Read this before you vote “nee”

The Ukrainian Academy of leaders on the central square of Amsterdam. Snapshot from video 


During two months or so, we spread lots of appeals to the Dutch to vote “yes” in the upcoming referendum. There were the leaders of Ukraine’s national minorities, a Russian diplomat and Russian intellectuals, a Ukrainian journalist, the Ukrainian Jewish community and LGBT organizations, the Ukrainian PEN club, civic society, and more than Soviet 80 political prisoners that appealed to the Dutch to vote “yes.” There were the businessmen that told how much a deal that’s 95% about trade would be beneficial for our countries. I was very much interested in how people in The Netherlands would react. Many of you answered that you will still vote “no,” because you know what’s better for Ukraine, and that you are doing us a favor by keeping us away from the totalitarian EU.

I appreciate that you took the time to consider what is better for Ukraine in this deal. But I’m afraid we have different understandings of totalitarianism.

Did you ever wonder why people from post-Soviet states look so sad?

Perhaps some of you visited Ukraine or some other post-Soviet country. You may have noticed that people smile a lot less than in your home country. It’s not only because they are poorer. It’s because they are living in a post-totalitarian society, in which citizens were denied of the right to speak, act, and even think freely. In the USSR, if someone dared to criticize the government as you now criticize the EU, they would be either dead or with a life sentence in a Siberian prison camp. Every person born on Soviet grounds was to become a well-behaved, emotionless, thoughtless cog in the machine, or not exist at all. You had a choice to either eat or be eaten. If you didn’t snitch on someone, someone would snitch on you and send you to the Gulag.

Soviet pioneers learning how to be a well-behaved cog in the system

During 70 years of totalitarian Soviet rule, every fourth representative of my nation was repressed. In the 1930’s, 7 million (yes, you read it right, 7 MILLION) were starved in a genocidal famine, the Holodomor. The cultural figures and elites of my nation were either killed or shunned in the Executed Renaissance. The ones that dared speak up in the 1960s, the “Sixtiers,” were sent to Siberia.  

The result of living in a totalitarian country is a society where people do not know how to stand up for their rights. They don’t even know they have them. As a result, those in power can abuse it and use public money for corrupt causes. This happens everywhere where society can’t organize itself to keep those in power in check. Perhaps you know of a person that was abused in childhood? That’s how totalitarianism impacted four generations of Ukrainians. That’s what the younger generation of Ukrainians are trying to change.

Read also: How Ukraine got into such bad shape

Now, slowly, Ukrainians are learning to live in a democratic society

The 25 years that passed after the USSR fell apart demonstrate so well how difficult it is to transition from slavery to freedom. Much of the power and wealth in our country is controlled by a small group of people who function according to the undemocratic rules of the Soviet era, which leave no room for individual freedom or dignity. This leads to a life of misery. In the Euromaidan revolution of 2013-2014, we said that we had enough and sent a pro-Russian, corrupt puppet of a president fleeing. For this, we were attacked by Russia, which first occupied the Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea, and is waging a “war by any other name” in eastern Ukraine. Now a small sliver of active civil society that has been abroad and knows how a democratic society functions are trying to change the old system. They are active in creating independent media, NGOs, reforms, they are entering politics. And it’s very, very difficult.

Read also: A year of reforms in Ukraine. The best, the worst, and why they are so slow

Cooperation with the EU is crucial for the democratic transformation of Ukraine

Though it may not seem obvious at first glance, any sort of cooperation with the EU is crucial for Ukraine’s civic society. I will explain on the example of the EU-Ukraine visa liberalization laws, which, contrary to what many may think, are not in any way connected to the Association Agreement.

Eurointegration is one of the main priorities of Ukrainians nowadays, all across the country. It is a symbol of the dignity and freedom that hundreds of Euromaidan protesters died for in my capital. The visa liberalization process, as any other agreement of the EU with Ukraine, sets requirements that Ukraine enacts democratic reforms which are hated by our power-wielding elites, because they lead to the destruction of their cash flows.

