Debate

Sida and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs should immediately support Ukraine's democratic forces

Sweden can and should immediately, through Sida and the Ministry for Foreign Affairs, support forward-looking parties and organizations that want to create a functioning democratic culture in Ukraine. That is the opinion of Henrik G Ehrenberg and Alexander Mazurkin at the Christian Democratic International Center.

Ukrainian President Yanukovych has gone underground and it is unclear where he is. One theory was that he may have gathered support in eastern Ukraine, but his own Party of Regions announced on Monday that he had been expelled from the party. The party's new leader, Sergei Tigipko, announced that the party condemned President Yanukovych's actions. At the same time, 77 MEPs from the Party of the Regions have resigned on the grounds that they do not accept the violence perpetrated by the government. In practice, this means that the Party of the Regions has become an opposition.

New elections to the Ukrainian parliament are likely to be held in May. Will we see peaceful choices? And what conditions do Ukraine's parties have to meet the challenges that lie ahead and the expectations that now lie on them - both from their own citizens and from the outside world?

Foreign media sometimes present the image that Majdan is a united opposition force coordinated by the three largest parties - Timoshenko's Batskivshina party, Klichko's party Udar and the nationalist party Svoboda. But this picture does not correspond to reality - those who have been to Majdan have experienced how many people booed and whistled when opposition leaders gave speeches. It seems that people are partly tired of the opposition, which could not agree with each other and which lacked a clear plan both for how to lead the Majdan protests and pressure on the government.

In that situation, extremist groups (such as the Pravyj sector) emerged that were not ready to compromise. Among them are people who have been ready to attack government buildings and use force against the police. The opposition and the Coordinating Council for Majdan had no power to control such groups, which suddenly became quite popular among those who thought it might be time to start a revolution "for real". What role will such groups play in the May elections and what will happen if they form part of the Ukrainian Parliament?

This weekend it was reported that a rabbi in Kiev urged Jews to leave the city, in obvious fear that the country's extremists will now have free rein. The extremist nationalist groups in Ukraine have already made it clear that they will press hard on another group in the country - the homosexuals. Some extremist groups in Europe, including Sweden, have said they want to go to Kiev to support their sister movements.

It is deeply worrying and the risk is - after the killing of people with victims from all opposition parties - that some risk perceiving violence as the most effective way to solve problems.

It is a tragedy that for much of the last 20 years, Ukraine has wasted the opportunity to create a functioning political culture, where the country's leadership obviously reflects public opinion and where dialogue and compromise are a natural part. History shows that a straightforward democratic development is not the norm. Success is followed by setbacks, but for each setback there are conditions to take advantage of previous positive experiences and over time get a steady democratic development.

It is in the interest of the rest of Europe to immediately and actively support those parts of the political landscape in Ukraine that want to look ahead and create a functioning democratic culture. Regardless of where these parties define themselves on the political right-left scale, joint efforts are required to find the least common denominator and working forms for how they should relate to each other - and above all to those who win upcoming elections. The country needs, first and foremost, a political national gathering, not necessarily on political issues, but primarily on the rules of the game.

The outside world also has an interest in supporting the emergence of a new political generation, which can shoulder responsibility at all levels, without being stuck in old structures and without being influenced too much by the Soviet and post-Soviet mentality.

In Sweden, there are a number of actors with established and functioning relations with Ukraine's democratic parties, such as the party-affiliated aid organizations that we ourselves work with. The state, in the form of the development agency Sida and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, should immediately sit down with these organizations to find efforts of an immediate, medium and long-term nature, in support of democratic development through the contacts that civil society has.

An important and crucial part of such efforts is to prevent Ukrainian extremists from gaining greater influence and position in a situation that can be perceived by many Ukrainians as chaotic and a democratic failure. The country's democratic leaders must be supported in their ability to take responsibility and meet people's expectations of a positive development. Sweden can and should do so immediately.

Henrik G Ehrenberg, Chairman

Alexander Mazurkin, Eastern European expert

Christian Democratic International Center

This is a debate article. The author is responsible for analysis and opinions in the text.

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