Celebrity Politicians Offer Development Aid for the Ukraine

03/05/2015 02:48 pm ET | Updated May 05, 2015

When the Iron Curtain fell, Poland and the Ukraine were in the same boat. The Polish set to work, adopted reforms and became the poster child for success in the former Eastern bloc. The Ukraine continued to stumble. The powerful became rich and quarreled heavily amongst each other. The situation was and remained hazy. Most people were only even aware of the Klitschko brothers.

But now, with a military conflict, the level of suffering seems to be spurring the need for change. The notion that a knight in shining armor, NATO, or the EU will come to the rescue has faded. In situations such as this, people love to hearken back to the Marshall Plan as a magic formula. A good idea, a good plan from the outside and presto: an economic miracle! However, no one is willing to provide the necessary help given the current "structure" of the country. Everything is contingent on reform. Only the Ukrainians themselves can accomplish this task. But how? How can you shift a thriving everyday culture, a political system?

Agency for Ukrainian Modernization

Apparently help is coming in the form of a non-profit association recently founded in Vienna, which has just stepped onto the public stage. This "Agency for Ukrainian Modernization" will supposedly make it possible for the country to transition to a well-functioning state -- as states are -- or should be: with rules of law, transparent taxation systems and free from corruption.

The introduction of the association at the Palais Ferstel is jam-packed. The stage is just as full. Through a mix of brief presentations and moderated discussions, its endeavors are laid out for the media beneath a glistening spotlight.

They talk about how the idea arose simultaneously from Ukrainian trade unions and the employers' association. However, employers' association should be interpreted rather loosely. The employers in this case are three oligarchs that will provide all the start-up capital. For some, this is no easy undertaking since the oligarchs enjoyed quite the life under the old system.

The association initiator and discussion moderator is German CDU politician Karl Georg Wellmann, of the German Ukrainian Parliamentary Friendship Group in the Bundestag. The French philosopher Bernard Henri Levy, who has been actively involved at Maidan (Independence Square), was quickly recruited by the association, as was British Parliamentarian Lord Risby.

Celebrity Support for the Ukraine

Now, 26 years after the fall of the wall, this association wants to help the Ukraine go down the same road Poland so wonderfully followed. A team of celebrity politicians has been brought on board to contribute its collective expertise: former German Defense Minister Rupert Scholz, former EU Commissioners Stefan Füle, Günter Verheugen and Peter Mandelson, France's ex-Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, British Parliamentarian Ken Macdonald, long-term French employer's union head Laurence Parisot, and one-time Polish Prime Minister Włodzimierz Cimoszewicz. The association's daily efforts will be led by former Austrian Vice-Chancellor and Finance Minister Michael Spindelegger.

The group has defined the following as its most urgent problems:

  • anti-corruption measures
  • establishment of a finance and taxation system
  • economic system
  • development of a constitution
  • establishment of a modern law enforcement agency
  • health care system
  • EU integration

These experienced and merited politicians have 200 days to come up with solutions that can then serve as the blueprints for a new state system.

Poland as Role Model

The political dynamos sit in a row and explain, one after the other, what they want to accomplish and how. The former Polish Prime Minister uses touching words to recall how it was after the fall of the wall with: "Yes, we had to jump in head first! No, we didn't want to. But we had no other choice. And we didn't know if we could swim. We found out after diving in. There were no alternatives. It wasn't easy." That is why he wants to help by offering his know-how, particularly when it comes to anti-corruption measures.

Philosopher Levy talks extensively about sentiments and culture, the former French employer's union head about gender issues in the Ukraine. The old political fox Kouchner is quick to highlight the lack of women and intends to fight for this cause, showing his charm on the stage before addressing the health care system. There are chuckles.


And then comes former German Finance Minister Peer Steinbrück, a real testament to the northern German. He looks grim and stern as he lectures on "good governance." Without it there's no chance. And of course a state has to be able to finance itself. That's why it needs a proper taxation system. He is happy to help. But he insists on constitutional fundamentals. His effect is that of a fatherly disciplinarian giving clear instructions. And, in keeping with the metaphor, he is a father with a disciplinary hand.

His body language conveys: do what I tell you to, or else... The Ukrainian oligarch on the stage listens with a polite smile on his face.

One has to ask why it took 26 years, a civil war with regional secessions that haunted a nation, and the loss of so many lives until Ukrainians, and particularly the elite, were finally aware of what it takes to have a functioning state system.

Change coming from oligarchs, of all people?

The switch from Saul to Paul is nothing new, even though a few eyebrows were raised in Europe's political epicenter. The employers are ready to give the financial shove forwards. They are paying the experts and compensating their work. At some point, money should flow in from outside. Initiator Wellmann places frequent emphasis on the experts' non-partisan work: this work is "not for business people or oligarchs, but for the Ukraine."

Perhaps it should be viewed pragmatically, because nothing would happen without, and especially against, the old class. It also is not a new chapter in human history when the cogs and the wheels of an apparatus remain as they are, lithely adapting to new times, when the wind of change arrives. It was no different in Germany decades ago, when a new system arose.

One would hope that this association is not simply a dream, but that real plans that can actually be implemented will be born. It would certainly be a welcome development for Ukrainians.