Ukrainian PEN asks Dutch colleagues to support a YES vote


On the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement and Dutch Referendum.

An Open Letter to the Dutch Colleagues

Kyiv, March 16, 2016

Dear Colleagues,

On the eve of the Dutch national referendum on the EU-Ukraine Association and Free Trade Agreement, we kindly ask you to use all your moral authority and institutional weight to support a YES vote. Your YES will determine the fate of 45 million people in Ukraine, the EU’s largest neighbor, for years to come.

Ukraine is a fledgling democracy that is struggling to overcome a grim legacy of colonial subjugation, totalitarian terror, and postcommunist oligarchic misrule. It is Ukrainian civil society that has pushed our governments towards closer cooperation with the EU, towards acceptance and unambiguous implementation of European rules and standards, democratic institutions and practices, liberal stances and policies.

For us, the Association Agreement is not about the economy, if only because, due to restrictive tariffs and trade barriers in crucial sectors, the EU will benefit most in the short to medium term. It is not even about the possibility of membership, however desirable. Most Ukrainian actually recognize its current infeasibility – and the Agreement does not envisage anything of the kind.

Rather, the Agreement is about Ukraine’s becoming fully European. It’s about guidance and guardianship, about “learning by doing”, about the “conditionality machine” that makes further cooperation between the EU and Ukraine dependent on the speed and scope of implemented reforms.

For us, the Agreement has above all a symbolic importance. This is exactly how the Dutch vote will be perceived in Ukraine: as either an expression of European moral integrity and solidarity with a new democracy or as an ominous sign of growing parochialism, egotism, and ambiguity.

The timing of the referendum is dramatic. Unfortunately, Ukraine could become a collateral victim of the ongoing refugee crisis, Mr. Putin’s poisonous propaganda, and deepening Western indifference to its own professed values. Ironically, Ukraine neither serves as a transit route for nor supplies its own refugees to the West, – largely due to ongoing cooperation with the EU in improving border control and institutional capacity.

It is up to the Dutch people to make their choice. We can only appeal to your moral sense, humanistic tradition, and strategic concern for the continent’s future.

Whatever you do, we Ukrainians will not give up in our drive to join Europe. We have paid too high a price for our European choice throughout history and we will continue our westward drive – either in cooperation with the EU or without. A NO vote by the Netherlands won’t stop Ukraine’s pro-European choice. The only problem is that the human costs of the latter course would be much higher.

We have no doubt that there are enough people in your country to tip the balance, and we hope that they will actively support the just cause.


On behalf of the Ukrainian PEN

Mykola Riabchuk, the president

Andrey Kurkov, vice-president

Myroslav Marynovych, former president and long-time political prisoner

Volodymyr Panchenko, vice president, professor of the University of “Kyiv-Mohyla Academy”

Leonid Finberg, board member, director of the Center for Jewish Studies at NaUKMA

Kostiantyn Sigov, board member, director of the Center for European Studies at NaUKMA

Yevhen Zakharov, board member, head of the Kharkiv Human Rights Group

Elena Stiazhkina, board member, professor of the Donetsk National University

Taras Vozniak, board member, editor of the “Ї” magazine

Andriy Pavlyshyn, board member, chair of the Amnesty International Ukraine

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