International Republican Institute: Concerns over developments in Ukraine
Washington, DC – Stephen B. Nix Director for Eurasia programs at IRI, testified on Tuesday before the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Foreign Affairs, Subcommittee on Europe and Eurasia, chaired by Representative Dan Burton (R-IN), on the state of democracy and freedom in Eastern Europe.
In his testimony (PDF), Nix highlighted Belarus and Ukraine, where democratic practices are absent, and Georgia and Moldova, where notable strides in developing democratic societies are occurring.
In discussing Belarus, Nix highlighted the deteriorating human rights condition, the economic crises and threat to media in the country. “The political, economic and human rights situation in Belarus has significantly deteriorated. Politically-motivated harassment, arrests, detentions and unfair trials of representatives of the democratic opposition and civil society continue…It is abundantly clear there is no more gray area, only black and white, when dealing with a Lukashenka-led Belarus.”
He went on to urge continued U.S. support for Belarusian people, “U.S. assistance should be directed toward increasing the effectiveness and capacity of democratic political parties and activists inside the country first and foremost. They are the ones who constitute the alternative to Lukashenka and are capable of bringing about needed economic and social reforms. The political opposition needs both technical and commodities assistance. Freedom and democracy should be the common cause uniting the European Union and U.S. with those inside Belarus who are fighting for a better future and more democratic country.”
Nix also discussed the deteriorating of freedom in Ukraine highlighting the loss of media freedom, the threat to civil society and the prosecution of opposition leaders. “In the year since Yanukovych became president, Freedom House, in its annual report, downgraded Ukraine from being free to being partly free. In addition, Freedom House published a report (PDF) at the one year anniversary of Yanukovych’s government, in which it stated that ‘Ukraine has experienced a disturbing decline in democratic practices and human rights that, if unchecked, threatens a return to the authoritarianism of the country’s pre-Orange Revolution period.’”
Unlike Belarus and Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova have made significant strides in strengthening democracy and freedom. In Georgia, the office of mayor is now an elected position, constitutional reform is underway which will give more power to parliament versus the president, minority ethnicities and religions are being recognized and the political opposition is preparing to compete for seats in next year’s parliamentary elections.
In Moldova, the political transition has recently begun, however, as one of Europe’s poorest countries significant challenges remain. “Despite facing many challenges during their short time in power, the government has brought about noticeable differences in the country in terms of freedom and respect for human rights. The 2010 State Department Human Rights Report has noted some of these changes, including the decline in police violence, more free and fair elections and less pressure and control of the national media.”
To ensure Moldova’s transition continues, Nix urged U.S. support, “The U.S. has made a commitment to support fledgling democracies and promoting greater freedom and human rights for people throughout the world. Moldova’s Western-oriented, reform-minded government enjoys broad popular support and has an ambitious plan to truly transform the country and the lives of its citizens. The U.S. has a rare opportunity to help the government complete its transition to a full democracy by supporting Moldova’s European Union aspirations.”
In closing Nix said, “It is important that support continue from the United States to help those countries which are seeking to consolidate democratic institutions and practices, such as the citizens of Georgia and Moldova, as well as those continuing to struggle in places like Belarus and Ukraine to finally establish a path to a democratic future.”
Post-Soviet countries often struggle to build democratic institutions and free and open societies, and Ukraine is no exception. In its first decade of independence, Ukraine evolved into a highly centralized and corrupt managed democracy. The seemingly inevitable progression toward autocracy was abruptly halted by the 2004 Orange Revolution, a public protest against fraudulent presidential elections. The revolution brought Victor Yushchenko to power, who sought to institutionalize pillars of democracy, such as free press and greater protection of human rights. However constant political in-fighting thwarted any significant economic and political reforms. It was in this context that Victor Yanukovych was elected president in 2010. In contrast to his predecessors, he quickly consolidated power and with a majority in the parliament, changed the constitution and enacted numerous reforms. However, Yanukovych’s government has been widely criticized for a regression in democracy. The 2010 Freedom House report on nations in transit downgraded Ukraine to partly free from free as it had been in previous years.
The objectives of IRIs program are: to support the development of national democratic political parties, promote democratic governance and strengthen civil society.
Political Party Development
To ensure Ukraine has vibrant parties which are democratic and reflective of the needs of citizens, IRI trains parties on how to improve their structures and organization, coalition building and membership recruitment. Recently, IRI launched an unprecedented program to enhance communication between political parties and local and national civil society.
In order to ensure Ukraine’s elected officials have the technical expertise to allow them to better represent the citizens of Ukraine, IRI provides substantive training to local elected officials on communications, constituent services, management and other skills necessary for effective and transparent governance.
In order to encourage government accountability, IRI’s public hearing program enables Ukrainian civil society, particularly in Crimea, to bridge the gap between citizens and elected officials. The project increases citizen participation in the decision making process by selecting a problem and training citizens on how to address that problem through the mechanism of public hearings.
Youth Leadership Development
IRI supports local and national youth-oriented civil society groups through the Youth Political Leadership Schools (YPLS) which teach political activism, particularly in Eastern Ukraine and Crimea. More than 920 students have graduated from YPLS and more than 70 percent of whom have entered into some form of public service.
IRI has extensive experience conducting international election observation missions in Ukraine, having deployed delegations to observe every parliamentary and presidential election since Ukraine became independent in 1991.