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    BRAMA News and Community Press

    BRAMA, Jul 26, 2004, 1:00 pm ET

    Op-Ed

    Viktor Yushchenko and Ukraine's future
    By Bishop Paul Peter Jesep

    "Where freedom is in fetters ...
    We will go to the village to
    Repair, where men reside in goodness.
    Among them we in peace will live,
    And to the Lord our praises give."
          — Taras Shevchenko

    Bishop Paul Peter Jesep

    Ukraine needs a patriot as its next leader. This will be impossible if its October presidential election is manipulated by corruption or foreign influence from the north. The upcoming election is not just about the future of an anemic, halfhearted democracy, but more important the flourishing of a national consciousness. The land of Rus' seems exhausted, ambivalent, and insecure about its soul. This need not be.

    Dr. Zbigniew Brzezinski, a former aide to President Jimmy Carter, told an audience at the National University of Kyiv Mohyla Academy in May 2004, "Ukrainians themselves must overcome ... the twin burdens inflicted upon them by the negative historical legacies of prolonged foreign domination and of destructive communism. Both have hindered the emergence of a pervasive Ukrainian patriotic civic consciousness, which is essential to democracy and independence." Few in the West have spoken with the breadth of wisdom as this Polish-born scholar.

    Viktor Yushchenko (www.yuschenko.com.ua) is a patriot meriting greater attention by Washington. Members of Congress, President George W. Bush, and U.S. Senator John F. Kerry should consider elevating his stature in some manner. It wouldn't be the first time, or last, something like this has been done. It's not appropriate for any American politician to endorse Yushchenko, but he does deserve special note as an independent thinker who would strengthen Ukraine's liberty and enhance continental stability.

    Detractors in Ukraine, especially in the Kuchma Administration, have attempted to smear this patriot as a lackey of the West. That's impossible. Washington hasn't paid much attention to Yushchenko. Although he seeks greater integration for his country with the world community as a respected equal, make no mistake, he shows the courage to be his own man.

    In early July, Yushchenko mortgaged his home and declines donations from political parties to avoid the appearance of being influenced by those who put self-interest above the betterment of country. He has further shown a sincere love for liberty by signing a declaration on fair elections.

    The declaration, among other things, calls for candidates to "respect the work of the media." Yushchenko understands. Without a free press there is no democracy. It is through the vigilance of a free, independent press that corruption is kept in check, freedom flourishes, and justice is protected.

    In July 2004, Freedom House reported that "Ukraine's news media suffers under an elaborate system of control that keeps opposition political groups and other critics off the airwaves and out of print. The situation has only worsened as election day approaches." American politicians may express concern about this crisis, but engage in no concrete action to stop it.

    In signing the declaration Yushchenko said, "It is a moment of truth that will define the fate of our people for 10-15 years ahead." He's right. This is a defining moment. But Yushchenko is modest in underscoring the impact. The next presidential election will chart the country's destiny for the next century. Washington or those who would be the next American president have yet to understand this reality.

    Recently, the U.S. House and Senate passed a Resolution expressing concern that Ukraine hold fair, democratic elections. It's a nice gesture, but it needs to be backed up with more than words. Congress should consider urging Ukrainian officials to invite former President Jimmy Carter and the United Nations to monitor the election. Post-election outrage about voter fraud will be too late. The Resolution remains, like many efforts by American officials, an empty gesture.

    Not long ago, Democratic presidential candidate U.S. Senator John F. Kerry issued an almost generic statement on the eighth anniversary of the Ukrainian Constitution. It sounded like something written by a bright college intern. It was a mere acknowledgment of an ancient, complicated land. Nothing else. Kerry needs to say and do more especially if he hopes to win the Ukrainian-American vote in key battleground states in the November U.S. presidential election.

    President Bush hasn't done much better. In March of this year he dispatched Deputy Secretary of State Richard L. Armitage to Ukraine. According to Armitage, "it is not a secret that we've got an economic relationship and a security relationship, but our political relationship hasn't been as good as it might be ... We would be able to develop our political relationship if there are free, fair, open, and democratic elections."

    It's a sophomoric comment coming from a diplomat. He implies, like an indignant parent, that either the fledgling democracy, heavily influenced by its northern neighbor, fixes its many internal problems or the United States will distance itself from Ukraine. It sounds like parental punishment. Ukraine, albeit unable to fulfill expectations, is not an insignificant, third world nation that deserves almost childlike treatment if it falls short in its difficult move toward democracy.

    In May 2004, former President George "H." W. Bush, father to the current White House occupant, visited Ukraine offering an awkward clarification for his infamous 1991 "Chicken Kiev" speech, which lectured the country about "suicidal nationalism" during the Soviet Union's long overdue breakup. The former president insisted that his message was misunderstood. Keep in mind it took him almost twelve years to make the recent clarification. The clarification was probably an attempt to sway Ukrainian-American voters that could benefit his son's reelection during this year's very close presidential contest.

    Neither George H. W. Bush or George W. Bush have impressed me when it comes to taking an active interest in Ukraine. Talk is cheap. Nor has Kerry done better, but he does start with a cleaner slate. So far Kerry political operatives have failed to seize an obvious opportunity to win Ukrainian-American votes in states like Ohio, Florida, Illinois, and Pennsylvania.

    Dr. Zbigniew Brzezinski said at the National University of Kyiv Mohyla Academy, "I consider Ukraine's independence to be truly a major historical event of great international significance. This was not appreciated at first, particularly in the West and specifically in the United States. Even now, in my view, there is not sufficient international appreciation of the international significance of Ukraine. It has to be emphasized over and over again that an independent Ukraine has redefined the frontiers of Europe and an independent Ukraine is transforming Russia into a national state."

    He added, "Some sectors of the newly powerful and the newly rich could become seduced by Ukraine's more powerful neighbor which could then exploit international instability, including the failure of America and Europe to work together, and exploit Ukraine's relatively still weak national consciousness to turn Ukraine into its satellite if not into its province [again]."

    Ukrainian-Americans focused on their own November presidential election must expect much more from President George W. Bush and challenger Senator John F. Kerry in furthering a free Ukraine. To date it appears Republicans take them for granted using only lip service to keep their loyalty and Democrats don't seem sure that the vote exists.

    Just as important, Ukrainians throughout the world must demand more of their respective governments. Diaspora Ukrainians have always loved, shared, and celebrated their heritage, but they must also show an active interest in the political process of their ancestral homeland. Ukraine's fledgling democracy could be short-lived if they don't.

    Bishop Paul Peter Jesep is Chancellor of the Archeparchy and Vicar General of Public Affairs and Government Relations for the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church-Sobornopravna (UAOC-S) based in Cleveland, Ohio. In the past, His Grace also a lawyer and political scientist by training, served on the staff to U.S. Senator Susan Collins (R-ME). Bishop Jesep may be reached at VladykaPaulPeter@aol.com. The views expressed here are strictly personal and do not reflect the official position of the UAOC-S.

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