"Civil society as an engine of reform".


By Andreas J. Schröck
06th March 2017, Austrian Embassy, Kiev


Austria holds the OSCE Chairmanship (2017). What can Austria do in this role to defuse the conflict in Ukraine?

The conflict in Ukraine is already entering the third year. It is very difficult here as "Austria" to improve and change anything. What we can do while we hold the chairmanship of the OSCE is to support, promote and develop existing initiatives. Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz, as chairman, as Chairman in Office of the OSCE, has already been twice here in Ukraine this year and he has been able to get a picture of the situation and the people living there in Pyshchevyk near Mariupol." The OSCE Special Monitoring Mission to the Ukraine (SMM)" is a very important issue. 1 There are currently around 1000 monitors operating all over the country, but mainly in the East. And thanks to this OSCE monitoring mission, the conflict has not spread. Nevertheless, it is, of course, a very unsatisfactory situation if the cease-fire is not respected and there are always violations of the armistice and resulting deaths. The Austrian diplomat ambassador, Martin Sajdik, heads the Trilateral Contact Group, which is to further promote the implementation of the Minsk Agreement to resolve the conflict.The Austrian Chairmanship in the OSCE also strives to strengthen the Special Monitoring Mission with technical equipment and personnel and to look at how to improve the humanitarian situation of the people who live there mainly along the contact line. And Austria is also striving to contribute to resolving the conflict by promoting dialogue.


1The OSCE Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine (SMM) was deployed on 21 March 2014, following a request to the OSCE by Ukraine’s government and a consensus decision by all 57 OSCE participating States. The SMM is an unarmed, civilian mission, present on the ground 24/7 in all regions of Ukraine. Its main tasks are to observe and report in an impartial and objective way on the situation in Ukraine; and to facilitate dialogue among all parties to the crisis.


Could Austria contribute here, for example, following the example of the German Goethe Institute, which invited Ukrainian cultural operatives and cultural institutions to Berlin to show how the promotion of non-institutional art initiatives in Germany works?

Austria does not have a similar institution to the Goethe-Institut, but we have enough operatives in the field of culture and culture exchange. We have a very active cultural forum in Kiev at the Embassy, in Lviv also an office of the Austrian co-operation for many years, now an office of the OeAD, science cooperation and a lot of culture, and in Odessa an office for cooperation in the field of education. Numerous Austrian libraries across the country act as anchor points for Austrian cultural initiatives. Our five honorary consulates are also important partners in the cultural work of the Embassy and the Cultural Forum. Austria still grants numerous scholarships and invitations to cultural workers from the Ukraine to work in Austria. We can look back on a lively exchange here.

There are also the Austrian federal states, cities and municipalities, which are concerned here with a cultural exchange. The city of Vienna is mentioned here as an example. Or the city of Klagenfurt, which has a partnership with the city of Chernivtsi, all the federal states are active in one form or another. We organize a lot of cultural projects, even off outside the capital, which are usually not huge projects, but we can reach many people around the country.
We do many things that are small, but when added up they are significant.


Art and culture are the two factors that put bring Austria in the centre of world events. How can we use those strengths to promote more energetically the exchange of young people, students and those interested more? Do you think that such an exchange is lacking?

There are a lot of opportunities in cooperation with the EU where Ukraine can participate in European projects which promote precisely this exchange of young people. For example: Erasmus, Creative Europe or Horizon 2020. The EU is linked to Ukraine through an Association and Free Trade Agreement and many new initiatives are already emerging.

There are possibilities for Ukraine to participate. For example: Erasmus. But this is a subject which does not concern Austria alone, but which takes place at the level of the European Union and there is also a great deal in the cultural sphere. And you know that the EU is linked to Ukraine through an association and free trade agreement, and many new initiatives are already emerging.


An important building block for the future of Ukraine can be a strong and discriminatory civil society. How do you see this approach?

