March 9, 2014 2:06 pm

Transcript Episode 27 March 9

THE WEST BLOCK

Episode 27, Season 3

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Host: Tom Clark

Guest Interviews: Global National Asia correspondent Paul Johnson, Russian Ambassador to Canada Georgiy Mamedov, Canadian lawyer livin in Ukraine Daniel Bilak, and Ukrainian MP and Kyiv mayoral hopeful Lesya Orobets,

Story continues below

Location: Kyiv, Ukraine

Please check against delivery: thewestblock.ca

Tom Clark:

It is Sunday morning in Kyiv.  We begin with the standoff in Crimea as Russia tightens its grip.  What is the Kremlin up to?  We have some tough questions for Russia’s Ambassador to Canada.

Then to the revolution, turning the tide on Ukraine’s politics of corruption; meet one of the most fascinating up and coming politicians in the country.

Then, a look at the sights and sounds of the people of the Maidan; they paid in blood to change a country and they captured the imagination of the world.

It is Sunday, March the 9th.  I’m Tom Clark and as you can see we’re a long way from The West Block on Parliament Hill.  Behind me, is Independence Square in Kyiv, Ukraine.  And as this new week begins, war and revolution hang heavy in the air and the outcome of both, very uncertain.

The uprising in this square has created more than 87 martyrs to the cause of freedom; most of them shot dead two weeks ago.  But the people in the square, known as the Maidan, won the battle.  The police and the corrupt government that it supported are both gone.  New elections are planned but the Maidan takes nothing on faith; this revolution is only halfway done.  But there’s a more pressing crisis, Crimea.  This weekend some 40 international observers have been trying to enter Crimea to bear witness to events.  But Russia has stopped them, even yesterday, firing warning shots to keep them away.

Global’s Paul Johnson has been in Crimea all week and he joins me now from the capital city of Simferopol.

Paul do people down there have a sense of being under occupation and is there a sense of impending war?

Paul Jonson:

Well Tom that totally depends on who you are talking to.  If you’re talking to some of the Russian speaking population of the Crimean Peninsula who are pro-Moscow right now, which would include a lot of people out at this rally right now; they’ll tell you they feel almost like this is a liberation.  They’re happy that these pro-Russian forces have fanned out across the Crimean Peninsula.  They view these forces as people who are going to protect them and guarantee their future as a part of Russia.  But if you talk to other groups here, it’s a totally different situation.  The ethic Tatar population; these are Muslims who have lived here for hundreds of years, they are very worried about the possibility of joining Russia or becoming more “Russified” here, if you’ll allow that.  Also, a lot of the people here of Ukrainian decent are also very worried about the situation.  They would like this region to remain part of Ukraine.  So it’s really split along language and ethnic lines down here.

Tom Clark:

Paul there’s going to be a referendum in Crimea in a week from now.  The question being: do you want to remain part of Ukraine or do you want to join Russia?  Canada has already said it’s not going to recognize this because they say it is illegal but just how fair and democratic is this referendum going to be?

Paul Johnson:
Tom, I don’t think there is any way that the West or the international community is going to consider this referendum fair and that they’ll recognize the outcome of it.  There are a lot of people who are Russian speakers here, who are actually opposed to this.  They’ve been turning out at some of these rallies and they’ve been beaten by some of these gangs of armed men.  So there’s really no free expression for people here that we’ve been able to see.  Also, the media here, appears to have been taken over by the pro-Moscow forces, if not by Moscow directly.  For instance, yesterday, we went to a local TV station that has had their TV signal taken off the air and replaced by a news channel coming out of Russia.  Also, the international journalists here have been facing a lot of violence in recent days; beatings, their equipment being stolen.  This is not the kind of environment where I think any reasonable judgement could be made that this was an open, free and fair referendum process.

Tom Clark:

Okay thanks Paul.  That’s Global’s Paul Johnson joining us from the Crimean Capital of Simferopol.

Well the Russian position on the Ukraine has been a bit of a moving target all week long.  At first, Putin insisted that he had no designs on Crimea, and then, he sent in the troops.  Then, he denied he had any troops until the video showed otherwise. So, is it an invasion as some say or a move to protect what the Russians see as their interests.

Earlier I spoke with Russia’s Ambassador to Canada, Georgiy Mamedov.

