Bob Schaffer, Charles Dougherty, Orest Deychakiwsky, Ihor Gawdiak, Archbishop Stefan Soroka, Amb. William G. Miller, Dr. Nadia Diuk, Judge Bohdan Futey.
Nearly thirteen years after declaring its independence, Ukraine has arrived at a critical juncture in determining its path into the future: continue moving towards democracy or reverse course and backtrack to authoritarianism. This was the underlying theme of a round table discussion held on February 17, 2004, in Washington, DC. The meeting, titled "Ukraine at the Crossroads," took place at the Ukrainian Catholic National Shrine of the Holy Family and was sponsored by Metropolitan-Archbishop Stefan Soroka and the Action Ukraine Coalition. The Coalition, which includes the Ukrainian American Coordinating Council (UACC), the Ukrainian Federation of America, and the US-Ukraine Foundation, has been cooperating on a variety of projects since 1999. Mr. Ihor Gawdiak, President of the UACC, chaired the meeting.
A panel of experts presented their views of Ukraine's current state of affairs and offered solutions for the question of the night: What can Ukrainian Americans and the United States do to help Ukraine achieve its stated goals of freedom and democracy? The main speakers were: U.S. Judge Bohdan Futey; Former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine William G. Miller; Dr. Nadia Diuk of the National Endowment of Democracy; Mr. Orest Deychakiwsky, staff advisor to the U.S. Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (Helsinki Commisssion); former members of Congress Bob Schaffer and Charles Dougherty. Interested observers and participants in the discussion afterwards included representatives from several Ukrainian American organizations as well as media companies (see side panel).
Briefly, the opinions expressed by the panelists ranged from cautious optimism to unambiguous criticism. Uppermost on everyone's minds were two critical issues that have dominated the news lately, the recent 'reforms' to Ukraine's constitution and the crackdown on the media. Both will have a direct affect on the outcome of the upcoming presidential elections. Tackling the former head-on Judge Futey described some of the worrisome changes that have been made to Ukraine's constitution and the dangers that they pose. Ambassador Miller cautioned that Ukraine should follow the example of one of its neighbors - the Czech Republic - whose unfaltering democratic path has made it a model for transition in that part of the world.
Dr. Diuk offered a comparative survey of several former Soviet states and observed that the restrictions on the press have had a perceptibly negative impact on Ukraine's situation. Mr. Deychakiwsky is convinced that external pressure on Ukraine's regime is one of the best ways to put the country back on a democratic track. Former Congressmen Bob Schaffer and Charles Dougherty both felt that the U.S. and the Ukrainian American community should build stronger relationships with members of Congress and that they should demand higher standards from Ukraine's leadership.
Each speaker's presentation is summarized in greater detail below.
Archbishop Stefan Soroka
In his opening remarks, His Grace Soroka expressed his belief that divine intervention by the Holy Spirit had brought together the diverse group of organizations and individuals attending the meeting. He recalled a recent commemoration of the Great Famine in Philadelphia where leaders of different faiths who had came together for the occasion found strength and common ground in their diversity. "Our people thirst for this kind of leadership," he said, and called upon those present "to open their hearts and minds [and] walk in unison together."
The 2004 presidential campaign is about to commence in Ukraine, and in light of the reported media repression it seems that little that can be done to insure fair and free elections even with foreign observers manning the ballot boxes. Thus, the meeting in Washington, DC may be seen as a case of "too little too late." But in fact, it is never too late to shift the tide of democratic reform. Just this past January, for instance, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) concluded that Ukraine's election reforms were unconstitutional and threatened Ukraine with suspension from the Parliamentary Assembly. It was after the PACE assessment that President Kuchma made public assurances that he would not run for a third term in office and the Verkhovna Rada vowed to revisit a controversial December vote on the constitutional amendments. Critics of Ukraine's ambivalence with respect to its stated democratic ideals regard pressure of the type that was imposed by PACE to be the most effective way to facilitate the path to freedom and democracy.
