CUPP Alumni Gathered to Shape a “Model Ukraine

By Roman Tashlitskyy

A conference was held on February 12-13 in Washington, D.C. at the Elliott School of International Affairs, George Washington University. Its participants were alumni from the Canada-Ukraine Parliamentary Program of various years who are now studying or working in North America. Their internship in their Canadian House of Commons was the first experience to witness real democracy first hand. In addition, they are furthering their education or pursuing a career in the West. Now, they gathered to share these experiences and their ideas on the individual, identity, rights and responsibilities in a “Model Ukraine,” the conference’s topic.

The discussions were heated considering the fact that the conference was held only a few days after the  second-round presidential elections in Ukraine, the outcome of which drastically changed the vector of Ukrainian politics. Participants approached life in Ukraine from different perspectives, trying to answer the following four thematic questions. The first being on the identity of a Ukrainian - Who is a Ukrainian? Is it someone with a Ukrainian passport or it is something akin to the state of mind regardless of citizenship? Second, how can we make our native language become our common value, and not something dividing Ukrainians? Participants representing East and South Ukraine suggested that a forced introduction of Ukrainian in all spheres of life had a rather negative effect, and in order to make Ukrainian acceptable among traditional Russian-speakers, the government can use the laws of positive marketing. Third, what shall we do with those who disagree with recently officially recognized Heroes of Ukraine like Shukhevych or Bandera ? Shall we ignore them or would it be more reasonable to pay more attention to educating people on these subjects? Fourth, is Ukraine a post-colonial state or should it share in the responsibility for the tragedies in its history and not accept  the position of a subaltern, being that of a subordinate to a dominating power?

Another interesting moment at the conference was the participation of invited honorary guests. For example, Taras Kuzio, whom many in Ukraine know for his blog in the most influential Ukrainian on-line newspaper Ukrainska Pravda, made a presentation entitled “What Does the Election of Yanukovych Mean for Ukraine?” Though most of those CUPP alumni present were upset by Viktor Yanukovych’s victory winning the Presidency, this did not automatically mean that they praised Yulia Tymoshenko, his main opponent. As a result, Dr. Kuzio, a supporter of former Prime Minister Tymoshenko, had to field and offer retort to some uncomfortable questions.

Andy Semotiuk, an attorney from Los Angeles, delivered an impressive lecture loosely titled “If you don’t know where you came from, you cannot know where you are going. What can be learned from Ukrainian history? What can be learned from the Foreign Experience?” His presentation was full of emotional and thought-provoking moments, surely to imprint on the memory of the conference participants. For example, the fact that while visiting Ukraine in the times of the USSR, his relatives had to take him to an open country field and even there, whisper into his ear when speaking about their relatives belonging to the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA).

Bohdan Vitvitsky, whom most CUPP alumni know at least in absentia because they wrote assignments based on his essay about the Ukrainian language to get into program, spoke on the topic “Patriotism, Facts, History, Learning from Others, and Who vs. What.” In his talk, he was somewhat critical of current Ukrainian society, sometimes telling Ukrainians do things which cannot be explained from a rational viewpoint. Having worked for two years at the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv on an anti-corruption project, Dr. Vitvitsky was very convincing. In the course of his presentation, he inserted a short quiz trying to catch alumni demonstrating their ignorance of some important facts from Ukrainian history. Fortunately, the former CUPP interns are not just average Ukrainian students, and were quick to answer. However, Dr. Vitvitsky did suggest to them to read more books.

The conference was also a great opportunity for those interested in Ukraine to communicate with young Ukrainians. The conference premises were full of just such people.  Ihor Bardyn, CUPP Director, with whom the alumni has almost developed a family bond, concluded the conference. One speaker expressed the idea that each democratic society must have three constituent qualities: a strong opposition; free mass media; and a developed civil society. Ukraine seems to have achieved the first two. However, the third one being the most difficult to achieve and the most important, is still in a nascent state as seen in Ukraine. Mr. Bardyn expressed the hope that such a conference gathering of current and future leaders of Ukraine, individuals influential in their respective fields and environment, would make a small but considerable step in building civil society in Ukraine. The Washington Conference was the first in a series, whose participants suggested recommendations for the next CUPP conferences.

The second conference will take place in Ottawa, Ontario in October, 2010 and will focus on the Ukrainian State, its electoral system, its integration into the Euro-Atlantic Community and its relations with the European Union, Russia and the USA. A third conference is planned to take place in Kyiv in November 2011 and will focus on combining the deliberations of the first two conferences to create a “Model Ukraine” nation state.