Keynote delivered by CA Leader of the Government Peter Van Loan on March 7th in Ottawa at an international forum entitled “Ukraine at the Crossroads”
Thank you, Chrystya [Freeland], and good evening. Thank you very much for letting me address you today; I am delighted to be here with you. The last time I was on a panel Chyrstya chaired was actually during the Olympics dealing with a group of investors and the weather outside was almost as balmy then as it was today. I bring greetings from my colleague, the Honorable John Baird, Canada’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, who unfortunately is out of the country and was therefore unable to join us tonight, but who nevertheless wanted his word of welcome sent.
As you know, Ukrainians have deep roots in this country beginning with the first wave of Ukrainian settlers in the late 1800s and continuing through the present century. They came to Canada seeking freedom and opportunity; they travelled across a vast ocean in the hope that, given a chance to rely on their own energy, work ethic and ambition, they could build a life for themselves and their families in this new land. And the Ukrainians have indeed succeeded and have helped build our country.
That original wave of pioneers who broke the land in Canada’s West and helped populate this vast country, however, was followed by other Ukrainians, who came later and for whom the challenge of freedom was not simply a matter of subsistence but actually one of existence. They had survived and escaped the terror of Lenin’s and Stalin’s Soviet empire—from the genocide of the Holodomor to the horrors of the Gulag and, of course, the random terror of the NKVD. For those Ukrainians, Canada’s opportunities were not just economic, but political.
The experience of the fragility of freedom—that it can be so easily crushed by tyrants—has informed the attitude of Ukrainian Canadians to their country as well as to their ancestral homeland and it has driven their political engagement.
In the caucus of Canada’s governing Conservative Party, there are many for whom similar formative experiences have driven us to become political active. I have colleagues whose roots lie in places like Poland, Romania, and, of course, a couple dozen, including my party Secretary and many who are here, who have Ukrainian roots. And, as Chrystya pointed out, my own roots are Estonian. I was raised on a steady diet of stories of near death experiences at the hands of successive Soviet, Nazi and Soviet (again) occupations. I learned early that democracy was vulnerably delicate and that freedom could be readily lost; that is what drove my interest and involvement in politics. Frankly, it is the reason why I am here today.
Not surprisingly, those of us who share that background have chosen to belong to a party and government that reflects those values and has put those values at the center of our our foreign policy. Those values—freedom, democracy, human rights and the rule of law—are the four cornerstones of Canada’s value based foreign policy. And that focus is evident in our response to recent events in Ukraine
Canada feels a real stake in the success of a modern, free and independent Ukraine. Indeed, it was Brian Mulroney’s Conservative government that was the first to recognize Ukraine’s independence at the collapse of the Soviet Union. Canada has remained steadfast in its support of the Ukrainian people.
In the years directly following independence, Ukraine made great strides. In emerging and rebuilding after 70 years of Soviet tyranny, the Ukrainian people turned their back on their communist past and embraced their hard won liberty along with the spirit of democracy and freedom, respect for human rights and the establishment of the rule of law.
But Ukraine has also remained a critical battleground—an echo, if you will, of the Cold War, as a fading empire seeks to resist the loss of what it considers to be its cultural birthplace. A notable example has been the aspiration of many in Ukraine to find a home in NATO. Vladimir Putin has attempted to draw the line, saying that Russia would not accept accession for Ukraine—in fact, telling President Bush in a discussion that Ukraine was not even a nation. Wisely, the West, notwithstanding the unhelpful advice of people like Jimmy Carter, did not not give into identical threats from the Soviets about German reunification or similar Russian threats over Baltic NATO accession. Prime Minister Harper has made clear Canada’s position. No country can have a veto over Ukraine’s alliances. NATO accession is a decision for the people of Ukraine.
The ‘tug of war’ in Ukraine has become one of the most dramatic skirmishes in the battle for democracy promotion and the spread of values in which we all believe. The 2004 Orange Revolution was, as we know, a bright moment in the spread of democratic principles; the Ukrainian people stood up to the old style muscular thief of their elections and were able, in a free and fair way, to ensure that the democratic alternative prevailed. Sadly, however, as we likewise know, the Orange Revolution fell victim to some of the weaknesses of a young democracy that had not yet really matured; to borrow a phrase of which I am fond from our first Prime Minister, Sir Johnnie MacDonald, in the early years of the Confederation: “the bristle had not yet hardened into bone”. And recent events in Ukraine have demonstrated how easy it is for democratic development to start rolling back.
