Interview with Marek Šafin and Serhiy Tomilenko (13.06.2019)

In “Eurointegrators,” media expert and ex-Deputy Minister for Information Policy of Ukraine Tetiana Popova sits down with diplomats, heads of international organizations, and Ukrainian power brokers to discuss Ukraine’s European integration.
In this episode, the guests are Ambassador of the Slovak Republic to Ukraine Marek Šafin and Serhiy Tomilenko, Head of the National Journalists’ Union of Ukraine.

The show is produced by a Ukrainian NGO Information Security and Oboz.TV.

See the text version of the interview: 

Popova: Hello, this is a new episode of the “Eurointegrators” program, and my guests today are the
Ambassador of the Slovak Republic to Ukraine Marek Šafin and Serhiy Tomilenko, Head of the National Journalists’ Union of Ukraine.
The Prime-Minister of Ukraine and Slovakia have signed a bilateral agreement on cross border cooperation. What does it give to both countries?

Šafin: It helps many people who live across the border to visit each other more often, And it’s easier to cross the country, especially when we have such parts of the year, when huge number of people is trying to cross Ukrainian-Slovak border, especially before your Easter. Many of workers, you call them your “zarobitchany”, are coming back to Ukraine, and after Easter they are supposed to come again to the Europe. So people, who have this card on cross border cooperation, can easily cross the border.

Popova: How many people are using this opportunity?

Šafin: I don’t know, several thousands. But I don’t know the exact number.

Popova: Slovakia is in top-20 trade partners for Ukraine among all European Union. What is the prospect of this cooperation after euro integration agreement and after a visa free regime? How did this cooperation influence?

Šafin: Slovakia is in the top-20 of trade partners of Ukraine, and both agreements had some influence, but nevertheless I just wanted to say that there not so many Ukrainians working and living in Slovakia as we could guess, as it’s a neighboring country. In Slovakia we are trying to give the same rights to Ukrainians working in our economy as Slovak have. So it means we don’t want to hire people not officially, their living in Slovakia has to be official. They have to ask the embassies and the premises of our embassies are consulate general and then have to go to Slovakia. We have. Let’s say, a special control unit taking care about people working illegally in our country. The law is quite strict, and we are trying to follow the law.

Popova: But smuggling cases still exists, especially of cigarettes. How does Slovakia deal with smugglers?

Šafin: We have to be honest, that smuggling was, is all the time and all the time there will be cases of smuggling across the borders. But we are fighting smuggling together with Ukrainian side. There is quite close cooperation with border police and also financial services of Slovakia and Ukraine. Probably I will not go here to explain exactly what kind of cooperation it is, but it’s working, and we see that numbers of smugglers is going down.

Popova: Some time ago, Slovakia received big financial support from the European Union. From your point of view, what financial help can Ukraine expect?

Šafin: I think that this question is not for me, but for the EU delegation in Ukraine.

Popova: Yes, but from your history?

Šafin: Yes, we receive financial support, we are still receiving some funds. But I can say that Slovak is supporting Ukraine. Since 2014 we sent the help about 5,5 million euros. It means every Slovak gives 1 euro to support Ukraine. I think for such a small country that is not bad.

Popova: Two ministers and the head of police have resigned after the first journalist’s murder in Slovakia. At what stage is investigation now, do journalists feel safe in Slovakia? And how does it correspond to the situation in Ukraine?

Šafin: Let me start from the last point. I think that journalists can feel quite safe in Slovakia. And the case really happened and it’s under investigation. There are some people already in jail, some are investigated not in jail yet, but as far as I know, this case will be solved, and guilty will be punished.

Popova: The former military Miroslav Marček confessed to double murder of the journalist Jan Kutsyak and his fiancée. Multi-millionaire Marian Kochner was accused of the order of this murder.

Šafin: Yes, seems like this.

Popova: Serhiy, what can you say about the overall situation in Ukraine?

