[OPINION] Ukraine honors 20 years of independence: aiming for a better future

The year 2011 is an important date for the entire former Soviet Union region. Twenty »»

The year 2011 is an important date for the entire former Soviet Union region. Twenty years ago the Soviet Union ceased to exist. A group of newly independent states appeared on the map in the blink of an eye. Ukraine was among those new emerging entities and one of the few that survived a difficult transformation without violence and armed confrontation.

This was the second time in the 20th century when the people of Ukraine had a unique opportunity to create their own independent state. The first such opportunity came after the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917 and lasted only a few years. In 1922, the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic, proclaimed by the Bolsheviks, became part of the newly created Soviet Union. Ten years later, in 1932-33, millions of Ukrainians died in what is now well known as an artificially created famine, Holodomor.

It was only in 1991 when Ukraine got a second chance to restore its statehood. On Aug. 24 Ukraine will celebrate the 20th anniversary of its independence. These 20 years were not easy at all. The country survived a severe economic crisis in the 1990s, a period of strengthening of statehood on the threshold of the new century and intensive development within the last decade. On this path, Ukraine never deviated from the course of democracy, although not always acknowledged by our friends in the West.

The fact of the matter is that after the restoration of its independence, the young state had to resolve many difficult problems simultaneously. From the defunct Soviet Union Ukraine inherited not only some industrial assets but also a huge debt, a stagnant economy, a sharp decline in production, outdated technologies, hyperinflation and unemployment.

Economic instability resulted in political instability. Almost every Ukrainian government was doomed to last no longer than a year, and sometimes its own members had polar opposite views on the state’s development strategy. That is why political life in Ukraine was neither easy nor still. Today we have 189 political parties officially registered with the Ministry of Justice. It is an absolute diversification of democracy.

In a historically very short period of time Ukraine has managed to embark on large-scale privatization, introduce its own currency and establish a sizable banking sector and has been able to attract enough foreign investment to re-energize production of major goods. Ukraine is a leader in steel and grain production and is among a few countries in the world that can produce planes and space missiles. Despite being constantly accused of abusing democracy, Ukraine has conducted five presidential and six parliamentary elections without violence that have been recognized by the international community.

It is no secret that one of the main problems in developing the statehood of Ukraine was to maintain a balanced foreign policy. Ukraine, which is strategically situated between Russia, the European Union and the Black Sea region, could not afford to ignore either of those dimensions. This defined Ukraine’s efforts to develop relations with the West while maintaining friendly strategic contacts with the East and South. Ukraine has acquired membership in the World Trade Organization (WTO), established strategic relations with the US and Poland, is in the final stage of signing an Agreement on Association and Comprehensive Free Trade Zone with the European Union and developing strategic relations with Turkey. Ukraine is the only country outside NATO that participates in all NATO operations.

Unfortunately, Ukraine was able to achieve political and economic stability only after the 2010 presidential elections. President Viktor Yanukovych has presented an ambitious program of comprehensive reforms that will bring Ukraine closer to internationally recognized standards. Reforms are always painful but necessary, and no doubt will ensure a better future for Ukraine.

In addition to economic reforms, Ukraine intends to strengthen its position in the international arena. It is no accident that Ukraine announced its candidacy for non-permanent membership on the UN Security Council for 2016-2017.

In short, Ukraine is very optimistic entering its third decade of independence. Implementation of urgent reforms will transform our economy; strengthening relations with the EU, Russia, the United States and Turkey will bring more confidence in taking our rightful place among other actors on the international stage. No doubt parliamentary elections next year will be conducted in a democratic and open manner, allowing all political forces to present their views on the future of Ukraine. The choice is always in the hands of the people. The Ukrainian nation chose its path in 1991. We never regretted our choice and will continue our efforts to propel the independence, stability and prosperity of the Ukrainian state.

*Dr. Sergiy Korsunsky is the Ukrainian ambassador to Turkey