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Leigh Turner

Ambassador to Austria and UK Permanent Representative to the United Nations and other International Organisations in Vienna

Part of UK in Ukraine

16th November 2009

Tolerance and intolerance in Ukraine

One disadvantage of the Ukrainian election campaign is that a long-standing series of “Ukraine Says No to Racism” posters on the way to my nearest tube station has been covered up with pictures of presidential candidates.  That’s a pity, because today is International Day of Tolerance, a theme which I see the Interparliamentary Union recently picked up in its International Day of Democracy.  This is especially relevant as the Ukrainian Presidential Election Campaign moves into top gear.

In many ways, Ukraine is a remarkably tolerant and diverse place.  Standing at a crossroads between Europe and Asia and with borders which shifted substantially in the 20thC, the country has many nationalities and ethnic groups which mostly rub along with a minimum of friction.  Nor does the fact that large proportions of Ukrainians speak Ukrainian or Russian as their first language cause much tension: it’s commonplace to hear interviews on the TV or radio where the questions are in one language and the answers in the other.  This multi-ethnic, multilingual aspect of Ukraine should offer the country a competitive advantage in the globalised 21st century.

But, as in all countries – including the UK – there’s more to be done.  Commonwealth ambassadors in Kyiv have discussed and raised with the Ukrainian authorities the disturbing number of what seem to be racially-motivated attacks on foreign students here, particularly those from Africa.  And this year’s election campaign has been disgraced by attacks on one presidential candidate on account of his supposed Jewish origins.  Worse still, the latter campaign is said to have deterred voters from supporting the candidate in question.  If true, that’s something Ukrainian political leaders should tackle head-on.  An excellent piece in Ukrainska Pravda highlights the risk that “pre-electoral syndrome” can lead to intolerance.  Speaking out against such intolerance will give an important signal of Ukraine’s political maturity and readiness for closer integration with the EU.  Condemning any and all campaigning which attacks an individual’s ethnic or religious background would be a good start.

About Leigh Turner

I hope you find this blog interesting and, where appropriate, entertaining. My role in Vienna covers the relationship between Austria and the UK as well as the diverse work of…

I hope you find this blog interesting and, where appropriate, entertaining. My role in Vienna covers the relationship between Austria and the UK as well as the diverse work of the UN and other organisations; stories here will reflect that.

About me: I arrived in Vienna in August 2016 for my second posting in this wonderful city, having first served here in the mid-1980s. My previous job was as HM Consul-General and Director-General for Trade and Investment for Turkey, Central Asia and South Caucasus based in Istanbul.

Further back: I grew up in Nigeria, Exeter, Lesotho, Swaziland and Manchester before attending Cambridge University 1976-79. I worked in several government departments before joining the Foreign Office in 1983.

Keen to go to Africa and South America, I’ve had postings in Vienna (twice), Moscow, Bonn, Berlin, Kyiv and Istanbul, plus jobs in London ranging from the EU Budget to the British Overseas Territories.

2002-6 I was lucky enough to spend four years in Berlin running the house, looking after the children (born 1992 and 1994) and doing some writing and journalism.

To return to Vienna as ambassador is a privilege and a pleasure. I hope this blog reflects that.