Volodymyr MUZYKA, P&T, interviews Yuri Kostenko, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Ukraine in Japan
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Yuri Vasyliovych, wouldn't you like for starters to share your first, purely human impressions of the country of your residence?
"My wife and I came to the Land of the Rising Sun at the end of April, and exactly in a week we witnessed sakura, Japanese cherry, burst into bloom. While looking for a suitable flat to rent we stayed at the high-rise hotel with a fascinating name "Sakura Tower Prince Hotel"; the latter featured the inner court with a peculiar park and a pool inhabited by weighty carps of various colors and sakura trees of different sort in abundance. The tree abloom is unique in its beauty with leaves virtually invisible because of the ocean of white and pink petals. We had the chance to feast our eyes with this prodigy of nature just in the center of twenty-million-residents Tokyo.
"Repeatedly our Japanese friends told us that people arriving during sakura flowering were destined to be happy here. I keep my fingers crossed but so far this extraordinary country, its unmatched culture, rich history, and the eventful present fascinate us.
"I cannot avoid mentioning the presentation of credentials of the Ukrainian Ambassador in Japan to the Emperor of Japan Akihito. In 1992 and 1995 I already had the chance to present credentials to presidents of the Austrian Republic and Federal Republic of Germany as the Ambassador of Ukraine to these countries. With all the splendor of the Austrian and German protocols with the guard of honor and performance of national anthems attendant it still remains somewhat traditional. In Japan, however, the singularity of the procedure of accreditation starts with the arrival of the ambassadors at the palace in a gilded carriage and accompanied by representative of the imperial protocol going on straight from ...the central railroad station. At least for twelve minutes the carriage proceeds slowly along the city's main streets with traffic stopped and drivers patiently waiting for green lights. The imperial palace is amazing with its exquisite simplicity and practicality. His Majesty showing great care and attention when speaking about the Chernobyl aftermath has registered especially in my mind."
As is known, it was ten years at the end of January 2002 since Ukraine and Japan established diplomatic relations. How was this event marked?
"The Ukrainian Embassy conducted a series of measures dedicated to the decennial of our diplomatic relations.
"On this significant date, the exchange of greetings by the President Leonid Kuchma to the Emperor of Japan Akihito and Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi to the President of Ukraine was made. In particular, the following was mentioned in Leonid Kuchma's greeting: "The development of bilateral cooperation during this decade is an eloquent evidence to the fact that, despite the relative geographic remoteness, our countries share common values in the settlement of global problems of international life which either coincide or are very close."
"The President of Ukraine decorated Mr. Hakuo Yanagisava, the State Minister for the Financial Policy and Secretary General of the Parliamentary Association of Japan- Ukraine friendship, with the Order for Merit, 3d class, for his personal contribution to the development of Japanese-Ukrainian relations. Memorable medals of the Verkhovna Rada "The Ten Years of Ukrainian Independence" were presented, in particular, to S. Edamuri and S. Suedzavi, the former ambassadors of the land of the rising sun to Ukraine. A host of Japanese citizens were also awarded diplomas of this country's Embassy in Tokyo.
"The grand meeting and diplomatic corps reception, numerous newspaper and magazine articles, photo-exhibits, lectures and performance of Ukrainian artists in various cities of Japan is far from being a full enumeration of measures dedicated to the 10th anniversary of our diplomatic relations."
The years of diplomatic relations established are quite a stretch of time. Under just a perfunctory analysis, which events during the period would you consider as landmarks?
"Undoubtedly, to such events belongs the visit to Japan of Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma in March 1995, when the first in the history of our relations document had been signed: the Joint
Declaration of Ukraine and Japan. The important outcome of the visit was also the decision of Japan to intensify its assistance to Ukraine in eliminating the consequences of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, raising the safety of nuke's operation, as well as funding utilization of nuclear weapons that still remained on the Ukrainian territory then."
To enlarge on the previous question we are curious to know whether the present Ukrainian-Japanese relations are marked by sufficient profoundness. If the answer is no, which direction one is to look for reserves for their development?
"One should admit honestly that relations with Japan are not as profound and diverse as distinguished, for instance, our bilateral links with Austria and the Federal Republic of Germany, where I had the honor to represent Ukrainian interests during 1992 to 1997. Our relations with Japan were developing quite specifically, which process I would call the dynamics of a sine curve, that is, with rises and falls self- evident.