Ukraine reforms

Rallies in front of the Ukrainian parliament to pass 10 laws necessary for visa liberalization. Photo: @Drragina

Every time the Ukrainian elites tried to sabotage the reforms, our civic society appealed to foreign political actors to reprimand the Ukrainian elites and suspend further steps toward eurointegration. The reprimands acted very negatively on the domestic popularity of the elites, because Ukrainians want to live in the democratic society that is embodied by European values, and because it is for this dream that they died in the center of my capital during Euromaidan. In this way, step by step, Ukrainian civil society, with the help of external political processes, pressured the elites to adopt legislature that is essential to the democratic transformation of Ukraine. Thanks to the pressure that the visa liberalization process provided, we now have a National Agency for Preventing Corruption, a revolutionary civil service law, and we adopted anti-discrimination amendments into our work code.

Read also: Behind the scenes of civic society’s battle with corruption in Ukraine

And the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement plays a fundamental role

95% of the text of the agreement is dedicated to trade and economic cooperation. Right now, Ukrainian exports are split approximately in half between Russia and the EU. The economic cooperation with Russia has always been close because of the economic noose tying together all the economy of the former Soviet countries, based on limitless Russian carbon fuel. The EU-Ukraine Association agreement will give a chance for us to modernize our Soviet production and enter the world market. It will also give EU citizens many investment opportunities in Ukraine. Both sides will profit from lifting of trade barriers.


Read more: The Association Agreement, Ukraine and the EU: A Marriage Contract in Pictures

The other 5% of the text is dedicated to the common democratic values that Ukraine and the EU share, the political dialogue and reforms, cooperation in defense, justice, freedom, safety, finances, and the fight against corruption. Every chapter of the Agreement requires that Ukraine amends its legislature to conform it to EU norms. Each of these amendments brings Ukraine closer to democracy and gives power to Ukrainian civil society to control their authorities.

Now here is the important part. With the Agreement, Ukraine gets a very important incentive for carrying out essential reforms – access to the EU market. No less important are the reprimands that EU partners will hand out to Ukrainian authorities for violating the agreement. The implementation of the Agreement may be stopped altogether if Ukraine starts violating human rights and freedoms and rule of law.

Imagine how Ukrainian society will get angry if that happens. This means that the Agreement is giving an absolutely essential tool to Ukrainian civil society to transform their society.

Whether they get this tool, or a hard kick, depends on the Dutch voters on 6 April 2016.

Since you’re here – we have a favor to ask. Russia’s hybrid war against Ukraine is ongoing, but major news agencies have gone away. But we’re here to stay, and will keep on providing quality, independent, open-access information on Ukrainian reforms, Russia’s hybrid war, human rights violations, political prisoners, Ukrainian history, and more. We are a non-profit, don’t have any political sponsors, and never will. If you like what you see, please help keep us online with a donation!

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  1. Avatar Patrick says:

    It is going to be a “no” in my country today but Ukrainians, don’t let it be a hard kick ! Don’t forget that the Netherlands with 17 million inhabitants is just 1 of the 28 EU countries. The other countries, with 491 million inhabitants, are not going to allow the Dutch population to decide what is right for Europe.

    Formally, after a Dutch “no”, the treaty could be dead because all EU countries have to ratify. But in reality the Dutch government, which is in favour of the association treaty and which happens to have the EU presidency right now, knows that the others will not accept this and that The Netherlands cannot put the treaty on hold without major damage to its interests and influence in the EU. They won’t even try to stop the treaty for the entire EU.

    So a compromise will be reached in which The Netherlands formally does not ratify the treaty and gets a kind of opt-out so that the treaty is still implemented for the other EU states. Than the Dutch government can say to its people that it accepted their verdict with minimalising the damage to Ukraine and The Netherlands itself. This will be the most likely outcome of the coming “no”.

    I only hope that the EU says that a Dutch “no” means a real “no” for The Netherlands so also a no to the trade part of the treaty. Just let the Dutch electorate feel the financial loss of their “no”. If in the future Ukraine becomes a second Poland (our trade with Poland is 7 billion Euros) we will probably speak about a serious financial loss. We won’t have trade advantages with Ukraine the rest of the EU does have, this will cost us money. Maybe that will teach us that you cannot just, for reasons that have nothing to do with Ukraine, let down a people that want to be free and independent. We Dutch “feel” through our wallets. Money is our new God. Just let us feel some pain, that can’t hurt, it is good for us !

