Holding Ukrainian Government’s Feet To The Fire

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Transparency International is an international non-governmental organization and think tank that tracks the level of corruption in the various nations that make up our globe. Each year it issues a Corruption Perceptions Index, ranking countries “by their perceived levels of corruption, as determined by expert assessments and opinion surveys.” In 2017 it ranked Ukraine as being in 130th place out of the 176 countries being tracked. This is virtually the same ranking it held back in 2014 when the Revolution of Dignity brought hope that the scourge of post-Soviet corruption was finally going to be dealt with seriously. Sad to say, despite some marginal gains in a few sectors, Ukraine has little to show for the four years of supposed reforms that were promised on the Maidan.

It has become obvious, that despite a lot of rhetoric from the Poroshenko government, there has been no meaningful progress in rooting out the deeply entrenched rot that still permeates all levels of government. In fact, there are signs of regression, as is becoming evident by the recent spate of intimidation and attacks on anti-corruption activists and journalists by both government agencies as well as “unknown” assailants. In the most blatant of these, a young anti-corruption crusader from Kherson by the name of Kateryna Handziuk died after a vicious acid attack.

The Ukrainian government and its apologists claim that it is doing its best under trying circumstances, namely the ongoing war with Russia in the east. Critics say that that is a specious argument and that this is not an either/or choice. The Ukrainian government should and could fight the Russian invasion as well as internal corruption at the same time with equal vigour. In fact, it could be argued that the lack of progress in fighting corruption is hurting the war effort as well.

In recent weeks, a group of Ukrainian activists here in Canada have decided that diaspora organizations, and in particular the Ukrainian World Congress of Ukrainians (UWC) and the Ukrainian Canadian Congress (UCC), are not doing enough to pressure the Ukrainian government to seriously address this issue. They have drafted an open letter to these bodies asking for a fulsome debate on this subject at the upcoming convention of the UWC this month in Kyiv.

They are requesting that diaspora organizations take a more public stand in holding the Ukrainian government’s feet to the fire for their lack of progress in fighting corruption. They also suggest that the UWC should broaden its contacts and efforts in Ukraine to include NGO activists and political opposition members, rather than just dealing with government authorities. Further, they propose that we make it clear to the Ukrainian government that further support from the Ukrainian diaspora is conditional on concrete progress on reforms, prosecution of corrupt officials, and a greater say by the Ukrainian diaspora on issues that affect them.

This initiative is being led primarily by members of the Canada Ukraine International Assistance Fund (CUIA), though it also has many other supporters, largely from the fourth wave community in Canada. In the interests of full disclosure, I should state that I am a member of CUIA.

Whether the UWC chooses to make this issue an item of debate at their upcoming congress remains to be seen. It is certainly a topic that has been raised many times in the decades since Ukraine became independent in 1991. Both the UWC and the UCC have been accused in the past of perhaps being too cozy with whatever government happened to be in power in Kyiv, and it certainly raises the question of what role diaspora organizations should play in their relationship with Ukraine. There is no doubt that the primary goal of the UWC and UCC is to do everything they can to foster a truly democratic government and just civil society in Ukraine. The problem lies in the how that is achieved.

Should the UWC and UCC take a more critical stand in their dealings with the Ukrainian government? Should they set in place some quid prod quos from Poroshenko and the political establishment in return for their support and assistance? Should they demand more say and input into Ukrainian legislation and programs that have a direct impact on Ukrainians worldwide?

I would suggest that it would be worthwhile to have all of these questions debated and addressed in the UWC discussions in Kyiv this month. As diaspora Ukrainians, we should not be content to be just cheerleaders and enablers of the Ukrainian government doing whatever it wants.

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