#DutchInUA: 'Ukrainians have to prove they want to invest more in human rights, corruption fight'

The Dutch turned out to be the most sceptical about Ukraine, while they know the least about this country, Victoria Koblenko  says

On April 6 the Netherlands will go to the polls in a national referendum on ratifying Ukraine's association agreement with the EU

The destiny of Europe's biggest nation is potentially in the hands of the citizens of the Netherlands. The future of nearly 46 million people now depends on whether the Dutch decide to support Ukraine's association with the European Union.  

This is exactly why, Ukraine Today with the cooperation of Euromaidan Press has launched #DutchInUA project.  Our goal is to gather the views and opinions of the Dutch businessmen and entrepreneurs who work in Ukraine.  As well as provide analysis by the experts from the Netherlands who can assess the influence of the referendum on the future of Ukraine and the E.U. as a whole.

Discussing this crucial issues with us ahead of the referendum in the Viewpoint studio is Victoria Koblenko, a Dutch actress.  

Tom Bell: This referendum is coming very soon and often in the Netherlands Ukraine gets bad image. It is almost always stories about war and about what is going on in the parliament. But, actually, there's a lot more than that. From your point of view, how important is this relationship between the Dutch and Ukraine?

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Victoria Koblenko: I think that Dutch-Ukrainian relations have always been very friendly, but they have reached depression after the plane crash. We are such a small country and everybody knows someone, who has lost someone in that plane crash. Of course, there is lack of knowledge about the evidence what exactly happened. The usual Dutch people sometimes hold a grudge on the Ukrainian government, because they have not been able to prevent such a disaster. If there is ‘no' on the April 6, will, of course, make our relations get even worse. And we have to prevent that.

T.B.: There is a lot of anti-European sentiment at the moment, maybe not only in the Netherlands, but throughout the Europe as well. This is definitely contributing to the ‘no' vote. That's a shame. Because there is a lot of potential in Ukraine.

V.K.: Yes. Unfortunately, that potential has not visible. Institute of Foreign Policy here in Ukraine, has been doing some research among European nationalities of what they know about Ukraine. And especially the Dutch turned out to be the most sceptical, while they know the least about this country. This country has been very ‘famous' for the war, for the plane crash. Two to six per cent of Dutch respondents mention Maidan and other revolutions. That is super sad. Ukraine has to do more effort to bring the positive potential in the future. As like you said, Ukraine can become collateral damage, if we vote ‘no' in the Netherlands. Ukraine also has to understand, that ‘no' will not mean the disaster.

Watch the first interveiw in the series with Arend Jan Boekestijn: 'A growing section of society is pro-Putin': The outlook for Ukraine ahead of key Dutch vote

T.B.: Because it is not binding, it is not a final decision.

A: It is very subtle issue. This is our first referendum of this nature. Everybody is a little tense and worried about the outcomes. We have to get 30% of people to vote to have this referendum valid. It seems that up to this point, that if we would have this referendum today, ‘no' would be the answer. The camp that is either indecisive yet or maybe boycotting the whole concept of the referendum. They have to be mobilized by the Dutch parties who have actually already signed this treaty. If these parties are not going to campaign actively for ‘yes', they will not be able after the voting to say to the public: ‘Well, thank you very much for voting. We respect your vote, but we are going to do differently'. That would be a disaster for our Cabinet.

T.B.: It is interesting that, as you have pointed out, of what a lot of people in the Netherlands think of the past revolutions in Ukraine and the war. You lived in the Netherlands for a number of years now. Have you actually seen much of an effort by Ukraine and the pro-‘yes' camp to put across this positive massage about Ukraine?

V.K.: I think that is not only effort to be made by Ukrainians, but mostly by the Dutch, who work and live there, and who are successful here. They have a chance to have a much more credible story, because they are closer to the Dutch spirit. I do really miss their opinion. They struggle to make it a ‘yes' vote. I think for Ukraine it is important to realize that if there is going to be ‘no', not to take it personally, because Europe is dealing now with its own deficit of democracy. We have a huge democratic crisis. Probably this vote will be mostly fuelled by tensions.

T.B.: That is true. Europe has a lot of dilemmas at the moment. It is not only Ukraine in the East, but also you have the migrant crisis, which is really taking over. You have this economic crisis and unemployment, and all this difficulties that the leaders must work out.

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V.K.: Yes. But the people who have taken initiative of the referendum are making really bold statements about Ukraine. For example, they think that everybody, who speaks Russian in Ukraine is either an ethnic Russian or pro-Putin. There is a difference between a hybrid conflict and a civil war. They try to frame the conflict in the eastern Ukraine as civil war. Everybody is against corruption: the ‘yes'-camp and the ‘no'-camp. But have you heard that the ‘no'-camp have printed 50,000 euro on toilet paper with this Treaty. As a marketeer you got to give them that this is a brilliant move. So the ‘yes'-camp has to come up with something even more brilliant. Since the ‘yes'-camp is on more reasonable side, it is hard to do.

T.B.: They will face the uphill struggle in a way. Because a lot of the Dutch are sceptical. It is understandable, because if you live in the Netherlands, Ukraine is far away.

Watch the second intreview in the series René Cuperus: "I think that ‘yes'-camp should win. Not because of Ukraine, but because the European Union is under great pressure"

V.K.: It is far away. Let's face it Ukraine has done a lot in the past years, probably, more in the last 20 years. There is a great effort made by the Ukrainian civil society. But, we can't deny, that there is even more work to be done in the future. I think that the Treaty provides Ukraine with the road map how to make reforms. But a big misunderstanding, I think, in the mass Ukrainian public is that sometimes here they say: ‘We want to live up to Ukrainian values'. By that they mean that they want to have better economic conditions of living. But that doesn't necessarily means that they want to adopt, other European freedoms, basic freedoms or human rights. We have to be frank that there is a lot of work to be done. 

T.B.: Why is Ukraine so important in the region? What political importance does it have?

V.K.: I think that regular people are not capable of making this kind of judgements about macro political changes and transitions. Especially knowing how a few countries in Eastern Europe have shown some signs of reverse transition. First, going to European values and now returning. For Ukraine it is crucial to understand that they have to prove to Europe that they are willing to invest deeply in human rights and corruption fight. Unfortunately, very few results are visible up to this point.

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T.B.: You've been to Kyiv with a number of influential people from the Netherlands. Can you tell us more about what you are doing here and what your main aims are?

V.K.: It's basically a study visit. I've been here few years before to monitor elections. Those visits are usually super intense. Of course, you have knowledge already about the country, especially, when you speak the language. You have some statistical background. Personally, I have a political science degree many years back. For me it is little easier to judge, what is happening here. But that doesn't mean that my knowledge is actual. I do not live here, I follow the news, but it is crucial to talk to people, who are here every day. So you have this pictures and it is drawn in three colours. The means of this visit is to make it very colourful, understandable. Understanding of the country is crucial, if you want to state something about it in the Netherlands.

Watch the other #DutchInUA interviews:

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