    1. Avatar Geralt von Riva says:

      If the Netherlands say no, the EU will also say no. else the EU would become untrustworthy. but what will come is an EU of different speeds.

      1. Avatar Patrick says:

        I don’t think it will become an EU-wide “no” because than the EU would have been in much more panic the last weeks because it will certainly see a “no” coming, it is not stupid.
        And about the credibility of the EU: The EU would really get a problem with its credibility if foreign countries would make deals with it in a game of give-and-take, with compromises which are sometimes painful, without having confidence that they can rely on the reward (the advantages of the treaty). Elites in these countries will be less willing to take the risk of a deal if there is too much uncertainty about the implementation of the deal certainly if ever more countries would have referenda about treaties as there will then always be at least one country saying “no”. Treaties would become impossible.
        In The Netherlands there are now ideas about TTIP, there are ideas of having a referendum about every EU law that needs ratification by the Netherlands in order to completely stall the EU. This will become an unworkable situation !

        1. Avatar Geralt von Riva says:

          no, the eu would not lost their credibility, because the netherlands will make this vote.
          yes, and because the netherlands will block all it will become an eu with different speeds. or do you think we will wait for every dutch popular vote?
          and when we dont want something of the eu we will let you have a popular vote. you know, one needs someone who is guilty^^

          1. Avatar Patrick says:

            Oh yes, different speed, indeed, only ours will be zero !

          2. Avatar Geralt von Riva says:

            it’s like with the EURO. some have it, some not.

            “More pomp has probably no other presidential palace in Europe: the Elysee in Paris. Meter High ceilings, gold-colored wall hangings, large-scale oil paintings and antiques everywhere.
            In his office on the first floor received French President Francois
            Hollande for the first interview with a German publication
            since taking office 2012. Tomorrow he meets German Chancellor Angela
            Merkel (61) to the Franco-German governmental consultations.

            Mr President, recently the refugees, before it the debt drama – the EU
            has obvious the biggest crisis since its inception almost 60 years
            ago. The tone between many members in the EU is more than irritated. Are the golden age of Europe over?

            Francois Hollande: “Has there ever been a golden age for Europe? Have a look at the history of the past 30 years. Our Union has experienced monetary, economic and political crises. In addition, they had to face great challenges; I am thinking in particular of the enlargement of Europe. But we look the things into the eyes: The stream of refugees has led to tension and foreclosure. Terrorism has again stirred up fears and raised many questions.
            addition, with 28 members it is more difficult to determine than with six, twelve
            or 15 members – as in times when François Mitterrand and Helmut Kohl
            could clarify the issues of German reunification among themselves. The fact remains that Europe can only evolve if France and Germany go in lockstep.

            BILD: Do the people in Europe still have the European dream? In the UK just determined the debate on the Proposed referendum on
            United Kingdom membership of the European Union, the headlines …

            Hollande: “The Euro-skepticism is very large, and not just in the UK. The European dream is no longer available for the younger generations. I hope that the UK remains in the EU, as it would be in their and in the European interest. But only the British people can decide on its future.
            their answer ever may turn out: I am sure that after the referendum, an
            initiative is taken to allow the countries that stand for more and
            faster integration this also. Those who do not belong to the euro zone and also not want to join, must be completely respected as EU members fully. But they can not slow down the further development of the Union. ”

            BILD: Tomorrow begins the Franco-German Council of Ministers in Metz. You have the close relationship between France and Germany just mentioned. It always was considered a “motor of European integration”. Is the impression correct, that this engine has begun to stutter?

            Hollande: “No! We have shown that we – like our predecessors – our responsibilities are aware. Together, we have tackled the financial crisis and survived it as well as the banking union. Together, we have defined the framework for the European budget to 2020th Together we have worked on the whereabouts of Greece in the euro zone.
            even today, in the refugee crisis, Mrs Merkel and I support the same
            position, which ultimately makes the agreement with Turkey. These crises have brought us closer on a personal level, even if we do not share the same political views. In addition, we have worked together as part of the Normandy format to end the hostilities in Ukraine. ”

            BILD: The Ukraine crisis you mentioned, then fit no sheet between the French President and the German Chancellor. In the refugee crisis it did however look as would Angela Merkel renounce France. Did you feel ignored by the federal government?