Following the panelists' presentations was an open exchange and exploration of action ideas and comments. Mr. Gawdiak urged the community to continue the dialogue that was initiated that evening as a means towards building a more powerful Ukrainian American lobby that can help shape Ukraine's democratic aspirations. Additional round table meetings are planned in a variety of locations around the U.S. where Ukrainian American communities are concentrated such as in Philadelphia, Detroit, Chicago, New York, etc.
Mr. Gawdiak regretted that the Ukrainian Congress Committee of America President, Michael Sawkiw, Jr., did not attend as promised. Also missing from the evening's participants was a representative of the Ukrainian National Association, even though UNA President Stefan Kaczaraj gave assurances that someone from the organization would be present.
Mr. Gawdiak thanked Mr. Schaffer and Ambassador Miller for making special arrangements to be in Washington, DC. Mr. Schaffer flew in from Colorado just for that evening's event. Ambassador Miller was due to fly to Ukraine in order to take part in a conference titled "Ukraine in Europe and the World," but delayed his flight especially for the round table.
Mourning constitutional (or) A constitutional quagmire
Two particular decisions made by Ukraine's Constitutional Court on constitutional reform raised alarms internationally late last year. Both decisions, according to U.S. Judge Bohdan Futey, were not in conformity with the Constitution of Ukraine, nor were they consistent with precedents that had been established by the Constitutional Court. Precedent is an essential element as the courts are mandated to see that the "law is applied evenly to the facts."
Regarding presidential election procedures, Judge Futey argues that the interpretation of the Constitutional Court permitting election of the country's president by the parliament of Ukraine conflicts with several articles in the constitution that clearly affirm the direct election of a president by popular vote.
The other sticky decision by the Constitutional Court was that President Kuchma (and only President Kuchma) could run for office for one more round. According to the constitution, only two 5-year terms are permitted. L.Kuchma was understood to be in his second term of office based on the Central Election Committee's 1996 position when he ran for re-election. The Constitutional Court, however, found that because Kuchma's first election preceded the adoption of the current constitution, they could (and would) count the second term as his first. This spurious conclusion spawned a flurry of debate throughout Ukraine and abroad about L.Kuchma's intentions to remain in a position of power even after his term as the country's leader had legally expired. "Allowing the president to run for a third term is inconsistent with prior rulings," according to Judge Futey. It is "inconsistent with the judicial application of the rule of law."
Judge Futey also expressed deep concerns about "talks going on behind the scenes," suggesting that the leadership is seeking ways to further sidestep constitutional norms. Under discussion are the "transitional provisions" that, among other things, would determine timing for implementation of adopted decisions. For example, if it is decided that a new government be formed in the next few months, then any newly elected president will not even be able to form a government this fall. "While we were focusing on [the debates about] election of the President by the people or the Parliament, there are many other provisions [that] greatly emasculate or take away powers of the president. The president could be only a titular head. He would be able to nominate only three ministers of the government."
Judge Futey added that of particular concern was the question of jurisdiction and venue for the adjudication of election disputes. In 1998, "the election of the mayor of Odesa was invalidated not by a court in Odesa, but by a court in Kirovohrad - a different oblast." A similar case arose more recently when the court in Lviv oblast invalidated the election that took place in June of last year in the city of Mukachevo, which located in Zakarpattia oblast. Now, just prior to the fall 2004 elections, a new specialized court - a higher administrative court - created according to the constitution and by a presidential decree will be adjudicating election disputes. Judge Futey indicated that there is little time for "setting up shop" and establishing procedures in order to be prepared to start hearing these cases.
In general, the complex jumble of constitutional changes that have been adopted, or are still being debated, have created a mass of confusion so extensive that it is impossible for anyone other than an expert analyst to sort through it. Judge Futey criticized the "opposition" for not being prepared to track the changes and comprehend the legal and political ramifications.
His concerns notwithstanding, Judge Futey remains optimistic about Ukraine's desire to move towards democracy and hopes that this will prove to be the case by the end of 2004.
