[OUTLOOK]Take Ukraine seriously

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[OUTLOOK]Take Ukraine seriously

Ukraine is famous for its Orange Revolution. Ukraine is one of the most prosperous among the countries that gained independence from the former Soviet Union. This east European country came into the spotlight when it had a presidential re-election after the government was accused of holding an undemocratic election.
As a leading economy in the Black Sea region, Ukraine was expected to be a rising nation in the 21st century, along with other countries around the Caspian Sea.
However, that expectation did not quite turn into reality. The revolution fell apart. Instead, only bad news about extreme political chaos has come out of Ukraine. I wanted to confirm what was going on there.
The political strife in Kiev, the capital of the country, was unbelievable. Viktor Yushchenko, the president of the country and the major figure of the Orange Revolution, used to enjoy high support rates, but they have dropped recently. Following a election defeat, a plan for a coalition also collapsed. President Yushchenko lost face.
I always thought Korea was the best (or worst) when it came to political strife. But Ukraine seems to be the world champion. Korea’s deep-rooted regionalism appears nothing compared with Ukraine’s regional conflict between the east and west of the country.
Eastern and western areas have long confronted each other, with the Dneipr River ― a little wider than the Han River ― between the two. The conflict has been so serious that some people have suggested splitting the country. Russia and Western countries have also had serious conflicts behind the scenes.
Nobody can forecast when political chaos and insecurity will end. One politician said, “President Yushchenko had quite a success when it came to changes and reform but failed to unify the people.” He added, “The president’s approval rating plummeted because he aggravated divisions and caused conflicts among the people.”
That sounds familiar. President Roh Moo-hyun said the same when he appeared on television and self-evaluated his achievements.
Ukraine’s economy explains it all. The failure of Mr. Yushchenko is seen clearly in his country’s economy. During the last years that former President Leonid Kuchma, a political rival of Mr. Yushchenko, was in office, the growth rate was 9.6 percent in 2003 and 12.1 percent in 2004.
That figure dropped to 2.6 percent last year, President Yushchenko’s first year in office. Most people predicted much the same result this year.
Surprisingly, however, the growth rate has stayed at the 5 percent level so far this year.
Experts have an interesting interpretation of the situation. They say that the politicians are so busy striving for power that they are interfering less in the economy and this has helped it recover.
Ukrainian politicians must know that political insecurity is very harmful to the economy and also the biggest obstacle to attracting foreign investment.
Ukrainians asked me, “How has Korea successfully attracted foreign investment, despite its political insecurity and the constant threat from the North?”
Fortunately, Ukrainians have an understanding that the economy is important, although their politics aredisastrous. They were envious of Korea’s economic development and wanted to learn from South Koreans.
In Ukraine, a variety of businesses are being pursued, regardless of political changes. Ukraine is, without doubt, a world-class nation when it comes to potential and possibilities. The country has long earned a good reputation worldwide with its missile-making industry, aircraft industry and nuclear plant-related businesses.
Ukraine was also known as the breadbasket of the Soviet Union, as the country has one of the world’s most fertile land areas. It has abundant raw materials, such as iron ore. Oil and natural gas from Central Asia need to pass throughUkraine to go to Western Europe.
The American Embassy to Ukraine has as many as 700 staff members. This shows that the United States takes Ukraine seriously. However, only 20 people work at the Korean Embassy to Ukraine, located inside a tiny building. Korea seems to have little interest in Ukraine, although the country offers another chance for our nation.

* The writer is the CEO of the JoongAng Ilbo News Magazine.

by Lee Chang-kyu
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