 

Ambassador Mamedov good to have you back on The West Block again.  Let me get right to this.  There is not a single country in the world that has said that you are doing the right thing.  Not a single country coming to your defense, does that tell you something?

Georgiy Mamedov:

Well I think we have plenty of friends.  You can count China and it’s almost one quarter of mankind.

Tom Clark:

But China didn’t defend what you’re doing.  I mean China at best is remaining neutral in this.

Georgiy Mamedov:

We didn’t ask for any defence because we don’t believe we are doing anything wrong.  We think what’s happening now is a chaotic revolution inside our neighbour country and we certainly hope they will sort it out.  It’s not between us and Ukraine or between us and West so we don’t feel in any way guilty.  So we’re not asking for any kind of help.

Tom Clark:

You know Ambassador what we’re hearing from the Russian side is that this was a military coup d’état here in Kyiv, that the citizens are being terrorized, and that Russia has to come in and protect them but I’ve got to tell you, I’m here at the barricades in Kyiv.  It is very calm.  It is very orderly.  There is nobody being terrorized around here.  Is it possible that Vladimir Putin is just misinformed about what’s going on?

Georgiy Mamedov:

When we had revolution in 1991, there wasn’t any chaos or terror in the streets because it was hidden from the onlookers, so I think when somebody shoots head of staff of a legitimate president; it’s certainly not inauguration style in Washington, DC.

Tom Clark:

Now Canada has imposed some sanctions on Russia as have most western countries, is that going to make Russia think twice?

Georgiy Mamedov:

Well it cuts both ways.  You know that Europe depends on us for gas and oil and I think in terms of G8 for example, both Russia and our western partners are equally interested in fighting terrorism together, in resolving Syrian crisis or making an agreement with Iran to deny Iranians nuclear weapons.  So I really don’t think it’s something to scare another partner with.  It will hurt everybody.

Tom Clark:

Your president has said that he simply can’t ignore cries for help but here we have about 40 international observers trying to get into Crimea being prevented by the Russians from going in to see what’s going on. How does that make any sense?

Georgiy Mamedov:

You know the president of the United States calls us almost every day so I think there is a quite a hope that we will negotiate an arrangement that will help Ukrainians to sit together; government in Crimea and government in Kyiv and make some sense of the agreement that was signed thanks to European Union on the 21st of February.  If observers will be needed to verify this arrangement, I think we will do our best to facilitate them coming in too.  But first of all there must be an agreement; just having people around doesn’t help anybody.  Look at the observers in the Middle East.  They didn’t prevent any wars lately, be it in Lebanon or elsewhere.

Tom Clark:

Well in that regard, there is this referendum on March 16th in Crimea and yet, virtually every country in the world says they’re not going to pay any attention to the results of that so why have it at all?

Georgiy Mamedov:

First of all, it was not our design by expression of will of the Crimean people.  I hope next time you will be able to get in touch with me from Sevastopol or Simferopol and you should ask them why they decided to have this referendum.  And secondly, I think Canadians are great specialists on referendum, probably you can share of your advice with people in Crimea; how to stage referendums.

Tom Clark:

Ambassador Mamedov is there any chance that this is going to end in war?

Georgiy Mamedov:

No, no chance whatsoever and you have our word for that.  You have word of president of the United States, secretary general of NATO so forget about war.  But it will be a period of serious tension and the sooner western countries will realize that this problem wasn’t caused by Russia but by revolution, turmoil and chaos in Ukraine, and help us help Ukrainians get together and resolve it on the basis of agreement that was drafted by European Union; the sooner the better.

Tom Clark:

Ambassador Mamedov awfully good of you of you to take the time to be on the show today.  Thanks very much.

Georgiy Mamedov:

Thank you Tom, I appreciate it.  Be careful in Kyiv.

Tom Clark:

Coming up next, a Canadian caught in the chaos of revolution is now part of the rebirth.  And as we go to break scenes of confrontation in Crimea; we’ll be right back.

