The Dutch 'No' in the referendum on the ratification of the Ukraine-EU Association Agreement should not have the effect of a door slammed in front of the Ukrainians. However, it is proof of how much Ukrainians need to do to rebuild their Ukrainian home and create European conditions of life. And it proves that happier the nation, the more probable for it to be oblivious to other nations’ problems.
The referendum on closer allied cooperation of different nations has come upon the trend of isolationism that has infected the Western world. Politicians from the world’s wealthiest states in the second decade of the XXI century have started the talk on the need to stay within national borders and refute politically and economically the external threats, perceived or real.
Most residents of the only EU member state that has not ratified the Association Agreement said No to a free trade area with Ukraine.
Fighting for the Republican nomination for the upcoming presidential elections in the United States, Donald Trump is consistent in terrifying the world with cutting military aid to Washington’s allies and his plans to bill these "allies" for providing a sense of security. British Eurosceptics are preparing a referendum on the withdrawal of their country from under the "yoke" of Brussels bureaucrats governing the European Union. Scottish “Britsceptics” still harbor hopes to break away from London bureaucracy, while the residents of Spain’s richest area, Catalonia, dream of saying "good-bye" to Madrid.
Fencing off from the neighbors – like Trump vowing to erect a thousand-mile border with Mexico – is quite a trendy idea among happier nations. And we, with our desire to get closer to a democratic and prosperous part of Europe, go on a collision course with this popular opinion, unfortunately. And we must admit that the chances to reverse the trend were minimal.
Yes, it is important that most residents of the only EU member state that has not ratified the Association Agreement said No to a free trade area with Ukraine. But also important are the reasons for such response to the initiative of Eurosceptics and opponents of their own government.
It should be noted that the referendum was originally designed by its initiators to embarrass their own government through a public rejection of Ukraine’s aspirations. The “kind” Dutch authorities even allocated budget funds for printing anti-Ukrainian flyers.
The initiators of the referendum were convincing their fellow citizens that Ukraine’s pro-European choice o was imposed on its citizens by Brussels and Washington. The Dutch were told that the "gap" between the pro-European and pro-Russian regions of Ukraine should not be deepened. They were persuaded to refuse any support for a large, poor, and corruption-eroded faraway country, located on the outskirts of Europe. And when the government, which promoted the Association, paid the voters’ attention to the fact that the agreement with Kyiv was primarily related to the expansion of trade and bore minimal risk to citizens, the opponents recalled the similar statements voiced back at the time of the admission to the EU of Greece. They appealed to the Dutch voters: look how it turned out with the Greeks and our emergency assistance to Hellas?
Those Ukrainians who in recent days campaigned for the Yes camp in the Netherlands were surprised that none of the opponents of the Agreement have actually read it, and their opinion was based solely on the views imposed by mass media or some people “familiar with the matter.” The situation is reminiscent of a joke about the two neighbors, one of whom sang something from the repertoire of the world’s greatest tenor, and the other concluded that the tenor’s talents were greatly exaggerated. That is to say, there was no professional discussion in Holland.
Myths tossed into mass conscience by some skillful hands piled on domestic phobias, which, after all, were presented as a triumph of public opinion over government. Had Erasmus of Rotterdam been alive, he would have undoubtedly created an updated version of his Praise of Folly.
In fact, none of the opponents of the Association Agreement in the enlightened European country have actually read the document.
The No campaign built on false theses, to the great delight and with financial and advisory assistance of the opponents of a united Europe and a united Ukraine from the Kremlin, has been programmed to have an outcome negative for Ukraine. Could it be any other way?
What does a housewife from Utrecht or Rotterdam know about Ukraine? I admit that some of the Ukrainians will say, it’s practically the same what a housewife from Poltava or Kherson knows of life in the Kingdom of the Netherlands. And it would pretty close to the truth. However, there are some fundamental differences: Poltava and Kherson residents are not entitled to determine the fate of a distant unfamiliar nation, while the people in Rotterdam and Utrecht were granted such right by a satirical website GeenStijl and Eurosceptics from Forum voor Democratie center.
As a result, one of the world’s most prosperous nations (ranking 7th in the list the world’s happiest countries in 2015) denied friendship of the country ranking 111th. The Dutch, enjoying a $44,300 GDP per capita did not get the aspirations for a better life of those with an average annual income of $2,000.
The people who have for the past six decades lived in a totally safe and comfortable environment have the right to do whatever they want, including bringing the idea of democracy to the point of absurdity. For if you give your people the right to decide on any matters, including, as complex as international politics and economic relations, these people must be properly informed and warned about responsibility. Anyone who watched the process of preparation and conduct of the advisory referendum recognized that the Dutch prime minister, together with most of his Cabinet, has withdrawn from explanatory activity, simply not wishing to irritate their electorate. The same position was taken by the EU leadership, who said that it’s a private matter of the Natherlands, and it’s for the Dutch to decide.
The Dutch Government and the EU authorities have yet to make a difficult choice, how to proceed with regard to the Agreement.
I believe that if, God forbid, the “little green men” attack the Netherlands, the majority of people in this country will hold a pointless months-long debate on the issue of uniforms invaders, or their sexual orientation, and complete the process with the referendum, voting against any resistance, not to accidentally destroy the prosperous country. The fact that the preservation of a peaceful and prosperous Holland depends on the stability of the entire European continent, and therefore, to some extent, on the invitations of the Ukrainians to the Union of the European nations, has not yet come to their minds.
The author has serious doubts that the main motive of the many thousands of Dutch voters who bothered to come to the polls on Wednesday in order to certify their rejection of Ukraine was their desire to tell the Ukrainians: "Goodbye! Our union is never going to happen!"
Because it's hard to imagine what else could strike the humane European audience more than the images from Maidan in Kyiv engulfed in fire and its protesters willing to die "for Europe in our native land." What else can touch the strings of the Europeans’ souls, if not the footage showing the Ukrainian land looted by Russian barbarism, the area where the Russian missile shot down an airliner with Dutch passengers on board? Being aware of all of this, to say No was callous and selfish.
Most likely, they tried to flip off their own demagogic politicians and bureaucrats, but this appeared to be in our face as well. So how is Ukraine to deal with it? First, not to pay attention to propaganda of the enemies from Russia, which for the next few months will be reveling in Ukraine’s “fiasco.”
Secondly, it’s important to continue with calm and self-confidence with the work on building a new country, the fight against corruption and renovation of authorities. That’s what needs to be done instead of, say, refusing to buy Dutch cheese in support of national cheese-makers. Also, Ukrainians should not forget about improving their image in the face of their close and distant neighbors. They should work on it every day, just as their enemies do in their non-stop anti-Ukrainian propaganda. As we well remember, the Russian trolls, were behind fabricating a video, among other fakes, showing a group of actors depicted as “Ukrainian fighters” burning the Dutch flag.
The Dutch Government and the EU authorities have yet to make a difficult choice of how to proceed with the Association Agreement, which has long been implemented both by Ukraine and the European Union. I think most Europeans understand that in the case of support for Ukraine’s pro-European path by 27 member states, with just one refusal based on questionable reasoning, they shouldn’t hit the "emergency brake," but continue to move forward.