Ukraine democratic transition ‘being driven from bottom-up’


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Ukraine is set to launch its case against Russia at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague, seeking an order to halt Moscow’s support for pro-Russia separatists in eastern Ukraine and Crimea, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reports.

In an opening statement at the highest UN court, lawyers for Ukraine accused the Russian government of making it “impossible for Ukrainian citizens to feel safe anywhere in their country.”

Talk about Ukraine in foreign policy circles tends to revolve around two major themes, notes Kenneth Wollack, President of the National Democratic Institute.

“First, there is a suggestion that Russia and the West may want to negotiate a grand bargain in which Ukraine would be relegated to Russia’s sphere of influence. Second, there is impatience with the slow pace of anti-corruption reforms inside Ukraine. The implied corollary to this concern is a question about the value of continuing to provide assistance to the country,” he writes for THE HILL.

But a recent NDI survey illustrates why Ukrainian public opinion should be the starting point — rather than a mere footnote — to these and other discussions, Wollack adds:

Ukrainians are overwhelmingly united on the big issues facing their country. The vast majority of Ukrainians — 86 percent — say it is “important” or “very important” that Ukraine become a fully functioning democracy. Large majorities support this point regardless of where they live in the country or which party they support. 

Ukrainians also have a clear and consistent view about how to define democracy: It means equal justice for all, free elections and fundamental freedoms. On the flip side of the coin, 74 percent assess Russia’s influence on their country as negative. Only 4 percent consider it positive….Ukrainians are also clear and consistent about the path they want to follow. Asked whether they would accept peace in exchange for losing the right to determine their own future, 80 percent said “no.” Only 5 percent said “yes.”

“These findings point to an important facet of Ukraine’s path to democracy: It is being driven from the bottom-up, rather than from the top-down,” Wollack concludes.

The Russian government claims that Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula is part of its territory, but it refuses to take responsibility for the daily abuses perpetrated against Crimea’s residents, including a crackdown on the Crimean Tatar community, violations of press freedom, disappearances of activists, and a general breakdown in the rule of law, says Freedom House. The group’s Freedom at Issue details five ways the Russian occupation has affected human rights in Crimea, as documented in the latest edition of Freedom in the World:

  1. Stage-managed elections: Last September, Russian forces organized “elections” in Crimea for Russia’s federal parliament in yet another effort to legitimize the occupation. Authorities coerced and cajoled residents to bolster participation, for example by threatening dismissal from jobs or pressuring public employees to attend a rallies in support of Russian president Vladimir Putin’s United Russia party.
  2. Repression of Crimean Tatars: Crimean Tatars, who spent decades attempting to recover their rights and identity after a devastating mass deportation under Soviet leader Joseph Stalin, have strongly resisted the Russian occupation and consequently bear the brunt of repression on the peninsula. In 2016, Russian authorities formally banned the Mejlis, an organization that represents the Crimean Tatar people, because of alleged “extremist activity.”….
  3. A climate of fear: The police, Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB), and quasi-official “self-defense” units serve as the occupation authorities’ enforcers, using intimidation and harassment to eliminate any open opposition to Russia’s annexation of Crimea and to the current government. ….
  4. Forced Russification: The Ukrainian language, the Ukrainian Orthodox and Catholic Churches, Ukrainian political parties, Ukrainian-language media, and virtually anything associated with Ukraine are now taboo in occupied Crimea, making it impossible for residents to enjoy a free social, cultural, and political life…..
  5. Lost freedom of association: Independent civic organizations have little freedom to form and operate in Crimea, as the freedoms of assembly and association are severely restricted. The de facto authorities, including the FSB, monitor and repress all autonomous groups whose work touches on human rights or political affairs, and nongovernmental organizations are now subject to harsh Russian laws that enable state interference and obstruct foreign funding…..RTWT
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