Judge Futey serves on the U.S. Court of Federal Claims in Washington, DC and has been active in various Rule of Law and Democratization Programs in Ukraine since 1981, including the Foundation's Constitutional Court Project. He served as an advisor to the Working Group on Ukraine's Constitution, adopted on June 28, 1996.
Czech-ing up on Ukraine's progress
Speaking as a former resident of Ukraine and someone who grew to love its people, U.S. Ambassador William G. Miller talked about a 12-year report card for the country. "It's been over a dozen years since independence and the heady days of expectation for freedom that comes with independence. [Ukraine is] at a crossroads after a dozen years to test the propositions that were set forward in 1991. Many here, if not everyone here, remembers those days, those days of expectation and hope. And all of us here know how difficult it's been over the past dozen years - the hopes, many of which have been realized, but unfortunately many which have been dashed by failures."
William G. Miller
The Ambassador spoke in glowing terms about Vaclav Havel, President of the Czech Republic, saying "not only is he an inspiring individual, but he is a paradigm for the leaders of the world as someone who sacrificed for principle, was willing to go to prison for principle, and gave up his vocation to undertake political responsibility." The aspirations that Mr. Havel held for his country in the early days of transition included "rule of law, … a just social system that would provide education and a decent way of life, … an economy that was prosperous for all, … [and] a civil society as a basis for democratic government." The Czech Republic, according to Mr. Miller, "is on track."
The Ambassador concluded his thoughts, saying, "[t]his is an extraordinary crossroads that Ukraine finds itself at. They can go back and follow the path of totalitarian rule, selfishness, oligarchy, disdain for the popular will and the popular need. Or they can go forward towards a civil and just society. That's the crux of the issue. The election is about that. And the people of Ukraine as I've come to know that understand that if there is a free transparent fair election the people's understanding will bring about a change in the right direction."
Ambassador Miller served in Ukraine from 1995 until early 1998. The Ambassador and Mrs. Suzanne Miller developed an enduring affinity for Ukraine and its people.
"If you talk the talk, you gotta walk the walk"
Orest Deychakiwsky gave an insider's view of the relationship between the U.S. and Ukraine. Getting right to heart of the matter, he informed the group that "developments in Ukraine's democracy will have a direct impact on Ukraine's aspiration to join NATO and on relations with the United States and Europe."
Mr. Deychakiwsky was unequivocal about standing firm on democratic principles. Ukrainian Americans must "reject the idea that by criticizing the corrupt regime and the clans, we are somehow driving Ukraine into Russia's orbit or hurting Ukraine's image." He went on to say that "[t]he best guarantee of Ukraine's independence is a democratic Ukraine in which human rights and the rule of law are paramount, with market economy and flourishing civil society. This is what will make Ukraine a genuine part of Europe - a NATO member and eventually EU member." Mr. Deychakiwsky also emphasized how important it is to make a clear distinction "between the [Ukrainian] authorities … and the people."
Because democratic ideals are still a relatively new concept in Ukraine, international pressure and leverage are essential for steering Ukraine towards the West and pushing for western values. Remaining silent in the face of the recent political changes, he said, is tantamount to implied consent.
Mr. Deychakiwsky emphatically rejected the argument often voiced by Ukrainian authorities that the West is interfering in Ukraine's internal affairs. "Ukraine is a member of the OSCE … [and] freely undertook the OSCE commitments." He quoted the following from the OSCE Moscow Concluding Document:
"The participating States emphasize that issues relating to human rights, fundamental freedoms, democracy and the rule of law are of international concern, as respect for these rights and freedoms constitutes one of the foundations of international order. They categorically and irrevocably declare that the commitments undertaken in the field of the human dimension of the CSCE are matters of direct and legitimate concern to all participating States and do not belong exclusively to the internal affairs of the State concerned."
[Note: OSCE is the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe]
Thus, "any country has the right to criticize Ukraine or any other country on matters pertaining to human dimension. Just as the Ukrainian authorities have the right to criticize the United States. So that argument [about interference] doesn't hold."
