Ostap Kryvdyk: a Ukrainian activist who thinks the Orange Revolution was not in vain, and that a new Ukrainian generation is hungry for change.

Around three hundred mid career professionals from the Former Soviet space have over the last fifteen years participated in the annual John Smith Fellowship Programme, established in 1996 to honour the memory of the much respected British statesman. Amongst them are MPs, senior government officials, human rights activists and journalists. The 2011 group were back in London last month to participate in a follow up event. Nicholas Maltby caught up with them at the Royal Air Force Club in Piccadilly. He first interviewed Ostap Kryvdyk an intense young Ukrainian activist and journalist after he had just given a presentation on the need of a more policy focused type of politics in Ukraine. Kryvdyk is currently an advisor to Ukrainian politician Valentyn Nalyvaichenko and a columnist for Ukrainska Pravda.

Ostap, your presentation at last week’s ‘Follow Up Conference’ focused on your attempts to encourage a more policy-focused type of politics in the Ukraine.  Have you achieved any progress in this regard?

Basically, that’s the main failure of politics. Politicians don’t think of policies: they think of messages. I’m only an advisor, so I try to do my best [in order to change this] – but I can say that I’m creating a bank of ideas at the moment, and on this point, I must say I learnt a lot from UK.

You seemed fairly disillusioned with Ukrainian politics in your presentation. Do you still work as chief analyst of the National People’s Movement (Rukh)? Why is Rukh different from other Ukrainian parties?

I quitted working with Rukh shortly after I returned from fellowship programme in 2011. But I am still keeping contact with the top people within the party, and meeting them on the regular basis.

Now I work as an adviser to Valentyn Nalyvaichenko, ex-chief of Nasha Ukraina party (which is now headed by Viktor Yushchenko), a non-partizan member of the United Opposition. Being critical for me means still recognizing the need to work inside the opposition. The efficient parties are still to be built, and I see myself in this process, from a long-term perspective.

How central is the media in the positive development of Ukrainian politics?

Crucial – it is the real alternative, it puts both opposition and those currently in power under the pressure of change. That’s why we need freer and and more self-sustainable media; the internet gives us a chance to have it.

 You work for Ukrainska Pravda. Why has it gained such an important place in questioning governmental and oppositional motives and actions?

I don’t work with them as a member of their staff, though I enjoy the trust of the editors, and I can write the columns on internal politics, as well as observe elections abroad (in Germany in 2009, in Poland in 2011). They are both critical to those who have power and to those who don’t, that’s why they have a very high reputation. They are also possibly the only platform where those two sides may feel equal – almost every other strong media outlet is biased. It is a must-read for anybody who is interested in Ukrainian politics.

Would you rather continue as a political strategist or focus on journalism, or continue combining both professions?

I am inspired by the story of George Reid, who could fit them both in. Politics in Ukraine is, actually, a seasonal job: you can not make for a living within it sustainably. So I will continue doing them both.

You are a board member of the Kyiv Independent Media Trade Union. What essential rights does the union lobby for?

There is some kind of conflict of interests between my working in politics and in the media trade union at the same time, but as long as I don’t occupy higher positions and I work with foreign media, it’s ok.

Media trade union works on two issues, which are closely connected: 1) labour rights of journalists, 2) freedom of press. There are currently 2 MPs who used to be active members of KIMTU, so we have some influence on the legislation changes, though I cannot say that we have much success with it.

What is the trade union movement in Ukraine like?

It’s only just emerging, and mostly present in GONGO format. Though, KIMTU and all-Ukrainian Media Trade Union are front-runners of the process.

Has the Orange Revolution expired completely?

What would you say in 1800: has the French revolution expired completely? In the short-term, meaning only personalities – yeah. But in terms of values, it is just the beginning. I’m not disappointed, I continue doing what I did before.

In 1991 Ukrainian independence came about by means of a wide civic activism in the Western, and to a lesser extent, in Central Ukraine (mostly within big cities, especially Kyiv). In the 1990s we had a very deep economic crisis, and it seemed that this country would fail. It wasn’t the case. The student tent camp was the means for the protest in 1990, and the heritage was used in 2004. Wait 14 years, and you’ll see the next wave: a new generation, hungry for change is coming. They were born in the independent Ukraine, and they’re different.

Why did Viktor Yushchenko fail to enact serious legislative change? Was he a victim of broader cultural and political conditions, or were the faults of his governance self-made?

He was not ready. He didn’t have the package of laws or, as a minimum, a list of them. Messages, not policies, were there. He didn’t have a real team and his vision about the European Ukraine didn’t turn into the action. The only issue where he was more or less active was the humanitarian dimension. Mass betrayals, the need to support the Yanukovich side (which was caused by Tymoshenko’s aggressive approach to eliminate Yushchenko), massive Russian economic and media pressure – those are the major points of his failure.

The other point was that nobody was punished for the election fraud – and the revenge is there to be seen.

You were very negative about the state of opposition in Ukrainian politics: how does a country foster effective opposition?

I do what I can: I try to put pressure on people to fulfill their policies in my articles in Ukrainska Pravda. People should demand a new standard of opposition – things will change then. We need local politics – we don’t have it because local governments and parliaments are helpless: all the money goes to Kyiv, and then gets redistributed by the Cabinet of Ministries at their own will. For instance, the subsidies to compensate for the difference between the real price of communal services (water, heating etc.) and the price people actually pay is – for the Donetsk region (5.000.000 people) – UAH 884 mln, for the Ternopil region (1.200.000 people) – UAH 2.5 mln. Thus, heavy debts lie on the local bodies.

How valuable are EU and NATO memberships to Ukraine? Will Ukraine join either institution in the near future?

I do not know if EU and NATO are sustainable (mostly because of Germany’s position), and I wonder how those two organizations will adapt. I want Ukraine to be part of United Europe, in the terms  of human rights, economy, security, and no borders. It’ll take a minimum of 10-15 years to change (and could be more), it depends on Russia’s intentions, which I find very hazardous for Ukrainian sovereignty.

Has Euro 2012 been beneficial to Ukraine?

Not really in the sense of economy, but yes, a lot in the sense of letting people in the world know that we exist and we’re not Russia. It’s not a joke – many people still don’t understand it. If you write “Kiev”, for instance, you write it in Russian, not in Ukrainian, and that is an example of post-Colonial power.

Does Pora (the student movement during Orange Revolution) still exist?

No, it does not, though the people who participated in it at a high-level are active in political and social life; we often meet and talk. We were a really diverse group: liberals, socialists, nationalists, Christian democrats and conservatives – we were all together, and we are the future of the country.

Nicholas Maltby interviewed Ostap Kryvdyk for links-dar.org.

The John Smith Memorial Trust is a cross-party initiative established in 1996  The Fellowship Programme is aimed  at the next generation of leaders in a number of the independent republics that  were previously part of the Soviet Union – young people of proven ability and real  attainments, regardless of their political background.

More information on the John Smith Memorial Trust is available at www.johnsmithmemorialtrust.org.