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A Test of Ukraine’s Diplomacy? The (revolutionary) profile of Markiyan Malski

Kyiv has been at the core of media attention from all over the world since President Yanukovych’s decision to move away from the negotiations with the European Union. Voices which were at first of worry, misgiving and doubt, later evolved towards contempt and disdain from most of world’s most prominent leaders.

December 15, 2013 - Matteusz Mazzini - Articles and Commentary

Meanwhile, the nation started to rebel, showing discontent with Yanukovych’s decision by slowly occupying the Independence Square – Kyiv’s central agora. The square is a symbol in itself – a bearer of collective memory of the Orange Revolution, the birthplace of the nation’s thoroughfare towards real democracy. These days, however, the place has been re-baptised; the colours of Ukraine coincide with the colours of protest. The yellow-blue national flags are intertwined with the starry pennants of the European Union. The Maidan is now the EuroMaidan.

Nonetheless, the game of Ukraine’s return to the European path will not decide itself solely between the brave protesters of EuroMaidan tenaciously opposing the armed forces. A great deal of it takes place outside the country, where various diplomatic missions continue to show support to the civil uprising. In fact, one of the most unexpected declarations of – perhaps indirect, but still significant – furtherance came from the Ambassador of Ukraine to Poland, Markiyan Malski. He publicly condemned the use of force against the EuroMaidan protesters, describing these acts of violence as “what ought to be alien to a truly democratic and free society”. Later he highlighted the bottom-up nature of the protests, attributing them to a “real civil mobilisation”, as opposed to a partisan use of social disobedience aimed at overthrowing Yanukovych. The conclusion of his statement carried an even more powerful declaration: that the citizens of Ukraine have the right to protest inasmuch as they have the right to integrate with Europe.

Not much of a shock, one could say. He is, after all, nothing but a citizen of Ukraine showing support to his compatriots. Moreover, up until a few weeks ago, the official paradigm of Ukrainian diplomacy stood modestly in accordance with the line of negotiations with EU, at worse – tacitly progressing them. Nevertheless, this should not let one get into thinking that Malski is a diplomat like any other in this case.

After all, it should never be forgotten that Malski remains a diplomat of Yanukovych, a representative of his policy abroad and subject to Kyiv’s central command. As history has demonstrated on many occasions in Eastern Europe, even though during revolutionary times the channels of communications between the centre and foreign missions erode and loyalties often shift, Malski’s brave statements still acts as an exception. Even more so, when we take a closer look at the recent behaviour of Ukraine’s diplomatic service as whole. Malski was not the only one to object the use of violence on EuroMaidan. Bohdan Yaremko, Ukraine’s Consul to Istanbul, fired off a Facebook post, defining Berkut’s intervention as “the use of fascist method towards one’s own nation”. Reaction came at the speed of light: Yaremko was sent back to Kyiv and instantly dismissed. Next in line was Natalia Holub, Ukraine’s Ambassador to Canada. She, in turn, resigns on her own, publishing a statement on the embassy’s webpage and perhaps anticipating Kyiv’s reaction. Malski, contrarily, remains in his post despite his statement being openly commented in Polish press. He is not forced to come back, not even to consult future actions, and this has rather nothing to do with Malski’s ignorance to social media.

What is, therefore, so special about Malski? Is there a Catch 22 situation, a hidden underlying factor which gives him a license to publicly support the EuroMaidan without risking his own position? Needless to say, Malski has suddenly grown to become a public quasi-hero for Ukrainians abroad, not only in Poland but in other neighbouring countries as well. However, the transformation from a very balanced and rather discrete professor of international politics and experience diplomat into a defender of civil rights has been rather sudden and unexpected. Malski was appointed Ambassador to Poland in 2010, taking over the post from Oleksandr Motsyk, who was transferred to a mission of (in some people’s eyes) of much greater importance – in Washington. The appointment of Malski was preceded by an interesting game of names and meanings. Not being considered as Yanukovych’s first choice, he eventually received the nomination due to exactly his rather uncontroversial portfolio. The primary option for the mission in Warsaw was initially Serhiy Herman, a diplomat by training, already experienced in working in Poland, but most importantly the husband of Hanna Herman – one of the top figures in Yanukovych’s deck. A prominent MP from the Party of Regions, an advisor and now an independent consultant to Yanukovych himself, would undoubtedly label her husband as a literal “president’s man” before even taking the post. In fact, she did not enjoy a great deal of popularity amongst polish diplomats due to her contentious statements dating back to Yanukovych’s presidential campaign. She then warned the Ukrainian public of “polish guerillas coming to Ukraine to fight for the presidential victory of Yulia Tymoshenko”. The summarising assumption about Malski’s appointment is then simple – Poland, despite all deceptive declarations, is still a country of strategic significance for Yanukovych and he did not like the idea of being represented there by someone whose name carries everything but positive connotations for Warsaw.

How does that, however, relate to Malski’s recent public statements? Quite a lot, especially if we look at it from the angle of trustworthiness. In fact, Malski’s statements are as controversial for a diplomat and supportive for EuroMaidan as one makes them. He de facto did not criticise anyone by name, avoided direct criticism of the President, unlike Yaremko, his comparisons are not historically at issue. Nevertheless, he simultaneously gained a considerable degree of popularity in foreign media and as a by-product of such – credibility for the Ukrainian government. He speaks on behalf of his government and if that still remains the case, this government speaks in defence of the Ukrainian nation. Following that logic, everything falls into place, with or without Malski being a subversive device in the hands of Yanukovych.

It might be, however, that there is no double meaning to his actions. Mr Malski has been active, both diplomatically and academically, in Western European countries for several years. As many polish analysts claim, he might have become a victim of so-called “westernising osmosis”. Acculturated to the western democracies and European Union, Malski might simply stand in opposition to Yanukovych’s practices and his move away from the EU. If he continues to issue statements of comparable significance, maybe within the next few days we will witness a change of ambassador in Poland as well. Nevertheless, regardless of the outcome of the EuroMaidan protests and Malski’s diplomatic future, the truth about his intentions may actually never be disclosed.

Matteusz Mazzini is currently a graduate student at Oxford University. He has previously worked in Poland’s Foreign Service and is a close collaborator with the Jan Nowak-Jeziorański College of Eastern Europe, the publisher of New Eastern Europe.

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