Press Releases

    5 June 2002


    NEW YORK, 4 June (UN Headquarters) -- Following is the text of Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s address to the Ukrainian Parliament in Kiev on 4 June:

    Thank you for giving me this very warm welcome, and for granting me the privilege of addressing the Verkhovna Rada.

    It is a great pleasure indeed to be visiting Ukraine at this time and to see, firsthand, the way your country is being transformed, and is beginning to play its proper role in a peaceful and united Europe.

    Since the end of the Second World War, European nations have striven to leave behind the virulent nationalisms of the past, so as to enter a future of accountable government, respect for human rights, and continental harmony. The decisive innovation in this quest has been the integration of separate nations into a single space of shared values and economic opportunity. Under this mantle, and despite setbacks and imperfections, Europe has achieved remarkable prosperity and stability. Not least, it has shown that even after the most destructive war in history, former enemies could work together for peace.

    However, for the better part of half a century, the great project of European cooperation encompassed only part of the continent -- as if an orchestra was forced to perform with brass but no strings. Since the end of the cold war, that has changed. From the Atlantic to the Urals, from the Baltic to the Black Sea, the frontiers of Europe have opened, literally and metaphorically. People once held back by command economies and political shackles demanded change, and succeeded in regaining their freedom.

    Ukraine has been part of that liberation. It has taken the enlightened step of forswearing the use of nuclear weapons. It is reforming its economy, working hard to end State monopolies and to put in place the rules and regulatory frameworks that are conducive to investment and that will liberate the creative energies of its people by rewarding individual initiative. Ukraine is also making over the machinery of State, so that government is representative of, and accountable to, the people. You parliamentarians are both a key manifestation of this transition and among its most important guardians.

    Of course, the process of European integration will take many years to complete, and there may be setbacks along the road. Already, we can have seen how complicated and painful it can be. There are economic difficulties, social tensions, political fallout and, often, a sense of deeply personal disorientation as national and individual identities evolve and adapt. What is vital as the process moves inexorably ahead is that Europe should remain true to its core values.

    One of those values is democracy. The principle of democracy is now universally recognized. The right of all people to take part in the government of their country through free and regular elections, enshrined in article 21 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, is not peculiar to any culture.

    People everywhere value their freedom of choice, and feel the need to have a say in decisions affecting their lives.

    Increasingly, it is understood that democracy, properly implemented, provides the best guarantee of a climate of free discussion, in which the varied groups and individuals in a society can learn from each other and reach agreement on solutions to their common problems. Moreover, the record shows that democratically governed States rarely if ever make war on one another. And by providing peaceful ways to channel internal dissent, democratic governance can help avert civil wars as well.

    One of the great challenges to humankind today is to make not just the principle but the practice of democracy equally universal. Nations in which democracy and the rule of law are already well established need to be vigilant in preserving that achievement. And they will need to work together to help those where democracy is still new or emerging -- so that peaceful transfers of power will become the norm, and so that democracy cannot be subverted in insidious ways, through the slow accretion of abuses such as flawed elections and majority rule that takes little account of minority concerns.

    And in cases such as Ukraine, where the transition to democracy and the moves towards market economies are occurring simultaneously, we must be aware of the danger that democracy may lose support among the population because of the social costs associated with the transition. That is not a reason for slowing down either set of reforms; it is a reason to manage its social effects with great care.

    A second key value at the heart of the European experience is pluralism. Diversity -- of culture, belief and opinion -- is one of humanity's greatest strengths. More and more throughout the world, different peoples live side by side. Rather than fear the so-called other, individuals and societies alike can be enriched by these new contacts and relationships.

    Europe's great success can be attributed in no small part to the contributions of new and vibrant communities of migrants from all over the world. Even on an individual level, whether we recognize it or not, we ourselves are all the products of many traditions and influences, our identities far from fixed.

    Societies that embrace pluralism and diversity have taken some of the most critical steps towards stability and prosperity. A constitution that enshrines the principle of equality; laws that guarantee opportunity for all; actions that help all groups feel that they belong to society and that society belongs to them -- such steps are the essence of democratic pluralism.

    By contrast, societies that build walls between people, that shield people from different realms of knowledge and ideas, that disenfranchise minorities or otherwise deny any category of people their rights, end up denying themselves the benefits of humanity's rich endowment.

    Pluralism is the inevitable face of the new Europe. In an age of open borders and open airwaves, the question is not whether societies are to be pluralistic, but rather how they can best manage the coexistence of many different groups with competing views and interests.

    Parliamentarians have a key role to play in this work. As representatives of the people, you embody their aspirations for good transparent governance, effective public administration, and adherence to democratic ideals. As a diverse group yourselves, you can set an example of peaceful dialogue and ensure that all society’s voices -- not just those of the powerful -- find a place in your debates.

    You also have a role to play in the international arena. More and more of today’s challenges and threats transcend national borders, from environmental degradation and the spread of disease to drug trafficking and the proliferation of weapons. Thus you are not only an essential link between the local and the national, you are also a bridge between the local and the global.

    You are well placed to make your constituents more aware of the international dimensions of contemporary problems -- and, I hope, what the United Nations is doing about them. Likewise, you can bring their concerns to the broader world audience. You also play a key role in ratifying international treaties, and in ensuring funding for international initiatives.

    Today, I would like to express to you and through you to the Ukrainian people the appreciation of the international community for the contribution of Ukraine to peacekeeping operations. Without your decision troops could not be deployed. We are truly grateful for your support and for the contribution of Ukraine in this important area. Allow me to express hope that the deputies of the Verkhovna Rada will continue to enable Ukraine to participate actively in peacekeeping operations.

    Ukraine’s contribution to international peace and security is not limited to peacekeeping. Foreign Minister Anantoly Zlenko, is an "old United Nations hand", who worked with the United Nations system for about 20 years. A few years ago, a representative of your country was elected President of the General Assembly and it is my pleasure to see again His Excellency Gennadiy Udovenko among the deputies of the Verkhovna Rada. Just last year Ukraine completed its non-permanent membership of the Security Council. And your competent and hard working Valery Kuchinsky, who so ably represented Ukraine on that Council, is also here with us. Only a few weeks ago, as you heard from the President, Ukraine was elected as a member of the Commission for Human Rights. Earlier, it was elected as a member of the Economic and Social Council for a three-year term.

    During my visit to your beautiful capital Kiev, I laid wreaths at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and at Babyi Yar. By doing so, I fully appreciated the huge sacrifice made by Ukraine during the Second World War. It also explains why Ukraine gives so much importance to the maintenance of international peace and security.

    This Verkhovna Rada is a place where some of the country's -- and some of the world’s -- most important decisions are taken. I am confident that you will use your unique legislative mandate wisely and with a generosity of spirit at home and abroad. I am confident that Ukraine, as a founding Member of the United Nations, will contribute its part as the transition at home deepens, as Europe continues to march towards continent-wide democracy and pluralism, and as the world tries to address, in a spirit of common cause, the urgent challenges of our times.

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