June 7th was one of most anticipated days in the last few months in Ukraine. With the inauguration of the new president, Petro Poroshenko, came many hopes and the atmosphere was festive and like a holiday.
Poroshenko’s speech, which lasted over twenty minutes, in the Verkhovna Rada (parliament) was full of declarations and ideas. It concentrated on five main topics: a peace plan for Donbas, guaranteeing security, reshaping politics, modernisation, and, last but not least, Poroshenko’s confirmation of a European future for Ukraine.
“The Country has changed. People have changed. The time of inevitable positive changes has come”, Poroshenko said. In his speech, he tried to reach out to all citizens in this conflicted country.
His peace plan for Donbas has two main components: a focus on how to handle the separatist forces; and an offer for citizens of eastern Ukraine. Poroshenko is also offering amnesty for those who confiscated weapons, but do not have “Ukrainian army’s blood on their hands” and are not financing them. Poroshenko wants to make a corridor for Russian mercenaries, who are fighting in eastern Ukraine. That would give them a possibility to flee to their country.
It is important to note that Poroshenko’s offer for eastern Ukraine was delivered in Russian. He again repeated that peace is the main issue. “Today it is about dialogue with peaceful citizens. Even with those who have other views on the future of our country,” the new president said. One step to achieve this goal will be the decentralisation of power and giving more influence to the local communities on shaping their identity with issues like language, religion and views on history. That could help to stop the division of Ukrainians.
Poroshenko said that, in cooperation with European Union, they prepared a programme for creating jobs in eastern Ukraine. He wants to help bring investments into the region and hold early local elections in Donbas.
Poroshenko also discussed the issue of security in Ukraine. “Freedom is not given once and forever,” he said, adding that Ukraine must to do everything to improve their security and be prepared to “live in a state of constant combat readiness”. Poroshenko proposed to strengthen Ukraine’s military by utilising local industry which would help with the reindustrialisation of parts of Ukraine’s economy.
Poroshenko not only argued for Ukraine to guarantee its own safety, but emphasised the need for strong international conditions and alliances. The Budapest Memorandum on Security Assurances has not fulfilled its role. Russia, which was a signed guarantor of Ukrainian unity, now occupies Crimea. The other signatories, the United Kingdom and the United States, did not help to solve this crisis. So right now Poroshenko wants to use his diplomatic influence and find partners for new agreements, which will seriously safeguard against threats to its territorial integrity. “Ukrainian citizens cannot feel the benefits of peace and security unless we settle our relations with Russia,” said Poroshenko. “Russia occupied Crimea, which was, is and will be Ukrainian”, he added. That is one of three points, where there are no compromises. Others are the European choice of Ukraine and it being a unitary state.
“No usurpation of power!” Poroshenko exclaimed, adding that he is committed to a parliamentary-presidential state. He cited the examples of European democracies, which are innovative, hardworking and constantly improving. A way to achieve this is connected with delegating powers from the centre to local governments. This reform would begin this year with changes to the constitution, Poroshenko announced. On other hand, the president said that the “dreams of federalization have no grounds in Ukraine”. It will be still a unitary state with one national language – Ukrainian.
For reshaping of politics, Poroshenko has declared that there will early parliamentary elections. “Let us be honest. The current composition of this esteemed assembly does not match the moods of society”, he admitted.
The first step for internal peace and national security are jobs and decent wages. The president said that Ukraine needs to provide healthy conditions for an innovative economy and at the same time ensure social justice. By creating good conditions for entrepreneurs these would bring more private sector jobs. He noted that a fair division of wealth is really important in this time, but the main goal is to grow Ukraine’s economy. Poroshenko believes that Ukraine is able to fight against corruption and live on the same level as other European countries. But it cannot happen if the people do not change. “In some way, each of us shares the responsibility for the fact that Ukraine has come to this crisis.”
What is the best way to be free, live comfortably and safely? In the opinion of Poroshenko, the answer is easy: the implementation of the association agreement with European Union, which the economic part will be probably signed on June 27th. After this, a visa-free regime (perhaps as early as January 2015) will give a direction on which way to go for full EU membership in the future.
In the end, he called all pro-patriotic, pro-Ukrainian and pro-European forces to unite for a better Ukrainian future. Poroshenko’s speech and concrete plans impressed most commentators. “Finally, I lived to see a presidential speech that does not cause anger or sadness, but pride and positive feelings”, wrote Olha Chervakova, a Ukrainian journalist. Oleksiy Honcharenko, a former deputy in Viktor Yanukovych’s Party of Regions wrote that he had tears in his eyes.
Thus, the people are saying that Poroshenko delivered nice words. Now they are waiting to see if the new president can deliver real action.
Paweł Pieniążek is a Polish journalist specialising in Eastern Europe. He regularly contributes to the Polish daily Dziennik Opinii, New Eastern Europe and the Polish magazine W Punkt.