Mr. Deychakiwsky suggested that the Ukrainian American community could actively participate in Ukraine's democratization process by becoming election observers. The OSCE is the agency mainly responsible for monitoring the election process in Ukraine. For information about the procedure involved in becoming an observer, begin on the OSCE website
Orest Deychakiwsky is a staff adviser for the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, also known as the Helsinki Commission. Mr. Deychakiwsky is a former president of The Washington Group and continues to take an active role in the Ukrainian American community.
Georgia … Georgia …. I got Georgia on my mind
Dr. Nadia Diuk sees Ukraine as a country that is straddling the line between democracy and a rollback to a totalitarian-style system.
Comparing Ukraine and the neighboring former Soviet and Central European states may lead to conflicting conclusions. On the one hand, despite the criticisms that have been launched against Ukraine of late, it "still has a vibrant political opposition, … a thriving civil society [and] …non-governmental organizations, civil society groups and political parties in particular actually still being able to reach out to the population." This contrasts dramatically with Russia, whose civil society is "constrained" and "limited." Russia's democratic transition, in fact, "has come to a dead halt."
On the other hand, Ukraine's progress when evaluated against its western neighbors' shows that it lags way behind in democratic reform and has even shown signs of backsliding. We've been "spoiled" by the countries of Central and Eastern Europe such as "Poland, Hungary, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Bulgaria [whose] …path from totalitarianism to democracy really did more or less go along a straight line." But, Dr. Diuk cautioned that "[d]emocratic transitions in other parts of the world generally don't proceed forward at such a fast pace and in such a straight line."
With respect to the recent revolution in Georgia, the popular movement there had "very strong diplomatic support from the west" which was bolstered by little resistance from the political elite. In the end even that sector yielded to the demands of the peaceful protesters. However, it's unlikely that a similar situation could be engendered in Ukraine, according to Dr. Diuk. Ukraine has several security forces that would have to be convinced to look the other way when protesters hit the streets, and this is assuming that Ukrainians, weary of the years of political struggles, could even be persuaded to go to the streets.
Access to media both by the political opposition to reach the public and by the public for access to good information is being restricted. "Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty was taken off FM radio" [NOTE: RFE/RL broadcasts were to have since been restored on March 1, but a jammed signal prevented the transmission.] and there have been threats to shut down the popular newspaper Silski Visti. "Somehow the civil society organizations manage to get 'round the absence of media by producing smaller bulletins, and by use of the Internet, but it's still not a substitute for having access to major media as in national TV and major newspapers."
Pressure is also being levied against non-governmental organizations. They are being hounded about taxes and questioned about their sources for funding. "This is a repeat of the situation, which has happened in Russia and in Azerbaijan, so there's nothing new. There is a sharing of experiences among the ruling elites of these countries."
"Each one of these countries is going through its own struggles," said Dr. Diuk, "but … since Ukraine is the largest country in this region and [it] really does have the most active civil society, that the United States should be looking at it with a fresh eye."
Nadia Diuk, PhD, is Program Director for Central Europe and Eurasia at the National Endowment of Democracy.
Let my people go
Bob Schaffer is inspired by the lessons of history. Whenever Ronald Reagan met with Mikhail Gorbachev, "he would take out a list of names of [political] prisoners, and say to the Russian leader 'Let them go'. The people of Ukraine need to hear that kind of leadership from the United States, and they need to hear it now."
Mr. Schaffer reminded us of the battle for freedom from the British Crown waged by the colonists. It was France's aid to the colonists that brought our country's founders to victory. "Where would we be were it not for one nation in the world that was willing to stand up and encourage the Americans who were in this fight for freedom and liberty…?"
"America ought to be that country for Ukraine right now," stated Mr. Schaffer, and "[w]e ought to do it without apology."
