Last week the Ukrainian administration made two decisions that have a direct bearing on the development of this society. The first one was the Law of Ukraine “On Nongovernmental Organizations,” the result of six years of pitched political battles, with the NGOs finally being heeded [by society], considering that they were actively involved in drafting the bill. Another optimistic fact is that the bill was passed by the constitutional majority of 334 yeas. The president is expected to sign the law, allowing the NGOs to protect the interests of their members, operate all over Ukraine, with simplified and less expensive registration procedures, engage in business, and so on.
The second one was more complicated: the president’s edict entitled “On the Strategy of National Policy Aimed at the Development of a Civil Society in Ukraine and on Top Priority Implementation Measures.” This one makes one feel less optimistic, considering that there are enough problems facing this civil society and, even more so, the current administration. Says Maryna Stavniichuk, aide to the president, chairperson of the Coordinating Council on Civil Society: “This strategy is aimed at asserting a civil society as a guarantee of democratic progress in this country, public control over the government agencies, and at securing the independence of the institutions of this civil society. The edict also provides for a stronger public influence on the decision-making process, for a broad representation of public interests at the central and local authorities, for regular consultations with the general public in regard to important social and political matters.
Vitalii Shabunin, chairman of the of board, Anti-Corruption Center, told The Day earlier that there are problems with a dialog between the administration and society: “You must act in accordance with the law, without stealing money. What can be more effective than a complaint lodged with a public prosecutor’s office, with a detailed account of wrongdoings? We compiled such complaints against local authorities and attached this data to our own complaint that was lodged with the Prosecutor General’s Office. Our data specified which local ranking bureaucrat was responsible for doing what contrary to the law. Still no response. What kind of dialog can you expect?”
In fact, this problem is rooted deeper. After Ukraine proclaimed its national independence, its citizens found themselves confronted by serious problems, with the old rules of the game no longer effective, but with no new rules. Under the circumstances those who were used to playing games on their own rules quickly realized that they now had an exceptional opportunity of building a small fortune quickly, without being asked any awkward questions. They used this opportunity and their bank accounts increased in geometric progression. Quickly they pushed the romantics of the early 1990s out of the political wheelhouse and recruited Red directors. They wanted political “roof” over Soviet property and they had it before long, especially under President Leonid Kuchma. It was then the motto “Be A Bad Boy, You’ll Be Good!” Tax evasion, bribery, bypassing the law, ignoring moral dictates was the right way to become rich overnight without fearing any attacks against your business, with an actual possibility of becoming another member of parliament, while making enough money for one’s family, relatives, and grandchildren.
This highly contagious technique had its effect on Ukraine’s political elite and society. This disease proliferated under Kuchma’s ten-year presidency, and Yushchenko’s five-year term of office served only to further confuse and disillusion those communal members who had miraculously avoided the infection – people who still expected change for the better while seeing the good old realities. As a result. Ukraine is in a situation where there is express public disillusionment, on the one hand, and a bunch of politicians who aren’t capable of improving this situation because they are part of the good old system. Will they succeed in smoothing over the rough social edges, reactivating the healthy “social lifts” and renew a dialog between those “upstairs” and the man in the street?
BROADER PUBLIC CONTROL OVER THE STATE
Vasyl SUKHOV, coordinator, NGO Dnipro Active Citizens:
“I like some of the innovative clauses. Now an NGO does not have to operate where it was registered and this increases the capacities of a civil society. Previously the NGOs could defend the interests of only its members. Now they can help any individual who asks them to do so. People can apply for membership of a public council that will be attached to any executive authority or law enforcement agency. This will, of course, broaden public control over the state and offer additional opportunity to protect civil and human rights in Ukraine.”
MAJOR NGO’S FINANCE PROBLEM MAY BE SOLVED
Taras VOZNIAK, editor-in-chief, independent cultural journal Yi, Lviv:
“I think the new wording of the NGO law is a change for the better. Our journal at one time had problems because our NGO could operate only in Lviv oblast. On the other hand, as an Internet periodical we could circumvent the restrictions. Another positive thing is the NGO’s right to do business. I believe this will allow the NGOs to become self-financing entities, considering that finances constitute the NGO’s number-one problem. Until now such organizations had to rely on membership dues and/or sponsor money. This made them focus on what interested the sponsor. Last but not least, the registration procedures that were so long and complicated, some NGOs evaded them and automatically became illegitimate. Now the situation is different and it will help solve this problem, provided no last-minute amendments are made that will reduce all such innovative clauses to nil.”
Interviewed by Tetiana KOZYRIEVA, The Day, Lviv; Vadym RYZHKOV, The Day, Dnipropetrovsk
Over the past several years actual reforms have been implemented owing to a civil society, rather than government or opposition
Kyiv has hosted the 4th Forum of the Civil Assembly of Ukraine (CAU). Among the participants were representatives of the most active NGOs. CAU is Ukraine’s broadest network that unites over 400 NGOs in all regions. Below are comments by CAU participants Svitlana Zalishchuk and Ihor Kohut.
Svitlana ZALISHCHUK, Novy hromadianyn (The New Citizen):
“During this forum a number of public figures, coordinators of public initiatives, NGO leaders from all over Ukraine tried to synchronize their efforts. They analyzed what had happened over the past several years and discussed ways to solve pressing problems. Various opinions were voiced, but everyone agreed that the domestic situation is getting from bad to worse, that there is no effective political leadership, that those ‘upstairs’ are going through the motions of carrying out reforms. It is very important for the leading public figures to share their ideas on how best to resolve the existing situation, on how such reforms can be actually supported by the people. Those who took the floor concurred that the Laws of Ukraine “On Access to Public Information” and “On Nongovernmental Organizations” were among the successful self-organizing projects. It was stated that they were made effective owing to Ukraine’s civil society, rather than government or opposition, that this society made those in power adopt these bills.
“There were several panel discussions during which NGO delegates from various regions shared their action plans in regard to the coming parliamentary elections. This made it possible to figure out our alignment of forces. I believe this was very important, considering that over the past several years we have demonstrated our ability to solve problems by concerted action.”
Ihor KOHUT, chairman of the board, Legislative Initiatives Laboratory:
“At this stage the main challenge is the possibility of direct contact, of forming networks, social capital, thus meeting the main needs of this society: trust, cooperation, solidarity. This forum came up with the idea of a civil constitutional assembly to encourage citizens to take part in the drafting of a new constitution. Pickets and rallies are proof that Ukraine stands a chance of having at least a semblance of civil society, if citizens continue to defend their rights and Weltanschauung concepts. One can hope that this process will continue until the parliamentary elections and remain ideological. Ukrainians must realize that de-Sovietization is very important for this country, that they must discard all Soviet governance cliches and form new ideas about Europe and Ukraine’s place in it. Democratization isn’t only an aspect of an election campaign; it means public involvement in all spheres of life of their country. Of course, this spells broader communal rights. In fact, this was the topic of the main debate.
“Documents relating to individual self-realization were approved. Just as the CAU forum ended the Verkhovna Rada was voting on the NGO bill. The bill approval clause was deleted from the CAU agenda and now we’re waiting for the president’s signature. The CAU forum also discussed the possibilities of stepping up public activity, using various self-governing networks.
“This forum focused on the broadest possible public involvement in the drafting of a new constitution, the transparency of the parliamentary campaign. Fair elections is one of the aspects of Ukraine’s European integration. We have repeatedly stated that European integration doesn’t mean diplomatic or higher political level relationships. It means reforms concerning our daily realities, changes for the better on which we insist and are trying to make here and now.”
By Yevhenia PODOBNA