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    BRAMA News and Community Press

    BRAMA, September 3, 2010, 9:00 AM ET

    Op-ed

    Can Diaspora Activists Help Ukraine?
    By Boris Danik

    As the democratic freedoms have started to erode under the pro-Russian regime of President Viktor Yanukovych, questions are raised about how the diaspora can help defend basic rights in Ukraine.

    The short answer is: Not by offering its advice.

    Democracy in Ukraine can survive by creating a united front of the existing opposition. That road is almost obvious, although it can be obscured by ideological purism and unrealistic expectations.

    Before being more specific, a detour to some wrong starts should be mentioned. One of them is a belief , expressed recently in diaspora press, that the way out of the present calamity is for the diaspora leadership to promote in Ukraine a core of political principles, such as the rule of law and sanctity of Constitution – as if it could be accomplished by passing leaflets after nearly 20 years of huffing and puffing since the Soviet collapse.

    Even if the diaspora leadership – a somewhat nebulous entity – had a steady contact with Ukraine (which is not the case), it could not be more effective than the existing NGO route.

    Nothing could be more far-fetched than more pearls of wisdom. Would it not look like "agitatsiya" of the bygone era? And some polite snickering. Spoilers could say that the Americans are in no position to lecture.

    And at what audience the gospel could be directed ? There the tone becomes even less clear: At the grassroots. That's where a purified era would begin. The grassroots are healthy, the elite is corrupt.

    That does not sound like a program plan. It is a set of romantic assumptions, a substitute for the inability to connect to the present.

    At some level, the issue of helping Ukraine has descended into an anecdotal domain. There is an authentic story of a Ukrainian-American in a taxicab coming from the Boryspil airport and telling the driver that the purpose of his arrival in Kyiv is to help fight the remnants of communism (the fellow turned out to be a bit drunk). I later reassured the incredulous cabdriver that some of us do the same in New Jersey.

    Indicative of the diaspora's paucity of contact with Ukraine's leading politicians is the belief of some that Ukrainians should not place trust in a single political candidate or party.

    Fast-forward to a reality check. The goal Number One for the opposition in Ukraine is to start winning elections at all levels – if there will be meaningful elections – and to oust the present regime.

    Winning for democracy under present conditions in Ukraine requires the weight of a united opposition party, with strong organization and a leader who connects with the people. Fragmented small parties or civic groups don't win elections and don't spark revolutions.

    The usual Ukrainian multi-party addiction – a legacy of the lack of governance tradition throughout centuries – stands as a major obstacle to defeating the reactionary anti-Ukrainian conglomerate now in control of the government.

    Not surprisingly, the Regions Party, as of now, has achieved its goal of winning the elections, in no small part, by becoming the standard-bearer of a very sizable constituency not dogged by the multi-party puerile nonsense that has afflicted the democratic camp.

    There appears to be only one way to unify the opposition as an effective force – one that could rival the power and resources of the Regions Party.

    It would have to be done by way of a proven, existing framework of the Yulia Tymoshenko Block.

    This would not be the choice of ideological purists. Luckily, it would not require an approval of the diaspora or those beyond the pale.

    The diaspora establishment press had shown an astounding inability to appreciate the difference between the track records of Yulia Tymoshenko and Viktor Yanukovych. Both were painted with the same brush in the summer 2009, although many Ukrainian Americans would not buy it, knowing that Yulia Tymoshenko put her life on the line at Maidan, as the leader of the Orange Revolution on the ground.

    Even when it became very clear that President Viktor Yushchenko's ineptness was leading to a dismal endgame, the diaspora establishment press, in its fascination with the president, did not bother to address the key question: If a Ukrainian agenda, to give it a winning chance, is not staked out in Tymoshenko land, where can it be?

    In the new phase after the February election, a comeback by Tymoshenko is the road for democracy, under the same Ukrainian flag that almost made it in the runoff election.

    That effort had failed only because the bad economy kept away over three million despondent voters who were on the Orange side in 2004.

    President Viktor Yanukovych cannot make life easier for the people. No government can produce economic miracles in the midst of a world-wide Great Recession that shows no signs of improvement.

    If the opposition becomes organized as it should be, the unpredictable responses of the party in power are likely to exacerbate its own weaknesses and misjudgments that helped bring its defeat 5 years ago.

    Dr. Boris Danik
    North Caldwell, NJ
    September 2, 2010

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