Break

Tom Clark:

Welcome back to this special edition of The West Block from Kyiv.  Well we are overlooking the centre of revolution; Independence Square or the Maidan as its known here.  Three months ago, this is where demonstrators gathered to show their disapproval of the government’s decision to abandon closer ties with Europe.  It turned into an all-out revolution; a rejection of Ukraine’s entire political class and their culture of corruption.  The President Viktor Yanukovych and most of his government fled.  An interim government has been installed but it’s really the people here in the square that are still in charge.  And it was in that square that we came across Dan Bilak.  He is a Canadian lawyer who has been an advisor to the Ukrainian governments in the past.  He’s lived here for 22 years.  Here’s that interview:

Dan thanks very much for joining us here.  You know we’re standing in front of one of the barricades here; one of many, many around this square.  You’ve been down here a lot, what is the message of the Maidan?

Daniel Bilak:

Well it’s actually not very complicated Tom.  I mean essentially the people that were on the Maidan want the kind of life that we have in Canada; the same sorts of things.  They weren’t fighting for anything other than the right to make their own choices to choose their own governments and to live in a society where you hold your government to account.

Tom Clark:

But there is such a fundamental distrust of government in this country.  I mean you talk to the people in the Maidan, they don’t even trust the interim government; they don’t trust any politician.  And they’ve had revolutions before and they’ve been fooled before.  They’ve been betrayed by their leaders before.  Can that happen again?

Daniel Bilak:

It’s interesting that you raised the issue of institutions because I think this is one of the characteristics about Ukrainians is that generally they don’t like any government because for most of their history, the government’s been somebody else’s.  Our indigenous institutions here have largely been the village and the church and that has really formed the Ukrainian identity to a large extent.  It’s been very local.

Tom Clark:

Because national governments so often as you say, have been foreigners who have taken over the country.

Daniel Bilak:

Well they were Polish, Lithuanian, they were German, they were Russian; what have you.  And even the government or the institutions of state that Ukrainian inherited were soviet and I’ve always maintained that you can’t sow the seeds of democracy on asphalt of soviet institutions.  And that’s absolutely what happened.  It’s a non-transparent structure and breeds corruption, and it got out of control.

Tom Clark:

And corruption is such a part of this landscape but take a look at all the other aspects.  I mean first of all, they’re in a midst of a revolution.  They haven’t even finished it yet.  There is a possible invasion on the southern border.  The economy is in freefall.  I mean the odds are not in their favour at this point.

Daniel Bilak:

Well I’m going to say something very controversial.  I’ve been here almost 23 years and I’ve never been more optimistic about the future of this country.  Precisely because of the fact that we now have a citizen-based culture that’s taken over.  And I mean the fact that Ukrainians have shown so clearly to the point of risking their lives, that they ascribe and aspire to the same values that we hold dear in Canada and Europe; the so-called European values.

Tom Clark:

But how do you get the corruption out of the system?  I mean corruption has bled this country almost dry. Even after the Orange revolution, they were still at the trough and still taking billions of dollars away from people.  How do you get corruption out of the system?

Daniel Bilak:

Just pick up where I left off.  I mean you have a citizenry; it is not going to let its government get away with anything that it thinks is not in its interests.  It’s all about shining light in dark places; transparency.  A system of transparent decision-making, accountable decision-making and the effective delivery of government services closest to people at the ground.

Tom Clark:

Dan great talking to you.  Thank you very much.

Daniel Bilak:

Thank you.

Tom Clark:
When we return, a most remarkable politician who may hold the future of Kyiv in her hands.  And voices from Independence Square; from death to hope and remembrance.

Break

Break

Tom Clark:

Welcome back to The West Block from Kyiv.  Well what’s happening here is really a revolution without a leader.  It is perhaps the truest form of people power.  But there is one emerging politician that the world might want to keep an eye on.

Her name is Lesya Orobets.  Go for a walk with and it won’t take long before you’re stopped by enthusiastic supporters.

Tom Clark:

That’s okay.  No, no, no, you campaign.  Go ahead.

She’s an MP running to be mayor of Kyiv and she is passionate about democracy.

Lesya Orobets:

We will have real volunteers; real progress created by volunteers for Kyiv.

Tom Clark:

She stopped long enough to give us a revealing look at her vision for her city and her country.

They say that the art of politics is setting priorities.  When you take a look at all of this and everything that’s happening in your country, where do you even start trying to set priorities?

