Bigger sticks and carrots, for Some in Ukraine

A number of weeks ago I was asked to write an OP-ED piece for ePOSHTA. Since then there have been echoes of some of the ideas I have expressed here. Including from my friend Myroslava Gongadze in the Kyiv Post. Given that some time has passed, and the publisher of ePOSHTA had told me of some technical problems, I am publishing this here.

For years, Ukraine has been going through mock reforms and in my opinion they always seems they do so as a knee-jerk response to something that is troubling the West. In short it always seems to be not a carrot that works but a fairly large stick, somewhere along the lines of a two-by-four. During the entire Presidency of Viktor Yuschenko, it seems like no approach whatsoever was taken, and most of the world looked to Ukraine as the poster-child of democracy and it slowly made some progress, though much of it was in fact window-dressing. Yushchenko’s crusader like attitude towards the Holodomor, was great, but what else if anything regarding Ukraine’s future was accomplished?

Ukraine’s poster-child status was deserved, but somehow, the West is also partially respsonsible for Yushchenko’s demise, and never held up a big enough stick to neither Yuschenko nor to Tymoshenko who because of their ego’s could never put the interest of the nation first. In the not so distant past, one of the biggest sticks that was always held over Ukraine’s head was the Jackson-Vanik Ammendment which was lifted in November of 2005.

This was an important change, particularly to US-Ukraine relations regarding trade; however, the promises of the “orange leaders” from upon the Maydan, never materialized, and no one was held to their promises. Though this is not only a problem in Ukraine’s democracy, but in all democracies. Somehow, it seemed to me as well as friends at the Democratic Initiatives Foundation, that Ukrainians had come to think that democracy is about elections, and they had forgotten the most important period is really the inter-election period. Regardless of where we live, we are all too familiar with what the majority of politicians will tell their electorate in order to get elected. I will not delve into the period that I have heard some coin the “orange honeymoon”, but would like people to think about what has been happening in the last few months and more particularly since Ukraine’s reversion to the 1996 version of Ukraine’s Constitution in October of 2010.

One of the greatest matters that will strike a cord with any long-term Ukraine watchers and advocates of democratic progress and development is that the Rule of Law is essential!

The disregard for any law in Ukraine, has during its nearly twenty years of independence, been commonplace, unfortunately as are commonly excepted principles between what is right and wrong when dealing with businessmen and more particularly civil servants, who 90% of the time put their personal interests before those required by the positions they are supposed to carry out! The contempt of the law, seems to have been happening even more now than under what some political activists in Ukraine called Kuchmizm, in the period leading up to the Orange Revolution.

While I do not condone violent uprising in Ukraine as a way of bringing about the needed changes, it is a prospect that seems to become increasingly realistic if the current authoritarian trends continue to be exerted further and further. People are now being pushed and jostled a little harder than Kuchma dared to push! The decisively anti-national, and socio-economically erosive policies are in fact, riling people in Ukraine to the point that I have not once on various Ukrainian fora seen it being asserted that peaceful means of resistance are no longer considered to be a viable option.

As pointed out by the publisher of ePOSHTA, Myroslava Oleksyuk on a discussion list which prompted me to write this piece, “Former ambassador Dr. Yuri Shcherbak confirmed this when he was in Toronto last month. He believes the situation will not be changed without violence.” However, given the current state of the Ukrainian national psyche (see analysis in Oleh Tolkachov’s article in Ukrainska Pravda), such drastic developments may, even now, seem to be hard to imagine.”

The reprisals of arrest of those who are considered oppositional forces, has even lead to some condemnation by some in the West, while the government in Ukraine, claims that these arrests are not politically motivated. However, how can one believe anyone leading a country where the rule of law does not exist?

One of the greatest problem in Ukraine is what I would call a leadership vacuum. There is neither a viable leader nor a group that have completely clean hands. So many deals in Ukraine are made or broken on compromise. Until such a group appears on the scene that is without compromise and one that not only has leadership and vision but one that knows how to channel to the population a vision of Ukraine the country will remain a place that is economically plundered by a few, while the greater portion of the population eeks out an existence. This group must not only have wide appeal, it must be ready to take on a leadership role including a long term strategy for the nation, and then, and only then will it be possible to move in the right direction! A direction, that appeals not only to Ukrainians living in Ukraine, but those who live beyond Ukraine’s borders and includes patriotic Ukrainian values not only of Ukrainian citizens, but those of the Ukrainian diaspora. Individuals who collectively have a better understanding of democracy than most Ukrainians in Ukraine. This may in fact still take a generation or two, and I know it’s not as quick as we would like to see Ukraine change for the better, but is the closest realistic scenario.But there is the chance, that no such leader or group will ever appear?

Even for this to happen in my predicted time-frame, Ukraine has to develop a clear national policy on where it wants to go and to be led by individuals and groups who stop putting their personal interests first and put the interests of the country before their own. The indecisiveness of the nation, has existed since Ukraine gained its independence in 1991, and because of this indecisiveness that the phrase, “We have what we have!” by Leonid Kravchuk will continue to stick in the minds of many Ukrainians.

