With Ukraine’s hopes for integration with the European Union going nowhere amid President Viktor Yanukovych’s authoritarian leanings, one event devoted to the cause keeps getting better. Viktor Pinchuk’s 9th Yalta European Strategy, which took place on Sept. 14-15 in Crimea, is truly becoming a plus for a nation still lacking in international identity, stature and respect. Billionaire Pinchuk has managed to turn this seaside gathering into something unique and beneficial.
Speakers like former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan spoke about global security challenges. Visionaries like Britain’s Richard Branson speculated on the future of capitalism. Authors like Walter Isaacson reminisced about geniuses and innovation.
Ukraine got a chance to showcase itself to a distinguished audience of several hundred people at Livadia Palace, where the event is held. Unfortunately but instructively, this gathering starkly reveals how cruel, undemocratic and primitive Ukraine’s leaders remain in too many respects.
This year, the villain of the event was Deputy Prosecutor General Rinat Kuzmin, who came across as incompetent and arrogant. It’s frightening that this man and the office he occupies have such great powers that are being abused. He made it clear that Ukraine will not backtrack in the case of imprisoned ex-Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, whom many in the West are convinced is a political prisoner.
Yanukovych and Prime Minister Mykola Azarov also failed to connect with the audience. Other politicians came off looking better, including top-ranking officials Sergiy Tigipko, Valeriy Khoroshkovskiy and Petro Poroshenko, and opposition leaders Vitali Klitschko and Arseniy Yatseniuk. Such disparities are important for the world to see. Ukraine’s politicians need to be put in the same room as some of the world’s brightest people. Maybe intellect will rub off.
Live sparring is healthy in a political culture where leaders shun debate and unscripted interviews with journalists. They are forced to think on their feet in such settings as the YES conference, which managed to group top government officials and the political opposition on the same panel to talk about the Tymoshenko case.
Journalists are best trained at asking tough questions, and they get ample opportunity to confront top officials on the sidelines of the YES conference, but sadly they are not permitted to ask questions during discussion groups. Questions are limited to fellow politicians, experts and other honored guests. Pinchuk should change this.
Pinchuk wanted to create a mini-Davos in Ukraine, and he is close to doing so. We have been critical of the event in the past, and Pinchuk shouldn’t be let off the hook entirely.
We’d love to see YES panels entitled “Who is responsible for the 2000 murder of journalist Georgiy Gongadze and why aren’t they in prison today?” and “How did Ukraine’s oligarchs really get rich and how are they stifling the nation’s future today?” But that’s asking too much, considering Pinchuk is the party host and his father-in-law is ex-President Leonid Kuchma, implicated in the Gongadze murder but steadfast about his innocence.
We also wish that the journalists who attend YES would start paying their own way or get sponsorship from non-profit groups, rather than accept Pinchuk’s money.
It is the nation’s leaders who should use these opportunities better, not just once a year, but continually.
They are going to have to change the most in order to break Ukraine’s stalemate with the West over conflicting values.