Ambassador of France in Ukraine

 

 

Academic conference: “The Ukrainian cooperative movement”

Opening

June, 12

 

It is a great honor for me myself and for our embassy to receive this invitation from the Ukrainian Catholic University to speak today. I thank you for it.

 

With the presence of Mr. Michel Camdessus and that of Mr. Jean-Marie Brunot, and the topic of Social Week, France is truly present today in Lviv. Social Week was born in France 104 years ago. I deeply thank you both, the Rector of the Ukrainian Catholic University and the Director of the Institute of Ecumenical Studies, for the honor being paid today to my country.

 

It is without doubt a truism to say that the Church places God at the center of its mission. The Church also places humankind at the heart of its activity, focusing on the spiritual dimension, to assure salvation. But the Church also considers man in his habitat, in his social dimension.

 

Often in advance of the state, the Church, both priests and pastors, have developed over the centuries forms of organized aid. They have created institutions of learning and assisted the sick and the poor. One could call this a form of charity, or “caritas.” Since the 19th century, often due to pressure from civil society, the state also took upon itself such obligations. In this way, social rights have progressively been defined. The ideal situation is one in which these two partners develop their work in collaboration, and the law consecrates the results.

 

As we understand it, social rights in relation to work, business and the family are inseparable from democratic values. In constant evolution, social rights are understood as the right to education, to health, to equality of the sexes, to protection, to rest. These rights, in varying degrees, are stated in the founding texts of human rights, both national and international: the Declaration of the Rights of Man, the Constitution, the United Nations Charter. With regard to the European Union, one regrets that the Charter on Social Rights of the Constitutional Treaty was not adopted in 2005. All these texts, and the rights they uphold, are a sort of solid protection in the face of life’s vagaries: the exercise of these rights presupposes a sharing, a redistribution, and a solidarity among peoples and generations.

 

The upholding of social rights, in Europe at least, is within the economic framework of liberalism. It is the responsibility of civil society to ensure that the political will of the state allows a real dialogue between social partners: these partners are political parties, associations created by civil society, and unions who should be recognized and respected in their rightful place.

 

These constitute a foundation of common principles of action in which democratic states, the great international institutions, financial and otherwise, share. These principles can be expressed in a more narrow sense under the term “good governance.” France and the European Union in general work to spread the practice of good governance, nurturing its growth in the states with which they cooperate.

 

This is the case with Ukraine: in this country, democratic values, strengthened in the last four years, are duly recognized. Nevertheless, partners in the social sphere in Ukraine have challenges before them.

 

In terms of bilateral relations, France gives modest assistance to Ukraine. Our cooperation with Ukraine is mainly via the European Union. We attempt, nevertheless, ourselves to sow seeds of dialogue and democracy by assisting society collectively to pose significant questions. These are questions that are pertinent, that can contribute to progress in reflection, that hone a taste for consultation and negotiation. We believe this is part of the role of our embassy. We do this with modesty: France is cautious in this, even though it is eager to contribute to reforms. We do this with the conviction that the promotion of social dialogue is the only way to protect the weak, to allow humanity and humaneness to remain central, despite upheavals in the modern world, which include globalization, climate change, and security issues.

 

Our work in Ukraine, if I can briefly summarize it, can be categorized in three areas:

 

More than in many other countries, in Ukraine, history has been painful. Ukraine has experienced annexation, repression, oppression, occupation, denial of the spiritual dimension of humankind, and even of existence, due to the Holodomor [man-made famine of 1932-3]. Much of this history has been manipulated by past official histories. Ukrainians wish for redress. They want to see history rewritten; this is part of the need to reconstruct and restore identity. In this exercise of remembering the past, we feel it would serve little purpose to commit some of the same errors, to over-simply history. Our contribution therefore to this exercise of memory is an ongoing one through support of colloquiums and translation. This December we will mark an important step in this effort through a colloquium which we are co-organizing with the Polish Embassy on this theme. Our modest seminar does not have the ambition of being, like the Social Weeks of France, Spain and Italy, a sort of popular and itinerant university with thousands of participants. It is a shame, however, that it will not be of such an order, because Ukraine needs to revisit its history, its history of two banks separated by a great river. For many this exercise in collective memory will aid Ukraine to be received into the European Union.

 

The recognition of Social Partners: We have a solid relationship with the unions of Ukraine, and also admire the work done in this domain by German foundations. We have also initiated institutional cooperation we hope will thrive between the Economic and Social Councils. We have established these contacts in Paris as well as in Brussels. We have done this paying particular attention to joint action, facilitating face-to-face dialogue between employers and union representatives. We place importance on the role and powers that must be given to work inspection. The hazards of Ukrainian political life, however, with the frequent change of those responsible in the Ministry of Work and Social Affairs do not allow us to promote this work to the full extent.

 

Certainly, we do nothing without partners. In conjunction with the Friedrich Ebert Foundation and the International Labor Organization (ILO), we carried out a project at the end of May in Kyiv on international standards of the right to work, and their application under the rule of law. In fact, a tripartite structure is at the heart of the ILO. The ILO was established in 1919 and is therefore 15 years younger than the Social Week tradition.

 

The right to health is a societal issue: The issue here is not health insurance or preventative health measures. We are also not speaking of free health care or recovery of costs. The issue we speak of in Ukrainian society is that of the health of at-risk groups, the disabled, the chronically ill and the elderly. Here again, we want to shine a spotlight, to call attention to the right to health via the media and other institutions.

  • For example, we support Ukrainian local associations which promote treatment for diseases like cancer, considering the problems such diseases pose for families, the absence of special structures, or even of morphine. We provide this support through the Protestant chaplaincy of the Public Assistance Hospital of Paris. In Ukraine one can find the presence of Catholic, Muslim, Jewish and Protestant chaplaincies financed by the public health care system. One can also discover humanitarian hospitals that work to put in practice the Charter of the Right to Health Care and reintroduce the ethical and spiritual dimension of health care.
  • Another example is the French Red Cross. Here we have engaged in initiatives regarding drug addiction. The Ukrainian response to this issue is largely one of repressing the spread of drug addiction. It is important, however, to work to change attitudes, to provide clean needles and to introduce drug substitutions.
  • The final example I would like to mention is that of the work of a Frenchman of Ukrainian origin, Mr. Yuryi Bilak, who organized an exposition touring Ukraine which was a tactile and auditory exposition for the blind, introducing them to photographic representations of portraits, landscapes and other scenes. This was a first in Ukraine. The exposition, inaugurated by Mrs. Yushchenko, called attention to those living with disabilities, their difficulty integrating into society, and the work of associations who support them.

 

Social Week as we know it in France and other countries is not a movement. It is about a need to gather, to act as a watchdog of social life, an authentic and independent observer; it is a space of freedom for citizens, often the laity of the Church, to express their concerns from whatever their point of view. Year after year, Social Week contributes to a variety of subjects, a social debate. I recall one particular theme: “What is a just society?” A good question, and posed from all angles. By their network effect, Social Weeks contribute to the forging of a path by collective analysis. One discovers that the issues and analyses mature with time. One finds that they become enriched, both in the formation of questions and in the solutions which are proposed. For this reason, I wish Ukraine many outstanding Social Weeks to come.