            Hollande: “With regard to the Ukraine conflict, we would have had no success separately. We spent a lot of time searching for a solution, and with the subsequent implementation of the Minsk agreements. With regard to the refugees we have together built up a European solution. However,
            we were in different situations: Germany receives hundreds of thousands
            of refugees, thus demonstrating his generosity. However, this was both for Germany and for France not outside the European rules, Schengen.
            So I am well aware of what Germany meant for the resolution of this issue. For France the main objective was to regain full control of the EU’s external borders. I have seen the Chancellor on Friday, March 4. She then met on Sunday with Turkish Prime Minister Davutoglu and told me it on Monday. This approach has ten days later allowed the Brussels Agreement. I have ensured that France was helpfull – With respect to the
            rights of refugees, the visa control for Turkey and that a new chapter
            was opened in the negotiations ”

            BILD: Since the Pact of Brussels, the number of refugees and migrants seeking to reach Europe goes drastically down. Is the worst over?

            Hollande: “We have returned to the Schengen and Dublin rules for asylum. These were no longer used for several months, which certain countries has led to unilateral action. Now we need to implement the agreements of the European Council and
            support as first Greece – we can not leave them alone in the face
            of a reality that affects us all.
            In addition, France and Germany – every country 300 – is sending judges, experts, asylum law specialists. So that we can control the individual cases and meet the recirculation agreement with Turkey with life locally. Again, we wanted to go ahead with a good example. ”

            The pact with Turkey stands or falls on the willingness of the EU
            member states to fulfill their part of the agreement, namely to resettle
            tens of thousands of refugees from Turkey in the EU. Are you optimistic that succeed?

            Hollande: “It is planned that all illegal refugees from Greece are returned to Turkey. Europe ensured with Frontex that these repatriations take place under dignified conditions. To the asylum regulations must be adhered, such as the demand that organizations right from us.
            order to prevent refugees from Turkey to Greece, where people put their
            lives at risk, we have decided to include Syrians in Europe who now
            live in camps in Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan. However, this distributing mechanism can function properly only if a real control of our EU’s external borders is guaranteed. ”

            BILD: How many refugees will receive France?

            Hollande: “France has pledged to take a total of 30 000 Syrian and Iraqi refugees in the next two years, and I keep my word. However, there are migrants who arrive by other routes to France. Moreover, the number of asylum seekers in France has risen for the year 2015 to approximately 80 000 subjects’. ”

            BILD: Do you agree that the German culture of welcome – the policy of open borders – has ever lured the refugees after Europe?

            Hollande: “This influx has started in spring 2015, well before the stated opening of Germany. Let
            us recall how emotionally charged public opinion in September was when
            the body of the small Aylan Kurdi was found on a beach. Cause of these dramas is the situation in Syria, the bombing of the regime, the atrocities of Daesh, called ISIS.
            There were also all those people who were hoping for a better life in Europe. I think of the families who come from Afghanistan, Pakistan or some more distant regions to us. And precisely for this reason it was needed to close the border in compliance with the right of asylum.
            would herself dishonored if it had thrown economic migrants and persons
            who are in fact dependent on the international solidarity in a pot. This message just had to be sent. And that is what the European Council has done by returning to the
            Schengen rules -. So by registering and checking each and every person
            that arrives at our external borders ”

            BILD: Germany receives more than one million refugees, the great France only 30 000. Is that fair, the European solidarity?

            Hollande: “I have already told you that we alone in 2015 received a far higher number of migrants and refugees. We also have to deal with people from Sudan, Eritrea and Afghanistan
            who want to travel to the UK, but are not eligible for entry.
            We’re trying to move these people to a stay, and have opened reception centers throughout France. But against all odds they prefer to go with their lives by all means to England.
            I know about the efforts of Germany and welcome the solidarity that represents your country to the test. Germany will have to make substantial resources available for the reception and integration of refugees. But no matter: in 2016 must not repeat what happened 2015 “.

