21 September 2018
Media outlet: Segodnya

The International Day of Peace marked annually on 21 September is a link in a chain of very important events expected this autumn. And the most important of these events is the opening of the United Nations General Assembly’s session, which will consider the Ukrainian topic, among other things. Every year on 21 September, all countries on the territory of which hostilities are being waged are urged to refrain from violence and cease fire. This is the day when the firearms stop roaring and when the Peace Bell tolls.

This year, according to the UN decision, the main theme of the International Day of Peace will be “The Right to Peace – 70th Anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights”. Ukraine, which back in 1948 abstained from adopting the Universal Declaration (being the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic at that time), has been facing a bloody conflict in the east of its territory for the fifth year now, which leads not only to heavy losses and economic decline, but also to the fact that violation of human rights (under specious patriotic pretexts) becomes a normal thing. The Party of War, entrenched in the corridors and offices of power, is constantly fuelled by energy due to the war, constantly uses war as an excuse for its failures and setbacks, as a political technology and an argument in explanation of its deeds.

However, the breath of peace is already felt in the air. Peace is becoming a vitally essential issue. Sociologists say that the number of citizens speaking of the need for the soonest end to the war is over 70%. More than half of them say that they are ready for peace at any cost. Although our politicians shout that peace is possible only on our terms, without any concessions. They remind those political intriguers or demagogues of a century ago who, in the early summer of 1918, propagandized “war to the bitter end” in Europe, not realizing that for some people this very war would soon turn into a catastrophic defeat and collapse of empires, and for others, stubbornness and unwillingness to compromise two decades later would turn into a nightmare of a new war, a direct product of the previous one.

There are no lasting victories without compromise. But compromises should be reasonable. And each victory must be secured with well-thought-out agreements, taking into account both the reasons that gave rise to this or that conflict, and the interests of the parties involved. Unfortunately, Ukrainian politicians, repeating like a mantra the words that there is a solely evil will of Russia in Donbass, do not understand that many steps of the current Ukrainian leadership need to be reconsidered for the sake of preserving the unity of the country. Because over there, on the other side of the front line, there is a resistance to and rejection of many innovations of Ukrainian society. And hence it will be necessary to abandon a number of ideological fetishes of recent times, in case a compromise is accepted, for the sake of preserving the unity of the country and for the sake of peace in Ukraine.

The leadership of Ukraine makes a number of moves that are absolutely not accepted by a significant number of the country’s citizens, and evoke rejection. Moreover, they become a stumbling block in the future negotiation process with the non-government controlled territories. An attempt to interfere with church affairs is added to the accelerated Ukrainization, reconsideration of history, voluntarism in matters of foreign policy guidelines (as one of the government’s counsellors inadvertently disclosed real plans, “the state must build a national Church”). Against this background, peace negotiations are becoming more and more complicated: at the time when the confrontation in Donbass began, Ukraine promoted the slogan “one country” or “united country”. Now this slogan is forgotten, and Ukraine has followed the path of ethnonationalism.

Yet direct dialogue is needed – both between Kyiv and non-government controlled “republics”, and between Kyiv and Moscow. We cannot allow the fate of Ukraine to be decided in the “Volker-Surkov” format without Ukraine itself being involved. We cannot agree to Ukraine becoming a bargaining chip in a big political game, similar to Syria. Unfortunately, the political leadership of Ukraine does not have the political will to demonstrate its own subjectivity/legal capacity and declare the pathway towards a comprehensive peace. Let us look at the history of Croatia, Congo, Cambodia, Afghanistan, and Latin American states: everywhere peace was or is achieved through steps towards direct negotiations between the legitimate government and separatists. Separatists are supported by external forces (including the United States) everywhere. Compromises are reached everywhere – sometimes painful, sometimes short-term, but still compromises – in the name of peace. And everywhere there are talkers screaming that it is necessary to continue wars, while peace is a betrayal of national interests. The greatness of a politician lies in the fact that for a certain period of time they stops listening to jingoistic patriots and their hysterical cries, but rather make a decision and take responsibility for the fate of the country – not thinking about the ratings and the upcoming elections. And they reach peace. The current leadership is not capable of an act that would secure their place in history. They think about a more or less comfortable situation (for them, but not for the people) that would secure them seats in parliament.

I am often asked: ‘You criticize the authorities, you are in opposition. But what is your proposal in terms of achieving peace? What new ideas or solutions can you suggest?’

Here is my answer: ‘We must not only return to the Minsk process, but re-start it and further improve it, including making a time adjustment.’

The first and the most important thing: Ukraine needs to legislate a moratorium on the interference of politicians with humanistic matters, which, as experience shows, do not unite, but rather divide the country. Any initiatives regarding language, confessional or faith policy, a policy in the field of historical memory should be postponed until peace and stability are restored in the country.

