Sunday, January 19, 2014

Ukraine Weeps

Jud's Sunflower, weeping.

Are the USA and the EU going to stand by and watch Ukraine sink into another dictatorship under Yanukovich?

The Parliament just passed draconian laws designed to consolidate Yanukovitch's power, suppress dissent, and destroy non- governmental organizations.  "Ukraine is becoming another North Korea," a friend in Kyiv fears. 

The poster below shows some of the worst features: restrictions on freedom of speech, assembly and independent media, on non-governmental organizations (NGOs), on the press and civic activism, on just about every action, including driving, that are part of everyday life in Ukraine. The European Free Alliance calls the legislation "an anti-democratic putsch, which scuppers all previous progress Ukraine has made....and will have catastrophic consequences."

Life is already hard in Ukraine, and it's getting harder.  It's debilitating, dispiriting. How did Nelson Mandela do it?  He was 72 years old when he got out of prison, after almost 30 years, and he never gave up hope. He went back to South Africa and finished the job. 

Somehow the Ukrainian people, and its young leaders, have to muster the will to do the same.  The protests in Kyiv and other places will continue, but for how long, and to what end?

The USA and EU have to do more than talk. Not platitudes, but actions. Freezing billionaires' assets abroad would be a beginning. Financially supporting a free press and NGOs would be another. An infusion of hope from EU and the international community is critical.

I am especially worried about the severe restrictions on NGOs (similar to US nonprofits), because most PCVs work with NGOs. That is what we do. The NGOs, relatively young (since 1991), poor and struggling against the odds, are now under a microscope, restricted in most of their advocacy and service activities, restricted from raising funds, and forced to pay taxes on funds they receive.  If they do receive funds from, say, international foundations like the Gates Foundation and IREX, they could be branded as "foreign agents" and subject to dissolution and severe punishment.  This is truly disturbing. 

A friend in Lugansk who heads a NGO that fights for government transparency and public participation in making laws, posted this dismaying description on facebook:

With the new bill the Ukrainian authorities are trying to copy the Putinite tactics of disgracing, damaging, and seeking to totally control non-governmental organizations that receive support from democratic countries and foundations. The bill brands such NGOs as “foreign agents”, demands them to register and publicly identify themselves as such, and imposes additional taxation burden to limit financial support for civic activism. 

The bill attacks fundamental freedoms, first and foremost, the freedom of assembly, the freedom of speech, and the freedom of association. That is why it has no legitimacy and has no right to exist in independent Ukraine. This weedy bill is yet another evidence of anti-democratic intentions of those who voted for it. 

Will the people vote Yanukovitch out? Yanovovich is now showing his true colors.  He is consolidating his power with help from Russia.  He's purging his regime; he's already gotten rid of several high level financial and military leaders he feels are not in his corner.  He is doing everything he can to ensure it will be hard to vote him out next year, perhaps for many years thereafter.   

I do believe that in the long run, nothing can keep the struggle for freedom from winning: "The arc of history bends toward freedom and justice,"  Martin Luther King reminded us.  But for Ukraine, the arc is long, and with these new laws "legalizing dictatorship" it will be longer.   Ukraine weeps.


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