On 19 February the Monash European and EU Centre and the Mykola Zerov Centre for Ukrainian Studies hosted a Round Table titled “What Future for Ukraine.” Attended by an audience of 100, the event was recorded by ABC Radio National for broadcast and podcast on the “Big Ideas” program and will go to air on Tuesday 25 February at 8 p.m.
The Round Table was held in the shadow of the eruption of deadly violence in Kyiv, after months of mainly peaceful protests.
Mass protests began in Ukraine in November 2014 when the government suspended preparations for signing an Association Agreement with the European Union. They quickly became a more general expression of anger with the corrupt governing elite and its use of violence and intimidation against peaceful protesters. For the best part of three months, there was tension, but only occasional flare-ups of violence on the streets of Kyiv. That changed on 18 February, when several people were killed and hundreds injured as police tried, unsuccessfully, to drive protesters from Independence Square (the Maidan). The dismissal of president Yanukovych and the calling of presidential elections for 25 May changed the situation dramatically, but not its underlying causes that are the main focus of the Round Table.
Professor Pascaline Winand, Director of the Monash European and EU Centre, moderated the Round Table, taking the discussion through a survey of the current situation and an exploration of possible ways to resolve the crisis.
Stefan Romaniw, president of the
Australian Federation of Ukrainian Organisations and secretary general of the World Congress of Ukrainians had recently returned from Ukraine, where he had participated in efforts to broker negotiations between representatives of the government and the protesters. Mr Romaniw spoke of the unwillingness of the government side to countenance concessions that could lead to a de-escalation of tension. He noted the broad spectrum of political opinion represented among the protesters and the consequent difficulty of achieving consensus among the anti-government protesters.
Jan Pakulski, Professor of Sociology at the University of Tasmania and president of the Australian Institute of Polish Affairs, drew comparisons between the current critical situation in Ukraine and the circumstances in Poland in 1981 prior to the introduction of martial law in that country. He saw the possibility of a long-term positive resolution in a culture of dialogue between opposing sides and grass-roots work to strengthen civil-society structures.
Leslie Holmes, Professor of Political Science at the University of Melbourne, set out the major underlying cause of Ukrainians’ discontent with their government and with the political, economic and administrative system: corruption. The enormous wealth enjoyed by Ukraine’s elites, which the population can only conclude has been corruptly amassed, deprives the regime of legitimacy.
Marko Pavlyshyn, Professor of Ukrainian Studies at Monash University, said that Ukrainians protesting against their government wanted to live in a country where the human rights are sacrosanct, elections free and fair, the judiciary independent, and government serves the interests of the population. These are familiar European values; in that sense, the protests are still about the wish of Ukrainians to be part of Europe. At the same time Ukraine must cultivate normal and productive relations with Russia – in the ideal, a Russia that is also democratic and European.
Natalie Doyle, Deputy Director of the Monash European and EU Centre, Senior Lecturer in French and a co-supervisor of a PhD on contemporary Ukrainian intellectuals spoke of the expectations of freedom, especially freedom of movement, that young people in Ukraine share with their counterparts in Europe and all over the world. She pointed to the detrimental consequences of the European Union’s reluctance to contemplate the possibility of Ukraine’s joining the EU.
Speakers underscored the importance of international pressure, including personal sanctions (refusal of visas and freezing of assets) against members of the Ukrainian regime, in influencing the thinking of the Ukrainian government. A letter urging the Prime Minister of Australia to respond urgently to the Ukrainian crisis was signed by 87 people.
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