Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)
Posted on January 12, 2005
By Melanne Verveer
This week, as most Ukrainians celebrate the Christmas holidays according to the Julian calendar, a traditional carol, "Nova Radist Stala" ("New Joy Has Come"), will take on additional meaning. Its lyrics speak to the country's long struggle for liberty: "God grant our motherland, Ukraine, freedom, happiness and good fortune."
Those lyrics will be particularly meaningful this Christmastime as Ukrainians chart their destiny as a free and democratic nation. Their recent achievement was due to the courage, solidarity and spontaneous ingenuity of the Ukrainian people in demanding and defending their rights. Whether the Orange Revolution will succeed, depends primarily on the Ukrainian people and their new government. The support of Americans remains critical.
About a year ago, a group of young Ukrainian women who were active in nongovernmental organizations was in Washington through a program supported by the U.S. government and sponsored by Open World and the Vital Voices Global Partnership. They were eager to sharpen their leadership skills to support their country's nascent democracy and to tackle some of its tough challenges, like the HIV/AIDS epidemic and human trafficking. One evening the women gathered in my home and in the spirit of the season sang Ukrainian carols, including "Nova Radist Stala."
They could not have imagined that a year later many of them would be in the frozen streets around Independence Square in Kiev, joined by tens of thousands of their fellow citizens to protest massive voter fraud and to reclaim their own votes and their country. One of the women, Elena, wrote in an e-mail after the election that "the Ukrainian nation was born in these days when the best national traits of the people shone through."
The United States stood with Ukraine through its 13 years of independence, when its government was often hostile to reform and its civil society seemed hopelessly feeble. Journalists were murdered; the opposition was threatened and corruption and cronyism seemed to rule in place of the rule of law.
Lyudmila, one of the other women in the group, wrote: "In the past many in power have done much to destroy the possibility of true democracy ... many Ukrainians have been placed on the edge of survival, and in such situations, politics is the last thing on people's minds. Yet the response to the election demonstrates that in Ukraine, a healthy moral spirit and pursuit of freedom dominate." The civil society that manifested itself in Independence Square will be as important to fulfill the aspirations of the people for their new government as it was in bringing a new government to power.
For our part, the United States needs to help Ukraine to consolidate its democratic and economic reforms. The U.S. government at the highest levels should establish good relations with Ukraine's new leaders. U.S. assistance has been declining in recent years from the highs of the 1990s. When the Ukrainian people have staked their hopes on a new democratic government to improve their lives, we must not let them down by doing less than we did when their political leaders were less committed to democratic and economic reforms.
Although Ukraine's economy has improved in recent years, many live on the margins of society. Ukraine has one of the worst human trafficking problems of any country in Europe. Desperate for jobs and enticed by the prospect of work in the West, thousands of Ukrainians find themselves instead trafficked into sexual exploitation and other forced labor by organized criminals, who are often abetted by corrupt government officials. Instead of procuring good jobs, Ukrainians are trafficked into modern-day slavery.
It will be imperative for the new government to promote business development. Investment in Ukraine has too often been impeded by suffocating regulations and corrupt practices, like bribery. A strong market economy will be one of the surest ways to grow a middle class in Ukraine. The United States can help the new government to establish the rules and practices to attract greater investment to Ukraine.
The United States must -- where appropriate -- continue to help Ukrainians move their democracy forward. Making their government more democratic, professional and honest will not be easy. Nor will progress toward a true market economy. The U.S. government and nongovernmental organizations should respond energetically to requests for training in the skills that will continue to be required.
If we do, we will help the citizens of Ukraine realize the fullness of "the new joy" that "has come."
[Reprinted with Permission]