Ukraine puts our bank problems into a better perspective

Opinion: Commentators blame EU for Ireland’s ‘austerity’, as if there was some painless option

Sat, Mar 8, 2014, 00:01

The arrival of two leading Ukrainian politicians in Dublin to plead with European Union leaders for meaningful action to prevent a Russian takeover of their country put the simultaneous debate about Ireland’s legacy bank debt into perspective. Whatever the outcome of the Government’s effort to secure a more favourable deal on the debt, our problems look like small potatoes compared with those facing Ukraine.

Former Ukrainian prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko and Vitali Klitschko, a leader of the uprising that toppled Viktor Yanukovych from power, were in Dublin for the annual congress of the European People’s Party (EPP) at Convention Centre Dublin, which was attended by an array of EU prime ministers.

The two Ukrainian leaders warned that failure to prevent Russian intervention would have damaging implications for the world. “The imperial ambitions of Russia have to be stopped,” Tymoshenko said.

The burning desire of so many Ukrainians to join the EU, or at least move into its orbit and away from Russia, was the key motivating factor that underpinned the eventual change of government in Kiev.

It is so easy for people in this country to take for granted the enormous benefits that go with being a member state of the EU. For a start we are sheltered by geography from the harsh reality endured over the past century by the countries of central Europe that border Russia.

Thirst for freedom and prosperity
We also take for granted the basic democratic institutions, enjoyed by Irish people for generations, so that it is hard to grasp the thirst for freedom and prosperity that motivates people in Ukraine.

Over the past two decades its political leaders, including some of those now restored to power, have failed abjectly to avail of the opportunity that presented itself when the Soviet Union collapsed. Corruption has been an endemic problem in Ukrainian politics, infecting all sides.

The newly installed Ukrainian authorities haven’t exactly covered themselves in glory either by the way in which they have shown disrespect to the country’s substantial Russian-speaking population, providing a pretext for Russian intervention.

It is worth noting that in 1990 the gross domestic product (GDP) of Ukraine was slightly bigger than that of its western neighbour Poland. Ukraine has a population of just under 50 million, whereas Poland has just under 40 million, but the two countries were in a similar position when the Soviet yoke was lifted.

Since 1990, Ukraine’s GDP has more than doubled; but Poland’s has increased by eight times and living standards there are now far higher than its eastern neighbour’s. The role of EU membership in helping Poland dramatically improve the standard of living of its people as well as ensuring the preservation of democratic values and human rights has not been lost on the people of Ukraine. For many of them the EU represents a promised land of freedom and the rule of law.

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