For the past seven years the tone of our annual Ukrainian Independence Day editorial has come to us naturally. Our editorials of the first few years, reflecting the general mood in our community, focused on the amazing turns of history, the joy of independence and the concern for survival. Our fifth anniversary editorial was still filled with elation, the sixth with hope and couched optimism - both focused on foreign policy success and some internal success, such as the Constitution. By the seventh year our editorial was written in a tone of concern with some trepidation, and this year we find ourselves to be more than a bit mixed in our emotions: there's a bit of sadness, a bit of anger, some disgust, lots of exasperation and frustration, and a sense of pragmatic reality: eight years really isn't very much time to have turned this ship formerly called Soviet Ukraine around.
There remains much reason for hope and optimism, not the least of which is that the anniversary of independence has assumed almost a conventional character, both in the diaspora and in Ukraine. In fact, the Independence Day celebrations have become a standard expenditure in Ukraine's budget - this year the Cabinet of Ministers allocated 866,700 hrv for celebration events in Kyiv.
Ukraine still gets high ratings for its foreign policy positions and responsible approach to national and international military and security issues. However, it is very distressing that an elected and appointed leadership in Ukraine seems either unwilling or unable to get a grip on the corruption that pervades almost all aspects of civic and economic life - corruption that prevents successful economic development, eats away at public morale and stymies individual freedom.
At its core, corruption is the inappropriate and abusive use of power for personal gain - mostly money and more power. And instead of power being used to guide, lead, develop, elevate, establish, respond, give, create - power in Ukraine is being used to control, take, intimidate, scare, abuse, disrespect. When an average individual uses power to abuse other people, we call them crooks. When elected and appointed officials do it, we're nicer about the name-calling. Instead of crooks, we call them corrupt. But so what. Our hearts are heavy.
Whether you call them creepy crooks or corrupt officials, in Ukraine, many, too many, are squandering opportunities, not rising to the occasion, abusing their authority and not taking their responsibility seriously - on the republic level, the oblast level, the city level.
The sad thing is that many people in Ukraine really don't expect more. Deep and pervasive cynicism is returning. After a few years of hope, they feel as though it's more of the same old, same old. Rather than assuming that governments serve at the public will as a guarantors of rights and as guardians of the public good, they simply expect that government will be abusive, disrespectful and controlling. Paternalistic promises to take care of people ring hollow and go unfullfilled, yet attempts at individual empowerment are suppressed.
So people sink in a sort of muck of neither here nor there.
Among the few tools which the public can use to fight against this stagnation is the upcoming election. The tradition of free elections and the option to throw the bums (or bum) out is still fragile in Ukraine, and still susceptible to great abuse. Yet Ukrainians have eagerly embraced the process of elections and, in the few years of independence, elections in Ukraine are a highlight of the country's nascent post-Soviet civic culture. Despite the numerous predictions that Leonid Kuchma is a shoo-in, these elections are still wide open. Honest elections force change, and we can only hope that the Ukrainian electorate will once again understand that through the power of the vote, they give power to elected officials. And just as they give, they can also take away.
Copyright © The Ukrainian Weekly, August 22, 1999, No. 34, Vol. LXVII
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