Tomilenko: Of course, killing a journalist it is always shocking news for the journalists around the world and Europe. When we watching the investigative process and the reaction of civil society we note the high level of intolerance to violation of the journalists` rights, intolerance to killing as a whole. We saw the massive protests, which led to dismissal of high-ranking officials. And now we know that murderer had confessed guilty. So this is an investigation that shows credibility in international society, within the country. To compare that story to Ukraine we would mention the killing of Pavlo Sheremet in the center of Kyiv. And this comparison shows dishonest efforts of Ukrainian investigators. The international federation of journalist and our international partners view that crimes against media representatives, killings of journalists they are not fully investigated in any countries – in Mexico or any countries, it is complicated. But here is another question – do we have a real trust to law enforcement or we do not? Unfortunately, the “American Committee to Protect Journalists” in its report regarding killing of Ukrainian journalist Pavlo Sheremet, called it like “denial of justice”. So they were disappointed by actions and ineffective efforts of investigators. We think it is a shame that the journalists, media investigators and colleagues do this job – find new facts, videos that were not taken into official investigation. For example, video picture showing one person linked to Ukrainian security service, we have not got the answers. So, solving the murder and finding those who ordered the killings and those who killed it is a maximum goal. But today we see just poor efforts to bring it to the end. There is no trust to investigators. And each journalist feels worried. But the successful investigation in Slovakia is a signal to the world community that a freedom of speech would be protected.

Popova: Those people, those two ministers and the head of police – they left because they were associated with this multi-millionaire, who is behind the ordering of this murder, or it was just because it happened during their office?

Šafin: It happened because they took political responsibility for a case. The Minister of interior and police was criticized, but nowadays I think that it was at that time and now one of the main priorities to solve the case, to investigate it till the end and, as I mentioned, to punish the guilty.

Popova: Serhiy, the question to you. How do you think, in general, is it possible for us to have the situation when officials will take some political responsibility? Even if they are not related to a person who ordered a murder. Or is it possible to change only via elections?

Tomilenko: I think it would be change through the election. Maybe we would have some change when we change the level of political culture, when our authorities would demonstrate high level of responsibility. Resignations in Slovakia show the high level of political responsibility and political culture. They understand that authorities and government are hired by people to protect their interests and rights, to be effective in what they do and to maintain the values of democracy. This is what we lack here in Ukraine, we do not see such positive signs. I would say our authorities escape public discussions, they are not ready to come and report on investigations, on attacks on journalists, on impunity. As an example, I would not like to criticize Petro Oleksievich, but there is an instrument created by Petro Poroshenko, I mean “The Council on Protection of Professional Activity of Journalists and Freedom of Speech” that was formed by his presidential order. It was organized in 2015 or in the beginning of 2016, and includes police representatives, authorities, members of presidential administration, I am also the member of this council. But the last meeting was held on February 1, one year ago. So, it`s clear that it does not work effectively and it does not protect journalists. We need officials to protect journalists in practice, not just in words. If that happens we would say we trust them in this issue, I mean protection of journalists. Now we admit that most of politicians just fueling the hostility toward journalists, especially for investigators, and this appears to be a huge challenge for democracy. Politicians should be aware that journalist carry out their mission, they provide people with objective information. So, if the politicians would realize that – it would make the democracy more stable.

Popova: I am sure that politicians will have their political answers to their positions towards journalists. And actually in Slovakia also the pro-European Zuzana Čaputová became a president, though some candidates had a pro-Russian position. How can you explain this situation – a new face and some candidates with a pro-Russian position?

Šafin: Frankly speaking, I don’t see that there is any anti-Russian sentiment in Slovakia. And pro-Russian people, I mean people who are expressing their pro-Russian position – they are very few. And also I do not agree that many candidates are expressing themselves in this way. The strongest candidates we had – both of them were pro-European, the elected president Ms. Čaputová and another candidate Maroš Šefčovič was a commissioner in the EU, so both candidates, who came to the final, were pro-Europeans. So, nobody can say that Slovakia is changing the course, course we are still pro-European, pro-NATO, we are a member of the European Union, member of NATO, member of Europe, of the Euro-zone, we’ve changed our currency for euro, it helps us a lot in developing our economy.

Popova: Actually, how can you explain these new faces? Because it’s also the same situation here in Ukraine now?

Šafin: In ourcase, it’s a new case, but it seems to me that she will continue in politics of today’s president Andrej Kiska, because even he came to congratulate her after she won the election. So, they seem to be very close. She was not very known in Slovakia, but she was known in the environmental sphere and she is a lawyer, so she is also know between the lawyers. But she was not very public, let’s say.

Tomilenko: In Ukraine, we note the peoples’ wish to see new faces and desire to see renewed political style. Such results show the people are fed up with old style politicians. People are also tired of constant fights between politicians; I don’t want to point out who is stronger in those battles. Most Ukrainians hope the political situation would get better after coming new persons and faces. That is why they voted for Zelensky. In these elections there was pro-Russian candidate, Yury Boyko, he is supporter of developing closer ties with Russia. And today after summing up the result of voting we could say Zelensky provided some electoral mission – he gained sympathies in the regions where according to polls people would vote for pro-Russian candidate, but Zelensky had gained the votes there. He fulfilled his mission, he gave the hope to all Ukrainians, and this hope was rather pro-European. It was the confirmation of the pro-European choice of Ukrainian people.

