost every day. Sir they place much more value on freedom than you. it is so sad Dutch forget what freedom means!

      I suggest sir you become more educated. Russian troops are killing Ukrainian citizens every day. They and their criminal paid mercenaries are kidnapping, torturing, raping, stealing, destroying whole cities and life.

      Your attitude tells me Canada’s sacrifice for Holland should not have occurred we should have left you all to enjoy life under Hitler!

      Your excuse of not knowing is a shallow report on your own personal selfishness.
      Deplorable!

      • Steve K

        To be fair to Patrick, I don’t think these are his arguments, but what he hears from others in the Netherlands. Living in the Netherlands, I also hear the same nonsense being repeated, and it really is difficult to get through to some people.

        My feeling is that a large percentage of the Dutch population have zero interest in the situation in Ukraine, but are unhappy about other EU issues ( immigration, bailouts of Greece, loss of influence etc. ). They feel that this referendum is finally a way to express their displeasure with the EU, and throwing Ukraine under the bus is just an unfortunate byproduct.

        The Dutch are known for their stubbornness . Comparing them to Hitler isn’t going to change their minds. Explaining exactly what the association agreement is, and that it doesn’t give Ukraine automatic entry into the EU, might.

        • Greg

          Thank you for bringing this to my attention. But your nation needs to wake up, you are too close to Russia and Putin has designs to return to the 1700’s to raise the Empire out of the ashes once more.

          This is a very serious time and events today. There really can be no bystanders. Putin has ignored every document he signs. He laughs at Western leaders, especially EU ones, because he knows how weak they are.

          So much fuss was made of a few hundred people murdered in France. I do not want to make light of the situation. But really, there have been over 10,000 murdered in Ukraine. Russia is paying for terrorist to bomb Ukrainian cities. Russia has razed whole cities to the ground. His white trucks bring in military supplies and take out Ukrainian manufacturing equipment. He is stealing the country blind.

          Merkel is pressuring President Petro to change the Ukrainian Constitution to something Putin will approve! Why should an invading force be given approval rights over Ukraine’s Constitution?

          Putin is afraid of Ukraine because Ukraine’s success will educate Russians that they can have a different future. One with hope and freedom.

          No EU country is threatened with invasion from ISIS! Yet Ukraine is to accept Russian aggression and just give Putin want he wants.

          I have no trust in Merkel and I believe Germany may have signed an agreement with Russia once more to divide nations. Merkel never speaks out about the killing in Ukraine. yet she is upset with refugees, many are there because of Russia. Putin wants to destabilize the EU and refugees are a low cost way to do so.

        • Czech Mate

          and sadly I think you nailed it. This vote will be on present day EU first and foremost with Ukraine an economic “bogey man”.

      • laker48

        The Netherlands are RuSSia’s second largest trading partner after China: http://russia-insider.com/en/politics_business/2014/11/04/02-12-09pm/russias_10_largest_trading_partners_2014_how_many_correct
        Most RuSSian oil contracts are traded on the Rotterdam mercantile exchange and they lose big time on both the sanctions and RuSSia’s retaliatory measures. The same’s going on in Belgium and Luxembourg but to a lesser degree and mostly in shadowy, RuSSian dirty money laundering schemes.

        • Greg

          I was not aware, the UK is making piles of money laundering Russian money as well. Germany wants to get back to building military training bases in Russia along with providing technology to expand oil and gas production so Russia can hold them ransom. These countries need to wake up and stop allowing themselves to be used by the $ and by Putin. They are trading their future security for a present short term gain.

          EU needs to revisit just who are their enemy and friends. Ukraine has learned a hard lesson, Russia is not a friend and will never be one until they change.

          • laker48

            Laundering dirty RuSSian money by the City and London real estate market makes some 0.6% of all City and realtor business in the UK, while the Netherlands, Belgium and especially Luxembourg thrive on it. Germany, whose GDP is made up of exports in more than 50%, is now eying the signing of the TTIP in order to get duty and excise-free access to the US consumer market, as RuSSia’s consumer market is dead in the water and will be for the foreseeable future. We’ll see a lot of shuffling, pushing and shoving within the EU trying to cope with the dying RuSSian economy.

