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    BRAMA News and Community Press

    BRAMA, Aug 8, 2005, 1:00 pm ET

    Updated Aug 22 - PDF and TEXT links below

    Recent Ukrainian Congress Committee of America (UCCA) Election in Chicago - a Different Perspective

    I am writing in response to Mr. O. Baranyk's article "Illinois UCCA holds annual meeting, hopes to heal rift within community" published on June 12, 2005 in "The Ukrainian Weekly" which I read with a great deal of interest. I was fascinated not so much by his egregious inaccuracies but rather by his uncharacteristically insightful words about the future of the UCCA and what the UCCA needed to do to maintain its viability. The text of the article is not in keeping with Mr. Baranyk's views and stance over the past year, particularly during the recent annual Branch meetings held in March and May 2005, which were videotaped and tape-recorded, respectively.

    In his article, Mr. Baranyk stated that the "regular meeting was cancelled due to a lack of compliance with the by-laws…"and "...flagrant disregard of protocol" leading readers to believe that the second meeting was in compliance with the by-laws. Such was not the case. Examples of by-law violations during the second meeting are too numerous to cite. More notable ones include Ukrainian National Information Service (UNIS) donors being actively encouraged and allowed to vote contrary to the by-laws (only donors to the Ukrainian National Fund, or UNF, are permitted to vote), and 11 individuals without the right to vote being elected to the Branch board. Clearly, the vote and board selection was not based on, as Mr. Baranyk stated, "…who was qualified to vote…[and] the requirements of the UCCA By-laws." To his credit, Mr. Baranyk proposed a solution to the by-law crisis that he and others created - creation of an ad hoc committee to review and make recommendations to the national by-laws committee. However, Mr. Baranyk, as a member of the national UCCA board, should know that it is the role of the national by-laws committee to solicit input from all UCCA members through Branch Chairs, because each Branch has unique and valuable perspectives. He should also know that this committee is elected at each UCCA Congress (the most recent one being held last fall). By creating an ad hoc committee, the process loses its transparency and becomes all-exclusive - not something the UCCA leadership should strive for.

    Mr. Baranyk also mentioned a "rift" in the Ukrainian community in Chicago. To what is he referring? Is he referring to his arbitrary interpretation and application of the UCCA by-laws, which have disenfranchised a substantial number of UCCA voters, the majority of whom are recent immigrants? Many new immigrants, including former board members, were told during the March meeting they were ineligible to vote because they did not pay "appropriate dues." Yet Mr. Baranyk allowed them to be on the board for almost five years without informing them as to what "appropriate dues" were. Also, Mr. Baranyk failed to mention in his article that during the March meeting, there were approximately 300 participants. During the May meeting, there were "nearly 80 participants," approximately 10 of whom later walked out in disgust. The difference in attendance can only reflect the fact that for the first time in Branch history, the meeting was held midweek, a time inconvenient for the majority of members. Perhaps shouts of "Shame!" ("Han'ba!") directed toward Mr. Baranyk during the first meeting were not without merit. Conversely, perhaps Mr. Baranyk's "rift" refers to his unprofessional behavior? Telling people "zatkaytesia" (shut up) and threatening to throw them out during the meeting is not becoming of someone who is a Branch president, the national UCCA president's deputy, and the national UCCA's external affairs liaison. Or perhaps by "rift," Mr. Baranyk is referring to a topic that he and a small group of people insist on continually raising to the dismay of others - the sale of 1st Security Federal Savings Bank. In his article, Mr. Baranyk mentions the sale ("merger") twice and states that it "…should not be forced onto the UCCA's agenda." Unfortunately, Mr. Baranyk cannot seem to stop forcing it onto the UCCA's agenda and continually making it an issue at meetings. For example, during the May 18 meeting Mr. Baranyk allowed the former CEO of 1st Security Federal Savings Bank to give a prolonged discourse against people who protested this sale.