This fall, we had a debate here in Ottawa in the House of Commons on the ongoing erosion of democracy in Ukraine and, in particular, the politically motivated and arbitrary prosecution of former Prime Minister Julia Tymoshenko, In the debate, I highlighted the bitter disappointment of developments since President Yanukovych came to power in 2010. Since those elections, we have seen an administration that seems prepared to subvert justice and the rule of law for the pursuit of political ends and to eliminate political rivals. In every international rating of freedom, Ukraine is sliding. In the press, you have journalists who practice self censorship to avoid persecution. It is worth also questioning, how free and independent a press can be when one of the major media magnates just so happens to additionally be the head of the country’s security services. And, of course, the actions of the Ukrainian government since the Tymoshenko trial have not shown signs of impovement. Just a couple of weeks ago, we saw another apparently politically motivated and arbitrary conviction—that of former Interior Minister Yuri Lutsenko. Last month, I can tell you, as part of our engagement on Ukraine, Canada’s intervention paved the way for three Canadian doctors to conduct an independent medical assessment of Ms. Tymoshenko.
Ms. Tymoshenko’s health and treatment should remain a primary focus of all involved, but the Tymoshenko and Lutsenko situations represent a troubling trend. So perhaps it is fitting that the theme of the conference that you are participating in tonight and tomorrow should be called “Ukraine at the Crossroads”. With elections later this year, Ukraine really is at a crossroads. We have seen earlier this week, in Russia, the jailing of opponents, the stifling of the press, ‘carousel voting’; in fact, one third of all stations in the Russian elections have experienced irregularities in voting according to reports issued by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). In essence, Vladimir Putin took careful note of the Orange Revolution; he determined that it was not a model that should be exported to Russia. And now his anti Orange Revolution playbook is being exported to Ukraine.
For those of us who care about the promotion of democracy, we must confess that these setbacks represent a real challenge to our objectives and we must admit that the tools of democracy, as we were practicing them just eight years ago, might not be sufficient to the task at hand. But for all that, we, in Canada, do have other things at our disposal that, in fact, can assist the process.
With a large Ukrainian Canadian community in which many of you are leaders, we have the ability and the resources to support the Ukrainian people—to reach out to them and back their efforts. I personally believe that it is the ‘people to people’ ties that we can use to make the most effective difference. Judging from successful experiences, these ties are perhaps the optimal way to encourage Ukraine on the path to mature democracy.
Further, when I was Minister of International Trade in 2010, I was pleased to announce the start of negotiations toward a [UA-CA] Free Trade Agreement. Progress toward such an agreement has not been as rapid under the current regime or not as rapid as we certainly hoped it would be—and certainly not as rapid as it was under the previous administration. But we will continue to move forward carefully in a fashion that will enhance freedom and economic opportunity for capable individuals in both countries; at the end of the day, we believe that strengthening ties and building engagements remain critical.
Another thing we know is that, in the Orange Revolution, young Ukrainians were at the forefront—and young Ukrainians continue to be a key to determining the future of their country. Canada is seeking to support this in many ways, including through the Ukrainian Canadian Parliamentary Program, where young Ukrainians come here and get to learn how a democratic system works and the value of our rule of law. And, of course, our Youth Mobility Program does much the same—teaches what it means to live in a stable modern democracy—as do a number of other efforts we have.
Finally, we are committed to supporting the community’s own ongoing efforts to enhance democratic development in Ukraine. This was demonstrated by Prime Minister Stephen Harper when he accepted the Shevchenko Award from the Ukrainian Canadian Congress last year; at the time, he pledged that Canada will support Ukraine “whenever it moves towards freedom, democracy and justice”.
For millions in Europe, the collapse of Communism has led to freedom and prosperity—freedom and prosperity that they have dreamt of for generations. The ‘Warsaw Pact’ countries, like Poland, East Germany, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and more, have stepped into the mainstream of Europe—and as the voice of ‘New Europe’, they have become key players in injecting a firm democratic, freedom oriented posture into the European world view. Emancipated former ‘Republics’ like the Baltic States have become champions of freedom. Yet a few remain on the fault line—Belarus, Moldova and, of course, Ukraine. In these countries, we have not yet seen the ‘End of History’ as Francis Fukiyama would have had it. Why the difference? What will it take to close the gap? How can we see true free democracy take root deeply in these trouble places? Your work at this conference should be pursued with that goal in mind and that should continue not only tonight and tomorrow, but in the weeks and months to come. Thank you!!