Ukrainian and EU flags fly above Maidan Nezalezhnosti square in Kyiv, Ukraine, during the Euromaidan revolution. Photo from EPA/ Zurab Kurtsikidze
The Ukrainian PEN-club members have appealed to their colleagues in The Netherlands to support a YES vote in an upcoming consultative referendum on the ratification of the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement. Appealing to the “moral sense, humanistic tradition, and strategic concern for the continent’s future” of the Dutch people, they ask to support Ukraine’s European choice.
Kyiv, March 16th, 2016
On the eve of the Dutch national referendum on the EU-Ukraine Association and Free Trade Agreement, we kindly ask you to use all your moral authority and institutional weight to support a YES vote. Your YES will determine the fate of 45 million people in Ukraine, the EU’s largest neighbor, for years to come.
Ukraine is a fledgling democracy that is struggling to overcome a grim legacy of colonial subjugation, totalitarian terror, and post-communist oligarchic misrule. It is Ukrainian civil society that has pushed our governments towards closer cooperation with the EU, towards acceptance and unambiguous implementation of European rules and standards, democratic institutions and practices, liberal stances and policies.
For us, the Association Agreement is not about the economy, if only because, due to restrictive tariffs and trade barriers in crucial sectors, the EU will benefit most in the short to medium term. It is not even about the possibility of membership, however desirable. Most Ukrainian actually recognize its current infeasibility – and the Agreement does not envisage anything of the kind.
Rather, the Agreement is about Ukraine’s becoming fully European. It’s about guidance and guardianship, about “learning by doing”, about the “conditionality machine” that makes further co-operation between the EU and Ukraine dependent on the speed and scope of implemented reforms.
For us, the Agreement has above all a symbolic importance. This is exactly how the Dutch vote will be perceived in Ukraine: as either an expression of European moral integrity and solidarity with a new democracy or as an ominous sign of growing parochialism, egotism and ambiguity.
The timing of the referendum is dramatic. Unfortunately, Ukraine could become a collateral victim of the ongoing refugee crisis, Mr Putin’s poisonous propaganda, and deepening Western indifference to its own professed values. Ironically, Ukraine neither serves as a transit route for nor supplies its own refugees to the West, largely due to ongoing co-operation with the EU in improving border control and institutional capacity.
It is up to the Dutch people to make their choice. We can only appeal to your moral sense, humanistic tradition, and strategic concern for the continent’s future.
Whatever you do, we Ukrainians will not give up in our drive to join Europe. We have paid too high a price for our European choice throughout history and we will continue our westward drive – either in co-operation with the EU or without. A NO vote by the Netherlands won’t stop Ukraine’s pro-European choice. The only problem is that the human costs of the latter course would be much higher.
We have no doubt that there are enough people in your country to tip the balance, and we hope that they will actively support the just cause.
On behalf of the Ukrainian PEN:
- Mykola Riabchuk, President
- Andrey Kurkov, Vice-president
- Myroslav Marynovych, Former president and long-time political prisoner