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12 April, 2012

Help Yourselves

Democratic changes in Ukraine will be carried out by civil society, not by political elites who have proved their inability and ineptness

Ukraineis experiencing, unfortunately, a certain deficit of democracy, a deficit which is increasing. It looks like an avalanche that is becoming so unpredictable and dangerous that your country is simply disappearing from Europe’s radar. Europe knew very little about you before, and now it has nearly lost all its interest in you. However, I am optimistic about Ukraine and emphasize that. I remain optimistic because when I worked in Ukraine, I saw many extremely intelligent and talented people who wanted to and can change their country.

I am convinced that democratic changes in Ukraine will be carried out by civil society, not by political elites who have proved their inability and ineptness. You do not have parties at the moment that would operate by adhering to a project to transform Ukraine into a democratic state. I mean everyone who has been in power since Ukraine has been independent, not just the current ruling team. Representatives of the younger generation of parties are also conducting themselves like the rest of the political elite, and so I do not think they will be able to change.

Changes are possible only through the growth of civil society. This is difficult, but it is feasible. You will truly become a civil society when every individual comes to realise that the state is not Bankova Street or Hrushevsky Street, but all of you together. You need to muster courage to make bold decisions, and I believe that this will eventually happen in Ukraine. People no longer want to live as they did before. I know that you have a lot of civic activity when people feel responsible for what is taking place in the country. But civil society is not yet there, because its foundation is mutual understanding and interaction among all structures and projects.

Young Ukrainians have to mature as the future of the country; they must develop programmes for transforming it and concern themselves with aspects of civic life that are barely functioning here, such as environmental protection, education, health care, HIV/AIDS, and so on. There are many courageous people in Ukraine, but everyone is working in his narrow circle and outside of it, he remains unknown to anyone else. You need to create something like a united movement out of these small islands. When I was ambassador to Ukraine, our embassy and the Friedrich Ebert Foundation organized contacts and meetings between German and Ukrainian civil society activists for two years running. We learned that Ukraine had over 500 communities that wanted to achieve the same things that had already been attained in Germany. So, despite all the hardships faced by Ukraine I remain optimistic regarding your country.

I have the greatest respect for the young generation in Germany. Our civic movements are a product of the younger generation rising against the older one. They are inexperienced but are very open in entering relationships based on a democratic foundation. Importantly, these movements have produced the carriers of our democratic political system and social culture. I believe that this is also possible in your country. You need to unite and contact people with similar thinking and objectives.

This is how it happened in Germany. For example, the “green movement” was born of people who cared about the environment. Now it is a serious party concerned with numerous social issues. They are sometimes very different from our old parties, such as the Christian Democratic Union or the Social Democratic Party of Germany. Now we have the “pirates” who won a fairly high percentage of votes at the most recent local elections. These are young people who support having absolute transparency in every political decision. They have emerged from the people, from a civic movement.

The system which we call democracy and which exists in Germany secures the decision-making process regarding the kind of society we want to build and who will lead us. Those whom we elect must do exactly what we expect of them and must work to bring our desires and expectations to life. We want them to carry out everything that will be of benefit to the people and the state and then to resign. There is a certain problem here, of course. Both in Germany and in all democratic countries, officials are very reluctant to leave their offices; they tend to forget that they should hold them only for a certain length of time. The government needs to be controlled, because its representatives have a certain distinctive feature: they stop doing what they have promised. Someone who is being controlled cannot control at the same time, so the parliament has to have an opposition. Civil society also has to become involved. Voters not only convey their will to politicians but also have a number of additional functions in a democratic system. They are in a position to say: Mister President, Mister Chancellor or parliamentarians, what you are doing goes against our wishes, so please yield your place to others. This is what is meant by the rule of the principles of a civil society.

You need to unite into civil society networks. It may take a long time, but it is worth the effort. Civic unions turn into civil society parties over time. These parties come into being not because of one person wanting it to happen; they are the result of a process and emerge from movements. Look at the history of European parties. They were created from the bottom-up, when a group of people united following their convictions and said: We want to achieve this and this and we know how to do it.

I am certain that this is how the future of Ukraine will be shaped.

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