"The rates of this country creating infrastructure of diplomatic relations in Japan was not matched by those evolved by Japanese side in Kyiv. The Embassy of Japan in Ukraine headed by the career diplomat S. Suedzava, was opened in May 1993. Before that, the interests of Japan here were represented by their Embassy in Moscow. Meanwhile, inauguration of the Ukrainian Embassy in Tokyo occurred virtually two years later in January of 1995.
"It was 1995 that happened to be gainful and productive year for the bilateral relations between our countries. The visit of the Ukrainian President to Japan and interest of the Japanese side in stable, democratic, politically and economically independent Ukraine attest to the fact, as well as provision by the Japanese government of the US 200 million credit.
"Unfortunately, the measuring bar of bilateral relations set so high at the time failed to be kept. For a couple of years, the dynamic level of bilateral political contacts was maintained on freewheeling followed by the downturn. Sufficient is to say that since 1996 until 2002 there was not a single visit by a Japanese politician of the ministerial or higher grade. For a year and half, there was no appointment of Ukrainian Ambassador to Japan.
"The year before last turned out a significant stage in reanimating our bilateral relations. Visits were held to Japan by delegations headed by Vice-Prime Minister V. Seminozhenko and Deputy Chairman of the Verkhovna Rada S. Havrysh. The Japanese executive Eikiti Nisikava became honorary Ukrainian consul in Osaka and Kansai industrial region.
"As concerns the reserves, they are always and in every sphere. In the context of this country's relations with Japan, the group, in my opinion, has still failed to form of influential political figures, executives, representatives of science and culture interested in development of multipronged fruitful and, of course, mutually profitable relations with this geographically remote but unique nation of the Far East as to its economic and cultural originality.
"Such a group could lobby (in the better sense of the word) in the corridors of power the interests of cooperation with Japan and initiate new projects in various
spheres. On permanent basis it could work together with business of Japan attracting its great financial potentialities to the processes of transformation of our economy.
"I believe that the present composition of the Verkhovna Rada is to vivify interest to parliamentary links between our countries."
Where can one see interests of Japan and Ukraine coinciding, and where are differences evident?
"As of today, there is no the so-called problematic issues in the political spectrum of our bilateral relations. Being the G8 influential member, Japan actively backs the processes of democratization in Ukraine, consolidation of the civil society and transformation of economy on the market basis. The course for integration into European and Euro Atlantic structures finds positive response of political figures of Japan. The efforts of Ukraine directed at participation in the UN peacekeeping operations in different parts of the world and common fight of international terrorism meet with understanding from the side of Japan. Traditionally, we have much in common in our positions on issues of nuclear disarmament and reduction of military spending.
"The matters are more complex in the sphere of economy. The torpor in the sphere of our political relations already mentioned was in many ways caused by the unresolved problem of restructuring of the external Ukrainian debt for the Japanese credits of 1995. Presently, the process settling of the Ukrainian obligations to Japan restructured at the decision of the Paris Club has been completed. However, it is highly doubtful that after such problems in settling bilateral financial issues in the nearest future the Japanese would enthusiastically grant new loans, which, incidentally, were among the most favorable for Ukraine.
"There is ths disaccord concerning the issue of creating judicial and legal basis of relations which, strange as it may seem, is actually nonexistent. The Japanese side believes that the small number of agreements and treaties signed with the Soviet Union, of which Ukraine is a legal successor, should suffice for fruitful development of bilateral relations."
How are our economic relations with Japan being shaped? How far have we advanced in this direction exactly?
"Our relationship in this sphere do not match the Japan's potential as the second financial and economic power in the world. According to the State Statistics Committee of Ukraine the total commodity turnover between Ukraine and Japan in 2002 was only USD 267 million (with USD 185 million being Ukrainian export and USD 82 million worth of goods imported by Ukraine). Ukrainian export to Japan is made up of aluminum and its alloys, dry milk, ferroalloys and ferrous metallurgy products. Incidentally, there was a threefold increase of dry skim milk export during the recent years with Ukraine occupying one of the top places on the Japanese market as to the volume of the product imported. Under the circumstances of sharp drop in purchasing price for milk in Ukraine and resulting drop in its production, its bulk export to Japan is, undoubtedly, a substantial backing of the national producer.
"The lion's share of the stock list of the Ukrainian import from Japan is
made up of passenger cars and other vehicles, spare parts for them, as well as electronic devices.
