BRAMA, June 7, 2004, 1:00 am ET|
British 'heavyweight' weighs in on Ukraine elections
- By Tony Leliw
John Wilkinson MP
A British MP believes that Ukraine’s political future has to be a more balanced one between its Russian and European Union neighbours.
John Wilkinson MP, who campaigned for the demise of the Soviet Union for more than three decades, said: “Ukraine itself would wish a more balanced relationship with Russia and the CIS countries, the European Union and NATO countries. I think it is possible and desirable.”
The founder and vice-chairman of the British-Ukrainian All-Party Parliamentary Group, said the outcome of Ukraine’s autumn elections will be important not only for its neighbouring countries but for the wider world.
Mr Wilkinson, who also serves on the parliamentary assembly of the Council of Europe, said he is not in a position to judge if the October elections would be free and fair, but the fact that they would be under the monitoring procedure of the Council of Europe, implied there had been criticisms.
“These criticisms have been in parliamentary practices, doubts about the independence of the media, strong-arm tactics and intimidation,” said the Conservative MP.
“We hope that the elections are freely and fairly conducted, but the present atmosphere seems to be tense.
“The last thing we want is for Ukraine to descend to the status of Belarus. It has removed itself from the family of free and democratic nations in Europe, and none of us on the parliamentary assembly of the Council of Europe would wish that to happen to Ukraine.
“We are all optimistic that the people of Ukraine who have achieved their independence with such courage would not lose hard-won freedoms. Their freedoms are not perfect but there has been considerable progress.”
Considering the current euphoria over Poland’s entry into the EU, I asked what prospect there was for Ukraine.
“It depends on the election and whether Ukraine meets the criteria of harmonising its legal processes, reforms its economy, and if its democracy is of a sufficient high-standing. All these things take time,” he said.
“Being optimistic, it would be after 2010 at the very earliest,” he added.
As chairman on migration, refugees and demography in the Council of Europe, Mr Wilkinson, said he was concerned that Ukraine plays its part in stopping the trafficking of illegal immigration, and prove itself a reliable partner to its neighbours in the EU.
Mr Wilkinson recognised the frustrations of people who were looking for a better life because they were unhappy by the lack of reform and economic progress in their country.
“If the achievements of the Ukrainian economy are significantly below those of its Western neighbours, and there seems to be no prospect of economic improvement, then that is a dangerous phenomenon, and it is something that the EU and friendly countries would help with to avoid,” he said.
Mr Wilkinson recalled how his interest in Ukraine was awakened when he was MP for the Yorkshire constituency of Bradford West between 1970-74, which had a sizeable Ukrainian population.
He supported for many years Ukraine’s drive for independence, and when it achieved its freedom set up the British-Ukrainian All-Party Parliamentary Group.
The purpose of the group is to encourage good relations between parliamentarians in the UK and Ukraine.
“We have a good liaison with the Embassy, and when there are members of the Rada and Ukrainian leaders visiting here, we try and have meetings with them,” he said.
The group has discussed a whole range of subjects over the years from big power politics like arms control and security, to migration and the human and clean-up cost of Chornobyl.
“We write reports to the Foreign Office and ministers, so that the Government can act on any advice we receive from our Ukrainian friends. We can exercise pressure and we hope to be influential,” he added.
Members of the group include such political heavyweights as Baroness Williams of Crosby, Lord Biffen, Sir George Young and Earl Howe. Its current chairman is the Labour MP Ann Clwyd, known for her high profile support of the Iraq war.
Mr Wilkinson said the group meet two or three times a year, admitting that the contact is not as close as he would wish.
For a politician that has given so much of his time to Ukraine, he hopes in the near future to visit the country.
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Tony Leliw is a London-based journalist whose articles have appeared in respected publications such as the London Evening Standard and The Times, as well as news services in Ukraine and the U.S.
Feature stories by Mr. Leliw that have been published on Brama include :
Oct 13 05 - From War to Westminster by Stefan Terlezki CBE. Book review by Tony Leliw
Dec 1 04 - Ukrainians color London blue, yellow - and orange
Nov 24 04 - Villanous Viktor un-Vanted in UK
Nov 2 04 - Britain votes for Yushchenko
Oct 11 04 - Polling station coordinator works to simplify constitutional obstacles for voters abroad
Jul 16 04 - 'Madam Hooch' rides her broomstick in from Odesa: Actress Zoë Wanamaker offers a glimpse into her family history
Jun 7 04 - British 'heavyweight' weighs in on Ukraine elections
Mar 22 04 - If you were an oligarch ...
Mar 7 04 - Why you'll never find all the eggs in one basket
Dec 3 03 - On His Majesty's Secret Service
Oct 1 03 - Vilified, slandered and abused for telling the truth about Communism
Jul 30 03 - Malcolm Muggeridge Centenary: the journalist who reported that more than 7 million starved to death in Ukraine
Mar 24 03 - Christian fundamentalism and corruption: a member of the British House of Lords offers her views on the Iraq war and Ukraine
May 27 03 - Voting, for a song
Jan 1 03 - The road from Ukraine to Westminster and back
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