He is arguably the most famous contemporary Ukrainian writer. In an interview with DW, Yuri Andrukhovych discusses what he sees as the exaggeration of divisions in his country and what he hopes for from the West.
Deutsche Welle: Ukraine has now twice missed the chance to become an open and democratic civil society. That happened neither after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 nor after the Orange Revolution in 2004 and 2005. Do you think the country will use its third chance now?
Yuri Andrukhovych: It is, indeed, the third chance. Will the country be able to use it? There's no other choice for us. But considered objectively, the economic situation is a hundred times worse than it was after the Orange Revolution. In early 2005, the economy was still on an upswing. Back then, the situation would have been very favorable, but now it's nearly catastrophic.
I've been following news about Yatsenyuk's appearance in Ukraine's parliament. The situation he's described is desperate, particularly the federal deficit. Without foreign aid, this country will be bankrupt. Yatsenyuk announced a series of unpopular measures on Thursday (27.03.2014), according to which the price for gas will increase by half as of May 1. That will be very painful for the population. But that's the only way for us to be able to count on international aid.
Massive cuts are looming for various state offices as well as wide-scale lay-offs. The population accepts the privatization of buildings and properties currently held by the state - dachas, palaces. But the rising prices, the inflation and the devaluation of our currency against the dollar and euro - that's very hard for the people. That threatens to divide society.
There's frequent talk of a divide in Ukrainian society - often described as the rift between the Ukrainian-speaking West and the Russian-speaking South and East. People are seen as in favor of the EU or in favor of Russia along similar lines.
I think the divide is presented in an exaggerated way. In my view, perhaps 10 percent of the people are against an independent Ukrainian state. But I think there are a lot of people who are disoriented and socially passive. They don't see the complexity of the country's current position and have problems understanding the reality. It's easy for those actively opposed to Ukrainian independence to exploit such people. We've seen that in the eastern parts of the country, where there are attempts at destabilizing things. Last weekend brought an example. But it was just a minority of 1,000 people who took to the streets, and many of them were "demonstrator tourists" from Russia.
You can't draw the reverse conclusion that Ukrainian society is homogenous. But Russia's actions, the constant military threat - in fact, you can even call it the threat of war - is bringing Ukrainians together. People in all parts of the country are seeing the need to act. In light of the 30,000 to 50,000 Russian soldiers stationed on our eastern border, people in Ukraine are unified - in the East and in the West.
Wouldn't Yatsenyuk's government be well-advised to draw political powers from eastern Ukraine into the everyday political process, including representatives from the Party of Regions? After all, not all of the former representatives of what was previously Yanukovych's party have been discredited.
Yes, that's needed. You can't dissolve or ban the Party of Regions. The presidential election is in two months. I think the East will have its own candidate. The eastern parts of the country definitely need to have the opportunity to influence the country's direction. People must be able to exercise all of their rights, and that has to be a matter of course.
What is the media's role in the events in Ukraine - in traditional formats but also in social networks and online?
The Internet has played an immense role. I'm not referring solely to social networks such as Twitter and Facebook. A new television culture emerged during the Maidan protests - independent online TV channels such as Hromadske TV, which means "public television," and Espresso TV along with many others. They didn't use advertising, funding themselves instead with donations. Their employees were volunteers. Those were civil society projects that worked really well. Additionally, there were and are successful Internet newspapers like Ukrainska Pravda.
How can Germany and the EU support Ukraine?
Now that we're talking about a danger of war, it's my biggest wish that the West makes two things possible: Ukraine's accession into NATO and the EU. That would be a guarantee that the threats from the Russian side won't become reality. I'm seeing that our government isn't formulating membership in NATO as a goal. Perhaps that has tactical reasons ahead of the polls. But I think there should be open discussion of NATO accession. It's possible that people in eastern Ukraine aren't yet ready to accept this reality. Current polls on the question would be interesting. I'm very glad that the commissioner in charge of EU expansion, Stefan Füle, has issued clear words in support of Ukraine becoming an EU member.
Yuri Andrukhovych is one of Ukraine's leading intellectuals and well-versed in German culture, having been a guest in Germany many times. He is now preparing for a half-year term as a guest professor at Berlin's Humboldt University. Due to the events in his home country, he said he has mixed feelings about being absent from Ukraine in the coming weeks.