            BILD: What do you mean?

            Hollande: “The answer can only be European. Everything else would be the end of Schengen and the return to national borders – a historical regression. This danger was still very real a few days ago. Several countries have already taken appropriate decisions under pressure. That would end the European Union according to French and German ideas and so the end of shared responsibility and solidarity.
            Everywhere there are political forces that want to put Schengen into question and play with fears. These forces we can’t provide a breeding ground. Although I regret that the European Union has acted too late, it has finally managed to find a global and unanimous response. ”

            With the deal with Turkey Europe puts his fate in the hands of
            Erdogan, who allowed IS-fighters to pass to Syria, bombed Kurdish. Is it a morally bankrupt Europe which let the Turks do the “dirty work” for
            the EU now – as Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel has formulated?

            Hollande: “Turkey has made considerable efforts in recent years and received 2.5 million Syrian refugees. A part of it is allowed to work, the children are taught and overall decent conditions have been created. Turkey would not be called to help, to abandon these refugees eventually. That would be neither in the sense of Europe nor in the sense of these
            people, for, again, if there is peace in Syria, a return to their
            families and to their country must be possible.
            agreement with Turkey is based on very precise conditions: For Turkish
            citizens are exempt from the requirement for short-term visas, Turkey
            must meet 72 criteria. In addition, three billion euros will only flow to Turkey if there are concrete projects for refugees – and we will verify. We will also vigilant observe whether and how Turkey is fighting against the traffickers and trafficking. Finally, we will never renounce to address human rights, press freedom and minority protection. ”

            hardly distinguished in the refugee crisis from some relaxation, the
            Islamist terror strikes again with all the brutality. Will we people in Europe become used to it, never be able to live in security again?

            Hollande: “The world must understand that terrorism is present. All over. After Paris it was Copenhagen, Paris again, then Brussels. Nor
            did I Bamako in Mali forget Ouagadougou, Abidjan or Pakistan – where
            there was a bloodbath on Easter Sunday and Christians were also
            targeted. The United States are not spared, think of San Bernardino. Canada has been attacked two years ago …
            The source of terror is always the same – Islamist barbarism that is not Islam. Our conclusion has to be: Europe must not wait until others solve the problems in our place. Europe must ensure its defense and organize its fight against terrorism better than before. ”

            BILD: What would be a better fight against terrorism?

            Hollande: “First, we must identify, troublemaker ‘and merge the information centrally. Then
            we need systematic checks at the external borders of Europe, the
            exchange of passenger data and we have to fight arms trafficking and
            money laundering. But we must go further. In the war on terror we must take a step forward.
            A Europe of defense is the top priority. I thank Germany for the military support that it gives us in Mali and Syria. I know very well that this was a difficult decision because it meant a further development of its policy in some way. But I would rather just point out: Our two countries have to find willing to exertion in our defense budgets. Also to operations outside Europe. To free ourselves from terrorism, we should not rely on another power -. Even if it is one of our friends ”

            BILD: You had as president within just one year experience two
            terrible attacks on your country – what does this mean for you

            Hollande: “First of all, it’s a shock. A terrible shock, horrific images, destroyed families. The journalists of Charlie Hebdo ‘I knew personally. The so basely murdered policemen embody the state power. And the attack on the kosher supermarket ( “Hyper Cacher”) makes clear
            that the scourge of anti-Semitism, the hatred of Jews, has not
            Then the attacks of 13 November came. I sat in Paris in the stadium next to Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier. When the bombs went off, I learned at the same time of the massacres perpetrated in the heart of Paris. Such murderous assassination there has never been in France.
            A shock. But it is a challenge: time we fear, will we go and hide – or will we manage to be in need stronger together?
            out this photo at (indicated on the ledge behind his desk): It shows
            the solidarity march in Paris on 11 January 2015 Angela Merkel in the
            front row, next to me, along with more than 40 heads of state. European solidarity is the one and only. In order to defend our values, our freedom, and – by the means of law – our security “.

