Markijan Malskyj, Ukraine's ambassador to Poland, talks to WBJ about mutual trade, his country's EU ambitions and efforts to deal with historical issues
Ewa Boniecka: How have political relations between Ukraine and Poland evolved recently?
Markijan Malskyj: Polish-Ukrainian political relations are strategic in character and are developing very intensively. There was recently a very successful exchange of visits at the presidential level and our two sides are in regular contact to push forward Polish-Ukrainian bilateral relations in all aspects – policy, economy, education and social areas. Progress is being achieved step by step and is based on good political relations on both sides.
How does the economic balance between Poland and Ukraine look?
Our economic relations are developing quickly. Poland is our biggest trade partner among the countries of Central and Eastern Europe and holds fourth place overall among Ukraine’s trade partners. Mutual trade rose by 35.2 percent last year and reached the value of more than $4.576 billion.
There is also growth in mutual investments. At the beginning of this year, Polish investment capital in Ukraine was valued at $935.8 million, which means that it had risen by 8.3 percent over the 2009 figure. The biggest Polish investments in Ukraine are Cersanit’s building materials factory, Berlinek’s flooring factory and Nowy Styl’s furniture factory.
Ukrainian investment in Poland stands at around $50 million. In 2010 two Ukrainian ventures entered the Warsaw Stock Exchange and now six Ukrainian holdings are listed [ed. – five on the main floor and one on NewConnect]. It shows that our businesses are developing and involvement in the Warsaw Stock Exchange is the chance for our entrepreneurs to learn the rules of the economic game.
Yet in my opinion the present balance of trade turnover and the levels of mutual investment are far below our countries’ potentials. I am aware that entrepreneurs expanding in the Ukrainian market are sensitive to such risks as overgrown bureaucracy and other barriers, but our old economic and administrative structures are changing, so new opportunities are appearing. We are in a transition period and many reforms are still ahead of us, but we are determined to enact them and to facilitate conditions for commerce.
How would you describe Ukraine’s foreign policy priorities?
Our strategic aim is to join the European Union. So we want to use all our options, one of which is an important tool of EU policy – the Polish-Swedish Eastern Partnership project – to help us achieve this goal. I think that preparations for the Eastern Partnership summit, which will be held in Warsaw in October, already show how important the project is for the EU’s whole eastern policy. The fact that the summit will be held during the Polish presidency of the European Council is mobilizing us to enter into close cooperation with our Polish partners in setting the main directions for the further realization of the Eastern Partnership and to follow these with concrete steps. We are counting on Poland’s support during its presidency, for Ukraine’s aspirations to move forward with our association agreement with the EU.
We hope that the road map for participants in the Eastern Partnership, approved at the summit meeting in Brussels in November last year and relating to reforms [necessary] in those countries, will speed up the process in Ukraine. We know that we have to do a lot of “homework” to pass the first step towards membership in the EU – achieving the association agreement with the European Union.
We also hope that an agreement on liberalizing the visa regime between Ukraine and the EU will be approved at the Warsaw summit. We are very grateful to the Polish government that it has already reduced visa fees for Ukrainians coming to Poland from €35 to €20.
How would you rate the realization of the Eastern Partnership program since its beginning two years ago?
The very acceptance of the Eastern Partnership as a tool for shaping the EU’s relations with countries located to its east is in itself a great success. The program, which supports democratic political reforms and the development of the free market in six participating countries, also opens the road to those who would be ready and willing to enter the European Union. In Ukraine it has strengthened our determination to join the EU and the majority of our people support that goal.
Yet for the Eastern Partnership to achieve all its tasks it needs greater financial support from the EU, because the present level of funding – in practice it is about €600 million – is not enough. And as an important element of the EU’s overall eastern policy it is worth supporting financially, because it spreads stability and democracy in the European continent.
What about Ukraine’s relations with Russia?
Ukrainian-Russian relations are friendly and peaceful, with the stress on economic cooperation. Russia is our most important strategic economic partner.
We are surrounded by neighbors, not enemies, and we want to keep it that way. We do not want to build frontier barriers. We need stability in Ukraine in order to undertake reforms, to create a middle class, to eliminate poverty in some areas and to upgrade the standard of living for our whole society.