The civil society is very strong in Ukraine. Maybe still not focused enough but very strong and active. It is the motor of reform! Without the contributions of civil society and the control of NGOs, which make very important contributions to the creation of new laws, the implementation of programmes would not be possible. We also try to maintain and expand the dialogue with the people and various NGOs, as this is an important element!


In 2013, people went to Maidan because of corruption, to demand an end to it. President Poroshenko has devoted himself to the fight against corruption by making former Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili an adviser and governor. Today, the latter says: The government is part of the corruption. Is Saakashvili right?

Fighting corruption is not something that works from day to day. Numerous institutions have been created, because corruption is strong and one must try to get this under control. I will not comment on Saakashvili. It is important that the EU also supports this fight against corruption and that is what it does! For example through a lot of training and education. The European Union Advisory Mission (EUAM)2 is very active in the field of judicial and police reform. But also the Council of Europe, in the fight against corruption and support for Ukraine. Many states have bilateral agreements and also Denmark supports by the organization "Danida" .3 It’s a slow process! And a process where we must not let our help be reduced, but where we must constantly support those who contribute to the fight against corruption.


 2EUAM Ukraine aims to assist the Ukrainian authorities towards a sustainable reform of the civilian security sector through strategic advice and hands-on support for specific reform measures based on EU standards and international principles of good governance and human rights. The goal is to achieve a civilian security sector that is efficient, accountable, and enjoys the trust of the public

3Danida is the term used for Denmark’s development cooperation, which is an area of activity under the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Denmark. Denmark’s development policy aims to combat poverty through promotion of human rights and economic growth. Danida has responsibility for the planning, implementation and quality assurance of Denmark’s development cooperation.


If you look at the smouldering conflict with Russia and the difficult fight against corruption in the country: Where do you see Ukraine in three years? A stronger move towards Europe?
I very much hope that Association and Free Trade Agreements will be the basis for cooperation between Ukraine and the EU. And this is also the beginning of the imposition of Ukraine, a takeover of European legislation, which takes place in the course of the Association Agreement. This will certainly help Ukraine very much.


A possible accession status of Ukraine?

I believe that accession is not currently under discussion. And we would all do well to use those instruments that we have now. We must fully develop the Association Agreement. This is a big step.


Nevertheless, the people in Ukraine are given the confidence to become a part of Europe and to step up to it step by step?

Yes, but Ukraine certainly has a long way to go when it comes to joining. We should work intensively with the Ukraine on the implementation of the Association Agreement and fully exploit these opportunities to participate in Europe. The EU must also be willing to accept a state, and if we imagine what the EU is now, I believe it would be unrealistic and not fair to start an accession debate.


Is not the deliberate repression of the accession problematic, and also a dangerous game with the trust in the people of Ukraine, which often does not know the points which the association and free trade agreement contains? And as a possible result they turn away from the "European idea" and tend to radical regimes? In addition, the notion that Turkey has also an association agreement with the EU, but it is becoming more and more apparent that they are not interested in driving forward reforms, and above all, we see the lack of this strong civil society, unlike the situation in the Ukraine, which clearly stands for European values?

It is always a matter of how to live and deal with that agreement. Ukraine has a great opportunity to make the Association Agreement the basis of reforms in the country. If reforms are not carried out, the country will not develop further.
What is important to me in this accession debate is that we should not nourish unrealistic hopes that we cannot fulfil! We have an Association Agreement, which holds many possibilities. The key to Ukraine is to implement reforms and adapt to European standards to adopt European legislation. Since I believe that it is a wide field which needs to be worked on and which provides the Ukraine with good opportunities.



Mag. Hermine Poppeller has been Ambassador of Austria in the Ukrainian capital in Kiev since 2015. The native East Tyrolean led the Austrian Consul General and the Cultural Forum in Krakow, Poland from 2003 to 2007. From 2007 to 2012 she was ambassador in Riga, Latvia.