Democracy’s front line - Ukraine
Ukraine is in the midst of a struggle which is crucial for Europe.
In November 2013, hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians took over the centre of Kiev and stayed there through the winter. Their rallying cry was, ‘We want European values’. By this they meant they wanted elections which reflected the will of the people rather than of oligarchs, courts which made their decisions on the basis of law rather than bribery, schools which educated rather than propagandised.
Anton Iemelianov, a journalist who reported from the front line during Ukraine's Maidan revolution, shows Ashley Muller a memorial to one of the 67 people killed by snipers in February 2014.
For four months they withstood everything the regime threw at them, until the President accepted defeat and fled to Russia. Russia then invaded Crimea and supported rebellion in Eastern Ukraine, igniting a conflict from which 1.6 million people have fled, and which is still killing people every day.
Despite the immense demands of defending their country, Ukraine is making progress towards establishing ‘European values’. But as Hanna Hopko told me and my colleague Ashley Muller last month, hard though it is to overthrow a bad regime, it is harder to build a better one.
Hanna is the Chair of the Ukrainian Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee. She and her fellow reformers have developed numerous laws to fight corruption, and persuaded the Parliament to approve them. Thanks to this, and to the commitment of many people and organisations in and beyond Ukraine, new ways are being implemented. But entrenched interests are fighting back, and there is still far to go.
Hanna devotes much of her time to helping communities discover effective ways to support reform. She was one of those who inspired the Switch On community movement which is now tackling corruption in a number of cities.
Members of the Foundations for Freedom network with John Bond in Kiev, (l to r) Oleksa Stasevych, John Bond, Kostiantyn Ploskyi, Vladyslava Kanevska, Angela Starovoytova
Also supporting reform is the Foundations for Freedom network, which grew out of a course developed by a British architect, Eric Andren, and colleagues from Initiatives of Change (IofC) at the time when Eastern Europe opened its doors to the world after the fall of the Berlin wall. The 10-day course explored the moral and spiritual roots of democracy, and the role of individual responsibility.
The course helped many Eastern Europeans to discover how they could help develop just and democratic governance. In all about 3,000 participated. Many then came to IofC conferences at Caux in Switzerland, Asia Plateau in India and elsewhere. They have encouraged the next generation to discover what Initiatives of Change has to offer, and today East Europeans are playing a prominent role in its work across the world.
In Ukraine they are contributing to the well-being of the country in many ways. Some are developing parliamentary legislation. Others have held seminars on ethical governance, and a ‘school of good governance’ has just been launched in Kiev. Others are caring for the refugees that have fled Eastern Ukraine and Crimea.
Many are taking part in a widespread programme of dialogue between Ukrainians of differing backgrounds, which started when two young women, one from -Southern Ukraine, the other from Western Ukraine, met in an IofC programe in India. Each understood their national history differently, which led to conflict between them, then gradually to understanding and apology.
When they returned home, they launched ‘Ukrainian Action: Healing the Past’, which over the last six years has enlisted several hundred Ukrainians in building understanding across the deep divisions of their country, particularly through dialogue. In recent months, dialogues have been held in many regions, some of them close to the separation border in Eastern Ukraine.
This is crucial work, and not just for Ukraine. Throughout Europe, thanks to economic crisis and large-scale migration, democracy is under strain. And this is especially true of Eastern Europe, where democracy is a tender plant. If democracy fails in Ukraine, other countries will follow suit.
Divisions between East Ukrainians and the rest of the country destabilize Ukraine. The more this division is healed, the more able will Ukraine be to defend itself. The more corruption is overcome, the more justice and democracy will thrive.
Initiatives of Change offers its international support in this task. Each year many Ukrainians contribute to conferences at Caux and Asia Plateau; and speakers from Caux and Asia Plateau contribute to forums in Ukraine. This results in much cross-fertilisation of ideas and experience. This needs to continue and grow, for the sake of Europe as a whole.