Last month, President Viktor Yanukovych of Ukraine, approved a groundbreaking document: the Strategy of Civil Society Development outlines goals for widespread participation in state and regional policies, greater transparency around government decision-making, and support for a culture of gender equity.
How did these European-type formulations become part of the strategy—formulations that obviously contradict the widespread negative and anti-democratic image of the current Ukrainian authorities?
My answer is this: people power. Consolidated public resistance, which first began to shine during the presidential elections in 2010, is the reason why Ukraine even has a strategy such as this. Several milestones followed:
In the spring of 2010, the Stop Censorship! movement appeared after Ukrainian journalists demanded the end of outside pressure and repression. That summer, Ukrainians started a public campaign in Kharkiv to protect the Central Park of Culture and Recreation from destruction. Several months later, the opposition movement Maydan-2 brought together small and medium-sized business owners, who rejected the opposition's assistance and independently defended their own vision of the country’s tax legislation, forcing the authorities to open a dialog on the issue.
Dozens of other local movements emerged in 2010-2011. All of these movements were united by a common goal—to defend the right of every citizen to be heard by the authorities. No longer would people stand for corrupt officials who built monopolies and preferred closed societies. But these movements are different from the Orange opposition: they are well structured and work not only to protect general democratic values, but also to defend private and collective interests.
The resistance movements revealed one of the main driving forces of democratic activism: a need for open dialogue with government decision-makers. This became especially acute in the context of declaring the unpopular, yet very needed, reforms to pension, housing, land, and communal services.
The waves of public resistance, combined with the West’s enhanced attention to upholding values of the freedom of speech in Ukraine, helped to force the majority in parliament to adopt the law on access to public information. Thanks to the public resistance to monopolization of power within the country, the opposition managed to garner negative international opinion regarding the prosecutions and arrests of the Orange leaders. Human rights organizations bolstered this by provided monitoring on the violations of fundamental rights and freedoms.
A December meeting with civil society representatives and the European Union leaders Herman Van Rompuy and José Manuel Barroso on the occasion of the EU-Ukraine summit and the completion of negotiations on the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement demonstrated just how successful the resistance had been. Altogether, pressure from Ukraine’s civil society, EU leadership, and even President Obama contributed toward our new strategy.
By adopting the strategy the president seems to be trying to kill two birds with one stone: improving his record internationally as well as his image with Ukrainian civil society.
But the most devoted supporters of the government continue to assert that outside influence is to blame. Some desperate critics recently submitted a request to the General Prosecutor’s Office, accusing international organizations and foundations of violating the Ukrainian legislation and interfering with activities of the state authorities. But what can they do now, after the President approved the strategy? What ammunition do they have for their attacks against NGOs? This time around they will have to think really hard in order not to disown their political leader’s signature.