Last week the Dutch took part in a referendum on the treaty of association between the EU and Ukraine. Just under one third of the electorate bothered to vote, but those who did voted 62% to 38% against the treaty. Graham Dockery spoke to two Ukrainians in the Netherlands about the result.
‘If I could have voted, I would have voted no,’ Anna stated bluntly. ‘Ukraine has to deal with its own problems first before getting into any kind of union. Ukrainians f****d up their own country like barbarians and now they wonder why people won’t accept them into the union? There’s a lot of double standards here.’
Anna (24) is a Ukrainian student living in Amsterdam. She came to the Netherlands three years ago from Donetsk, one of the regions hit hardest by the country’s ongoing civil war.
Iryna Rud was disappointed when she heard the result. ‘I think the problem was that many Dutch people have a negative opinion of Ukraine…which is of course influenced by the media. It was also more a message against the EU.’
Iryna (30) is an economics researcher at the University of Maastricht. Originally from Kiev, she has been supporting pro-European causes while in the Netherlands, organising online campaigning and donating money.
‘I was supporting from a distance,’ she said. ‘There are a lot of problems in Ukraine, and economically this [treaty] would be very good for the country.’
The no vote is advisory, meaning that the Dutch government is not legally bound to scrap the treaty. However, prime minister Mark Rutte has already said the Netherlands can no longer ratify the treaty ‘just like that.’ Instead, Rutte said that whatever happens next will be handled ‘step by step.’
The prevalence of political corruption in Ukraine was one of the key points in the no campaign’s platform. Ukraine is currently the 130th least corrupt country out of 160, according to Transparency International.
‘Our president is involved in the offshore [Panama papers] scandal. He is the one who was fighting on an anti-corruption platform, and he is the most corrupt of them all. It’s a hypocritical thing,’ said Anna.
Iryna also recognises the corruption common in Ukrainian politics, but sees Europe as important in fixing it. ‘It’s very difficult for Ukraine to deal with this problem without external intervention,’ she said. ‘The control of strong European institutions would lower corruption.’
Ukraine’s president Petro Poroshenko said the referendum results are ‘no hindrance’ to the Ukraine’s road to Europe and described the vote as ‘purely advisory’.
‘We will press ahead with implementing the treaty of association with the European Union and the broad trade agreement it contains,’ he told reporters.
With the government yet to decide how to act on Tuesday’s results, Iryna will keep supporting the pro-European movement remotely from the Netherlands.
‘People who voted no will keep the stigma about Ukraine going, but I’ll be a good citizen and try convince them that Ukraine has good people,’ she said.
Anna isn’t so optimistic. ‘I know other Ukrainians’ opinions will differ, but the government is in a state of war right now. Ukrainians have to deal with their own country’s problems, and then they can talk about expansion,’ she said.