April 15, 2021

The problem with our diaspora is focus


The Ukrainian diaspora is one of the more tireless diasporas. Richard Nixon once complemented Ukrainians in the United States by comparing the effectiveness of the Ukrainians to Jews in America. That may have been a stretch, but there is little doubt that Ukrainians are dedicated and hardworking. At the same time, this diaspora is also quite disorganized, at least on issues, if not on ideology or structure.

In most matters we do attempt to find common ground among the diaspora elite since all are patriotic essentially. Ideology is not an issue since most do not address or understand what ideology is except that they love Ukraine. What should be addressed are purposes. Ukrainian humanitarian groups are obliged to focus on assistance for relief and medical needs. The United American Ukrainian Relief Committee is very prominent in this regard. There are others. Youth organizations are intent on helping to raise a new generation to perpetuate existing structures and purposes. Ukrainian American Youth Association (known by its Ukrainian acronym SUM) and Plast Ukrainian Scouting Organization have been great. That leaves the balance with a nebulous purpose of dissemination of information.

The Ukrainian diaspora has been somewhat adept in not only creating structures but often in unifying efforts through central coordinating structures. This has not worked recently with new emigrants from Ukraine. In traditional diaspora communities there have been moments of disunity, but mostly traditional norms and customs have pursued some semblance of coordination, such as the Ukrainian World Congress, the European Congress of Ukrainians, the Ukrainian Congress Committee of America, the Ukrainian Canadian Congress, the Organization of Ukrainians in Great Britain, and other similar structures. These organizations have persevered and, while they are unable today to purport full representation, they manage and coordinate many.

The problem is focus. There are myriad issues that the Ukrainian diaspora needs to address. However, the fact is that many are marginal at best. At least two current issues which are largely irrelevant yet remain within the diaspora mindset are dual citizenship and Nord Stream 2. The immediate need for the sake of efficacy is being able to distinguish the marginally important from the indispensable. Most issues addressed by Ukrainian organizations today in the diaspora are salient but only two are crucial or indispensable for Ukraine’s survival. It is important to focus on these with minimization of the others.

Ukraine is mired in at least three wars. The first one is very immediate and crucial, the next is short term and the last one is long term. The epidemic of COVID-19 has been a disaster in Ukraine for many reasons, among them two which stand out: the failure by Ukrainians to take the pandemic seriously and the lack of wherewithal to address the need for a remedy. The first is almost too late to address. The latter is very much the most important issue for Ukraine and its diaspora today. Get Ukraine the necessary vaccinations! India is not the solution even if efficacy is not the problem. India’s marginal wealth, administrative skills and huge population are too difficult to overcome. President Joe Biden spoke at his last press conference of the need to vaccinate people outside America. For the selfish American this should speak volumes as well. A non-immunized world leaves Americans isolated. After immunizing Americans reach out to your allies, including Ukrainians, and make your medical supplies available to them. The Ukrainian American community has to be influential in this regard so that Ukraine gets a fair share.
The second war is with Russian aggression. There is more concern with current increased Russian forces on Ukraine’s border, which may be connected to some opposition to Nord Stream 2. These are important but not crucial concerns. Russia is not about to bite off more than it can chew. Furthermore, the discussion about Budapest continues, but the bottom line is Bucharest. Budapest is irreversible. Bucharest is not. We, Ukrainians in the diaspora, failed Ukraine in Bucharest. Ukrainian Americans were too complacent. Ukrainians in Germany and France went entirely missing.

The only way to stop Russia, not Mr. Putin because he is temporary and not a Russian idiosyncrasy, is by placing a NATO member at its border. Ukrainian human rights’ advocates need to appreciate the extreme. Were Alexei Navalny president of Russia, Ukraine would be in peril. Russians cannot accept Ukrainians and Ukraine as a separate nation or country because its very existence deprives Russia of 300 years of history, and its Christian Orthodoxy.

America has to lead. Ukraine is entitled to a Membership Action Plan in NATO. Only two countries in NATO are more powerful militarily than Ukraine and one is a dictatorship, Turkey. America has to lead more forcefully than it did in Bucharest in 2008. France, Germany and Hungary, which offer little militarily, will follow when the other 25 countries insist. There are substantial Ukrainian diaspora communities in all those countries. They need to wake up. A demonstration of Ukrainian willpower by Ukrainian-Germans at the Bundestag may compel Angela Merkel and a demonstration at the National Assembly by a populous Ukrainian community in France may convince the politically unpopular Emmanuel Macron. Ukrainians can even approach the dictator and xenophobe Viktor Orban with a proposal regarding the Hungarians in Zakarpattia.

Finally, and least importantly, there is Ukraine’s war against corruption. It’s least important because it has to be a long term and never-ending effort. A non-corrupt democratic country was never built in 30 years. The United States of America is almost 250 years old. Nationally, even today, the following institutions are corrupt or very abusive in their use of power: the Federal Courts, the Federal Bureau of Investigations, Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Locally there is no institution more corrupt than police unions. I have lived and worked in New York City. The New York Police Dedepartment, its union, the Patrolman’s Benevolent Association, are as corrupt and abusive as any institution in Ukraine. I am an attorney by training, profession and experience. Please do not tell me that America is not corrupt. I was and am a Joe Biden supporter. So far, the most delusional statement by this 78-year-old was “This is not who we are,” when referring to racism and police brutality in America. This is exactly who we are. But there are good people among us just as among the Mexicans.

Let the good Americans help their strategic allies the Ukrainians short term by agreeing to sell or even donate vaccinations after we have been vaccinated ourselves and by insisting at NATO that Ukraine get a MAP immediately. Everything else is only marginally relevant.

Askold S. Lozynskyj is an attorney at law based in New York City who served as president of the Ukrainian World Congress in 1998-2008.