BRUSSELS, May 12, 2015 /PRNewswire/ --
A two day forum "Donbass - Yesterday, today and tomorrow" began today (11th May 2015) in Donetsk under the patronage of local authorities and a group of European and international observers who were present at the November 2014 elections in Donetsk and Lughansk.
Addressing the opening of the Forum, Alexander Zakharchenko, Head of the Donetsk People's Republic, said he believes European attitudes are "changing slowly to one of sympathy" towards the Donetsk Republic and that Europe is "beginning to understand that the situation here is not as Ukraine President Petro Poroshenko is telling them."
He said, "Europe sees that 'terrorists' (as they call us here) pay pensions, social payments and that we are fighting for our freedom as they did in Europe."
Donbass, he said, should be granted wider autonomy "in all fields of life" and also expressed hope that after the Forum people in Europe will "begin to accept Donetsk republic as an equal partner in the fields of economy and politics."
Another speaker on the opening day, Luis Durnwalder, former president of the South Tyrol region in Italy, said, "Donbass has the right to demand wide autonomy in all aspects, including politics, the economy, language and culture. The history of the successful integration and development of the mostly German-speaking Italian region of South Tyrol is one of the possible solutions for Donbasss."
His comments were echoed by Greek MP Evgenia Ouzounidou, of the Syriza Party, who insisted on speaking only in Russian "because Donbass is the place where only this language can be spoken."
She added, "Europe must receive true and unbiased information about the war in Donbass. Unfortunately, European citizens do not receive correct news about the suffering of the civilian population in Donbass, the human losses, destruction of infrastructure, houses, hospitals and schools which are being destroyed by the Ukrainian armed forces."
Further contribution came from German journalist and publisher Manuel Ochsenreiter who told the Forum that German media and politicians "lie to the population and spread false information" about the "real situation" in Eastern Ukraine.
He proposed that both Donetsk and Luhansk republics should gain the right to self-determination and a "peaceful and prosperous life."
Further to this, Johan Backmann, a Finnish political scientist and sociologist, said the Forum "symbolises the integration" of Donbass with Europe "because we see here representatives of major European states like Germany, Italy and France."
He said, "All Western experts agree that the information space in Europe is dominated mainly by the USA and because of that the realities of modern global politics are being distorted."
Many of the local speakers from Donetsk and Lugahnsk spoke of the tragic economic, social and humanitarian situation in both republics, and called upon Europe to re-consider their attitude to their desire for a decent, peaceful and prosperous life. They also told the forum that they have great economic potential, which under normal conditions could provide stability and progress in these territories.
The deal agreed in Minsk in February specifically states that discussions have to take place on special status for Donetsk and Luhansk
French member of the European Parliament, Jean Luc Schaffhauser said, "A genuine dialog should be started between Donetsk, Lughansk and Kiev under the auspices of the OSCE."
The MEP, one of the driving forces behind the peace forum and a member of the Parliament's influential foreign affairs committee, said that any lasting solution must include a measure of autonomy for Donetsk and Lughansk, which are mostly Russian-speaking regions.
He said, "Surely, what we should be striving for is a unified, peaceful Europe. That is why this initiative seeks to bring together politicians of all colours and nationalities who, like me, share an objective view of Ukraine."
The gathering, which concludes on Tuesday, also gave participants a chance to get a "hands-on" account of the current situation in the trouble-torn region, said the deputy.
Schaffhauser, who has previously visited the Donbass said, "We particularly wanted to bear witness to what is happening here and to see if the provisions of the Minsk Agreement are actually being implemented on the ground."
Participants discussed the future status of the Donbass region, respecting the "specific political, economic, social and cultural" areas of eastern Ukraine.
For further information please see http://www.forumdonbass.com
SOURCE The Office of Jean-Luc Schaffhauser, MEP