"Unique is the system of granted, that is free, assistance to Ukraine. For example, the Special Hospital for Children OKHMATDYT had its medical departments fitted out with modern medical equipment for treatment and diagnostics for the amount exceeding six million dollars. Japan also gave the first grant of USD68 thousand to carry out so-called small projects. The funds are intended for the Slavutych crisis center to provide social and psychological aid to the victims of Chernobyl disaster. In the sphere of grants for culture, the Government of Japan supplied high-tech equipment for the National Philharmonics, National Museum of History, Ivan Franko National Academic Drama Theater, Taras Shevchenko National Academic Opera and Ballet Theater. The total volume of gratuitous assistance to Ukraine from Japan at the end of April 2003 exceeded USD160 million."
In the light of certain events in the Middle East that shook the world what is the official position of Japan concerning them? What are the particularities, if any?
"During the Iraqi crisis, Japan unequivocally supported actions of the U. S. A. and Great Britain trying to find its place in the processes of post-war settlement and reconstruction of the country. At the same time, in view of the constitutional ban on participation of Japan's armed forces in any military actions outside the country except peacekeeping operations sanctioned by the UNO, the military campaign of the coalition in Iraq received only moral support from this country. It is not by pure accident that the government of Prime Minister Koidzumi is pressing to engage the UN in the stabilization and reconstruction processes in Iraq.
"Japan actively supported the antiterrorist campaign in Afghanistan, but again predominantly through financing the reconstruction of the country.
"Early in 2002 the international conference was held in Tokyo at the ministerial level on the issue of reconstructing Afghanistan. Japan pledged to allocate USD500m for the purpose then.
"Japan's interest towards the Middle East region is rather pragmatic. Since the '70s of the last century, when the new aggravation of situation in this oil-rich region provoked the world energy crisis inflicting heavy blow on the economy of Japan, Tokyo was likely to join the peacekeeping efforts of the world community at reduction of the confrontation level between Israel and Palestine. However, one must admit, regular visits of high ranking Japanese officials to the region of the Middle East and proposals, particularly concerning international conference to revive confidence between the conflicting parties, have failed so far.
"As to the particulars of the official position of Japan on matters of settlement in the Middle East, in addition to what was said above, the country traditionally contributed significantly to the humanitarian aid for the people of Palestine, chiefly, through the specialized UN organization serving the needs of Palestinians."
What is about Ukraine's presence, at least partial, within the mass media of Japan? Are there any difficulties?
"Of course, the Embassy is monitoring publications about Ukraine in the media of Japan very carefully. Information about the events in our country contains mainly hot news reports, that is, catastrophes, floods, etc., and presents, as a rule, reissues of the reports by the major information agencies of the world. I met with the leadership of virtually all main national papers (which daily total circulation makes several million copies) and asked them to send journalists accredited in Moscow or Warsaw more often to different regions of Ukraine, or even better to dispatch special correspondents there to write features. Unfortunately, they are slow to make it.
"In our turn, every year the Embassy arranges no less than 10 to 15 publications on Ukraine and the state of Ukrainian-Japanese relations in newspapers and magazines here. Predominantly, these are articles and interviews by the Ambassador of Ukraine in Japan given both to main papers in Tokyo and regional press. Regular have become briefings at the Embassy for the mass media representatives.
"Visits of the Ambassador to different prefectures of the accredited country are usually backed up by publications about Ukraine in local press. During the recent years, the Embassy is more actively cooperating with the national radio and TV companies of Japan to publicize programs concerning various sides of life in our country.
"Our diplomatic institutions have carried out quite a few remarkable if not unique public relations actions to promote favorable image and heighten interest in Japan towards Ukraine. It is worth mentioning here only some of them. Highly resounding turned out the publication in the Land of Rising Sun of the collection of poems The Garden of Love and Sunshine by Ludmyla Skyrda, known Ukrainian poetess, made at the prestigious Tokyo publishing house. Over a dozen of Japanese periodicals carried critiques about this motivating book issued in both Japanese and Ukrainian languages. Recently, the Tokyo publisher Suemori Books published the Ukrainian translation made by L. Skyrda of the volume Building Bridges by Her Majesty Empress of Japan Michiko. It is highly satisfying that this unique Ukrainian-Japanese project realized by the Embassy was warmly received and made note of by His Majesty Emperor Akihito and Foreign Minister Y. Kavaguti. "
Which policymakers of the country did you have a chance to meet recently? How much interest in Ukraine did they show?