One of the main problems which Ukraine and Ukrainians in the diaspora face right now is one very absolute fact. The powers that be in Ukraine,at this moment in time, will use all means possible to marginalize the role of the diaspora. They, along with those who have their favor, may either willingly, or unwillingly, sow the seeds of conflict in our communities! Nearly a year ago, in some fora, stated that we must remain vigilant and this has not changed. In fact we must be even more vigilant!

We must focus on a positive and professional approach in the projects we pursue and to do this we must also pursue approaches to carrying out projects that will not always be congruous with the mindset of many of our community leaders, many who unfortunately are there by default and not because of leadership or vision!

Since, I have returned to live in Canada, in 2009, I have heard and seen countless examples of low level of professionalism in our community. As one friend and fellow broadcaster has said, on numerous occasions, “There are many Ukrainians who are top professionals in their fields, but once they are in the church hall, the local SUM or Plast branch, their professionalism is left at the door!” Think about it for a moment, and I am sure that you all know a few people who are just like that. Our communities somehow too, lack a vision, and when someone does voice their opinion and put forth a vision they are put down by those who are at the helm of our various communities around the globe.

While, this is not always the case with our national organizations who have a budget to operate and have in the past and still do hire extremely qualified individuals, this does not happen at the regional levels. There, nearly everyone has a mindset that non-profit organizations making money to be self-supportive in furthering their cause, and the cause of the community at large is somehow a bad thing. It is is simply not true. All organizations have a board, which often is for the most part slapped together pell-mell and made up of members who are their by default. Many younger people in the community have become disenfranchised by the community, because a resistance to change by older members. I’m not talking about older being octogenarians, I’m talking about many of my own peers who are in their forty-somethings. The status-quo is good enough for them, so therefore it must be alright for everyone else. Is it?

I’m not sure why this is the case, but it is a problem that the community has to figure out how to deal with. Maybe, it’s lack of creativity, or maybe simply it is their insular vision, that hampers them in realizing what is truly going on in Ukraine and even in their own back yards. Or maybe it is that they are not in touch with the world in general? Meanwhile, adversaries of Ukrainian nationhood and culture are doing everything and using all contemporary means possible to discredit both Ukraine and Ukrainians wherever they reside on the face of this earth.

I am certain that there are many who have forgotten the days, when the world was fed a great deal of political rhetoric about how things are so good in Ukraine. It is possible that the same people and those who in Ukraine’s nearly twenty years of independence have somehow forgotten, or never learned to read between the lines in all spheres of contemporary Ukrainian life, and began to see Ukraine through rose colored glasses once it gained its independence. Why is this? It is my opinion, that they and others like them have never fully understood the root of many of the problems and undercurrents in Ukraine.

When I visited Ukraine for the first two times in 1990, I too had a certain expected perception of what the country would be like. Though my perception over the last twenty years has developed to be a more realistic one. A Ukraine with problems that most Canadians, Americans and Europeans can not even fathom or begin to understand, because many have simply been tourists, and business people who seldom shown or told about the realities of Ukraine.

So may I propose for 2011 that the entire Ukrainian community that is concerned about Ukraine, as an independent nation, rethink their approaches not only to Ukraine, but to our communities.

For Ukraine, our leadership has to lobby at an official level with tenacity and willingness to ensure that bigger sticks are used in keeping Ukraine in line in the area of human rights, press freedoms, and most importantly the rule of law. Somehow, it seems that anytime Ukraine cries about its problems the world comes to the rescue with assistance in the form of a blank cheque. That blank cheque and any other assistance, including bilateral trade agreements in the future, requires not only strings attached, but iron chains.

For our communities, we have to think about the younger people in the community who want to try something new, different and innovative. Some of their ideas may even be considered risky, by conservative members of the community, but if it contributes to the common good, then we must nurture a younger generation, many, who have turned their backs on the community and not without reason!. To those individuals in the community who can contribute in a positive way be it in their actions or financially to do so, and the youth and supporters of innovative community projects should be given carrots, so they continue to do so.

Journalists and broadcasters, must professionally inform not only the Ukrainian community globally about important issues, but also politicians, the media and common individuals who are not indifferent to Ukraine or its people, history or culture regardless of where in the world they are. We should in turn demand that the international community carry a bigger stick when it comes to dealing with Ukraine, as opposed to them responding to their mock reforms and lack of adherence to rule of law and human rights. The carrot, is of a color which the current regime holds a disdain for, will not work in initiating any change in Ukraine. They need to be not only beaten with a two-by-four by the international community, but society within Ukraine, must learn how to beat those who do not live by the rule of law with not only a two-by-four, but with the iron that comes out of foundries of those who have become wealthy beyond belief.

I would like to close with my best wishes to you all readers of E-Poshta with my very best wishes for 2011, and to hope that together we can demonstrate to others that we can work effectively together and be agents of change within the global Ukrainian community!