Civil society countering Ukraine’s ‘corrupt counter-revolution’



In Ukraine, revolution and reform has given way to reaction, with vested interests entrenching themselves even further, notes Sergii Leshchenko, a Ukrainian journalist and a member of the Verkhovna Rada. Today, we can see evidence of Ukraine’s counter-revolution of corruption on six levels, he writes for Open Democracy:

  1. Avoiding transparency. Over the past year, the authorities have tried to block legislation on electronic declarations for public officials’ assets. First, they tried to postpone it with the 2016 budget. ….
  2. The conflict between the new anti-corruption bureau and the old corrupt agencies. Everyone has ganged up on NABU: Ukraine’s general prosecutor, who has closed access to the database of criminal investigations; the security services, who have punished an NABU employee for reading a lecture….
  3. Stacking state enterprises en masse with the president’s friends. Here, the president’s allies make money via corruption schemes at the Odessa Port Plant and the Tsentrenergo energy company. In effect, the desire to enrich oneself has blocked privatisation of these state assets….
  4. Dividing up the assets of Yanukovych allies. Take Sergei Kurchenko’s oil assets, for instance — tonnes of refined oil, instead of being confiscated for the benefit of the state budget, were taken over and sold by an ally of Sergei Pashinsky, the head of the presidential administration after Yanukovych fled in 2014. …..
  5. The continuation of old agreements between Ukraine’s oligarchs. These relationships allow Dmitry Firtash to continue to get rich off state networks of regional gas operators, Igor Kolomoisky – to avoid paying off the debts his Ukrneft oil company owes the state, and Rinat Akhmetov – to make money on the “Rotterdam plus shipping” scheme…..
  6. Finally, the most cynical part. Ukraine’s current authorities are trying to negotiate with oligarchs or Yanukovych allies on ways to work with one another. For instance, an investment firm close to president Poroshenko has been buying securities and debts belonging to Akhmetov’s DTEK company for some time….

“The attacks on the National Anti-Corruption Bureau should be stopped, and the political persecution of anti-corruption activists should carry consequences, even to the point of sanctions on representatives of the ruling elite, which is mired in kleptocracy,” adds Leshchenko (right), a former Reagan-Fascell fellow at the National Endowment for Democracy. “If this fails to happen, we could see a repeat of the Moldova scenario in Ukraine, the resurgence of pro-Russian forces and the final blow to the hopes of the millions who, three years ago, made their belief in democratic values public,” he warns.

Meanwhile, the passionate idealism that drove many Euromaidan demonstrators to hit the streets three years ago might have ebbed, RFE/RL adds; only around 1 in 4 Ukrainians in a fresh study by pollster SOCIS expressed a willingness to participate in Euromaidan today. But the perception remains that something is amiss; nearly half of respondents in the same poll think such a protest is “likely” or “very likely” in the first half of 2017.

But the Maidan spirit has not been snuffed out, and in fact is being channeled into the renewal of civic culture and the building of a civil society capable of sustaining democracy over the long haul, notes George Weigel, Distinguished Senior Fellow of Washington’s Ethics and Public Policy Center. That gritty determination showed itself in the immediate aftermath of the Maidan itself, when many civic initiatives sprung up to meet immediate social and humanitarian needs, he writes for National Review:

These spontaneous acts of social self-organization quickly evolved into efforts to address the chronic failures of the country’s health-care “system,” which were paralleled by similar, self-organized initiatives aimed at uncovering the full depth and breadth of governmental and legal corruption in Ukraine. Now, two years later, and despite the obstacles of a war that has caused tens of thousands of casualties and more than a million internally displaced persons, these first sprouts of a nascent civil society have blossomed into more structured civil-society institutions that are laying the foundations for a stable Ukrainian democracy.

“One such initiative that bridges what remains a significant gap between the people and their government is the Anti-Corruption Action Center, which has both drafted and successfully lobbied for legislation to clean the Augean stables of Ukrainian politics, law, and bureaucracy while counseling with the state on staffing its new National Anti-Corruption Bureau with reform-committed leaders and investigators,” Weigel adds:

The flow of less-expensive, higher-quality medicines to the people of Ukraine will increase in 2017, thanks to the work of Patients of Ukraine, which helped lobby parliament to break up a de facto national pharmaceutical mafia: a prime example of systemic corruption that helped underwrite the culture of bribery and cynicism inherited from Communist times while creating a vast black market in drugs.

Social media’s relationship to democracy-building and democracy-sustaining is a very mixed bag, but one positive example of its impact can be found in Ukraine. CrimeaSOS was originally formed as a Facebook group on the day the peninsula was invaded. From that modest beginning, it’s become a major non-governmental actor, providing accurate information about what’s happening in that newly “annexed” Russian territory, while offering assistance to beleaguered Crimean activists and human-rights proponents inside Crimea.

Then there is Legal Hundred, another immediate post-Maidan start-up that now counts 200 lawyers in nine regional offices. They provide legal services to wounded soldiers and their families while working with the ministries of defense and social policy on reforming legislation and bureaucratic regulations involving the military draft and social services.

“Forming the habits of mind and heart that will turn the Maidan revolution into a stable and prosperous democracy is what today’s civil-society initiatives are doing in Ukraine,” adds Weigel, a board member of the National Endowment for Democracy, the Washington-based democracy assistance group. “That’s the good news amidst what can look, from outside and from 30,000 feet, to be a very bad situation. It’s the kind of bottom-up civic renewal that demands the respect, and support, of the entire West.”



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