Lesya Orobets:

Our government has two major tasks of emergency to cope.  First of all, the war with Russia, unprovoked aggression against us.  Our territory being occupied.  We are on the brink of humanitarian catastrophe and the military conflict.  Issue number two is economic crisis:  as the previous governments stole the budget and ran with that.  So we have to find out how to restart our economy working.

Tom Clark:

I want to bring you to your city because you would like to be the mayor of Kyiv.  The Maidan is the most important feature of this city right now.  What was your involvement with it?  When did you join Maidan and what’s your position with it now?

Lesya Orobets:

I was number 50 to come to Maidan on the 21st of November and stayed here literally each day. That day, we together with … the very first MP come in.  We told the police, please do not attack those people coming here, there were like 100.  We officially as Members of Parliament meeting with them so we have a good umbrella; do not touch them.  And you know all this started there as President Yanukovych refused to sign the association agreement with the EU and look what happened after.

Tom Clark:

But let me ask you though, you’re number 50 in the square, what did you really at that point expect would happen?

Lesya Orobets:

We have a very stupid video where I’m speaking with a microphone and telling some fantastic things like first we get a hundred people, then a thousand, then ten hundred thousand, and then millions will come and we will change the country.  That’s really what I’m telling and right now I’m looking at this video and then saying, I couldn’t have been so predictive.  I mean that’s not my talent.

Tom Clark:

Except you did change a country.

Lesya Orobets:

Yes but we made only a first necessary step, now we have to rebuild it, set new rules, and meet expectations; very high ones.

Tom Clark:

So again, let’s talk about your city.  What has to be done here and you’ve touched on it.  You talked about corruption which is everywhere in Ukraine and was at the heart of all of your problems before.  How do you get rid of the corruption in this city?

Lesya Orobets:

First of all the inevitability of punishment.  We have good rules.  We have a criminal code, a perfect one, but no one was put into jail for bribes or asking corruption things.  First things first, we have to change the attitude of civil servants to those who are their clients.  Because right now they are acting as they are gods.  They ask for bribes, you have to stand in queue, you have to spend all your time and efforts to get a piece of paper to solve another issue for another piece of paper and the whole queue of problems.  We have to reshape it.  We have a very good example how Europe has made it and Georgia for example have already done huge reforms in terms of public servant attitude.  Change the attitude, change the result.

Tom Clark:

Can you put into a sentence or two for me what the hope of Ukraine and Kyiv is right now?  If you had to, on a campaign poster, say what you want in the next year, next five years, what would that be?

Lesya Orobets:

You know we are dreamers.  We want it all and we want it now.  We want a new country.  You know people put their lives actually here in this very place for having the new country, for having hope for their children to live better; have perspectives.  We know why we suffered.  With our Maidan we ruined dream of Putin for restore of former USSR Russian Empire and now he’s trying to ruin our dream for new European strong Ukraine.

Tom Clark:

It has been a real pleasure talking to you.  Thank you so much.

Lesya Orobets:

Thank you so much Tom.

Tom Clark:

Known to the world now simply as the Maidan, this square is in equal measure, the heart of revolution, the centre resistance to invasion and the sacred ground for those who died for freedom.  We’ve spent the last week here and there is something about the spirit of this place.  The sense of quiet confidence of victory that is best told through the voices, the faces and the music of the people of the Maidan.

Visuals and voices of the people of Maidan

Male Voice:

It is our country.  I love my country.  I have a mother.  I have a sister.

Female Voice:

People all over the Ukraine were suffering from Yanukovych and I’m sure Canadian people know it.  And I reckon we want to know the world that we are just peaceful people.

Male Voice:

I don’t trust the new government but I trust in old people, in old people, in Ukrainian people.

Female Voice:

The Crimea problem is like bigger problem and maybe after we will solve this problem, we will step back to government because we need to save our territory and to save our country.

Tom Clark:

It has been a fascinating and moving week here in Kyiv but there is lots happening in Canada as well.  Prime Minister Stephen Harper is on his way to South Korea today to sign a free trade agreement.  We have an interview with Trade Minister Ed Fast.  You can find that on our website:  www.thewestblock.ca.

We’re back again next Sunday.  Until then, I’m Tom Clark.  Goodbye from Kyiv.

© Shaw Media, 2014

Report an error

Comments