    The Orange Revolution and what the UCCA Branch accomplished was also discussed by Mr. Baranyk. Contrary to Mr. Baranyk's assertions, the Branch contributed almost nothing to the efforts of the Orange Revolution in Chicago. The "Election 2004" committee did most of the work with much financial support from Chicago's Selfreliance Federal Credit Union. The committee's work included holding three demonstrations in support of free elections in Ukraine (the first of which Mr. Baranyk tried to suppress even though Mr. Taras Bilozir from the Yushchenko campaign and Mr. Askold Lozynskyj supported such an action), monitoring the elections, registering voters, busing volunteers and voters to and from the consulate, providing logistic support, and organizing five buses for a demonstration in Washington, DC. Over $350,000 were raised in about three weeks for the Yushchenko campaign, mostly by recent immigrants. The national UCCA leadership should take note of this fact. What did the UCCA Illinois Branch do to support election activities in Chicago? According to Mr. Baranyk's statement on May 18, it rented portable toilets for use by the "Election 2004" committee and voters and had a few observers monitor the elections. On a national level, why was the UCCA president or his deputy not included in the US government delegation to president Yushchenko's inauguration? In my opinion, this exemplifies the poor quality work of the UCCA external affairs committee, which Mr. Baranyk has headed for a number of years. As a result, it appears that the US government does not take the UCCA seriously.

    Mr. Baranyk also mentioned finances in his article. However, he erred in combining UNIS and UNF collections into one sum of approximately $80,000. This muddies the true picture of community support for the UCCA. The Branch in Chicago has two major fund-raisers each year: one for the UNF, which supports day-to-day operations of the national UCCA, and the other, for UNIS. UNIS collections are attended by a small group of people compared to the UNF collection, which is more representative of the community and its "grass roots" support for the UCCA. Last year, approximately half of the UNIS collection came from Selfreliance Ukrainian Federal Credit Union and Mr. Julian Kulas' "Heritage Foundation," while over 1/4 of the UNF collection came from recent immigrants, exactly the people Mr. Baranyk has gradually and successfully alienated. Furthermore, the annual UNF collection for the past five years has been approximately $25,000. But in 2004, only $19,000 was collected. Is this substantial drop in the UNF collection a statistical fluctuation or is it indicative of a leadership problem?

    Finally, half of Mr. Baranyk's article addressed broader UCCA concerns; namely, issues surrounding leadership, professionalism, and future directions. Mr. Baranyk uses terminology such as "dialogue," "inclusion," and "effectiveness." Is telling people who disagree with him to shut up "dialogue"? Is denying people the right to vote "inclusion"? Is alienating people effective leadership? Perhaps the UCCA should follow the example of democratically elected world leaders who are elected for finite terms so that personal ambitions do not become priorities. Although Mr. Baranyk, who has been Branch president for 13 years, has asserted for several years that he does not wish to be president any longer, the Orange Revolution has apparently made the position desirable. When given the opportunity to leave, Mr. Baranyk instead chose to create a "rift" in the community by rigging the voting process so that it worked in his favor. Assisting him was no one other than the national president, Mr. Sawkiw. On May 22, 2005, Mr. Sawkiw received a letter [PDF | TEXT] from me via e-mail which raised many of the issues I have outlined and the same broader UCCA and Diaspora issues raised by Mr. Baranyk in his article published on June 12, 2005. Mere coincidence given the disconnect between Mr. Baranyk's article and his behavior? In my letter, I proposed a few options on how to resolve the situation in Chicago. It is unfortunate that Mr. Sawkiw appears to have chosen the easiest one - to do nothing in hopes that the "situation" goes away. Professionalism and leadership start at home. Perhaps our current community leaders could benefit from a few of those seminars Mr. Baranyk proposed on ethics, professionalism, and leadership skills.

    Bohdan L. Bodnar, Ph.D.

    This is the original full version of a letter submitted to and subsequently published by The Ukrainian Weekly in edited form. It is reprinted here with permission of the author.

    * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

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