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People First: The latest in the watch on Ukrainian democracy

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Sept. 30, 2012, 7:13 p.m. |

An elderly woman asks for alms at the metro entrance during heavy frost in Kiev on Feb. 8, 2012. The Ukraine government has blamed alcohol abuse as the main cause of deaths caused by a spell of abnormally cold weather that has claimed at least 135 lives over the last 10 days. AFP PHOTO/ SERGEI SUPINSKY
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Though Ukrainians see themselves as patriots, more and more prepare to seek a life abroad. Whilst the government prepares to rig an election, Russia demonstrates that it finds Ukraine’s cultural heritage an unwanted guest.

 

Patriotic ideology rises, patriotic commitment falls

Sociological surveys across Ukraine show that 82 percent of the population consider themselves patriotic - a 5 percent rise since 2010. Responses to the survey broke down as follows: 40 percent definitely patriotic, 42 percent more patriotic than not, while only 10 percent claim not to be patriotic at all.

Perhaps unsurprisingly the greatest consolidation of patriots can be found in the western and northern regions of Ukraine. Ukrainians define patriotism as taking pride in their country, their people, the territory they live on, their culture, nature, Ukrainian history, and association with the great historical figures of their nationality.

Soviet identity still retains a significant presence in Ukraine: one third of supporters of the Communist Party (6-8 percent of the total electorate) and almost every 6th supporter of the governing Party of Regions (20-25 percent of the total electorate) identify themselves as Soviet.

Strangely, whilst the number of self-titled patriots rises the number of people prepared to defend Ukraine with arms has fallen, from 43 percent to 33 percent, and the number of those totally unprepared to defend the nation has risen from 38 percent to 54 percent.

As expected, the West is the most prepared to protect Ukraine's territorial integrity, while the South is the least. At the same time, if the referendum on independence was held today, then only 61% of Ukrainians would vote for it (compared to over 90 percent in 1991) while 26 percent would not support it at all. While support for Independence varies across the country: 90 percent in the west, 70 percent in the north and centre and less than half in the east and south, 80 percent of all Ukrainians from all regions are against separating any territories from Ukraine. Thus while there may be disagreement as to Ukraine’s political future, territorial integrity is something the country can unite on.

People First Comment: Nobody in their right mind would ever doubt any Ukrainians devout patriotism after all it is only really patriotism and cultural values that has held the entire nation together for the past 350 years of repression.  Whilst this is laudable for any nation it is not enough upon which to build a modern democratic State.  States exist not because of the fervour of its people but because of vision of it’s leaders and the systems that enable that vision to be realised.

The United States of America was not created by the Pilgrim fathers who landed in 1620 but out of the Declaration of Independence of 1776, the Constitution of 1787, the Bill of rights of 1791 and the clear understanding that these founding documents were inviolate and backed by the rule of law.  Ukraine had it’s ‘Pilgrim Fathers’ for 350 years that kept the spirit alive, it’s declaration of Independence in 1991, its Constitution in 1996 but sadly no bill of rights, no rule of law and documents that have been violated so many times as to make them virtually worthless.  So what was the difference?

The early Americans realised that if the great wealth of the American nation was to be fully realised then it had to be within the framework of the rule of law.  How the west was won has become the source of legends but interestingly almost all the American legends are based upon the fight between those who want to live outside the law and those that have upheld it.  Sadly this is not the case in Ukraine nor will it be until the people of this great nation re-establish the primacy of the rule of law and take away all the parliamentary privileges that have enabled a select few to rape and pillage the assets without repercussion.  Think of it this way… If the United States had followed the same model then today it would be much like Russia.

 

Why secure votes, when you can secure vote counters!

One of the biggest risks of falsification during the parliamentary elections lies in the newly-formed district electoral committees. Two major parties, the All-Ukrainian Union “Svoboda” (a nationalist party) and UDAR (Ukrainian Democratic Alliance for Reform headed by Vitaliy Klitschko), that otherwise have every chance of getting seats in the new Parliament, were not allowed to elect representatives to these committees. The representatives of these parties stated that they plan to turn to the High Court of Appeals to correct this situation and in the event that the reaction is negative, they plan to appeal to international courts and the wider public(3).

Members of the Central Election Commission of Ukraine claim that everything went as foreseen by the law. Specifically, after the draw only 19 political parties received the right to include their candidates into the district committees. Meanwhile, in a blatant abuse of democratic protocol,  little-known parties such as “Rus United”, “Russian Block”, “Ukrainian Anarchist Union”, “Young people to government”, “Brotherhood”, “People's Labour Union of Ukraine” and others, that in many cases have as little as a single candidate running in one majority constituency, got into every single one of the 225 district election commissions. Coincidentally, parties that are critical of the government and have popular support received no representation among the bodies responsible for administrating the counting of votes).