Secondly. The leadership of the country should give start to a new constitutional process, which should also provide for compromises with the now non-government controlled territories: expanding the powers of the regions according to the Italian model (preserving the unitary status of the state while diversifying the level of the regions’ integration), widening the rights of local self-government, and relations with central authorities. This would remove the question of the “special status of Donbass” from the top of the agenda: in conditions when the country (a unitary country!) has 25 subjects/regions with a special status, depending only on the level of economic development and the level of their contribution to the common economy, the very question of “separation” becomes nonsensical.

Thirdly. A direct dialogue is needed between the Ukrainian authorities and the authorities of the self-proclaimed republics. At the first stage, a mediator could be the Church, which is the only institution enjoying the trust of citizens and having authority both in the territory of Ukraine and in the territory of the non-government controlled republics (as well as in the territory of Crimea, but this is another matter). The Church has already shown success in the exchange of prisoners last December, when, thanks to the initiative of His Beatitude Metropolitan Onufriy, more than 70 prisoners – soldiers and officers – returned to Ukraine. The role of the Church in resolving conflicts – including the largest conflicts in world history – is well known. When Romania found itself in a deep political crisis in the 30s of the last century, the Patriarch of the Romanian Orthodox Church Miron (Cristea) took the helm and brought the country out of chaos. Historians say that when the Cuban Missile Crisis erupted in 1962, Kennedy (the only Catholic president in the history of the United States) was prompted to make the right compromise decision by a call from Pope John XXIII. There are multiple examples. In Ukraine, with its traditions of Orthodoxy, the role of the canonical Church in the settlement of the conflict in the east can be crucial.

Fourthly. A decision of the National Security and Defence Council of Ukraine to lift the blockade on Donbass and start economic cooperation, trade and financial transactions is needed. The blockade of Donbass was the greatest mistake of the Ukrainian leadership, who opted for following the urging of provocateurs and jingoists. The same Croatian experience has shown that without ramping up trade flows along the entire front line, there would be no subsequent peaceful solution to the conflict.

Fifthly. Already now, it is necessary to think over a comprehensive program for the restoration of Donbass and a program for the priority development of economic sectors relevant for Donbass. The war showed that, firstly, the Ukrainian economy is very vulnerable, and secondly, that many companies and industries are non-competitive, and thirdly, that significant funds are needed to modernize or repurpose businesses, primarily in the east of the country. And already now we need conferences involving representatives of domestic businesses, international donors and investors, as well as representatives of the authorities, that would focus on the development plan for the Ukrainian Donbass (Ukrainian not as at today, but in general – within the borders as at April 2014).

Sixthly. The deployment of peacekeepers should be welcomed (to demilitarize the territory). But initially the deployment of peacekeepers on the line of demarcation (to ensure the implementation of the first clauses of the Minsk Agreement), and then, after a stable ceasefire – on the entire territory of the self-proclaimed “DPR” and “LPR”" for the implementation of the main task: to ensure fair expression of the citizens’ will during elections, fair competition and the creation of elected government bodies. Prior to the holding of elections in Donbass, an international administration needs to be created to manage the process, involving representatives of the UN Security Council’s member states.

Seventhly. After the reunification with Ukraine, citizens living in the territory not controlled by Kyiv should receive full voting rights and take part in elections, including the elections to the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine and the presidential elections in Ukraine. The calls of some politicians to “deprive the residents of Donbass of the right to influence the Ukrainian political processes” for a certain time, to arrange some kind of “political quarantine” for them, are counterproductive slogans that do not contribute to the restoration of peace.

Eighthly. All illegal armed formations – not only on the territory of the “DPR”/”LPR”, but throughout the entire territory of Ukraine – must be disarmed. The authorities must announce a campaign to combat banditry – regardless of the past merits of the current bandits, terrorists, racketeers and raiders. Ukraine should get rid of camouflage and khaki colour by moving to a calmer and more peaceful colour scheme.

Ninthly. Ukraine should enshrine in its laws the status of a neutral and non-aligned, non-bloc state, with a complete ban on the deployment of foreign military bases and weapons of mass destruction on its territory. It should also initiate a new Helsinki process for Europe, since the current rules and treaties have shown their ineffectiveness. It is necessary not only to declare the inviolability of borders in Europe, but also to propose a mechanism for protection of this principle – in order to avoid a repetition of the fate of Serbia, Georgia, and Ukraine, in relation to which the principles defined in Helsinki in 1975 have been grossly violated in recent decades.

This is a brief plan how to achieve peace in Ukraine. Peace not only in Donbass, but also in the country as a whole. Peace that will surely lead to the restoration of balances in the country and to confidence about the future.

When the UN Secretary General strikes the Peace Bell on 21 September, let us think about the future of Ukraine and the need to moderate ardour, hide our ambitions and maximalism, and think about the key need and right of every person – the right to peace.

Vadym Novynskyi, People’s Deputy of Ukraine
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