Popova: And he has signed the Declaration for freedom of speech, right?

Tomilenko: Yes, I would say that Volodymyr Zelensky acted like a European politician, he had signed declaration for protecting of freedom of speech. This is the public commitment to guaranty the freedom of speech, to protect rights of the journalists. This declaration was developed by the Union of Journalists of Ukraine, it was supported by the International Federation of Journalists, by non-government organizations in Ukraine, it was a commitment to respect and protect the journalists. So, I would say in the right moment that Ukraine had elected pro-European president who declares support of freedom of speech and European choice.

Popova: What about another candidate. Has he signed such a declaration?

Tomilenko: 13 candidates had supported our declaration. This list includes Yulia Tymoshenko, Anatoliy Gritsenko, Andriy Sadoviy, Nalivaychenko, Smeshko. But unfortunately the current president Petro Poroshenko was not among them, he had just ignored our invitation to report on the freedom of speech issue.
Popova: The Head of the Slovak parliament said that did not support sanctions against Russia, and he said that Ukraine could conceal something about capturing sailors in the Azov Sea. What is in overall the position of Slovak government and Slovak Parliament towards sanctions and towards Russia?

Šafin: I would like not to comment on the expression of the Chief of Parliament of Slovakia, but I want to inform that there is an agreement between the parliament, the President and the government of the Slovak Republic that the foreign policy is one only. So when it comes to the real foreign policy, it is only one policy, and nothing can change the Slovak position. We are against the annexation of Crimea, against the aggression, and we are supporting all the sanctions. So, as I already once said – we are members of NATO and the EU and we are completely fully fulfilling our obligations.

Popova: Despite the official position of Slovakia, approximately 10 Slovak members of parliament illegally visited Crimea last year. How much does those individuals’ actions influence our relations, from your point of view?

Šafin: I’m not sure if there are 10, because this thing I’ve only heard from you, but nevertheless I knew about some of members of parliament who visited Crimea. Minister of foreign affairs consulted them, they are aware of what could happen, about the consequences. They are members of parliament, so they are doing and talking according their own view. I think that Ukrainian side does understands our position, and such visits do not have any influence on relationships between Ukraine and Slovakia.

Popova: Last November a fake about Ukrainian border that they do not exist, was distributed through social networks in Slovakia. Who could be interested in distribution of such disinformation, from your point of view?

Tomilenko: First of all, we should understand that now we are facing new reality, new threat of different types of the hybrid war. Of course, Russia is behind this, Russia generates many fakes against Ukraine as a state. That`s made to maintain some anti-Ukrainian critical views abroad to impose their view on the situation in Ukraine and to keep Russian foreign policy. It is clear that Russia is strong in this disinformation campaign, they use it like a weapon. Russia tries to put methods in many countries around the world. But Ukraine should carefully watch these threats and be able to react immediately, we should learn how to tackle that and see where it comes from. But anyway, we should stay calm with no hysteria if some cases occur. There are some irregular situations happen, for example, one downloads the incorrect map of Ukraine in internet and uses that. In such cases, we don’t have to treat it like a crime. We have to conduct an open dialogue with our partners. I think today Europe and USA, all western world needs correct and true information and they want people to get the right information and restrict the fakes. So, we have to join our efforts to fight the threats which come from Russia.

Šafin: We do respect Ukraine’s territorial sovereignty and independence within the internationally confirmed borders. It means you cannot find such a map in Slovakia, because our maps of Ukraine are till now with Crimea.

Popova: Slovakia is an important gas exporter to Ukraine, and you really helped us in the most difficult period. But in the same time the North Stream-2 is in a process of building. What is your position towards that?

Šafin: I think that according to North Stream-2, we are in the same boat with Ukraine. It’s in our interest also to continue transit gas through the territory of Ukraine, because both our countries are transit countries. As you know, we are still helping Ukraine with receiving natural gas, thanks to reverse, I mean reverse line that we built in Slovak territory in 2014. I guess it’s about 90% of gas Ukraine is buying is Slovakian.

Popova: Thank you, Mr. Ambassador, for joining us, thanks, Serhiy, for coming to our studio. Thanks to all who watched us, see you next week.

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