Experts were quick to note the threat to the integrity to the upcoming elections. There is a widespread belief that the massively over-represented small parties are pro-Russian puppet parties in collusion with the ruling Party of Regions. At the same time, political analysts underline that the opposition was too late in reacting to the situation; decisions on the formation of electoral commissions were made a long time ago(5). In essence the inaction of the opposition has allowed the ruling party to define the election rules on their own terms. If such behaviour continues on the part of the opposition the government will have won before even a single vote has been cast.

People First Comment: When are the people of this country and in fact this region going to get it through their heads that the rule of law is not something you play with in order to gain advantage over another, it is the very foundation of the society in which you live.  If the law can be manipulated then it has no value and those that manipulate it hold no respect.  In any society the young learn from the examples set by their elders.  If father observes and upholds the law then so will the children.  If father lives a life of crime then it is very likely that the children will follow.  In modern societies the leaders are supposed to set an example for the rest of the nation to follow as without clear leadership backed by the will and the enthusiasm of the majority the nation will simply lapse into apathy and social decline.

In Ukraine this is exactly what is happening.  This nation is following in the footsteps of the Presidents and a fine example they have set.  Each one carved their own little niche of manipulation as they sought to abuse the law to achieve their financial and political ends.  All each has succeeded in doing is to undermine yet further the rule of law to a point where today almost anybody can bend the law in any way they chose and the Central Election Commission is just another example

You cannot build a nation on elastic laws and flexible interpretation.  The law needs to be set in stone and designed to be fair and equal to all sectors of society.  Those that administrate the law must apply it equally and without favour, even in Ukraine.  Yes it may make life inconvenient for some but if Ukrainians want to live in an orderly and progressive society that is the price.  Some truly believe that wealth can only be generated by bending the law.  If that is the case one has to ask why Ukraine languishes so close to the bottom of the league of successful nations.

 

Young Ukrainians see no future in Ukraine

Ukraine continues to supply a workforce to the European Union and Russia. According to data from the International Organization for Migration over 6 million of the world’s emigrant population are Ukrainians; and half of them are under 35 years of age. For Ukrainian young people, going abroad means an opportunity to get a good education and employment. Experts think that only decent wages, availability of housing, improvement of social services and an increase of state interest in educated young people could return the Ukrainian youth home. Education is a particularly strong motive for leaving Ukraine. In the last three years the number of those wanting to study abroad has increased by 10%. In getting higher education, Ukrainian students give preference primarily to Great Britain, Canada, Poland, USA, Czech Republic and Baltic countries. The situation has reached a stage where over 50 percent of Ukrainians, aged between 18 and 29, are prepared to emigrate from Ukraine(6).

During the first 10-15 years after receiving Independence in 1991, Ukraine lost a huge wealth of intellect as the majority of migrants were scientists and professionals from technical spheres. Now it is the young who seek jobs abroad and if the situation continues along its current vector Ukraine is bound to significantly weaken its gene pool and its perspectives of social and economic development. Unfortunately, the majority of Ukrainians who get jobs abroad (the biggest numbers go to the USA, Canada and Russia) do not return to Ukraine to contribute their efforts to its development(7). Thus, whilst the government largely ignores a demographic crisis, an unfavourable internal labour market, difficulties in the economy and the generally low living standards, young people will keep looking for better life abroad.

 

People First Comment: Migration to safer locations is something that is deep rooted in the psychology of every single animal and human being on the planet.  In times of trouble it is perfectly natural to seek out safer places.  In times of flood animal’s move to higher ground, in times of drought they move to where there is water and in times of economic crisis we humans migrate to places where there is work and security.

In fact man will go to extraordinary lengths to secure their freedom.  In the late 1800’s more than half the population of Ireland crossed over to the Americas to seek a new and better life.  At the end of the Second World War it is estimated that some 24 million were classified as displaced peoples in Europe alone.  In the 1990’s when Poland joined the EU almost a million Poles migrated to parts of the United Kingdom to the point where in some districts Polish became the dominant language and today some 50,000 people a year in North Africa risk their lives in poorly equipped and unseaworthy boats dreaming of a new life in the EU. 

People however rarely want to give up all they know and love to move to totally alien environments, most are driven either by economic hardship or repression.  The fact that young people are leaving Ukraine in droves is the result of both.  Ukraine is at present a pretty awful place to live if you are young and full of ideas.  Salaries are miserly, prospects are non-existent, jobs are few and far between, the press is controlled, television has been numbed down to almost moronic standards, there is no debate, little freedom, no money, no security, no legal system and for most no future… all the ingredients for a steady flow of migrants out of the country. 

