Today, Ukraine is no longer a subject that can be shoved around and made to follow the whims and pressures of greater powers. Rather, over the last few years, the country has acquired an increasing sense of national identity, something which history had prevented it from developing, also with respect to liberal democracy. Moreover, this finds its expression in the repeated elections, a phenomenon which should not be understood as the herald of Ukraine's division between East and West but acknowledged as an effort to live European civilization.
The Orange Revolution of Viktor Yushchenko - Ukraine's president in office - pursues the democratic ideals of the European Revolution of 1848, and thus ties in with this significant event in the path to today's Europe. Through this, Viktor Yushchenko has already acquired a proper place in European history, not just for himself, but also for his country.
Ukraine has a European background. This should also be made apparent by the colors of today's Ukrainian flag, blue and yellow. They are the colors of the Scandinavian Varangians, who once ruled from Kiev, as well as of contemporary Sweden, and they are the colors of medieval Galicia, which extended beyond the Dnieper River. The ordinances and privileges of Magdeburg were introduced, and at the end of the 18th century, Germans settled in the South of Ukraine. Add to this the Polish, and therefore European, influence over centuries, even after the division of Poland in 1792, 1793, and 1795.
Until the late 1930s, contemporaries - including the Galician born Austrian writer and journalist Joseph Roth - declare that fundamentally, Ukraine was a product of the Germans, an anti-Russian shield that was created at the end of World War I. This is not true, as the national movement in Ukraine had come about in the mid-19th century, especially in Western Ukraine, an area which had been annexed and was ruled by the Austrians, and which was influenced by the events taking place in Western Europe at the time. Yet, the fact that the Germans interfered in 1917-1918, especially in the fight against the Bolsheviks, is undisputed even in Ukraine. The atrocities committed between 1941 and 1944 by Germans and in the name of Germany, within the Reich Commission of Ukraine and against prisoners of war, obligate Germany; and connect the two countries.
In 1989, the Federal Republic of Germany is the first Western country to open a consulate general in Kiev. In October 1991, on the occasion of the German cultural week in Ukraine, the German Minister of Foreign Affairs, Hans-Dietrich Genscher, is the first Western foreign minister to pay an official visit to Ukraine. After the Ukrainian referendum of December 1, 1991, which resulted in Ukraine's secession from the Soviet Union, Germany immediately recognizes Ukraine's national sovereignty. Early in 1992 Germany upgrades its consulate to an embassy, thus making a place for itself in the history of Ukraine as the first Western country to have opened up an embassy in Kiev. The first official trip of independent Ukraine's initial president, Leonid Kravchuk, is a visit to Germany in February 1992; he pays another visit to Germany shortly afterwards. During German chancellor Helmut Kohl's visit to Kiev in June 1993, a common declaration, setting the ground for bilateral relations, is signed. This declaration is exceptionally comprehensive and amicable, and has not lost any of its significance to this day. Helmut Kohl states, "Ukraine needs Europe, but Europe also needs Ukraine."
Today's German policies should give credit, in a much more visible manner, to Germany's historical ties to Ukraine. If Germany fails to do so, there is a great danger that it will lose its historical credibility. Burgeoning economic partnerships would also be harmed. It is Germany's responsibility to ensure that Ukraine is perceived the way it should be: as a European country. Germany should consider it its duty to enable the European Ukraine to become a member of the European Union. Ukraine can do without NATO membership, and should, out of respect for Russia's concerns. Ireland, Sweden Finland, Austria, Malta and Cyprus are not members of NATO, and France is not militarily, but all of the aforementioned countries are members of the European Union. This status should also be sought for Ukraine. The German political class should further work towards making this provision the basis of the transatlantic approach to Ukraine.
Dr. Heinrich Bonnenberg was advisor of the Administration of the President of Ukraine by order of the German Minister of Finance from 1997 to 2003.
Related materials from the Atlantic Community:
- Dire Consequences of Ukraine and Georgia Joining NATO
- Ukraine, NATO, and German Foreign Policy
- Surrealistic Debate Over NATO Membership for Ukraine