Building Justice in Ukraine: No Time to Waste

The future of Ukraine will not just be won or lost in the ongoing geopolitical crisis over Crimea. It will also be decided in Kyiv, by the new government’s response to the fundamental demands for justice that fueled the winter uprising against former president Yanukovych.

The protests that began Ukraine’s historic change last November were more than a demand for closer relations with the European Union. Ukrainians also took to the streets to denounce the country’s endemic corruption and the social injustice and disregard for Ukraine’s citizens it epitomized. 

The tipping point was the president’s sudden about-face on signing an association agreement with the European Union. But the protests became something larger: a rejection of injustice as a way of life.

Injustice exists at every level of life in Ukraine, from the grand corruption practiced by ex-president Yanukovych and his peers, to petty everyday unfairness. It is this everyday injustice—in education, policing, health care, and other public services—which has the most corrosive effect on the lives of Ukrainians. Parents must bribe teachers so that their children can have better conditions in the classroom; or bribe doctors to get an appointment; or traffic police to avoid hefty and unnecessary fines.

For most Ukrainians it is more surprising not to have to bribe someone for a public service, than it is to do so. Corruption has become a way of life. In one survey, over half of respondents were actually positive about paying bribes, saying it helped to resolve many of life’s problems.

Revolutions, as in Ukraine, are messy. They lurch from crisis to crisis. It is difficult to construct anything on this shaky ground, particularly in light of Russia’s actions in Crimea. But Ukraine’s new government must not use this as an excuse.

All of this does not undermine the importance of events in Crimea and those caught up in the crisis there. To ignore Crimea entirely is of course folly. It would be also folly to drop the entire reform agenda that brought this new government into being. Demonstrating the political will to undertake fundamental reforms will also bring geopolitical benefits, helping perhaps to win back Ukraine’s nervous Russian population, who also have a thirst for change.

Most in Kyiv have no illusion about the fact that the Russian government is trying to set up an intractable stalemate in Crimea—a frozen conflict—to suck up resources, attention, and political capital and stall legislative change. Russia has succeeded in doing this in Moldova, where the government has used the Transnistrian conflict to procrastinate on judiciary reform for over 20 years. A stalled reform agenda in Ukraine will play into Russia’s hands, as it has done in Moldova and elsewhere. The best way that Ukraine’s young government can fight back is by pushing reform harder and faster.

By decisively addressing corruption in both the east and west of Ukraine, the new government can show it intends to be a government for all of Ukraine. Following the government’s foolish, though now shelved, attempt to repeal the law allowing wider use of the Russian language, it must work even harder to prove it intends to promote the rights of all of its citizens.

The task at hand is daunting but not insurmountable. In the two decades since the end of communism, Ukraine has built a strong network of human rights and legal groups, policy think tanks and media freedom advocates, with a solid record of supporting genuine reform and transparency.

Consider the 2008 reforms of the previously corrupt system of state university scholarship exams; or a 2012 audit of procurement by 98 government agencies; or the new national legal aid network: all these projects were pushed through with support from local NGOs including the International Renaissance Foundation, part of the Open Society Foundations.

Investigative journalism and independent media already have a strong base to build on. Ukraine’s independent media was pivotal in exposing the corruption that eventually brought people onto the streets last November. Investigative reporting websites, including Nashi Groshi (Our Money) and Slidstvo.info, brought evidence to light of government corruption, which has led in some cases to legal challenges by another NGO, the Anticorruption Action Centre.  

Independent media can continue to monitor the new government’s financial dealings as well as the treatment of minorities, including Russians and Crimean Tatars.

The new government in Ukraine must initiate reforms now; it cannot allow the crisis in Crimea to completely divert attention from the appeal for justice and a better life that brought this government to power. Faced with a de-facto annexation, the new government’s choices are stark; civil society and the European Union must do all it can to help Kyiv kickstart reforms and share this burden.

We have seen disillusion and betrayal follow revolution in North Africa and the Middle East; with the help of civil society and European partners, Ukraine can avoid a similar fate.

26 Comments

Hide

A government must stand strong on integrity. Equal justice for all. Equal opportunity for all citizens. An honorable government will have the respect of its citizens. This Cold War mentality was supposed to have ended. The world should be headed away from the reptilian ugliness of wars and their old scores they so hotly wanted to settle. Preserve The Ukraine ... Peace and justice in Crimea....plus Save Russia from falling down into the pits of isolationism. Let us move up to a good world.... where we will not have to kill each other. Prosper. In The Name of Our Holy Father God Almighty Amen.

