Current Affairs Ex-foreign minister Schwarzenberg sees echoes of Velvet Revolution in Ukraine
Former Czech Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg visited Ukraine over the weekend, openly comparing demonstrations in Kiev’s Independence Square with the 1989 Czechoslovak Velvet Revolution. The Top 09 leader undertook the visit as part of an ostensible fact-finding mission in his new capacity as the chairman of the parliamentary Foreign Relations Committee. However, back home he has found himself the target of criticism for his vocal support of the opposition. I spoke to Mr. Schwarzenberg about the trip and began by asking him why he went:
“For a very simple reason: I was elected chairman of the foreign policy committee of the Czech parliament. It is important for me to see the reality on the ground, and not merely rely on media and television reports.”
So what is the atmosphere like in Independence Square at the moment?
“It’s remarkable because these young people are there more than a month now. They are fully resistant against the cold and miserable weather. And they are full of enthusiasm. Each evening there are tens of thousands, sometimes hundreds of thousands of people meeting there. It is very organized. They have quite a good supply of food. Of course there are barricades because they are afraid of some kind of attack by the police. And they intend to go on until the government decides to go down the European path.”
You were quoted as saying about the visit that there is nothing equivalent in Ukraine to the Czech Civic Forum movement, which existed in 1989 to help facilitate the transition away from communist rule. So is that a problem?
“The opposition still lacks a united leadership. Yulia Tymoshenko is still in prison. And those young people demonstrating in Independence Square are not very enthusiastic about [the opposition] political parties. They consider them allies, but they don’t identify themselves with them.”
There have also been criticisms levelled against the demonstrators for not spelling out specific demands…
“What they are asking for is perfectly clear. They want Ukraine to move towards Europe. When the president stopped the process of Ukraine’s movement towards the EU, that’s when the protests began. And, of course, they would like to have a change of regime. They don’t like the authoritarian presidential regime that exists there; there are too many stories about prevailing corruption and so on. So they would like to have a normal parliamentary democracy.”
Could you tell us about your itinerary while there? I understand you didn’t get to meet any representatives of the Ukrainian government.
“My first intention was not to meet with officials but to see the movement and the young people who were assembling in Independence Square.”
“You can see that it is the same enthusiastic mood. There is also a similar mood of goodwill. The major difference is that in Prague we had Václav Havel, Civic Forum and a clear leadership of the whole revolutionary movement. In Poland they had Lech Walesa. It is not quite clear in Kiev who the chief is. And I think that they have to address this question.”