How about your attitude towards NATO – where does Ukraine stand these days?
Ukraine is not going to join NATO. Such is the will of our citizens. Yet we work together with NATO and some of our soldiers are taking part in the alliance’s peaceful operations. Ukraine wants to be an important element of security in Europe without joining military pacts.
However, we are ready to continue the mutually beneficial cooperation with NATO in all areas, including work on new projects. We are counting on the support of NATO members, especially the traditionally active Poland.
One tool for practical cooperation and the implementation of internal reforms is the Ukraine-NATO Annual National Program, which we will use effectively again this year. And we look forward to continuing cooperation with Poland within NATO’s Partnership for Peace as well as in non-military areas of cooperation between Ukraine and NATO.
Ukraine has quite a few minorities. There are, among others, Russians, mainly in the east and in the Crimea, with Poles in the western area.How do you view efforts to protect their rights?
We conform to European standards on this – the rights of minorities are fully respected by our laws and in relations between them and the government. We have freedom for all religions and there’s schooling with lessons in minorities’ native languages. There are various cultural institutions cultivating and developing the art, culture and native traditions of Ukrainian citizens who are members of minority groups.
The Polish minority has at its disposal many junior and secondary schools with Polish language instruction. The Catholic Church is powerful, with active Catholic priests and bishops. During his visit to Poland in February, President Viktor Yanukovych declared Ukraine’s support for a Methodological Coordination Center for Polish Language and Culture in the Drohobych region. And one of our priorities in mutual relations is securing for the Polish minority in Ukraine and the Ukrainian minority in Poland, the proper conditions for them to study their native languages, preserve their culture and exercise their rights in all domains of public life.
How important is dealing with our difficult shared history to our present relations?
It is my deepest conviction that our two nations have crossed the bridge leading to reconciliation and forgiveness in dealing with our mutual history, so now we can concentrate on building good relations in the present and future. Nonetheless it is crucially important to remember and commemorate the victims of all Ukrainian-Polish conflicts, while leaving the evaluation of certain difficult problems to our historians.
The primary task is to expose the whole truth about past events, however painful it is, because we cannot build our relations on lies. So we remember our history and maintain locations where tragic events took place.
During the meeting between President Bronisław Komorowski and President Viktor Yanukovych in February, Ukraine’s head of state promised to make all efforts to examine the mass graves of victims of Stalinist terror in Bykivnia near Kyiv. Thousands of Ukrainians and Poles are buried there, the victims of totalitarianism in the 1937-1941 period.
After specialists from both countries exhume the victims, a process which will begin in mid-April in Bykivnia, we will build a memorial with both Polish and Ukrainian elements there. The name Bykivnia will become a symbol of tragedy and of the legacy of Stalinist crimes for both Poles and Ukrainians.
There is also a willingness to open the cemetery in Sahryń, a village in the Lublin area of Poland, where in 1944 the Polish Home Army killed Ukrainians in response to the murder of Poles by the Ukrainian Insurgent Army. The role of that military formation, which was fighting the Germans, Soviets and also Poles in the name of an independent Ukraine, is the subject of entirely different views in our countries and one of the difficult historical problems in our relations.
Ukraine’s history is certainly complicated, but even now victims of Stalinist terror are commemorated in your country while events from the Soviet era are celebrated. Why is that?
I think that all past events are part of our national history and people have the right to remember them differently.
Today in Ukraine a slow change in our attitudes and assessments of the past is taking place. We are learning truths about historical events which were hidden during the Soviet years. But history is sometimes the subject of political battles between various parties in Ukraine as well as in Poland. And this can be reflected in people’s perceptions of Polish-Ukrainian history.
So it is still necessary to defeat some stereotypes present in both countries. The crucial thing is to expose the whole truth about historical events, open new sources of information about the past, present various points of view on history and accept that [ugly moments] exist.
I believe that our well-educated Ukrainian youth, who have access to many sources of information, hold no old prejudices and will form their own judgment on our history, including the Soviet era.