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December 6, 2001

Accomplishments and Failures of Ukraine Discussed at CIUS-Sponsored Round Table

Anniversary dates provide opportunities for both celebration and reflection. Although a young state, Ukraine reached a milestone this year when it marked the tenth anniversary of its independence.

On December 3 the Canadian Institute of Ukrainian Studies (CIUS) sponsored a round table discussion entitled "Ten Years after Independence: Quo Vadis, Ukraine?" Panel participants included well-known scholars on contemporary Ukraine: Dr. Taras Kuzio, Research Associate at the Centre for International and Security Studies, York University; Dr. David Marples, Professor of History at the University of Alberta and Director of the Stasiuk Programme for the Study of Contemporary Ukraine at CIUS; and Dr. Roman Solchanyk, Consultant at the Rand Corporation. The panel moderator was Dr. Zenon Kohut, Director of CIUS.

Taras Kuzio was the first panelist to speak. In his talk Dr. Kuzio attempted to outline Ukraine's accomplishments and failures over the past ten years. In the positive ledger, he mentioned the progress made in Ukrainian-language education, the adoption of national symbols, and agreements on borders with neighbouring states. In his view, the most important achievement of the last ten years was Ukraine's ability to avoid ethnic conflicts, despite predictions by many scholars and intelligence experts from Western countries that these were imminent. The bulk of his presentation focused on negative outcomes over the last ten years. Here he mentioned the regime's tacit support for the Russian Orthodox Church in Ukraine and lack of state support for Ukrainian nationbuilding, which had negative consequences on Ukrainian cultural development. Dr. Kuzio characterized Ukraine's declared multi-vector foreign policy as "not serious," and said that today it was basically pro-Russian. He claimed that in Ukraine there was not only a lack of progress in moving towards a functioning democracy, but that since 1997 there had been regression and movement back toward Soviet-style authoritarianism. He concluded that although Ukraine would retain its independence, it could become a Russian satellite state, and it was not clear what kind of nation or state was being promoted by the ruling elites.

In his talk, the next panelist, David Marples, summarized social and economic developments of the last decade, portraying an economy and society in deep crisis. While there was great euphoria and high expectations as to Ukraine's future following the December 1991 referendum, what followed was a precipitous decline in living standards and other negative developments, such as "disturbing demographic trends." Ukraine's starting position at independence, he noted, was not as good as it appeared. Therefore, expectations that Ukraine would be able to overcome quickly its Soviet legacy were unrealistic. Nevertheless, despite the overly burdensome Soviet inheritance, he felt that Ukraine's "performance over the last ten years should have been better." In his talk, Dr. Marples buttressed his conclusions with chilling statistics that illustrated the dramatic decline in living standards and its deleterious demographic effects on Ukraine's populace. Ukraine's GDP, he noted has fallen by 60% from 1991 levels. Negative demographic changes that have taken place in Ukraine over the past ten years include a mortality rate now substantially exceeding the birth rate, a high infant mortality rate and a sharp decline in life expectancy at birth. Today, Dr. Marples said that Ukraine leads other former Soviet republics in the rate of population decline. In his talk Dr. Marples also dwelled on Ukraine's international image and observed that the Kuchma regime has done much to taint its international credibility over the past several years. Marples concluded his talk by reiterating that although Ukraine's dilemmas are in part due to its Soviet inheritance, many are the result of Ukraine's "uninspiring and self-serving leadership."

The final speaker in the roundtable, Roman Solchanyk, prefaced his talk by reminding the audience of the great changes that have taken place in the world over the last decade. The image of the September 11 terrorist attack on the U.S. underscored the portrayal of a world in flux. Following this introduction, Dr. Solchanyk focused on developments in the former Soviet republics after the collapse of the Soviet Union. He pointed to the civil conflicts and wars that have often punctuated the troubled histories of the past ten years of most of the post-Soviet countries, including Russia. He also noted that in those Central Asian states which have experienced less violence, one-man rule has been reasserting itself. Dr. Solchanyk concluded that despite its great problems, when compared to the experiences of the other former Soviet republics (minus the Baltic republics) after the breakup of the USSR, Ukraine looked quite good. He then proceeded to outline some of the foreign policy issues concerning Ukraine's future orientation, which would be determined largely by how relations with Europe and with Russia would develop, the latter having been complicated by the recent Moscow-Washington rapprochement.

The question and discussion period then ranged over several topics, including Ukraine's international image and whether it was more appropriate to compare Ukraine with other Soviet republics or with its Central European neighbours, like Poland and Slovakia, or even the Baltic republics.

The December 3 panel on contemporary Ukraine was organized as part of series of special events celebrating the tenth year of Ukraine's independence and the 25th anniversary of CIUS.




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