          • Eddy Verhaeghe

            ‘…the City and London real estate market makes some 0.6% of all City and realtor business in the UK…’
            0,6%!?!
            Oh my God, if that 0,6% falls away, that will mean the end of the City and the property market in the UK.

          • laker48

            Any credible data supporting your claims about the City? BTW, the real estate market in London has been already inflated and in case of RuSSians rapidly liquidating their holdings for whatever reason the bubble may burst, accompanied by cheers of native Brits.

          • Eddy Verhaeghe

            I was just being sarcastic.

        • Eddy Verhaeghe

          laker48,
          Take away oil and gas and the Netherlands don’t even appear in the top 10 of Russian and of Dutch trading partners.
          And as most Russian oil contracts are still traded in Rotterdam and as oil and gas still flows from Russia to Europe in general and to the Netherlands in particular, the Dutch don’t loose very much in that respect. To the contray, the Russians suffer because of the drop of the price of hydrocarbons and Europe/the Netherlands profit…
          Sanctions do indeed hurt Russia and the Netherlands, but ‘your big time’ losses are a ‘big time exaggeration’ as far as the Netherlands is concerned.

    • Eddy Verhaeghe

      ‘Given the disunity among Ukrainians about the orientation of their country, the association treaty forces Ukraine to choose sides (Russia vs. EU), tearing the country apart with the ordinary Ukrainian people who are the victims.’
      If somebody tears the country apart, it is Putin & C°. Left to its own devices the country would have choosen to side with Europe. The only good argument in your whole list is the one that the Ukrainian people are the victims of Putin’s Russia’s acts.

      ‘A closer relationship between Ukraine and the EU will cost the Dutch taxpayer extra money through structure funds.’

      No, it will only mean less money for the current recipients of such funds.

      ‘The yes camp is sponsored by wealthy oligarchs like Mr. Soros with many business interests in Ukraine.’

      So what, business men do business and bring business.

      ‘Ukraine is a very corrupt state. A closer relation means that corrupt Ukrainian money will more easily enter the dutch economy.’

      Those corrupts monies already enter the Dutch economy. Insofar as a closer relationship means even only a very partial cleansing of corruption in Ukraine, this will actually mean an improvement.

      ‘We shouldn’t provoke Putin because that is dangerous.’

      Not opposing a dangerous man is even more dangerous.

      ‘The association treaty forces Ukraine into a sell-off of companies and state enterprises which make many Ukrainians cheap workers who will be exploited.’

      Insofar as most of these state enterprises are lossmaking and are also a source of corruption Ukraine will be a winner and multinational companies most of the time pay their employees rather well and much better than what they are paid now.

      ‘These are the main arguments I heard and red.’

      If the Dutch vote no on the basis of what you heard and read, they’ll do so on very shallow and mistaken grounds…

      • laker48

        Totally agree!

  • laker48

    The referendum won’t be binding on the Dutch government or parliament.

    • Steve K

      … however, the majority of the Dutch parliament have stated that they will respect the outcome of the referendum. Admittedly, it’s unclear how that would work as the treaty has already received Royal Ascent – this will be the first application of the Referendum law.

      • laker48

        Let’s wait and see! Two months is quite a long time now, when the international and geopolitical situation changes by the day, like images in a caleidoscope. RuSSia’s Putin may do a lot of stupid things by that time and discredit Dwarfstan in the eyes of the Dutch public Also Ukraine may dramatically improve its international image by reshuffling its government, firing PM Yatsenyuk and appointing a new PM, Ms. Natalie Yaresko for example. The jury is still out.

  • Czech Mate

    By the way, do Dutch people still remember MH17? Can they imagine their country being attacked and ripped apart just because the people wanted better lives?

    I understand many negative sentiments about EU leadership but leaving out Ukrainians in the cold with killing bear on the prowl…

    Kinda spinelessly heartless, you know.