February 20, 2015

Mustafa Nayyem honored for efforts to establish democracy in Ukraine


Yaro Bihun

Mustafa Nayyem, the recipient of the 2014 Ion Ratiu Democracy Award (left), answers questions after his presentation about “Ukrainian Democracy after the Maidan: Threats and Opportunities.” Seated next to him is Christian Osterman, director of the Wilson Center’s Global Europe Program.

WASHINGTON – Mustafa Nayyem – journalist, democracy activist and member of Ukraine’s new Parliament – was honored with the 2014 Ion Ratiu Democracy Award for his efforts to establish a true democracy in Ukraine.

The award was presented on February 12 here at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars during the 10th annual Ion Ratiu Democracy Award Workshop, which this year focused its accompanying panel discussions on the opportunities and threats to the development of democracy in Ukraine since the Euro-Maidan demonstrations.

Mr. Nayyem was born in Kabul, Afghanistan, in 1981. His family moved to Moscow in 1989 and then to Kyiv in 1992. After graduating from the National Technical University in Kyiv, he began working as a journalist, covering the 2003-2004 Orange Revolution for Context Media. He went on to work for the newspaper Komersant; then as a correspondent for Ukraine’s largest TV channel, Inter; the Ukrayinska Pravda newspaper; and in April 2013, along with several of his journalist colleagues, he established Ukraine’s first Internet television platform, Hromadske-TV, which at the end of that year, with a posting on Facebook, was instrumental in helping launch the mass protests on Kyiv’s Maidan. Hromadske remained the only Ukrainian news outlet covering those protests without government censorship.

When President Viktor Yanukovych fled the country and parliamentary elections were held, Mr. Nayyem was elected to the Verkhovna Rada.

In his keynote remarks at the Wilson Center, Mr. Nayyem spoke about what is being done today to eliminate the corruption that has been prevalent in the Ukrainian government for years. Even today, many of Ukraine’s politicians feel threatened by calls and efforts to eliminate it, he said. The recently passed anti-corruption legislation scheduled to take effect in March will force politicians to declare not only what they earn, but their expenditures as well, he said, and those found to be breaking the law will face five years of imprisonment.

New legislation is also being prepared to establish a governmental anti-corruption bureau, which for the first time will investigate corruption by high-ranking politicians. This, he said, will change the relationship between the oligarchs and the state. These changes are now possible because the Parliament has a new force – the younger members who believe they can change things.

But democracy still has a way to go in Ukraine, he added, pointing out  that the war on its eastern border with Russia makes it that much more difficult to accomplish domestic reforms.

“In fact we are now fighting on two fronts: against the external enemy… and the inner enemy, which assists the external enemies,” he said. “Oligarchs and their strong alliances… with politicians and the elite, make us much weaker.” And those oligarchs do not pay taxes to Ukraine’s budget, which funds the army and the soldiers on the front lines.

Mr. Nayyem expressed his hope that the younger generation of new politicians may solve this problem. “We made Maidan on the streets of Ukraine, and we should make this Maidan on the corridors of power,” he said.

In her opening remarks immediately preceding Mr. Nayyem’s keynote presentation in the first panel discussions, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Victoria Nuland noted that Russia, Ukraine and the separatists fighting in its eastern regions had just reached a possible ceasefire agreement in Minsk.

“We strongly welcome this agreement,” she said, adding,  “As with all things, the devil will be in the details and in the implementation, beginning, we all hope, this weekend.”

“Ukraine needs peace,” she stressed. “Ukraine deserves peace. Ukrainians needs the time to restore their living, to restore reform, to answer those voices on the Maidan, [and[ for politicians… like Mustafa, to do their work.”

Among the 10 experts participating in the panel discussions with Mr. Nayyem was the 2012 recipient of the Ion Ratiu Democracy Award, Oleg Kozlovsky, who hails from Russia and now is director of the Vision of Tomorrow Center. Also participating was William Green Miller, former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine and now a senior scholar with the Kennan Institute at the Wilson Center.

Ukraine’s Ambassador to the U.S. Olexander Motsyk was among the many people attending the event and greeted Mr. Nayyem for being so honored.

The Ion Ratiu Democracy Award was established by the Ratiu family to recognize and honor the accomplishments of individuals working on behalf of democracy. The previous nine honorees hailed from Mexico, Egypt, Belarus, Moldova, Poland, Russia, Bahrain, Myanmar and Hungary.

The award provides for a month-long scholarship at the Wilson Center, during which the awardees can immerse themselves in the scholarly, policy-making and non-governmental organization communities in Washington.