"The peculiarity of the country of residence manifests itself in the fact that under the Imperial protocol a series of official events are held with His Majesty and members of the Imperial Family participating. These are annual receptions to celebrate the New Year's day, Emperor's birthday, Sakura blooming, etc. On such occasions, members of the diplomatic Corps normally may communicate with members of the Imperial Family. I had closer contacts with deceased Prince Takamada; I met him in May in Shiga Prefecture during ceremonial rice-planting feast with diplomats from various countries participating. Prince Takamada, Emperor Akihito's nephew, was undoubtedly a personality extraordinary. He played cello perfectly and was the Honorary
Head of the Japan's Soccer Federation. At official receptions there is always an opportunity to speak to Members of the Cabinet both of the present and former governments. The influence of the latter remains very strong.
"At the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, my permanent partners to discuss all issues of bilateral relations are the Minister's deputies, and directors-general, primarily, of the European Bureaus.
"Of course the concern of policymakers of the country of my residence in expanding relations with Ukraine does exist. Interest, however, never occurs in abstract form. If some project is being realized, or an important measure effected, there is a perfect pretext to initiate or encourage interest to this country and to get in touch with its political figures. "
Is there any kind of Ukrainian life in Japan?
"It is very hard to compare centuries-old links of Ukraine with Austria and Germany with sporadic contacts of Ukrainians with the Land of Rising Sun. Nevertheless, certain discoveries were in store for me here too. For instance, at the start of the 20th century Ukrainian author Vasyl Yeroshenko studied and worked in Japan. Since 1916 he published narratives and allegoric tales in Japanese. His portrait painted by Nikamura, the classic of Japanese arts, is in the show at the Tokyo National museum. In Tokyo's art centers, you may also come across the works of the outstanding Ukrainian sculptor Olexander Arkhypenko. The Embassy keeps in close touch with one of the outstanding Sumo wrestlers of Japan Koki Taiho, who one may bravely call the national hero of the country. The grounds for such contacts are quite enough since his father-Marian Boryshko is a native of village Runovschyna of the present day Zacheplivsky Region, Kharkiv Oblast.
"According to the Embassy's consular department, today close to 340 Ukrainian citizens are registered with the diplomatic representation. Thre is no public organization in Japan which could make them into a community. "
In the end, could you describe the conditions in which our diplomats have to live and work.
"According to the official international data Japan was and will remain the most expensive country to live in in the world. In addition, up to a thousand of big and small earthquakes strike this island yearly. Honestly, the sensation is not very pleasant when waking up in the small hours you feel your furniture tremble. The main thing, however, is the fact that you know not when the next, more powerful quake is to follow. If on top of it you add June-to-September daytime temperature of 30sC, the picture drawn is especially unappealing.
"Although salary of the Embassy employees is the highest within the system of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine, it is far from being consistent with the price level and inhospitable climate of the country of residence.
"The modest rented house of the Ukrainian Embassy is located in prestigious neighborhood of Tokyo. Close to forty other diplomatic missions also situated here allow our diplomats to efficiently carry out their duties. Regrettably, in operating the Embassy we face numerous personnel problems. For instance, Japan remains the only country of the G8 where
the post of trade economic representative failed to be introduced for eight years of the Embassy existing here."
Are you pleased with being assigned exactly to Japan?
"My wife and I are filled with satisfaction that we are to live and work in such a unique country as Japan. Despite all climatic and language problems, we deem it as a country of people highly optimistic and purposeful. Japan by right holds position of one of three centers of the modern world along with the USA and Western Europe. "
You are reputed to be keen on archeology. Isn't it so that you had to forget about your hobby in Japan?
"I was carried away by archeology since childhood. During 1952 to 1957, our family resided in Poltava, where my father kept very close ties with highly fascinating person, Mykola Havrylenko. A modest educator at the Poltava Teachers' Training College, he was one of the most outstanding ornithologists of Ukraine with unparalleled knowledge of Europe and the world. In similarity to many of his generation that lived through the first half of the 20th century, not a favorite of fortune he was.
"It happened to be him, who took us to ancient settlement in Poltava Oblast where on the surface one could see in great number not only the broken pieces of pottery, but also implements of the late Stone Age and glass beads and bronze arrow heads of Scythian period.
"Starting from 1960, the remnants of ancient settlements in Baryshivka Region in Kyiv Oblast, where I spent every summer in my father's native village, became the objet of my rapt regard. In due course, I published several articles in Archeology magazine dealing with the results of my longtime search. It was highly satisfying that the site of the late Paleolithic in the vicinity of the village Berezan and an interesting hamlet belonging to the Cherniakhivska Culture were later excavated by professionals-research fellows of the Archeological Institute of the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine. The results of these explorations were reflected in special literature. Attending the National Historical museum here in Japan, I wonder how close had been the material culture of the peoples inhabiting our planet right up to the last millenium. "
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