Bob Schaffer is a former Member of Congress and Co-Chair of the Congressional Ukrainian Caucus. In this capacity, he visited Ukraine many times and has developed a keen interest in Ukraine's progress.
Can a Ukrainian ever be too nice?
According to former Congressman Charles F. Dougherty, Ukrainian Americans have been "too nice." What is needed is a much more aggressive and proactive position not only vis-a-vis Ukraine, but also the U.S. government. "Ukraine is vital - Ukraine is vital - to the strategic and economic interests of the United States and the European Community," emphasized Mr. Dougherty. Looking forward, it is important to understand that "…it is in the significant strategic interest of the U.S. that Ukraine NOT become the junior partner of a new 'Mother Russia' made up of Russia, Belarus and Ukraine."
Charles F. Dougherty
Mr. Dougherty thought that the round table meeting was a pivotal one for the Ukrainian American community. Quoting these headlines from recent editions of The Ukrainian Weekly: "Is this year the most critical year for Ukraine since the collapse of the Soviet Union?" and "Putin Visits Kyiv to Conclude Year of Russia in Ukraine", he declared that "tonight can either be a significant date in the movement for democracy in Ukraine, or tonight could be perhaps an opportunity lost." If indeed this is Ukraine's "critical year", then this is "a moment in time that must be grasped."
One of the actions that Ukrainian Americans can take as suggested by Mr. Dougherty included lobbying members of Congress. As elected officials, members of Congress are responsive to their constituency. They are also in a unique position to influence the State Department, which Mr. Dougherty said is "the problem. You are never going to change the mind of the State Dept unless you bring into play the tremendous resource of the U.S. Congress."
[Note: State Department policy is viewed by some as russo-centric since the breakup of the Soviet Union (until that time it was clearly anti-Soviet). Others argue against this theory and point to evidence such as the recently released State Department Country Report, which is harshly critical of Russia's policies in Chechnya, its "weakened civil society, and raises questions about the rule of law in Russia."]
Consequently, it is the obligation of the Ukrainian American community "to educate the members of Congress as to the nature of Ukraine and its role in the world, and the obligation that the U.S. has to support those forces for democracy and freedom in Ukraine."
Some Ukrainian American organizations may shy away from taking active roles in congressional lobbying since it is perceived as "politics." But this is not politics, insists Mr. Dougherty. As a teacher of civics, he feels that "[w]hat we are talking about is education and citizen participation in the electoral process … and [w]e as citizens have an obligation to be involved in the political process and to reach out to elected officials to express our concerns."
Educating the Congress about Ukrainian issues is the key, and showing that "you as a community of Americans care about what's happening and your elected officials support that effort." Mr. Dougherty's recommendations for implementing a plan of indoctrination included holding meetings with members of Congress and State Department representatives, lobbying for resolutions that reaffirm Ukraine's territorial integrity, express concerns about press freedoms, and declarations acknowledging the strategic importance of Ukraine to the United States. Another suggestion touched upon the use of the Ukrainian language (as opposed to Russian) in official documents. Yet another was to formally redefine Ukraine's geographic position in Europe as a Central European state (as opposed to an East European one) which would place Ukrainian issues within the jurisdiction of the Central European desk - a move that according to Mr. Dougherty would have the ancillary advantage of shifting Ukraine's orientation a little closer towards the West and, thus, greater democracy.
It is important for the Ukrainian American community to communicate more effectively, set guidelines and timelines for projects, and to boldly pursue its goals. The message that Ukrainian Americans are working on Ukrainian's behalf should also be transmitted to people in Ukraine so that they "get a sense that people care about us - we're not alone."
Mr. Dougherty concluded with this statement: "[W]e as Americans cannot allow Ukraine to fall under the influence of Russia. It is contrary to the interests of the United States; it is contrary to the interests of the people of Ukraine. And those two interests are really one. They are our single most important issue."
Charles F. Dougherty is a former Member of Congress. Mr. Dougherty is an adviser to the UFA in Philadelphia and works with the Action Ukraine Coalition on relations with Congress.
* * *