Ukraine undoubtedly had a corrupt ridden regime in the former President and his government.
However, the manner in which the new regime took over cannot be said to be democratic and corrupt free. The corruption that rigged Ukraine prior to the undemocratic takeover is no different from most countries including my own, the Solomon Islands.
What is the yardstick to use to measure the actions taken by the protestors in removing a democratically elected government to make it lawful in the realm of Ukraine’s national laws and International Conventions/laws?
Why cannot the International Community call for an immediate election to give legitimacy to the leaders of Ukraine?
A General Election conducted in a fair and free manner would be the only answers.

Indeed the new governing elites in Ukraine will have to prove their legitimacy in elections. Early presidential election was called immediately and is to be held on 25 May. OSCE and the international community will guarantee that these elections are inclusive, free and fair.
After the amendments to the Constitution, most probably early parliamentary elections will be called in autumn or latest in spring 2015. Local elections were planned for next year too. Thus Ukraine will renew the entire system of power in a very short time.

Your advice is late. An immediate election has been already called as its first step.

Dear George Soros,
You have your foundation in Ukraine which makes a good job. Thanks. But what do you think: Could it be helpful if you would spend more money in the right channels now?
All have to do the best. I have seen you by stream in Berlin today.
Many regards, Werner

Dear Friends,
I live in Ukraine, in lviv. I love my people and my country very much. I have a wife, two daughters and I love them too much. Look here, I am ready as many Ukrainian to die for the future of Ukraine.
And I want to tell You the Putin and his moskals people finished as Yanukovych.
I will them guarantee this.
Thank you very much!
Best regards
Yaroslav Khavro
79000 Ukraine, Lviv

Very well said. We are working on a anti corruption and integrity program in Lviv now for about four years (funded by Europaid). The integrity of local government in one of the key issues the next years. Avoiding the legalistic and punishment trap will be the key to succes.

It's great you are building an effective model of integrity and transparency at local level, hopefully it could be replicated in other regions.
I trust the new deputy prime minister and minister for regional development, Volodymyr Groysman, knows that there is no time to waste. Former mayor of Vinnytsia in Central Ukraine, Groysman is eager to introduce nationwide the standards of transparent and participatory governance that he developed in his constituency. He is a pioneer of e-governance, which will help citizens receive government services, file complaints, and communicate with the state, cutting out physical interaction with bribe-taking functionaries. Local governments all over Ukraine should follow suit.

support change, and access to a more democratic system!

Мне порой кажется, что мы остаемся один на один с агрессором. Гаранты и Европа нас бросили.

Thank you for the publication. I think this publication should have touched upon Roma and how the Ukrainian crisis is affecting their lives. Perhaps, OSF should initiate a reseach on this topic.

Roma population is among the most marginalized groups in Ukraine. OSF, together with its local International Renaissance Foundation, have been funding education programs for Roma youth. Our partners helped developing and implementing state policies which aim at improving access to healthcare and housing for Roma. We remain committed to doing more, while the state should guarantee that no one is discriminated in Ukraine. It will be an important test for the new government.

This is the most authentic report I've seen on Ukraine. Even NPR and PBS have disappointed me in their reporting on this story. Thank you.

It sounds like you know just what needs to be done. What power do you have to make it happen? It is easy to say what you think what is best as an outsider. I read nothing about what is being done to make it happen.

OSF has been funding many anti-corruption initiatives through the International Renaissance Foundation (IRF) based in Kyiv. I brought just a few examples of the groups we support in the article. Additionally IRF and its partners are now working on new legislation to define and prevent conflict of interests in the state administration. As a response to recent events in Ukraine OSF will increase its funding to investigative journalists who expose corruption and will support the government in drafting new anti-corruption legislation.

We must not let the crisis in Crimea obscure the fight against corruption in the Ukraine. The EU can fight against the bullies that control that country and Romania where all of the corruption described in your essay is identical to the situation next door. I just worry that Romanians no longer have the fight in them.

Corruption is a chronic disease of most societies in Eastern Europe. Romanians too have high tolerance towards corruption. The EU rules could help, for instance in diminishing corruption in public procurement. The EU pressure also helped in sending the ex prime minister Nastase and other Romanian officials to jail. However, attitudes and bad habits take long time to die. The fight must go on.

I hope that Ukrainians, with help of EU and all bona fidei people, will reform its state and build society that deserve. We in Serbia had the same problems, and still are facing many of them. Be strong and win!
Best regards,
Predrag

I think we are almost in the same situation here in Afghanistan, especially when it comes to corruption. I am afraid that we will face the same problem if a right person will be not elected as the president on April 5.