            BILD: The assassins of Paris and Brussels were “homegrown terrorists” had French and Belgian roots. Why attack people so radical and brutal the free society in which they grew up?

            “This is undoubtedly the most serious and terrible question – to know
            that there are French, born in France, who have committed these acts. They have grown up in our cities, they went to our schools. Then they have changed in a short time from petty criminals to radicals – and terrorist bombers. It is important to fight even wider and with more resources against ghettos and discrimination. We need to do something about the dangers of radicalization, whether on the Internet, in mosques or in public places.
            This danger concerns us all. Muslim families are most affected, but there are also converts. 2000 French have gone to Syria or stay there on still to fight in Dschijhad. About one third are young girls and minors. So absolute vigilance against recruitment, indoctrination and deception. ”

            BILD: The last week rejected project, terrorists to withdraw the citizenship – you really believed that this helps?

            Hollande: “It was a symbol. How should one accept that a Frenchman kill other French because they are French? But with the denial of citizenship one can not fight terrorism. We must tackle the roots of radicalization and hatred. By coordinating our policy in Europe to arrest the people who want to attack us. The members of the group that committed the attacks in Paris and Brussels, came from different European countries. an accomplice in Italy was adopted recently, another in the Netherlands. Terrorists know no boundaries. So the war against this scourge can not be fought and won in a single country. ”

            BILD: terrorists know no boundaries, the national safety authorities when exchanging information unfortunately. Why is there still no central European database troublemaker?

            Hollande: “Because we take too long. And that is intolerable. ”

            BILD: … quite a delay.

            Hollande: “This is the biggest problem in Europe. Europe needs often too long to decide. At
            the end it is always possible to find a solution – whether in the
            banking crisis, the sovereign debt crisis, the refugee crisis or even
            the anti-terror fight. But because of this lost time we have to pay more and more expensive. What conclusions should we draw from this? To act quickly! Then we are more efficient and can convince them that they are really protected the people of Europe. ”

            The refugee crisis, the Islamist terror – these are not the least
            reason why throughout Europe have right-wing extremists and right-wing
            populists significant inflow. You have a lot of experience with the National Front. What do you advise Angela Merkel on dealing with the AFD?

            Hollande: “It is a painful experience that France has to offer, the extreme right there is 30 years old. 1984 has exceeded the threshold of 10 percent. Some thought at that time that was a rage-motion and that it would not last. 2002, Jean-Marie Le Pen in the second round of presidential elections. Because some believed that was up to him as a person. And now his daughter and granddaughter are driving the movement that he founded.
            Marine Le Pen is trying everything possible to play down the National Front in France. But
            in the European Parliament, in the presence of Angela Merkel and me, it
            takes the old speeches of the German-French rivalry. It calls for a return to national borders, to France’s withdrawal from the euro – even from the European Union. The common feature of all the extreme right is the fear. The fear of the other, fear of Europe, the fear of globalization. ”

            BILD: What is your advice?

            Hollande: “Advice I do not want to give. What I know is that both the trivialisation and the demonizing are the worst answers. One
            must denounce the false solutions that break down the treacherous
            proposals demonstrate that their choice is not only against our values
            ​​but also against our interests. One can win only by the people who expect the EU to protect them, provides answers. ”

            BILD: Europe needs long – but also France in economic and labor market reforms. Why is it for the French so hard to accept these reforms?

            Hollande: “For four years, follows in France one planed reforms the other. The
            budget deficit could even be reduced to the European Commission’s
            requirements addition, the pension system is quasi rebalance. The
            competitiveness has improved, the company’s profits have returned to
            pre-crisis levels, while not reducing the purchasing power of private
            households. The Domain Reform went well. In labor market policy, a first modernization stage was reached in 2013 and 2015, deepened with the Macron law. A further is provided in the dialogue between the social partners.
            The French and especially the young people who must often live with uncertainty, want security for their future. It is now up to us to convince them that flexibility and security can
            go hand in hand in order to create more sustainable jobs. ”
            BILD: A final question: Will you compete again at the next presidential election?
            Hollande (laughing): “I ask for your understanding that I will respond to it in due time, first against the French press.”