What makes the matter worse is that many of the top brains of the country are being educated abroad where that can see how countries are supposed to work, where societies function, where their rights are respected and salaries are worth working for.  Can anybody blame them for wanting to stay abroad?  The only way to hold onto the brains we have or to attract back those who have left is to build a society that is attractive, safe and secure, where the rule of law takes precedent, investors are happy to build and families feel secure enough to raise their children.  But for that this country needs a completely new generation of politicians that are prepared to work within the law to build a society worthy of the name Ukraine.

Double standards between big and little brother

Despite all the assurances of their high respect for Ukrainian people living in Russia given by the highest commanders of the Russian Federation, Russia’s recent moves are hard to describe as being friendly towards Ukrainians. Not long before Ukraine's Independence Day (24 August) the Board of Appeals of the Supreme Court of Russia confirmed the legitimacy of decision concerning the liquidation of the Union of Ukrainians in Russia, approved earlier this year (18 May) by the Supreme Court of Russia. Based on this decision, the Union of Ukrainians in Russia was to be liquidated and excluded from the Unified State Registry of Legal Entities. Following that, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine issued a statement on the prejudiced attitude towards the activity of Ukrainian diaspora in Russia.

Officially around 8 million Russians live in Ukraine, whilst there are up to 4-5 million Ukrainians in Russia. At the same time the conditions for the two respective diasporas in Ukraine and Russia are very different.

 

Russia

Ukraine

Pressure on and control of the employees of the Ukrainian Literature Library in Moscow was performed in 2006-2007 and in December 2010 the library was temporarily sealed, due to charges in propagation of extremism(9).

On 17 April 2008 the activity of the Ukrainian Education Centre that functioned at school №124 was stopped.

On 24 November 2010 the Supreme Court of Russia has forbidden the public organisations Federal National and Cultural Ukrainian Autonomy to operate within the territory of the Russian Federation because of the speeches given on the radio by their leaders and events held in memory of the Golodomor victims(10).

After the new “language law” was passed in Parliament in July, and approved by the President in August, 8 regions of Ukraine gave Russian the status of regional language(11).

In most regions of Ukraine over 50% of all  library stock is in Russian. Over 30 higher education institutions prepare specialists in Russian language and literature. Among state general education, 1199 schools in Ukraine in the 2008-2009 academic year had Russian as the language of instruction and 1628 were bilingual with Russian and Ukrainian. The ethnic and cultural interests of the Russian national minority are represented by almost 100 public organisations(12).

 

On 26 May 2012, after the liquidation of the Union of Ukrainians in Russia, representatives of the Ukrainian diaspora have approved a decision to create the Ukrainian Congress in Russia – an organisation representing the Ukrainian community in the Russian Federation. Thus, despite the adverse actions of the Russian authorities, Ukrainians in Russia will keep their identity. But the double standards in the matters of national culture and language offered by the Russian authorities certainly will not aid the mutual understanding and accord of the Russian and Ukrainian people.

People First Comment: In some ways we should feel just a little bit sorry for mother Russia.  20 or so years ago she lost her family.  Her repressed children ran away to play in the real world and now all that she does is focused on bringing her children home so that she can reassert her somewhat warped priorities and authority.  Sadly as with all families her children have grown up, moved on and found their own independence. Times have changed and rather than being respected as a mother of nations mother Russia is now despised for her anger, her temper and her thoughtlessness.  In reality Russia today may swagger with the arrogance of a sergeant major but sadly behind all the bombast there is just a rather sad little person stamping their feet and the treatment of Ukraine is but one example.

Russia is not the only imperial mother to lose her brood.  The British Empire was at its peak in 1896.  Since then all the children have flown the coupe but unlike Russia, Britain has maintained its dignity to the point that rather than trying to suppress and control those that left she has encouraged their departure with education, the rule of law and democratic parliamentary systems.  As a result the children of the former Empire set up the Commonwealth where there is equal respect, equal dignity and equal opportunity.  Such is the power of this new found family that today it forms one of the world’s stronger economic blocks

The two examples could not be in greater contrast.  It is a hard lesson but Russia really does have to come to terms with modern reality and to stop thinking it can rule in the 21st century using 19th century philosophy. We no longer want to live in the world of the arms race and the nuclear threat.  We are tired of the state sponsored energy games and financial manipulation as we have found that there is much more that can be gained from life through participation than could ever have been achieved through imposed power and military might.

Victor Tkachuk is chief executive officer of the Kyiv-based People First Foundation (www.peoplefirst.org.ua), a former deputy secretary of the National Security and Defense Council of Ukraine, adviser to three Ukrainian presidents and a former parliament member, Tkachuk can be reached via viktor.tkachuk@peoplefirst.org.ua.

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