In my sector (education, in Kyiv), the lustration has started already and promotion of new habits is taking place. The first steps of the government are serious about tackling the corruption. I think our main jobs are 1/pressure the authorities permanently in order to enforce change 2/not wait for change but promote it in our daily life and among public debates, which is not necessarily political. Sometimes common sense is enough. 3/we have to keep in mind corruption works because some intimately honest people benefit for it. The new, cleaner system has to show them they beneficit even more.

Even so, I'm afraid the military crisis could divert, rightfully or no, the attention of the public who'll focus on security and national survival instead.

I can't agree more, Albert. Keep doing your job and pressure the government to change the system.

Good article - corruption is everywhere of course but particularly it seems in countries used to a rigid, closed system which suddenly falls away with nothing to replace it. Stable civic societies as in Europe take a long time to come into being and I am not sure how one can influence that apart from everyone doing the "right thing" regardless of their personal cost. To defer instant gratification for something better. This in turn requires the person to have courage and hope and vision - to be then able to take that risk. This should be the territory of religious teaching but alas too many adherents are more preoccupied with maintaining religious instituitions or are too other worldly. Small faith groups that seek to make a practical difference to their wider community do exist in most places and OSF should seek them out and work with them while maintaining its neutraility. Lasting change usualy comes from the bottom up. Costly and slow but better than gran pronouncements form the top.

This article is timely in reminding us that we should not be deflected by territorial disputes from paying attention to the core problem which exists in Ukraine - the absence of good government. I am somewhat depressed by the fact that the same instances of corruption in health care, education and law enforcement that I encountered when I visited Kyiv fifteen years ago are still prevalent. Nevertheless I am hopeful the will of the Ukranian people and their strong desire for justice and fair government will eventually be realised. They need our help and support to achieve this and that is where most of our efforts should be directed.

Your society is just another NGO like the institution for the endowment of democracy which targets are the extending of EU and US influence in the world under the disguise of bringing so-called democracy. Your society is not the least interested in democracy or human rights. Your only interest is consolidating US and EU power over the world. Oil and gas are your interests nothing else. US and EU power over the world are disastrous and should be curtailed. I am happy that Russia and China are standing in your way and will hopefully block your program for western world domination.

This is not about type of the government - it is about its size. We see governmental growth everywhere around the world what leads to corruption on all levels. Ukraine is just one very obvious and extreme example of corruption.

The way out is to reduce size of government, make it "un-profitable" to be a government employee, but support individual wealth and freedom.

As very well defined in this article: everybody getting their pay-check from government in Ukraine is a criminal. Based on that, the economical sanctions must be directed on any form of government in Ukraine: stop financing Ukraine's budget, decline visa to everyone who works for a government, freeze assets.

At same time, Ukrainians not associated with the government, must be supported by employment pilot programs in EU, Canada and the US allowing people to come and work here knowing that they can always come back legally (this will eliminate illegal immigration issue), provide ability to open bank accounts in EU, Canada and the US with the tools which allow payments to be made in Ukraine for free - this will bypass Ukraine's corrupt tax and bank authorities. Support local Ukrainians who can not travel to work abroad via providing private healthcare and legal support by establishing independent private hospitals and law firms directly financed from the budgets of EU, Canada and the US bypassing any participation of Ukrainian criminals.

Canada just gave Ukraine's 200mln out of its budget to fight corruption... what a joke! Give money to thieves and dream that they will fight corruption...

The "new-old" Ukrainian government is nothing but a bunch of criminals not different from Yanukovitch. All they can is to rape their own people.

In fact, this is a very first time when Ukraine's corrupt government is facing an empty treasury. They are left without easy money. This will only spike financial repression on private businesses and individuals. To promote free society in Ukraine one should provide support to individuals to fight those repressions (as per suggested actions above). Instead, West is financing the rapists and helps them to survive the crisis.

Help provided by West to Ukrainian government is NOT HELPING PEOPLE OF UKRAINE.

The scenario in Ukraine is unfortunate. Corruption in government circles can be very detrimental to the development of any nation.However, an undemocratic change of governments should not ever be encouraged.And I believe the West must stand up to one principle of change of governments: through democratic election. It would be very dangerous for a safe world if there are double standards in the way governments are changed.If the government in Ukraine is overthrown ,the constitution is overthrown and one cannot legally talk about that same constitution. Setup an interim government, revisit the constitution for what ever changes Ukrainians would like to see and proceed with democratic elections. That will restore the dignity of governance in Ukraine.

Add your voice