My first question today is regarding human rights. How do you see the human rights situation in Ukraine?
“I think the very first fundamental right of every human being is the right to live in peace. As you already know, there is a war going on in Ukraine. It is an invasion that comes from Russia. Abuses are going on, including against many rights that would be normal for a democratic nation. What I really like about what is happening is that the international and European communities now better understand what is happening in the Eastern part of Ukraine. They understand that it is not a civil war being fought between Ukrainians but in reality is a Russian invasion. Politically sophisticated people realize that this war has a geopolitical nature and they look at this issue in a much wider and more global context because what is happening in Ukraine today is medieval and imperial behavior from Russia which has shown no respect for human life. And where have you seen a respect for human rights in Russia? Those who want to talk about human rights in that country will not live for long, as you well know. Ukraine did not start this conflict and Ukraine will not finish it.
But we want to draw everyone’s attention to the fact that over the last few years Russia was able to give a final shape to this belt of instability that surrounds the region. Ten years ago when the European Neighborhood Project began there were two conflicts going on in Eastern Europe – Nagorno-Karabakh (the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan) and Transnistria. Ten years down the line there are six conflicts and Russia is the reason for all those conflicts. If Winston Churchhill were with us today, he would have probably slapped us, as what is happening today is very similar to what he had said in his famous Fulton speech–“be careful and beware, because from the Baltic Sea to the Black Sea, Europe has a new Iron Curtain that divides two Europes”. And I think this is still a key problem in Europe today. This problem is becoming so heated that its implications are becoming more and more global. So let us not talk about GDP growth or production cost or financial results that could be expected from Ukraine. It is not a priority today. All of a sudden when you ask about human rights in Ukraine today, you already know that we are facing one of the largest humanitarian catastrophes in the world where we have 1.2 million internally displaced people, which is the second largest number in Europe since the World War 2. In the past eight months of this war, more than 10,000 civilians have been killed. This is almost 2,000 soldiers more than what the Soviet Union lost in Afghanistan. We have around 600 Russian tanks in Ukraine and over 1000 armored personnel vehicles, plus over 100 different types of missile launchers. When was the last time that an army of that size was fighting in Europe? Today Ukraine is facing an armada of military artillery and weapons from Russia.
I am not saying that you cannot beat Russia. I am not saying that they are very strong. I am actually saying that it is quite the opposite. But if Ukraine is left one-on-one to fight Russia then it is hard.”
My next question is regarding corruption inside government. As a former president, how do you see and react to such atrocities against democracy?
“Corruption is never a reason, it is always a consequence. For instance, if you have some processes which do not work correctly or are not transparent, it then results either in some shadow scheme or it results in some under the desk dealings that eventually lead to corruption. So when I became president, and during my first month as president, I cancelled five thousand different kinds of licenses and permits that were supposed to increase volume in business transactions that affected every aspect of peoples lives.
We started fighting corruption to an extent that it was possible, as at that time fighting corruption was one of the priorities for our government. But we had other important issues on our agenda too. What I mean is that we have some groups of people who will never abide by the rule of law. Yes, this creates a problem. But man times, corruption is caused when there is a problem with the system. And when you enact reforms, when you decentralize and make civil societies and human rights active bodies in local governance, this is what dismantles corruption and I think this is a number one issue on how we could solve the corruption problem.”
My next question to you is a question we ask all of our guests, as we would like to know their personal view on human rights and freedom. So, what does human rights mean to you?
“For me it means the personal strive for freedom because freedom is the value of society. There is a word in Ukrainian called ‘voila’, which means that freedom begins with you. So to me that means your personal responsibility for what happens no matter where you are, no matter what kind of regime you live under, no matter what happens, you need to ask yourself how freedom begins with you. Ask yourself if deep in your heart you consider yourself free. If the answer is ‘yes’ then the only way is to create mechanisms that will provide and assure your personal freedom and the freedom for others. Democracy is how your freedom works and it is an instrument through which you can practice your democracy. And this is also how you become a democrat. You want freedom and democracy for everyone because it begins with you.”
We have around 2 million daily viewers worldwide. What would you like to tell our readers on what they can do to help with the situation in Ukraine today?
“I would say that unfortunately Ukraine today sometimes lacks the feeling that the world stands in solidarity with us. It is not that we are complaining that people do not support us. This is an everyday feeling that Ukrainians need (to feel) and that is very important for every person in Ukraine who fights against evil and against war. So some might provide political support to us, some readers can find ways to provide financial support. Some people raise money to help the displaced people in Ukraine, some people buy clothing for the soldiers in our army, while others may just provide sympathy. All that is important – to say that we are with you in solidarity. And, when you are high in your spirit, and when you are at war, your spirit needs to be fed everyday with hopes and other people’s support. When you have war it is not just about the weapons you have, it is about the spirit and the spirit has to be strong. If your readers say we are with Ukraine today, that means a lot to us. Also, even if you cannot do anything individually, tell your government to support Ukraine. This would be the greatest contribution. I was talking today to the president of the Norwegian parliament, and you cannot even imagine how pleased I was to find out that you have come to a country that has the same understanding and same definitions about what is happening in Ukraine. So that is important. This is very important for us, because immediately you understand what kind of country you are in. We could immediately tell that the people in Norway are not fooled by propaganda. People understand what (Russia’s aggression) is all about. Maybe we can have disagreements about what can be done, or what an action plan may be. But after a week or two we can come up with a better dialogue, a better plan and a better understanding of how this can be done.
So, once again keep a close watch on what is happening in Ukraine. Let us stand together and let us remember that Putin is scared of two things, and the most important thing is the joint and consolidated position of Ukraine and the rest of the world. The other is any sort up popular uprising in his own country.”