Margot Wallström is no longer a government minister, Minister for Foreign Affairs

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Speech by Margot Wallström at Taras Shevchenko National University

Published

Kyiv, Ukraine. 31 May 2019. Check against delivery.

Don't envy, friend, a wealthy man:
A rich man's life is spent
Without a friend or faithful love --
Those things he has to rent.

Don't envy anyone my friend,
For if you look you'll find
That there's no heaven on the earth,
No more than in the sky.

Do you recognise it? Nje zavíduj bahátomu – of course, in your beautiful university, I had to cite Taras Shevchenko.

This is not only because I am a guest in Kyiv today. In fact, I often read from poems in my speeches, and there is a reason for it. Poetry, culture and music bring people together.

They help people to get to know and better understand each other. And isn’t that what we need in foreign politics?

The topic of today is “The future of Ukraine in Europe and the Eastern Partnership”. To me Ukraine is already European and I am optimistic about the future of your country, because you – the vibrant young generation – are the ones who will shape it.

But of course, there are challenges. In this address, I would like to point to three issues that must be solved if we want prosperity for Europe and for Ukraine: to overcome polarisation, to increase equality and to build trust in public institutions. I will talk more about Europe and Ukraine and less about the Eastern Partnership.

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Firstly, looking at Europe today, we see a growing polarisation. Just take issues such as migration, climate change or gender equality as an example. There are really two opposing sides that both feel a kind of momentum.

Unfortunately, the public debate about these issues, especially on the internet, is often becoming poisoned by hatred and agitation.

In Ukraine, language and culture are being used to create artificial dividing lines in society. Also, the media landscape, where each candidate has their own TV channel, makes it difficult for people to evaluate parties and candidates.

We must overcome this polarisation, because it threatens to tear our societies apart. Our response should be to seek strength in diversity – to recognise that differences in backgrounds, opinions, worldviews, make us stronger together.

There must be forums where we can talk to each other in a respectful way. We are financing a project to strengthen public service in Ukraine. We hope that this will promote political discussions in Ukraine, and that it will reach all Ukrainians, regardless of their native language. 

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Secondly, we must deal with social inequality. The wealth of this world is unprecedented, and yet, in Europe, many people live under social and economic conditions that are unacceptable.

Sometimes people talk about inequality as if it were something modern, something good for business, for entrepreneurship. But let me tell you this – those who say so have not experienced poverty themselves. Social security and equality is about dignity, and it is about giving people the same opportunities to do what they want in life.

I know that the EU, the IMF and other donors are demanding that Ukraine carry out difficult reforms. Let me underline that the point of these conditions is to make life better for ordinary Ukrainians.

When talking about giving people equal opportunities, I mean the whole population. Not just fifty per cent.

We are strong advocates for gender equality in Sweden. It is the right thing to do, because how can we talk about democracy and human rights, if we leave half the population aside?

And it is the smart thing to do, since all studies show that societies where women and men have the same rights, representation and resources are more prosperous, happier and more secure. 

There has recently been a strengthened focus on gender equality within the Eastern Partnership, and we will push for more. In Ukraine, there has been good progress in the last few years. I hope the President and the next parliament will build on it.

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The third issue is to build trust in public institutions. This is important in Ukraine, and it is something which is very close to the painful subject of corruption and rule of law.

How can you trust an institution if you suspect that its staff are filling their pockets and not doing their jobs?

Why pay taxes, if you don’t have to, and if you suspect that your money is being misused in shady procurement schemes?

Why care about politics and reforms if you don’t trust politicians?

To build trust takes effort and time. There must be a genuine willingness from the top do deal with it – and I hope that there is with this new administration – as well as a pressure from civil society and media. Looking at Ukraine, the conditions are there, and we will do all we can to help you with it.

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This would be challenging enough for a country that was not exposed to external aggression. We condemn the Russian aggression and the illegal annexation of Crimea. We will maintain sanctions until Moscow changes its behaviour, and we stand with Ukraine in solidarity.

Besides the military aggression, Ukraine and other European countries are exposed to disinformation and hybrid activities. What I’ve just mentioned: polarisation, social inequality and mistrust, are precisely the factors that hybrid warfare targets and fuels. So, these are not just issues that are important because they make you feel good, they are important parts of building resilience and security.

To finish, let me repeat that we have these challenges in common, and we must tackle them jointly. By supporting and learning from each other and by strengthening the values that underpin the European cooperation. This – to tackle challenges together – is also the cornerstone of the Eastern Partnership, and indeed, of our Swedish-Polish visit to Ukraine.