As tired Ukrainians voters go to the polls on September 30 for the fourth time in three years, Svyatoslav Vakarchuk, front singer of the Ukrainian band Okean Elzy, who is also on the list of Our Ukraine bloc (Nasha Ukrayina), told New Europe “the main task of Ukraine is to unite everybody no matter what the colour of flag they have” to avoid another political stalemate after the parliamentary election.
What Ukraine needs is young blood in politics, he said. “In the nearest past we saw that some political leaders do not treat agreements between different parties as something saint. Today they sign it, tomorrow they resign, after that the sign it one more time. That is the morality of the politicians and it’s not a problem of one party; it’s a problem of this generation of politicians,” he said in Athens on September 24, the first stop of his musical tour titled “Ya yidu do domu” (I’m going home).
“At this time I don’t see a great difference between politicians in all the political camps. And that’s why our task is to take to the politics new coming leaders who will solve this problem and unite all the people no matter on what language they speak, no matter on what church they go, no matter what historical past they had. We are all Ukrainians and we need to be united,” Vakarchuk said.
The leading band singer and ardent ‘Orange’ supporter was one of the first people to gather with thousands of young Ukrainians in Kiev’s Maidan Square during the 2004 Orange Revolution.
Despite the mistakes of ‘Orange’ teams and people’s disappointment in the following years, Vakarchuk defended the ideals of the Orange Revolution.
“The lessons of history teach us the revolutions never yield immediate results. We have many, many examples where at first the revolutions were treated by people as a panacea for all problems but then came some disappointment. It was the same in Ukraine with the Orange revolution. Certainly your demands for the revolution are very high and then, if it doesn’t work out, you are disappointed, but what I think is that in spite of this disappointment, we have done a great job because the mentality begun to change. Before that we were a typical post-Soviet society. That was a society partly breaking the rules of the Soviet country, but not breaking the Soviet mood. And after the Orange Revolution, people began to understand that from this time they were the masters of their future and that is very, very important and that may be the main goal of the revolution. Talking about political and economic changes, they certainly don’t come immediately after the revolution,” Vakarchuk said. “Now we have this unstable situation. That is why we have different elections because there is internal fight in Ukraine for the future.”
The Okean Elzy singer laughed when New Europe pointed out that during a July journalists’ trip to Ukraine a 75-year-old woman, Maria Tsymbal, in the village of Viktorivka, said she would vote for the Yulia Timoshenko bloc because of its leader’s notorious hairstyle. “Yes, people like leaders. It’s normal for every country,” he said. “But the problem is that sometimes the parties give you the same things in their programmes. The problem is not that people don’t know the content of these problems, the problem is this content is the same.”
He said that Regions Party, Yulia Timoshenko Bloc and Our Ukraine block, are more-or-less centrist parties with left or right leaning tendencies. He said that unlike Europe there is also a second dimension in addition to right or left and that is pro-European or pro-Russian.
Vakarchuk said the party he supports, Our Ukraine, wants to build a strong country that participates in European structures.
He explained that while most Ukrainians are familiar with the EU, they are confused over NATO. “About the EU they are more certain. About NATO the situation is even funny because if you ask them: ‘Do you like NATO?’ They say, ‘no.’ But if you ask them: ‘Do you like North Atlantic Treaty?’ Sometimes they say, ‘yes.’”
He said the issue of NATO in Ukraine is very complicated. “Firstly, there were 50 years of Soviet propaganda. It’s absolutely normal that for Soviet people who were born at that time NATO was treated like an enemy. It was the same thing like for Americans when the Warsaw Treaty was treated like an enemy. It is normal. But after 1991 what happened? In some countries like the three Baltic countries or Central European countries like Poland or the Czech Republic the propaganda stopped and people were allowed to have a lot of information about then real situation in the North Atlantic Treaty and that’s why in some years after that they managed to take the right decision,” Vakarchuk explained.
“In our country we have lack of information about NATO. It doesn’t matter if the information negative or positive but there is a lack and people do not know different things. Sometimes I have meetings with students…and I ask them a question: Do you know if the NATO forces are present in Iraq or not? And 95 percent of students with high education, they think that NATO is present in Iraq as an organisation. Only five percent thinks that is not. And when I say to them that they are absolutely incorrect and only the United States separately or British armies are present there and not NATO they are very surprised. If students are surprised, imagine other people…We are not ready for a professional discussion. We need to have much more time top learn about NATO. But it is very strategic thing about Ukraine.”
Regarding the EU, Vakarchuk told New Europe it is not as controversial from the point of view of Ukrainian structure. “European Union is clear because it is a union of economic and political union of western countries,” he said.
He noted that joining the EU and NATO are fundamentals of Ukraine’s foreign policy. “This discussion needs to be treated as a civilisation choice. That’s why I think the first problem for us is the problem of NATO and only the second is the problem of the European Union because we are very far from the European Union. I’m absolutely honest and clear about that and it’s not a question of some politicians from Europe like (EU External Relations Commissioner) Benita Ferrero-Waldner or somebody else who need to say to us that it is an unreal situation. We need to understand it ourselves…We are Europeans and that’s why we need to solve such unpleasant problems like visa problems,” he said.
He lashed out at western embassies denying Ukrainians visas for convenient excuse. “In our country some people are very angry about what some embassies of European Union countries do, especially Schengen countries about visa. Sometimes the behaviour of these embassies is not the behaviour of partners,” Vakarchuk said, adding that the EU should step up and solve this problem.
He stressed that it is in the interest of the whole Europe to have a strong Ukraine. “Europe must be interested in a strong Ukraine and if somebody is not interested, it’s because of internal European problems and when Europe will be absolutely strong by itself, the next step will be to take Ukraine in,” he said.
Regarding relations with Russia, Vakarchuk said Moscow often tries to use gas prices to influence Ukraine. “It concerns not only Ukraine, it concerns all of Europe especially Eastern and Central Europe,” he said. “In the highest level, Russian politicians they don’t accept the 100 percent independence of Ukraine. They understand the political independence of Ukraine because they understand that the time has come and we are a separate country. But they do not want to accept the whole independence. That is why they try to influence us with economic rules, but the stronger they do it, the stronger we become. I’m very happy that two years ago Russia gave us market prices for the gas because the earlier they do it the earlier we will become stronger and we manage to do something without these dictations,” he said.
The Okean Elzy lead singer downplayed concerns about divisions between Ukraine’s east and west. “We are an ethnical country,” he said. “Other problems are historical and maybe sometimes political but these problems can be solved with the help of new leaders,” he said.